On this dayApr 17, 1915

Black Child Lynched by White Mob in Georgia for Allegedly Stealing Meat

In the early morning hours of April 17, 1915, a 17-year-old Black boy named Caesar Sheffield was taken from jail and shot to death by a mob of white men near Lake Park, Georgia. Caesar had been arrested and jailed for allegedly stealing meat from a smokehouse owned by a local white man. Before he could be tried for this offense, the mob formed and seized him from the unprotected jail. 

During this era of racial terror lynching, the deep racial hostility that permeated American society burdened Black people with a presumption of guilt that often served to focus suspicion on Black communities after a crime was discovered, whether evidence supported that suspicion or not. This racial hostility and presumption of guilt frequently proved deadly, even for petty offenses like theft. Although the Constitution’s presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of American criminal justice, Black Americans, even children like Caesar Sheffield, were often denied this protection or their right to a fair trial and instead were lynched by white mobs. 

When the mob took Caesar from the jail, the building had been completely abandoned and no prison officials were present. Despite being charged with protecting those inside the jail, police and prison guards abdicated that responsibility, allowing the mob to easily force its way into the jail. The men took Caesar to a nearby field and shot him to death. His body was found later that day, riddled with bullets. No arrests were made following his murder and no one was ever held accountable. 

Caesar Sheffield is one of at least 594 Black people lynched in Georgia between 1877 and 1950, and one of more than 6,500 victims of racial terror lynching that EJI has documented between 1865 and 1950. To learn more, explore EJI’s reports, Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America. You can also learn more here about how a presumption of guilt and dangerousness continues to make people of color vulnerable to racial violence, wrongful convictions, and unfair treatment today.

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