On this dayAug 18, 1889

Georgia Mob Lynches Black Man and Leaves Him Hanging to Terrorize Black Community

On August 18, 1889, a mob of white people in Chatham County, Georgia, lynched Walter Asbury after he was accused of assaulting a white girl in the community. In an effort to terrorize the Black community, the mob left his body hanging all day with a sign that read: “This is the way we protect our homes.”

On August 17, a young girl reported that she had been assaulted in her home in Pooler, Georgia. When news spread that the alleged attacker was a Black man, white mobs in Pooler began searching the surrounding area for the alleged assailant. Mr. Asbury, who was attending a local dance about a mile from the scene, was located just after midnight and seized by the mob.

The deep racial hostility that permeated Southern society during this time period often served to focus suspicion on Black communities after a crime was discovered or alleged, whether evidence supported that suspicion or not. Almost 25% of all lynchings involved allegations of inappropriate behavior between a Black man and a white woman that was characterized as "assault" or "sexual assault." The mere accusation of sexual impropriety regularly aroused violent mobs and ended in lynching. Allegations against Black people were rarely subject to scrutiny.

Though no evidence linked Mr. Asbury to the crime, a mob of 300 white men from Pooler captured him and took him to an open field. Just after midnight, the mob hanged him next to a railroad track 10 miles west of Savannah and riddled his body with bullets. Newspapers reported that Mr. Asbury asked for time to pray in the moments leading up to his lynching and, right before he was killed, begged that word be sent to his wife.

Mr. Asbury’s body was left hanging by the railroad tracks all day with a sign that read: “This is the way we protect our homes” in an effort to intimidate the entire Black community. The practice of terrorizing members of the Black community following racial violence was common during this period. Southern lynching was not only intended to impose “popular justice” or retaliation for a specific crime. Rather, these lynchings were meant to send a broader message of domination and to instill fear within the entire Black community. Mobs often forced a victim’s body to hang for hours and even prevented families from claiming their loved ones. In this case, more than 24 hours passed before the coroner was permitted to cut down Mr. Asbury’s body.

No one was ever held accountable for the lynching of Walter Asbury. Mr. Asbury was one of at least two victims of racial terror lynchings in Chatham County and one of at least 593 victims in Georgia between 1877 and 1950. To learn more, read the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, Lynching in America.

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