On this dayAug 19, 1916

White Mobs Lynch Multiple Black People Just Months Before the United States Enters WWI

On August 19, five Black individuals -- Andrew McHenry, Bert Dennis, John Haskins, Mary Dennis and Stella Young -- were lynched by a mob of white people in Alachua County, Florida, while a Black man named James Dennis was also killed nearby by a “sheriff’s posse.” On the same day, almost 1,000 miles away, in Navarro County, Texas, Ed Lang, a 21 year old Black man was lynched by a mob of 200 white people. Both of these incidents of racial terror violence occurred just months before the United States entered World War I to fight on behalf of the principles of democracy and freedom. 

On August 18 in Jonesville, Florida, a Black man by the name of Boisey Long was accused of murdering the local constable. When Mr. Long went missing, word spread that four Black men -- Andrew McHenry, Bert Dennis, James Dennis, and John Haskins -- and two Black women -- Mary Dennis and Stella Young had allegedly aided Mr. Long in an escape. On Saturday, August 19, 1916, a mob of white people captured Andrew McHenry, Bert Dennis, John Haskins, Mary Dennis and Stella Young, and lynched them. According to reports, on the same day James Dennis was captured and killed by a “sheriff’s posse.”

As was the case here and, typical of the era, white people sought to maintain white supremacy and dominance by instilling fear in the entire Black community through brutal violence that was often unpredictable and arbitrary. With no reported evidence connecting these men and women to the alleged crime, the white mob’s focus clearly expanded beyond a specific person accused of an offense and instead targeted members of the wider Black community, instilling community-wide fear. 

Nearly 1,000 miles away, on the same day, a 21 year old Black man named Ed Lang was accused of assaulting a young white woman near the town of Rice in Navarro County, Texas. A mob of white people captured Mr. Lang four miles from where the alleged attack took place and handed him over to the sheriff. However, before Mr. Lang could be tried, on that same day, an unmasked and armed mob of 200 white farmers seized him from the jail, and hung Mr. Lang to a telephone pole.

During this era, almost 25 percent of documented racial terror lynchings were sparked by charges of sexual assault. White people’s fears of interracial sex extended to any action by a Black man that could be interpreted as seeking or desiring contact with a white woman. 

Lynchings and racial terror during this era reinforced racial hierarchy and fostered lawlessness and disregard for constitutional guarantees of equal protection. Despite the tragedy of this violence, hundreds of thousands of Black people fought to defend the United States when it was threatened during World War I.

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