On this dayDec 27, 1919
White Mob Lynches Black Veteran Powell Green in North Carolina
On the night of December 27, 1919, a 23-year-old African American veteran named Powell Green was lynched by a mob of masked white men near Franklinton, North Carolina.
After a “prominent” white movie theater owner was shot and killed, Powell Green was arrested for allegedly committing the crime. During the era of racial terror, white allegations against black people were rarely subject to scrutiny and often sparked violent reprisal even when there was no evidence tying the accused to any offense. Many African Americans were lynched across the South under the accusation of murder when mere suggestions of black-on-white violence could provoke mob violence and lynching before the judicial system could or would act. While policemen were moving Powell Green from the jail in Franklinton to the larger city of Raleigh, before he could be tried or mount a defense, a mob kidnapped and brutally killed him.
The mob tied Mr. Green to a car and dragged him for half a mile before shooting him with dozens of bullets and hanging his body. It was not uncommon for lynch mobs to seize their victims from jails, prisons, courtrooms, or out of police hands. Though they were armed and charged with protecting the men and women in their custody, police almost never used force to resist white lynch mobs intent on killing black people. In some cases, police officials were even found to be complicit or active participants in lynchings. Newspaper sources suggest this was the case in the lynching of Powell Green; one witness reportedly testified that, though there were five officers in the police vehicle transporting Mr. Green, he was “taken from the car [by the mob] without the least trouble.”
Mr. Green’s corpse was found the next morning riddled with bullets and hanged from a small pine tree along a road two miles from Franklinton. According to press accounts, “souvenir hunters” cut buttons and pieces of clothing from the body and later cut down the tree to yield grotesque keepsakes.
Mr. Green was only 23 years old when lynched and had served in the army during WWI. Rather than thanked for their patriotic service, black veterans returning from war during the era of racial terrorism were targeted for violence by white supremacists who worried military service would make these men leaders in the black community and render them committed to fighting for racial equality at home. One news account of Mr. Green’s lynching blamed him for his own death, stating, “it seems that he was disposed to think well of himself and was self-assertive.” Powell Green’s lynching was the second in five months in Franklin County, North Carolina.