On this dayJan 24, 1879
Black Family Lynched in Arkansas On “Suspicion” of Having $50 Bill
On January 24, 1879, a white mob in Clark County, Arkansas, lynched a Black man named Ben Daniels and his two sons. Earlier in the day, when Mr. Daniels tried to pay for something with a $50 bill, the white merchant assumed a Black man could only have that much money if he had stolen it. The merchant called the police to report Mr. Daniels as a suspect in a local theft that had recently occurred. A few days prior, a white farmer named R. M. Duff woke in the middle of the night to find his home and barn in flames. Mr. Duff later claimed that someone ran into the home and stole money as Mr. Duff evacuated with his wife, but he was not able to provide any description of this person and no one was reported burned in the blaze.
Without any evidence tying Mr. Daniels to this alleged theft, police responded to the merchant’s call by promptly arresting Mr. Daniels solely based on his possession of a $50 bill.
Police later claimed that, while in custody on the day of his arrest, Mr. Daniels confessed to stealing money from the Duff home and implicated his sons in the crime as well. During the era of racial terror, Black suspects were often subjected to beatings, torture, and threats of lynching during police interrogations. While news reports often reported these alleged confessions as justifications for the brutal terror lynchings that followed, the confession of a lynching victim was always more reliable evidence of fear than guilt.
The sheriff took Mr. Daniels’ sons into custody that same day as well. Later that night, before the Danielses could be tried, a mob of white men “overpowered” the sheriff who was supposed to be guarding them and lynched all three men. Some sources indicated that the two sons lynched with Mr. Daniels were the only ones arrested, while others reported that a third son was also arrested, not lynched, and remained in jail awaiting trial. News reports did not include the sons’ names.
During this era of racial terror lynchings, it was not uncommon for lynch mobs to seize their victims out of police hands. In some cases, police officials were even found to be complicit or active participants in lynchings. While law enforcement officials were obligated to defend anyone in their custody, in most instances, as here, law enforcement failed to extend any protection to Black citizens or to take any action to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of lynchings.
After hanging the Daniels men from a tree, the white mob left their bodies on display as a way to further terrorize the Black community of Clark County, Arkansas. Between 1865 and 1950, more than 6,500 Black women, men, and children were killed in racial terror lynchings throughout the U.S., with at least 492 reported lynchings in Arkansas alone.
To learn more about the history and legacy of racial terror lynching, read the Equal Justice Initiative’s report, Lynching in America.