On this dayJun 03, 1893

1,500 White People Lynch a Black Man on Illinois Courthouse Lawn

On June 3, 1893, a mob of 1,500 white people lynched a Black man named Sam Bush on the courthouse lawn in Decatur, Illinois. Following the lynching, members of the mob distributed pieces of the rope used to hang Mr. Bush to the crowd as “souvenirs”—among those in the crowd were doctors, lawyers, and at least one minister.

The prior day, after news spread that a Black man had allegedly sexually assaulted a white woman, Mr. Bush was targeted, arrested, and held in the Macon County jail. During the era of racial terror lynchings, charges of sexual assault against Black men, even when made with unsubstantiated evidence, regularly aroused violent white mobs. 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." Allegations against Black people were rarely subject to scrutiny.

That evening, about 500 white people descended upon the jail, and 25 unmasked white men broke into the jail. Although multiple jailers were on duty and charged with protecting the men and women in their custody, they neglected to use any type of force to ward off the mob, who, for 20 minutes, sought to break down Mr. Bush’s jail cell door with hammers and chisels. During this era, 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. Here, newspaper accounts reported that, despite the presence of dozens of law enforcement agents, “no one seemed to care much … [and] there was no talk of resistance” to disrupt the impending plans of the mob.

As the mob attempted to seize him from the jail, Mr. Bush proclaimed, “Gentlemen, you are killing an innocent man.” Undeterred, the mob dragged Mr. Bush from his jail cell.

By the time Mr. Bush was brought outside, 1,500 white people had gathered in front of a telegraph post directly in front of the courthouse lawn to lynch Mr. Bush. In the final moments of Mr. Bush’s life, he knelt to pray and, according to newspapers, called “on Jesus to come and take his soul and forgive the men who were murdering him.” The mob then stripped Mr. Bush of his clothes, forced him atop a car, and hanged him.

Mr. Bush was one of 56 documented victims of racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950 in the state of Illinois. To learn more about the history of racial terror lynching, read EJI’s report, Lynching in America

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