On this dayMar 26, 1944

Black Minister Lynched for His Land in Mississippi; Family Fled in Fear

Bettman, Corbis

On March 26, 1944, a group of white men brutally lynched the Rev. Isaac Simmons, a Black minister and farmer, so they could steal his land in Amite County, Mississippi. Members of his family, some of whom witnessed his murder, fled the state, fearing for their lives. The white men responsible for lynching him successfully stole the Simmons’s land and were never convicted for their crimes.

Before his death, the Rev. Simmons controlled more than 270 acres of debt-free Amite County land that his family had owned since 1887. This was very unusual among Black families in the South, where racism and poverty had posed obstacles to economic advancement for generations. The Rev. Simmons worked the land with his children and grandchildren, producing crops and selling the property’s lumber.

In 1941, a rumor spread that there was oil in Southwest Mississippi. A group of six white men decided they wanted the Simmons’s land and warned the Rev. Simmons to stop cutting lumber. The Rev. Simmons consulted a lawyer to work out the dispute and ensure his children would be the sole heirs to the property.

On Sunday, March 26, 1944, a group of white men arrived at the home of the Rev. Simmons’s eldest son, Eldridge, and told him to show them the property line. He agreed to do so, but while Eldridge Simmons rode with the men in their vehicle, they began to beat him and shouted that the Simmons family thought they were “smart niggers” for consulting a lawyer. The men then dragged the Rev. Simmons from his home about a mile away and began beating him, too. They drove both Simmons men further onto the property and ordered the Rev. Simmons out of the car, then killed him brutally–shooting him three times and cutting out his tongue. The men let Eldridge Simmons go but told him he and his relatives had 10 days to abandon the family property.

The white men who committed the lynching took possession of the land. The constable and sheriff concluded immediately that the Rev. Simmons had “met his death at the hands of parties unknown” even though his son, Eldridge, and his daughter, Laura, were present and able to identify by name at least four of the six men responsible. The family fled Amite County over the next two days, fearing for their lives, before their father’s funeral on March 29. Eldridge remained in Amite for his father’s funeral but was taken into police custody the next day supposedly for his own protection. Held in jail for more than a week despite being the victim, Eldridge was released from jail on April 8 and was urged to leave the county altogether.

Only one of the six white men responsible was ever prosecuted for the Rev. Simmons’s lynching. On November 1, 1944, more than seven months after their father was lynched, Eldridge and his sister, Laura, were arrested in New Orleans, LA, on charges that they had fled the state in order to avoid testifying as witnesses in the trial of the only white man prosecuted for murdering their father. During the trial on November 11, 1944, Eldridge and Laura refused to name the perpetrators in the testimony because they feared for their lives in the event of a conviction. The one white man was ultimately acquitted by an all-white jury because of “lack of evidence.”

During the era of racial terror, white mobs regularly terrorized Black people with violence and murder to maintain the racial hierarchy and exert economic control. These acts of lawlessness were committed with impunity, by mobs who rarely faced arrest, prosecution, or even public shame for their actions. Black people could expect little protection from law enforcement and knew that protesting their own abuse or a loved one's lynching could result in even more violence and death.

The Rev. Simmons was one of at least 14 Black people lynched in Amite County, Mississippi, between 1865 and 1950. Learn more about how over 6,500 Black women, men, and children were victims of racial terror lynching in the U.S. between 1865 and 1950 by reading EJI’s reports Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America.

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