On this dayNov 16, 1900

Preston John Porter Jr., 16, Lynched in Limon, Colorado

On November 16, 1900, a sixteen-year-old African American teenager named Preston “John” Porter Jr. was burned alive while chained to a railroad stake in Limon, Colorado. A mob of more than 300 white people from throughout Lincoln County gathered to participate in the brutal public spectacle lynching.

Earlier in the year, John, his father, Preston Porter Sr., and his brother, Arthur Porter, moved to the Limon, Colorado, area from Lawrence, Kansas, to seek work on the railroad. When a white girl named Louise Frost was found dead in Limon on November 8, a search began for possible suspects. Newspapers reported that the Porter family had left Limon for Denver a few days after the girl was found dead, and white authorities focused suspicions on them. On November 12, all three were arrested and taken to the city jail in Denver.

During this era, the deep racial hostility that permeated American society burdened black people and communities with presumptions of guilt and dangerousness when crimes were discovered. Allegations against black people were rarely subject to serious scrutiny, and mere accusations of assault or violence by a black person towards a white person often incited mob violence and the threat of lynching.

After the Porters had been in jail for four days, newspapers reported that John had confessed to the crime “in order to save his father and brother from sharing the fate that he believes awaits him.” Black suspects were often subjected to beatings, torture, and threats of lynching during police interrogations. While news reports often reported these 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.

Despite the Governor's order that the risk of lynching was too great to return John to Limon, the Denver sheriff transported John back to Limon by train, where a mob of 300 or more people - including Louise Frost’s father - were waiting. Newspapers described the lynching as follows:

John was said to have been reading a Bible and was allowed to pray before his lynching. When the flames reached his body, reports documented his screams for help as he writhed in pain, crying, “Oh my God, let me go men!...Please let me go. Oh, my God, my God!” When the ropes binding John to the stake had burned through, such that his body had fallen partially out of the fire, members of the mob threw additional kerosene oil over him and added wood to the fire. It was reported that John’s last words were “Oh, God, have mercy on these men, on the little girl and her father!”

Despite ample press coverage identifying multiple members of the mob, no investigation into the lynching was conducted and the coroner concluded John died “at the hands of parties unknown.” His father and brother afterward left Colorado to return to Kansas, and soon afterward the Colorado legislature voted to reinstate the state’s death penalty to avoid future “lawlessness” like the lynching in Limon.

Preston “John” Porter Jr. is one of more than 4,400 documented African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in the United States between 1877 and 1950, and one of five killed in Colorado.

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