On this dayOct 04, 1916

William Spencer, a Black Man, Lynched in Graceton, Texas

On October 4, 1916, William Spencer, a 30-year-old Black man and a husband and father of four children, was lynched by a white mob near Graceton, Texas. Mr. Spencer, who was a farmhand, had a confrontation with the constable and was arrested and taken to a local jail, where a white mob seized and lynched him.

Earlier that day, Constable Ed Harrell served a writ on Mr. Spencer, asserting that he had a bill due for some cotton, and started to seize Mr. Spencer’s property. Mr. Spencer objected and armed himself, prompting Mr. Harrell to shoot Mr. Spencer twice, once in the leg and once the arm. Afterwards, Mr. Spencer was arrested and placed in jail. Later that evening, without an investigation or a trial, a white mob seized Mr. Spencer and lynched him. The next morning, Mr. Spencer’s body was found hanging from a tree, riddled with bullets, and with his clothes torn off.

Racial terror lynching was a tactic used to maintain racial control over Black Americans and to enforce Jim Crow laws and segregation. During this era of racial terrorism, many victims of terror lynchings were murdered for demanding basic rights and fair treatment. It was common for white people to exploit impoverished Black laborers, like Mr. Spencer, who did not have the means or the social apparatus to object to charges or infringements on their rights without threat of serious punishment, violence, or death.

Mr. Spencer was one of at least three documented racial terror lynchings in Upshur County, Texas. Learn more about how over 6,500 Black women, men, and children were victims of racial terror lynching in the U.S. between 1865-1950.

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