On this daySep 05, 1912

White Mob Lynches Robert Johnson in Princeton, West Virginia


On September 5, 1912, a white mob lynched a Black man named Robert Johnson in Princeton, West Virginia. After Mr. Johnson was accused of assaulting a white girl, sheriff's officials anticipated a lynch mob would form and moved him from Bluefield to Princeton. When the move was discovered, an armed mob of white men came to Princeton and seized Mr. Johnson. The local judge urged the mob to let the court conduct a “speedy trial,” and the state governor warned that a lynching should not be allowed—but the mob was determined.

After kidnapping Mr. Johnson from police custody, the enraged mob beat Mr. Johnson with clubs and rocks, strung him to a telegraph pole “in the presence of the judge, sheriff, and armed guards,” and shot him hundreds of times. Despite their purported efforts to dissuade the mob, police did not attempt to use force to save Mr. Johnson’s life, and the judge did not order any members of the lynch mob arrested.

After the lynching, the growing mob patrolled the town terrorizing other African Americans, threatening to lynch other Black people they encountered—including those who attempted to cut down Mr. Johnson’s hanging corpse. Instead, the mob cut the dead body down, stripped off most of the clothing to keep as "souvenirs," and then again hanged the corpse from the same pole.

According to press reports, authorities later acknowledged a growing possibility that Mr. Johnson had been wrongly identified and was innocent of the alleged assault. Nevertheless, a grand jury convened to investigate the murder declined to return a single indictment, and no one was ever arrested or prosecuted for his lynching.

Mr. Johnson is one of more than 4,000 documented African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950.

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