Tennessee Negro Lynched by Six
Sheriff’s Car Crowded to Pavement; Body is Found Hanging From Bridge
Covington, Tenn., Aug. 17 (AP) — Six masked men, shouting “to hell with the law,” seized a terror stricken negro accused of slaying a white officer from Sheriff W. J. Vaughan today and left his body dangling at the end of a grayed rope after riddling it with bullets.
First Since War
It was the first lynching in Tipton county since the War Between the States and the seventh in the south this year. Circuit Judge R B Baptist, ordering the county grand jury to make a “real investigation” of the disgraceful, horrible crime,” demanded first degree murder indictments against the “night riders,” if their identities can be established.
The body of the negro, Albert Gooden, 35, was found partly submerged in a creek 12 miles south of here.
The rope had given way under the weight of his swaying form. One end of it remained twisted around the outer beam of a steel bridge. The legs were bound at the ankles. The hands were still in the handcuffs placed by officers. More than 30 bullets had pierced the body.
The mobsmen, Sheriff Vaughan said, crowded his car off the highway last night, disarmed him and seized the prisoner. The sheriff was bringing him to Covington to face a charge of slaying City Marshal Chester Doyle of Mason, Tenn., a month ago.
The negro had been held at Memphis because of a previous attempt at violence.
Recognizes None of Them
Sheriff Vaughan said he kept secret the purpose of his trip to Memphis yesterday. He was about 300 yards from Brighton on his return when “a car crowded me off the pavement.”
“Five men with handkerchiefs over their faces jumped out and covered us with pistols,” the sheriff said, adding they dragged the negro from the car. When the negro jerked loose, he was hit with a gun, and dumped into the second car. The sheriff said he recognized none of the men.
Sarashota Herald-Tribune, Wednesday, August 18, 1937, page 3 – Lynching took place on 17 Aug 1937
The Lynching of Albert Gooden in Tipton County, Tennessee (1937)
Tipton County, Tennessee in 1937 was a “black belt” area where the largely rural African-American community constituted nearly half of the population. With the smaller percentage of African-Americans living in the towns of Covington, Mason and Brighton, the majority of this population resided on the farms and plantations controlled by descendants of white planters, many of whom had settled in the County during the initial cotton boom of the middle 19th century. A large number of poor landless whites also lived in the County and were in constant competition with African-Americans during the Depression years for limited economic resources. Developments during the early years of the 20th century set the pattern for a greater desperation on the part of small white farmers in the South, many of whom did not own land.
According to the findings of Tolnay and Beck: “between 1900 and 1930, the number of white tenant farmers in the South increased by 61 percent, while the number of black tenants increased twenty-seven percent. As a result, despite their membership in the dominating caste, more rural whites began to sink to the same disadvantaged economic position as blacks. For the first time sizable numbers of southern white farmers found themselves in direct economic competition with southern black farmers.”
When a shooting incident erupted on July 18, 1937 in Mason, Tennessee resulting in the deaths of Jack Bolton, an African-American male 24 years of age, and Night Marshall Chester Doyle, a Deputy Sheriff in Tipton County, the stage was set for one of the most representative acts of racial violence during the period. Press reports indicated that Marshall Doyle was conducting a raid on an illegal gambling establishment operated by Albert Gooden, 25. As a result of a dispute over alleged disrespect by law-enforcement officials towards an African-American woman present during the raid, a conflict ensued where shots were fired on both sides. The deaths of Bolton and Doyle created a chain reaction of events beginning with the arrest of Albert Gooden for the charge of murdering the white Deputy Sheriff, Chester Doyle.
After Gooden was taken into custody in Covington, it was reported that “ten carloads of white men drove to the…jail” with the expressed intention of lynching the suspect in Doyle’s death. Immediately the County Sheriff, Will J. Vaughn, was credited by the press with swiftly removing Gooden from the jail, transporting him 40 miles to a Memphis jail for his security pending the beginning of the trial in Tipton County in August. According to Vaughn, Gooden was taken to Memphis for “safekeeping.”
On the night of August 16, nearly one month after the initial killing of Deputy Sheriff Chester Doyle, Vaughn was transporting Gooden from Memphis to Covington in order to begin the murder trial. During the drive to Covington, the Sheriff claimed that he was forced off the road by a black sedan after crossing the Tipton County border line. This sedan, according to Vaughn, contained six masked white men that he did not recognize, who demanded that he hand over Gooden to them. Vaughn also contended that he was overpowered by five of the masked men who then captured Gooden and forced him into their vehicle and sped away. This story was viewed skeptically by the African-American press because of the lack of information related to the identities of the alleged kidnappers. In addition, the puported masked men making up the mob, left Sheriff Vaughn and businessman John Winford with the car keys to their vehicle after they allegedly left with Gooden.
According to Vaughn, no one else knew about his trip to Memphis and the intended route driven back to Covington on the night of August 16. His passenger and friend, John Winford, a local businessman, was supposedly unaware of the purpose or the specific destiny of the trip to Memphis. However, it was never adequately explained to the Tipton County Grand Jury impaneled by R.B. Baptist to investigate the disappearance and murder of Gooden, the reason why the perpetrators knew exactly where to stop the vehicle driven by the Sheriff. Six hours after the alleged abduction of Gooden, his corpse was supposedly discovered by Vaughn and his deputies nine miles from the area where he was “kidnapped” by the six hooded white men.
The Atlanta Daily World of August 18, 1937 reported on the murder by writing the following:
“The body lay in grotesque quiet beneath the span of a country road bridge. The muddy waters of Beaver Creek, a meandering drainage ditch, lapsed over Gooden’s head while the remainder of his bloody mud-soaked body lay on the bank.”
The article goes on to describe the murder scene:
“His body was punctured with more than 30 bullets. Around his neck looped twice– was a worn plow rope that had broken when the abductors shot their victim and then attempted to hang the body from the bridge.”
In the Covington Leader of August 19, 1937, an article states that:
“The negro was lynched, presumably a short while after his capture, at an iron bridge over the Beaver Bottom drainage canal on a dirt road between Wright’s and Gainsville. The body, however, was not discovered until about 3 o’clock Tuesday morning, when Chief Deputy V. W. Pickens and Special Officer J. T. Scott, both of Covington, were searching the area and found the bridge floor covered with cartridges. They also found lying on the bridge the sheriff’s pistol, which was taken from him by members of the mob.”
The article in the Covington Leader continues by saying that:
“When found the dead negro was still hand-cuffed and was lying on the edge of the canal, his head in the water. A piece of frayed rope, which had either been shot in two or had broken when he was thrown or pushed from the bridge, was still tied about his neck. The other part of the rope was still tied to the bridge. The negro had been riddled with bullets, several dozen bullet wounds being found. The head had been almost severed, apparently from a charge of buckshot. The bottom of the canal is about 15 feet from the top of the bridge railing, and it could not be determined whether his neck was broken before the rope parted or whether he died of pistol and gunshot wounds…. The body was brought here by a colored mortician, the sheriff later turning the dead negro over to his brother, also a mortician.”
In an account published in the Atlanta Daily World on August 25, 1937, which describes the reaction of Gooden’s family to the tragedy, journalist Nat D. Williams of Memphis stated that the body was found “late Monday night, August 16, close to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church near the Brighton community, between Mason and Covington, two small towns in Tipton County in rural West Tennessee. His mother wouldn’t even look at his remains. She couldn’t stand it. Southern tradition was asking too much–even of a mother. His father, built of a little sterner stuff, and retaining a bit more composure, made the arrangements. His brother, operator of a burial association, looked after the materials and things. He even took one of his hearses and went to Covington early Tuesday morning, after three ‘laws’ (the colored folk call officers that in Tipton County), had awakened him and his wife about six o’clock in the morning and told them that they could ‘go over and get Albert now, or leave him with H.L. Porter,’ the colored undertaker in Covington who first picked up the lynch victim’s body off the bridge.”
Williams then remarks that: “(Funny thing about Porter…he got lost on his way to get the body…he did not give any reason.) Porter and other leading colored folk in Covington and nearby communities won’t have much to say about the lynching pro or con. They take the attitude of letting the white folk do all the worrying.”
Despite the convening of a grand jury and the hearing of testimony by a least ten persons, including law enforcement personnel in the County, no indictments were served in the murder. With national attention focused on the epidemic of lynching during 1937, state officials and the white press in Tennessee roundly condemned the lynching. Circuit Court Judge R.B. Baptist, the convenor of the grand jury which was charged with investigating the lynching, stated that the murder of Gooden was “one of the most horrible and disgraceful crimes of Tipton County…and it is the duty of the grand jury to make not a perfunctory– but a full, complete and searching investigation and go to the bottom of this thing”. Press accounts of the lynching claimed that it was the first since the Civil War in the County. However, at least one other lynching occured in November of 1894, when Needham Smith was shot to death after being falsely accused of the rape of a Caucasian woman.
Despite strong words from the Judge, the white press and the Governor, who offered a $5,000 reward for the capture of the lynchers, the murderers of Albert Gooden were never brought to trial. Sheriff W. J. Vaughn maintained that he did not know the identities of the masked men who had also removed the license plates from the black sedan that they were driving at the time of the supposed abduction of Gooden. Even though this lynching received national press coverage, and was the subject of many condemnatory editorials in southern white newspapers, the Wagner-Van Nuys Anti-Lynching Bill remained stalled in the United States Congress well into 1938. The Roosevelt Administration remained relatively silent on the increased outbreak of lynchings during 1937. The executive branch of the government did not want to force an open split with the southern Democrats over the question of racial violence carried out againt African-Americans.
[Wire, Pan-African News. Two Case Studies in Race Terror During the Great Depression in Southwest Tennessee, 1 Jan. 1970, panafricannews.blogspot.com/2006/10/two-case-studies-in-race-terror-during.html.]