Which is the greatest evil perpetrated by citizens of the United States…slavery or lynching? Each claims its own sick realm of thinking. Slavery was institutionalized, even incorporated into the US Constitution, by the establishment of its times. Lynching was never institutionalized, but became an accepted practice carried out by ordinary citizens in the grip of mass hysteria in most parts of the nation.
In 1884, citizens of the towns of Winston and Salem lynched a young mentally disabled white man. The powers that be in Winston handed him over to a masked, heavily armed lynch mob, which took him to a point which is now on the campus of the NC School of the Arts, “tried” him on the site and hanged him. Oral history says that prominent citizens of both towns were among the members of the mob. Certainly, elected officials meekly handed him over to that mob.
That is the only lynching known to have been successfully carried out in Forsyth County.
In 1895, faced with rumors of a possible lynching, some young black males, armed mostly with small bore hunting shotguns, surrounded the local jail to protect a young man named Arthur Tuttle from being lynched. When they refused to disband, the Forsyth Rifles, armed with military weapons, were called to the scene and ordered to shoot to hit. The local papers mentioned that a few of the Riflemen received minor wounds in the “skirmish”. Nothing is said about casualties on the other side, although newspapers across the nation speculated that there might have been a massacre.
That story is here.
At the height of lynch hysteria in the United States in the early 20th century, lynchings often occurred with the collusion, if not outright participation of, local law enforcement. There are many stories of heroic sheriffs and policemen who prevented lynchings at the risk of their own lives. But the record shows that for every four attempted lynchings, three were successful.
That is why the 1918 attempted lynching and riot in Winston-Salem was an unusual event, in that local authorities, including the sheriff, the chief of police, the Home Guard and the mayor of the Twin City stood up to the mob. Not only were they able to protect an innocent man from being lynched, but they also then pursued serious charges against the perpetrators, sending many of them to the roads or to prison.
It takes a lot of guts to keep your cool and perform your duties when faced with an armed mob of hysterical, most likely drunk, lunatics. After having posted the two part story of the 1918 insanity, I realized that I had overlooked some resources that would allow you to see the faces of some of the people who rose above themselves .
In 1921, the newly elected mayor of Winston-Salem, James G. Hanes had a picture taken of himself with the Twin City’s police force. Many of the heroes of 1918 were still on the force at the time, so using an overscanned image and a bit of Photoshop, I can let you see what some of these folks looked like.