Those who have read the post on the 1918 “race riot” that was not a race riot may remember this line:

“Since it was still the day shift, Luther Brown was in charge of the jail keys. The mob demanded that he give them up. Instead, he produced a gun and refused. The first of many acts of heroism.”

Someone asked me what was heroic about merely doing one’s job. I replied that in lynch law times it was at this point that the defense of an inmate usually broke down. Faced with an angry, usually drunken and heavily armed mob, whoever had the keys, the jailer, the sheriff, the mayor, the chief of police, handed them over.

That is exactly what happened in 1884, when the only known successful lynching in Forsyth County occurred. Had Luther Brown, in 1918, done the same, there is little doubt that Russell High, an innocent man, would have been lynched.

But Luther Brown had something inside him that so many before and after him had not, perhaps a sense of duty and the courage to perform that duty. So the mob was thwarted and Russell High lived to tell the tale.

Someone else asked me why I did not include a picture of Luther Brown. I explained that it was usually easy to come up with a picture of the sheriff, the mayor, the chief of police, but that pictures of the rank and file were far more difficult to come by. And in the hierarchy of a police organization, the jailer is the lowest image on the totem pole.

In fact, I said “If you had a choice of betting on my finding a picture of Luther or buying a lottery ticket, I would advise you to buy the lottery ticket.”

I am happy to report that as sometimes happens, I was wrong and the odds have been beaten. You are not going to win the lottery, but you are now going to get to see a picture, and a little personal information about the dutiful and courageous Luther Brown.


Luther brown, hero, from “The Police Review”, 1925. Click for full size.

Those who have read the story of The Battle of Henry Johnson may note one similarity between these two heroes. Henry Johnson was 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds. Luther Brown was 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds. As the old saw goes “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

In the days to come, you will get to see many more pictures of the early Winston-Salem police force, the “thin blue line” that has always stood between decent citizens and the “bad guys”.