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The Lynching of John Henry James

John Henry James: Charlottesville Lynching Victim, 1898

John Henry James, a black man living in the Charlottesville area, was accused of assaulting a white woman, Miss Julia Hotopp, as she dismounted her horse to open the gate to her house. James, age and profession unknown, was arrested and charged with assault on July 11, 1898. That evening, for fear of a lynch mob, he was moved out of the Charlottesville jail and put on a train to Staunton, about 40 miles to the west. After jailing him in Staunton overnight, the Albemarle sheriff and Charlottesville police chief accompanied James on the train back to Charlottesville the next morning to return him to face trial.

About four miles west of Charlottesville, the train slowed as it approached Wood’s Crossing. A mob of about 150 men, unmasked and armed with pistols, stormed the train. The mob overwhelmed the two lawmen and seized James. When the train pulled into the platform, the mob threw a rope around James’s neck and carried him about 40 yards away to a small locust tree.

James was allowed a short time to pray. After that, he was hoisted up into the tree by the rope around his neck. As soon as his body emerged above the crowd, it was riddled with bullets. The Shenandoah Herald reported that James’s body was hit by 75 bullets. The next day at the coroner’s inquest, the undertaker testified that he found 30 bullet holes in the body.

The Richmond Planet, a black-owned newspaper in Virginia’s capital city, reported that during the two hours that James’s body hung from the tree, hundreds of people visited the scene, many snatching souvenirs, such as pieces of clothing, from his body.

The Albemarle County grand jury which had convened that morning was interrupted with news of the lynching. They issued an indictment against James as if he were still alive.

The Richmond Planet was an outlier among the area newspapers of the day in condemning the lynching: “When the law-abiding citizens rally to defend the jails with the same spirit possessed by those who proceed to attack them, lynch-law will go.”

SOURCE: James Madison University, Racial Terror: Lynching in Virginia, 1877-1927 Note: the JMU article says that the jury found him guilty; historian Jane Smith discovered that this was due to JMU drawing on an inaccurate account published in The (Richmond) Times.

For more information about the lynching of John Henry James:

  1. July 3, 2018 radio interview with Brendan Wolfe (Encyclopedia Virginia)

Page 1 newspaper article “Court Was Too Slow” appeared in the Topeka State Journal, July 13, 1898

Newspaper article below, “Colored Brute Lynched”, appeared in the Iowa County Democrat (Wisconsin), July 17, 1898

DMU Timestamp: July 13, 2018 16:17

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