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[Group A] Mob Madness, by Marion Vera Cuthbert (April 1936)

Author: Marion Vera Cuthbert

Cuthbert, Marion Vera. "Mob Madness." Crisis. (April 1936): 108, 114. Cuthbert, Marion Vera. “Mob Madness.” Ebony Rising: Short Fiction of the Greater Harlem Renaissance Era, edited by Craig Gable, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1934.

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Bom in St. Paul in 1896, the poet, college dean, and Columbia University Ph.D. Marion Vera Cuthbert apparently wrote only one short story, “Mob Madness,” for publication. In the wake of the 1934 lynching of Claude Neal, Cuthbert offered readers of The Crisis a stark account of the reach of mob violence into white families. Her story invites comparisons with Ralph Ellison’s “A Party Down at the Square.”


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Lizzie watched lina Jim stir his coffee. Her eyes were wide with fever and horror. Around and around he stirred, and the thin stuff slopped over and filled the saucer. But he did not notice because he was talking to their son.

Lizzie watched Jim stir his coffee. Her eyes were wide with fever and horror. Around and around he stirred, and the thin stuff slopped over and filled the saucer. But he did not notice because he was talking to their son.

“Shore, we got ‘im at the very spot I showed you and Jeff. Lem would o’ slit his throat right then, but the fellers back on the pike was waitin’ an’ wanted to be in on it, too, so we drug ‘im out o’ the brush. The boys wanted ter git at ‘im to once, but some o’ the more experienced on ’em cooled us down. You was there last night, so you know as much o’ that end o’ it as anybody.”

He turned to the neglected coffee now and downed it in great gulps. The thirteen-year-old boy watched, his face set in a foolish grin of admiration and wonder.

“Jeff said he heard a man down to the square say you all got the wrong nigger. Said this one didn’t do it.”

“Guess he did it all right. An’ if he didn’t, one of the black-stretched out Ole Man Dan’l, an’ the smell o’ this one roastin’ will teach the rest o’ ’em they can’t lay hands on a white man, b’Gawd!”

“Les see the toe again.”

The man took a filthy handkerchief out of his overalls pocket and unwrapped carefully a black object.

Lizzie swayed and, fearing to fall against the hot woodstove, sank into a chair.

Then Jim and the boy finished breakfast and went out For a long time Lizzie sat in the chair. After a while she got up shakily and went in the other room. Little Bessie was still sleeping heavily. She was ailing and her mother had been up with her most of the night.

But she would have been up all of that night, that terrible night, anyway. Neighbors had run in on their way to the square to ask her if he was not going, too.

She was not going.

Jim had come in long past midnight, little Jix with bins. His eyes were bloodshot. She would have believed hir drunk, but there was no smell of liquor on him. The boy was babbling incoherently.

“Maw, you should a seed it!”

Big Jim shut him up. The two fell into bed and siept at once.

After a time it was day, and Lizzie moved like a sick woman to get breakfast.

She stood looking down now on little Bessie. The child’s yellow hair had fallen across her face. This she brushed back and looked for a long time on the thin little oval of a face. The purple-veined eyelids were closed upon deep blue-gray eyes. Lizzie’s own mother had said she was the living image of little Bessie when she was a child. Delicate and finicky. But when she was sixteen, she had married six foot, red-faced Jiva. He was always rough, but men seemed all like that. She did not know then that he would . . .

After a little the child awoke. She gave her some breakfast, but would not let her get up. Allie Sneed fom next door ran in.

“Everything’s as quiet as kin be this mornin’. Not a nigger on the street. Lizzie, you missed it last night!”

Jim drove the truck for the store. He had gome to Terryvile and did not come for luach. Little Jim care in, swallowed his food, and was off. It was cold, so Lizzie kept the woodstove going smartly. She held little Bessie in her arms and rocked back and forth. All day she had not eaten, but she was not hungry. She rocked back and forth . . .

. . . they got It down in the brush on the other side of the branch . . . they took It into the woods . .. at dark they tied It to a car and dragged It back to the town . . . at the square they piled up a huge bonfire . . .

. . . Jirn had helped by bringing crates from the store . . .

. . . they had cut parts of It away. . . .

. . . Jim had something black in a handkerchief . . .

. . . then they put what was left of It on the fire . . . Their house was quite a way from the square, but she had heard the shouting. Every house around was emptied . . .

. . . once her brother had had an argument with another man. They fought, and pulled knives)on each other. Both were cut pretty badly, and they feared the other man would die. But she never shrank from her brother after that. All hot words and anger. He did bot shout, crazy. Afterward he did not brag . . .

. . . they did not fight It . . . they caught It like an animal in the brush . . . if It had been an animal they would have killed It at once . . . but This they took in the woods . . . before they killed It outright they cut off Its fingers and toes . . .

. . . Jim had something black in a handkerchief . . .


She put the child back in bed and went out in the yard to pump some water. She leaned her hot face against the porch post. In the dark by the fence something moved. It came nearer.

“Mis’ Lizzie? O my Gawd, Mis’ Lizzie! Dey burned me out las’ night. Ah bin hidin’ in de shacks by de railroad. Waitin’ fo’ de dahk. You allays good to us po’ cullud people. Hope yo’ Jim put me in de truck an’ take me to Terryville tonight. Tell ‘im he’p me, Mis’ Lizzie, tell ‘im he’p me!”

She could only stare at her. The voice of the black woman seemed far away, lost in the shouting in her head.

Their home was quite a way from the square, but she had heard the shouting.

The voice of the black woman seemed to go away altogether. So Lizzie went inside and began supper.

Soon after, Jir came home and ate his supper. He was weary and dour. As soon as he was through he went to bed, and the boy, too.

Lizzie sat by the fire. Little Bessie was better and sleeping soundly.

. . . if Jim had not been so tired he would have come to her. . .

. . . he did not yet know she was going to have another child. This child, and little Bessie, and little Jim, had a father who helped catch a Thing in the brush . . . and cut off the quivering flesh. It seemed that all the men in the town had thought this a good thing to do. The women, too. They had all gone down to the square. . .

. . . little Jim was like his father. The other day he had spoken sharp to her. As big Jim so often did. He said she was too soft and finicky for her own good. Most boys were like Jim. When little Bessie grew up, she would marry a boy like this.

. . . when little Bessie grew up . . .

. . . some boy who could touch her soft, fair flesh at night, and go forth into the day to hunt a Thing in the brush, and hack at Its flesh alive . . .

Lizzie looked and looked at the child. She remembered things which she had thought were true when she was a child. She was a woman now, and she knew that these things were not true. But she had thought they were true when she was a child.

The fire in the stove went down, then out. She made no effort to replenish it. Toward morning she went to the table drawer and took something out. She went in the other room and looked down on the uncouth figures of the sprawling man and boy. It was over the boy that she finally bent, but she straightened at once, remenabering that the man and the boy were one. So she turned to the little girl, and the lifted blade of steel did not gleam anymore.

Jim had had a good rest and awakened early. He found the bodies, already cold.

When the shock of the first terror let him fund his voice, he declared he would kill with his own hands every black man, woman, and child within a hundred miles of the town. But the sheriff made him see that it was not murder. All this she had done with her own hand

“She didn’t touch me, ner the boy. When they go mad like this, sometires they wipes out all.”

Out in the yard Allie Sneed said to an awestruck group, “I knew it was somethin’ wrong with her when she held back from seein’ the burnin’. A rare, uncommon sight, that, and she hid in her house missin’ it!”

DMU Timestamp: May 12, 2023 14:09