Dec. 27, 1907: Oklahoma Lynching — A Grim Record for New State

Note: This is an encore post from 2006.

Dec. 27, 1907
Henryetta, Okla., by the Associated Press

A little more than a month after Oklahoma achieved statehood, James Garden became a wretched statistic: the first black to be lynched there.

On Dec. 24, Garden went to see liveryman Albert Bates about renting a rig. When Bates refused, Garden accused him of racism, went across the street to get a gun, returned and shot Bates to death.


By nightfall, a group of 100 men stormed the jail, fought off police officers and hanged Garden from a telegraph pole in the center of town, then used his body for target practice, riddling it with bullets.

“All the Negroes in Henryetta are terrorized and more than 100 came from there to Muskogee tonight,” The Times says.

The strife continued and there were fears that another lynching would touch off a race war. On Christmas Day, a mob stormed the jail a second time and tried to take “a one-eyed Negro named Smith, charged with inciting Garden to commit the crime,” The Times says. However the sheriff took Smith and Jim Johnson, who gave Garden a rifle, to Okmulgee before they could be lynched.

On Dec. 26, The Times reported that the white men of Henryetta had been sworn as deputies and armed themselves in response to reports that an armed band of 35 heavily armed African Americans were en route to seek revenge. There were “only 1,290 rounds of ammunition in the city,” The Times said, enough to shoot each member of the alleged black band 36 times.

Unfortunately, The Times (or AP) didn’t follow this incident, so there’s no telling what happened. But we in Los Angeles need not feel so superior to those in the raw, new state of Oklahoma. A quick check of Proquest shows that a lynching was narrowly avoided at Towne and 8th Street in 1906 after H. Whitfield of 907 W. 28th St., bit off the ear of Fritz Gustavson, 925 Crocker St., during a fight.

Whitfield’s life was saved by Deputy Constable Dennis Johnson, who arrested Whitfield and blockaded himself and his prisoner in a barbershop at 8th Street and San Julian until the police wagon arrived, despite threats from a mob that they would burn down the shop if Johnson did not turn over the black, who was soaked with a white man’s blood.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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