Anatomy of a lynching bonanza

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Anatomy of a Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal by James R. McGovern

This book, by Dr. James R. McGovern provides a well-researched case study of the highly advertised and heinous mob-lynching of a young African American male, Claude Neal, who allegedly raped and killed a young white girl, Lola Cannidy in Jackson County, Florida on October 19, 1934. McGovern provides a historical account of how the tragic sexual assault and murder of a young white teenager in the depression era south incited a vengeful white mob to remove Neal from a jail in Brewton, Alabama on October 27, 1934 and transport him back to Jackson County where he was burned, mutilated, castrated, force-fed his genitals, shot, drug behind a truck, poked with sticks by children, and eventually hung in front of the Jackson County Courthouse. McGovern also provides details regarding how the Florida Governor, local law enforcement, and the nation knew about the intended lynching in advance and did nothing to prevent it. Called the “Last Spectacle Lynching,” McGovern’s book provides insight into how Neal’s horrific death highlighted lynching and how the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other organizations used it to press for anti-lynching legislation, which ultimately failed.

Dr. James R. McGovern (1928-2012) was a very educated, highly experienced historian, and educator. He was a Korean War veteran, held a Bachelor of Science from Villanova University, a Master of Arts from the University of Pennsylvania, and earned a Doctorate in Philosophy from the University Pennsylvania in 1957. He taught as an instructor and assistant professor at colleges in Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, and as professor emeritus and Faculty Chair for History at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. He published seven books, numerous articles, and served as a Fulbright Professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. McGovern’s distinguished credentials, career, and accomplishments validate his qualifications in writing this well reviewed historical accounting and analysis of the Neal lynching. The extensive bibliography and the interviews documented in support of the obvious exhaustive research, lend unquestionable credibility to McGovern’s book. According to the author of the Foreword to the Update Edition in the front of the book, Manfred Berg, “McGovern conceived his book about the story of Neal’s death as a case study that, he hoped, would “facilitate understanding, with the aid of social and psychological theory, of the phenomenon of lynching itself” (X).

Claude Neal’s gruesome death, as conveyed through McGovern’s research brings to light for discussion the criminal act of lynching, that apparently was the passively accepted norm in the American South. Passively applied as a descriptive term because the local law and federal law enforcement did very little to prevent the action or to judiciously prosecute the individuals who carried out the murders. According to McGovern, “Only six states in the 1930s had disciplinary statutes prohibiting lynching, four of them in the south, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina” (12). This is crucial to the analysis of this tragic tale of mob violence in that the claims by the Mayor of Mariana, the local authorities, and the Governor of Florida, better than 80 percent of the people in the mob were “outsiders” and primarily from Alabama, which prohibited lynching. Although McGovern’s book only focuses on the lynching of Claude Neal and not the other 7 African Americans lynched in Jackson County, he does provide a brief history of lynching and mentions the lynching of over 3,200 African Americans in the South through 1940. The case study presented by McGovern raises the issue of the complete disregard for Neal’s constitutional rights as an American citizen by the local and state authorities. The Jackson County Sheriff, while attempting to protect Neal from the mob by relocating him to various jails, ultimately mad a grave error in judgement by removing Neal from Army Military Police custody at Fort Barrancas and moving him to the jail in Brewton, Alabama. A larger issue raised by his case study is the fact that the press knew about the intended lynching and practically advertised it as an attraction or show. McGovern provides a copy of the telegram sent from Walter White of the NAACP to the Florida Governor, David Sholtz, advising him of the Associated Press had notified him that the Jackson County Sheriff, John P. Harrell announced the lynching with details. In the telegram White implored the Governor to take all necessary action to intervene and prevent the lynching, which fell on deaf ears. The morning after Neal’s death saw white mob violence visited upon African Americans in Marianna and the call by citizens and eventually the Mayor for the deployment of National Guard troops to quell the violence. During the aftermath of the lynching, the Governor claimed that the mob justly executed Neal saved the state the time and expense. Even though an alleged investigation occurred, no arrest or prosecution took place. The most disturbing fact within the book, besides how the mob killed Neal, is that the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt did very little to acknowledge the horrible crime or to support the anti-lynching legislation that failed to pass. McGovern conveyed the results of his research and study well, which he obtained from a broad variety of sources and shapes into a theory of social change. Finally, his documentation of Claude Neal’s lynching brings to the forefront the dark period of American history and practice of blatant murder of African Americans in the South without concern for consequences as none existed.

McGovern’s book is well researched and written with a powerful dark tale that challenges the narrative of American history taught below college level. He successfully produced and facilitated the publication that presents the facts behind the Neal lynching and an understanding of what he believed caused lynching as a practice in the American South along with the associated social theories. Neal’s tragic mutilation, torture, and death portray complete disregard for basic human rights, dignity, and the constitutional rights of an American citizen as evidence of the American society and extreme racial hatred that existed during the early 20th Century. I found it interesting and disappointing that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation supposedly worked diligently to investigate the brutal murder only to close the case in October of 2013, citing the age of the case, the lack of new leads of names of the perpetrators of the crime, the previous investigations by the State of Alabama and Florida, and McGovern’s well researched book. I highly recommend this book for every American to read, especially for it to become part of the program of instruction for American History within post-secondary schools.
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Published 17.05.2019

BONANZA S10 ep.29 The Fence

Anatomy of a Lynching

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