JUNE 4, 1899

The Rev. D.A. Graham stepped to his A.M.E. pulpit in Indianapolis. He often read from the Gospels or spoke about the love of Jesus, but on this day, he decried the mistreatment of Black Americans. 

Over the past seven years, there had been more than 1,200 lynchings of Black Americans, but nothing had been done to halt them, he said. The newly formed Afro-American Council had just held a National Day of Fasting and Prayer to protest the lynchings of Black Americans: 

“We are arrested and lodged in jails on the most frivolous suspicion of being the perpetrators of most hideous and revolting crimes, and, regardless of established guilt, mobs are formed of ignorant, vicious, whiskey-besotted men, at whose approach the keys of these jails and prisons are surrendered and the suspicioned party is ruthlessly forced from the custody of the law and tortured, hanged, shot, butchered, dismembered, and burned in the most fiendish manner.” 

In some lynchings, mob members collected charred body parts as souvenirs, Graham said. 

“How many of them are guilty? What is the proof against them?” 

In Georgia, a white girl met a young Black man “coming down a path and as he did not get out of the path she was afraid and ran. She swore that he did not speak to her and did not follow her,” Graham said.

Despite the utter lack of evidence, 19-year-old Ed Aikin served 10 years on a prison chain gang for attempted assault, Graham said. 

“How can the colored youth ever learn to look upon himself as a man when he is constantly treated as a brute?” Graham asked.

In March 2022, after more than a century of lobbying, lynching finally became a federal crime.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.