Nov. 7, 1837

Drawing of Lovejoy and wood engraving of pro-slavery attack on him in Alton, Illinois on Nov. 7, 1837. Credit: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library

Abolitionist, clergyman and editor Elijah P. Lovejoy was assassinated by a pro-slavery mob. 

After denouncing the lynching and burning of a Black man in St. Louis, a mob tore down his office and destroyed his printing press for the third time, he decided to move to Alton, Illinois, which was a free state. 

He continued to champion the end of lynchings of Black Americans and the abolition of slavery, saying, “As long as I am an American citizen, and as long as American blood runs in these veins, I shall hold myself at liberty to speak, to write and to publisher whatever I please, being amenable to the laws of my country for the same.” 

After mobs tossed another printing press in the river, donations came in from across the nation to buy him another one. When local leaders passed resolutions calling for Lovejoy to leave town, he rose to defend his rights. Yes, he had been threatened with being tarred and feathered and even assassinated, he said, with his wife driven from her sick bed to “save her life from the brickbats and violence of the mobs.” 

Despite these threats, he stood firm, and when his fifth press arrived, he hid it in a nearby warehouse along with abolitionist materials. While he and others stood guard, a mob shot him dead. 

John Quincy Adams called the news of the killing a “shock as of an earthquake through the country.” And when abolitionist John Brown learned of the killing, he swore, “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” 

No one was ever convicted of his murder. At the time, Lovejoy had to be buried in an unmarked grave, but in 1897, a 110-foot tall monument was built to honor him. 

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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.