"A Warlike Demonstration": Legalism, Armed Resistance, and Black Political Mobilization in Decatur, Illinois, 1894-1898

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Abstract

Analyzes the political repercussions of the lynching of Samuel J. Bush, a black day laborer, in Decatur, Illinois, in 1893. The failure of local authorities to prevent Bush's capture provoked outrage from Decatur's African-American leaders, who were divided over how to deal with racial violence in their community. Wilson B. Woodford, Bush's lawyer, advocated using legal channels to protest the injustice and indict participants in the murderous mob. Journalist Everret Edward Jacobs, wary of the racial prejudice of the law and its enforcers, recommended extra-legal action. In 1894 black laborer James Jackson was arrested for the attempted rape of a white woman. Decatur's black community immediately took vigilante action, arming themselves and occupying the entire downtown area to prevent Jackson's capture. This fearsome demonstration of solidarity and retaliatory violence reflected a national trend toward greater militancy among blacks. In 1898, Bush's lynching divided black leaders once again when State's Attorney Isaac R. Mills and Constable Harry Midkiff sought the black vote in their Republican bids for higher office, yet met with resistance due to their complicity in the lynching. Although both candidates were defeated, the election results suggest that black voters were torn between supporting their party or addressing local racial issues. [S]
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)52-72
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Negro History
Volume83
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1998

Keywords

  • African Americans
  • lynchings
  • Black communities
  • White people
  • African American studies
  • political parties
  • violence
  • sheriffs departments
  • states attorney
  • Black White relations

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