Source, Story: History
: Teaching U.S. History in the Archives

Another School Year, Another Lynching: African American Communities During the Great Depression

W.E.B. Du Bois

On January 1935, Jerome Wilson was lynched in the town of Franklinton, Louisiana. Six month before his death, Wilson had been involved in a shooting incident that resulted in the death of a white man. Wilson was tried and found guilty in August 1934. The verdict was appealed, and Wilson's new trial was set to begin the day he was dragged from the jail and killed.

At the time of the lynching Horace Mann Bond lived with his wife Julia just outside Franklinton. The couple was stationed in the town at the behest of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropic foundation based in Chicago that supported efforts to improve black and southern education. The aftermath of the lynching and the Bonds' efforts to help the Wilson family are briefly chronicled in this selection of correspondence from the Horace Mann Bond Papers. These letters supplement an excellent published account of the lynching, The Star Creek Papers, edited by Adam Fairclough.

Other papers from the Bond collection provide a fascinating context for these published and archival documents. Bond photographed school buildings, students, and adult community members at more than 7000 black schools in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Alabama for the Rosenwald Fund in 1929. These images, alongside narrative reports from M.S. J Griffin, another Rosenwald employee stationed in Alabama, paint a detailed portrait of African American communities during the Great Depression. Bond and Griffin were candid about the negative aspects of the educational system they observed, yet these documents only hint at the tension between blacks and whites that exploded the night Wilson was lynched. As Bond writes in the opening of The Star Creek Papers, "It is difficult not to regard a lynching as an abstraction, a happening that does not really concern you."

Finding aid for the Horace Mann Bond Papers

Lesson plan (pdf)

Letters on lynching

Horace Mann Bond was in New Orleans when he learned of Jerome Wilson's death. As these letters demonstrate, Bond solicited advice from several colleagues on whether he and Julia should return to Franklinton. Letters from later in the year suggest the Bonds' ongoing efforts to assist the Wilson family after they had moved away from the town.

Bond wrote to Mr. Stringerfield, just eight days after the lynching, asking for his advice on returning to Star Creek 1935 Jan. 19 digital object
Edwin Embree, president of the Fund, wrote to Bond in early February, and neatly sidesteps the question of his return to Star Creek 1935 Feb. 2 digital object
Two weeks later, Bond received a letter from Will Alexander, with an enclosed letter on the situation at Star Creek. 1935 Feb. 12-14 digital object
John Wilson, the father of the lynched boy, wrote to Bond in April 1935, after Bond had returned to Star Creek. Note Wilson writes from Scottlandville, Louisiana, not Star Creek. 1935 April 12 digital object
In June 1935, Edwin Embree wrote to Bond, expressing his support for Bond's plan to obtain government support for the Wilsons 1935 June digital object

Documenting southern Black communities through photographs

In contrast to other collections of archival photographs [link to CCC module] featured on this site, the motive for taking and assembling these images is clear. Before beginning his career as an administrator at African American colleges, Horace Mann Bond was employed by the Julian Rosenwald Fund, and traveled to Louisiana, Alabama, and North Carolina to document educational facilities for African Americans. His pithy captions give viewers additional insight into the way Bond viewed his subjects and their surroundings.

"No, this is not a vine-covered cabin with the happy little pickanannies playing around it, but a school for 'em. Union County, North Carolina" undated digital object
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"Baldwin: Pig, children and dog eat lunch" undated digital object
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Public school, Wilmington, North Carolina digital object
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"Note glove made of grass sack" Undated digital object
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Three generations of African American landowners in Desoto Parish, Louisiana undated digital object
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School in Desoto Parish, Louisiana undated digital object
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Student, teacher, and State Rosenwald Agent undated digital object
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"Taught by an old man who has never been to high school." Union County, North Carolina undated digital object
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"School dismissed at 12:00 o'clock Friday; teacher always dismisses children at 12:00 on Friday, so say children" undated digital object
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Craig School, Union County, North Carolina undated digital object
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"Nine children, all brothers and sisters, in one school." Webster Parish, Louisiana undated digital object
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"A group of adult illiterates" Webster Parish, Louisiana undated digital object
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"Parent Teacher Association." North Louisiana undated digital object
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"Example of what an intelligent teacher can do." Cotton Valley School undated digital object
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"Church, school, and lodge hall, all built by community." Desoto Parish, Louisiana undated digital object
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School yard, Webster Parish, Louisiana undated digital object
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Documenting Southern Black Communities through Narratives

A Rosenwald employee who worked for the Fund in Alabama provide a more detailed view of how African American communities confronted the challenge of educating their children during the Great Depression. Building Agent M.S.J Griffin's monthly reports detail the painstaking process of raising funds to build and maintain schools and provide training for educators who taught in them. Note particularly the difficulty Griffin encountered when purchasing land for a new school in February 1932, and his fond farewell to his employers at the Fund in June 1932.

1931 July digital object
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1932 Jan. digital object
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1932 May digital object
1932 June digital object