13 Stanly County, 1892

Stanly Has a Lynching: The Murder of Alexander Whitley: A Family Legacy Entangled in a Web of Fiction & Folklore.


 

13

 

Stanly County, 1892

 

They do not see that by their tacit encouragement, their silent acquiescence, the black shadow of lawlessness in the form of lynch law is spreading its wings over the whole

 

   The Standard may have mocked Stanly County as the “hindquarters of the but to Alex, it was home. Perhaps he hoped that he was returning to the community portrayed in the Standard as one with “some of the best people and the best stock in the whole country; they are an intelligent, kind, hospitable, moral

 
 

Albemarle Main Street, 1900

Photograph Courtesy of the Stanly County Museum, Albemarle, North Carolina

 

   Ballads and fictional stories marked Alex Whitley as the most notorious bad man to live in the Stanly community. His was the only lynching in Stanly County, and that fact is used to identify his death as reflective of his unique criminal character. But the truth is that murder was a common occurrence in Stanly and Cabarrus Counties in 1892. Men were tried and convicted of murder on numerous occasions, and lynching was frequently discussed in the community in instances where men were accused of such crimes.

   Just six months before a mob lynched Alex, the Standard published an article that stirred pro-lynching, anti-government sentiment through graphic depiction of the disparate sentencing handed down by the courts.

 

IS IT

 

Negro Dawles, of Charlotte, is a condemned man—he’s to be hanged.

 

Gov. Holt, who has commuted the death penalty to imprisonment for life for others, has had to strain law and facts 50 per cent greater than would be required in Dawles case.

 

Dawles is a negro and, in the opinion of some men, ought to hang.

 

The law, that calls for the breaking of Dawles neck upon the scaffold, is unjust—it is inhuman, uncivilized, and directly opposed to every divine law.

 

What are the facts in the case?

 

He killed no one; he tried to kill no one; he was unarmed; he had no murder in his heart; he stole a 25 cent handkerchief and a silver-cased surgical instrument and several dollars in money.

 

For this, he is to hang.

 

In the stealing line, two men worked a bank and defrauded many depositors—they served a short time in the State prison, and the governor pardoned them.

 

In the murder category, we find Dave Fraley, of Stanly, who shot a man in the back (cold-blooded, premeditated murder) convicted of manslaughter alone and sent to the penitentiary for 12 years—they are petitioning for his pardon four years before his term is out.

 

Again, the Motz boys of Lincoln County committed murder (a cowardly murder) and they were acquitted—the people declared them heroes!

 

It is law that calls for Dawles’ hanging—that law, under the circumstances connected with his crime, is barbarous; it is uncivilized, unjust and shameful.

 

Gov. Holt should, in the name of right, humanity and of civilization, to at least commute Dawles’ death sentence to life imprisonment. He cannot afford to let him

 

   This article cites two examples of men known to have committed murder who received a light sentence by the courts: Dave Fraley, and the Motz boys. The article communicates a clear message that the courts were not capable of delivering justice; the system was rigged, inept, and incompetent. These messages dispersed through the news media set the stage for lynching by undermining the effectiveness of the justice system.

   The following article, describing the murder of Frank Allman by Jackson Furr in Stanly County a few months before the lynching of Alex Whitley, documented not only the potential for Mr. Furr’s lynching, but accurately foreshadowed the future lynching of Alex Whitley.

 

THEY

THEY FEARED LYNCHING OF THEIR

 

The Young Man Furr, Now in Stanly’s Jail for the Murder of Young Allman, Was Thought by Some to Be in Danger of

 

Standard readers know of the killing of the man Allman in Stanly County a few weeks ago.

 

Owing to a general sentiment among the people that justice in our courts is slow or abortive, and owing to several remarkably light verdicts in Stanly County, there is there, as well as elsewhere, some misgivings about meting out justice to offenders by our courts.

 

Acting upon this belief, although there was no probability of a lynching taking place in Stanly County, many of Furr’s friends spent the nights in Albemarle for over a week, armed with shotguns, to defend and protect Furr.

 

This was unnecessary. Stanly people—the masses—do not want to resort to lynch law to right wrongs and to punish offenders.

 

But, fellow citizens, the time will come when the people will be encouraged to do so, unless the reins of justice are drawn tighter—unless law, facts and justice prevail instead of childish sentiment.

 

It is sad (admitting the verdict an honorable and just one in the Motz case for argument’s sake) when the people have to engage in a jubilee over justice (?) having prevailed!

 

You say croaker, kicker!

 

You dare not! The records of our courts are too full of

 

   Here, the news article reflected the general sentiment among the people in Stanly County as having misgivings about the courts meting out justice to offenders. The writer attributed these misgivings to a series of light verdicts in Stanly County. Mr. Furr, charged but not convicted of the murder of Mr. Allman, was not protected from a potential lynching by Sheriff Snuggs but rather by Mr. Furr’s friends, armed with shotguns. The Motz case is again noted as an example of an ineffective court system, full of atrocities. News articles such as these professed a rational view, but in fact these incendiary articles stirred up distrust of and impatience with the judicial system.

   Three months before the lynching of Alex Whitley, Mr. John Fisher murdered Mr. Green Henley. After that murder, Mr. Fisher, described as a man of “bad character,” was on the run, threatening to kill two other men in the community. The article describing this murder adamantly denied the possibility of lynching, thus delivering the clear message that lynching had been broached.

 

Let it be understood, Before some lying correspondent may telegraph it all over the country, that no lynching has been threatened. But if possible, the murderer will be caught and the people will see that he gets a fair trial before the proper

 

   These are records of real men whose acts of murder are undeniable. Their stories raised the specter of lynching that bubbled beneath the surface of everyday activities in Stanly County—a prelude to “the time when people will be encouraged to do Although “Stanly people—the masses—do not want to resort to lynch law to right wrongs and to punish June 9, 1892, was the perfect confluence of dissatisfaction with the courts, anti-government sentiment, and fear. The people were encouraged to commit a lynching, and they did, in fact, lynch Alexander Whitley, who had returned to Stanly seeking protection and refuge.

 

Voices of

 

   Tension and excitement began to build when lynching was first discussed by the men who captured Alex.

 

It was feared that he would be severely dealt with by this determined band of men, but the law will take its course here, but after he reaches Arkansas, and if the charge is true, it is doubtful whether he will reach a lawful death or not. Nothing of late years has so excited our neighbor county as this affair. Everybody almost was eager that the suspected murderer should be brought to

 

   Stanly County appeared to be a powder keg, with pro-lynching forces gathering momentum. On Tuesday, June 7, two days before the lynching, a group of men in neighboring Cabarrus County gathered and talked of lynching Alex, but their wives “persuaded them not to

 

Failure First

 

The Standard learns from a reliable source that it was the purpose of a band to mob Whitley on Tuesday night but their plans miscarried. Quite a number from Cabarrus had promised to go, but their wives persuaded them not to go and the matter was frustrated for that

 

   The action taken by this small group of women in Cabarrus County predicted the growing resistance of white women to lynching. By 1937, white women in the South who opposed lynching and fought to end the practice formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, publishing a brochure entitled Feeling Is

   Their research, which reviewed the circumstances surrounding lynchings, was compelling and delivered an accurate assessment of factors that allowed lynching to continue in the South. Their brochure described the position and power of a county sheriff regarding lynching.

 

The sheriff of a county reflects the state of mind of his constituents more truly than does any other official elected by popular vote. He knows what is expected of him and as a rule, he meets these expectations even if he is cast in the role of a craven.

 

He is the barometer of public opinion on law of servants and, as a barometer indicates the weather, the sheriff indicates the mind of his people in respect to law.

 

If there is intent to lynch a prisoner, the sheriff knows it in response to the emotional demands of his supporters.

 

He knows when feeling is tense and judges accurately the number of votes involved.

 

He acts in line with his judgment.

 

He may quietly remove his prisoner.

 

He may increase his force to stand off the mob.

 

He may allow himself to be “taken by surprise and overpowered.”

 

Whichever one of these courses he adopts he is following the wishes of the majority of his political supporters as nearly as he can determine

 

   The Association emerged from the collective work of women like those who spoke up and stalled the lynching of Alex Whitley. But the voices of the Cabarrus wives begging for restraint did not endure; their men heard the siren call of lynchers and followed it to the jail where Alex Whitley, a lone prisoner, was shackled to the wall of his cell awaiting his executioners.