Jesse Thornton: The Alabama Man Who Was Lynched for Not Addressing a White Man as “Mister”

On June 22, 1940, in the small town of Luverne, Alabama, Jesse Thornton, a 26-year-old African-American man, was lynched for allegedly failing to address a white man as “Mister.” Thornton managed a chicken farm and had gone to town to visit a barbershop. While standing outside with friends, he made a remark about a passing police officer, referring to him simply as “Doris Rhodes.”

Jesse Thornton: The Alabama Man Who Was Lynched for Failing to Call a White Man “Mister”

This minor slip enraged Officer Rhodes. He struck Thornton with his weapon and arrested him. As Rhodes and another officer took Thornton to jail, a mob formed. They jeered and threw stones at Thornton. During the chaos, Thornton managed to escape, but his injuries slowed him down. The mob quickly pursued him, firing gunshots and pelting him with bricks, bats, and stones. They eventually caught up with him, dragged him into a swamp, shot him to death, and dumped his body inside.

Jesse Thornton: The Man Who Was Lynched for Failing to Call a White Man

The violence did not end there. The mob went to Thornton’s house, where they abused his wife, Nellie May. Later, they returned, abducted her, and threatened to kill her if she reported the incident.

A week after the lynching, fishermen stumbled upon Thornton’s body in the Patsaliga River. Later, town officials recovered his remains and buried him in the black cemetery.

The local NAACP chapter investigated the lynching. With the help of Thurgood Marshall, they sent a report to the United States Department of Justice. Despite their efforts, no one was prosecuted for Thornton’s murder.


Jesse Thornton


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