John Hartfield: The Black Man Who Was Lynched for Dating a White Lady in 1919

John Hartfield was a black man who met a gruesome fate in Ellisville, Mississippi, in 1919, for the supposed crime of being romantically involved with a white woman, Ruth Meeks.

John Hartfield: The Black Man Who Was Lynched for Dating a White Lady in 1919

Born into a society deeply divided along racial lines, Hartfield sought a better life in East St. Louis. However, he eventually returned to Ellisville to visit his white girlfriend, Ruth Meeks, and took a job as a hotel porter in Laurel. Little did he know that his return would ignite a firestorm of hatred and violence.

The racial tensions of the time were palpable, and interracial relationships were met with fierce opposition, often leading to deadly consequences. When rumors of Hartfield’s relationship with Meeks spread among the white community, a group of men decided to take matters into their own hands. They accused Hartfield of raping Meeks, whom they claimed was 18, although she was actually in her mid-twenties. Despite Hartfield managing to elude them for a while, they pursued him for several weeks.

With the assistance of law enforcement, who turned a blind eye to justice, Hartfield was eventually apprehended and handed over to the bloodthirsty mob.

Hartfield, with a shoulder injury, received treatment from a white doctor brought in by the mob, purportedly to prolong his life until they could carry out the public lynching themselves.

John Hartfield: The Black Man Who Was Lynched for Dating a White Lady in 1919

The impending lynching of Hartfield was extensively covered in major newspapers, drawing a crowd of up to 10,000 spectators eager to witness the macabre event.

The grim anticipation of Hartfield’s lynching was widely publicized in major newspapers like the Jackson Daily News and the New Orleans States, with headlines declaring his fate a day in advance. With the sheriff’s compliance, he was handed over to a bitter mob on June 26, 1919.

On the day of the lynching, more than five thousand people flocked to Ellisville from all corners of the surrounding area to witness the lynching and burning at the stake of John Hart. Some businesses even shut down to allow their employees to attend the lynching.

The lynching of John HartfieldOn June 26, 1919, Hartfield was dragged out of his holding cell and hanged from a tall sweet gum tree. His lifeless body was then riddled with bullets.

The horror did not end there. Hartfield’s mutilated corpse was then brought to the ground and desecrated, with pieces of flesh sold as grotesque souvenirs of the lynching. Afterward, commemorative postcards of the lynching were created and sent out.

After the lynching, the then Governor of Mississippi, Theodore G. Bilbo, declared “This is a white man’s country, with a white man’s civilization and any dream on the part of the Negro race to share social and political equality will be shattered in the end“.

Despite the barbaric nature of John Hartfield’s lynching, justice was tragically denied, and no one was ever held accountable for his murder.


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