Anthony Crawford was a very successful Black entrepreneur, whose life took a tragic turn in 1916 when a disagreement over cottonseed prices led to his arrest and, ultimately, his lynching at the hands of a white mob. This distressing event, coupled with the confiscation of his family’s properties, highlights the profound extent of racism and brutality during that period.
Born in 1865 in Abbeville, South Carolina, just months after the end of the American Civil War, Anthony Crawford’s journey from humble beginnings to becoming a prosperous entrepreneur and landowner was a testament to his determination and resilience. Despite the challenges faced by African Americans in the post-slavery era, Crawford managed to create a name for himself. He built wealth through successful ventures, including a cotton business and a farming enterprise.
Crawford’s achievements extended beyond his business acumen. In the late 1890s, he co-founded the Industrial Union of Abbeville County, an organization dedicated to advancing the material, moral, and intellectual progress of the Black community. He was also the father of twelve sons, four daughters and extensive land holdings. He also had a net worth of approximately $20,000 to $25,000 in 1916 dollars, making him without doubt one of the richest men in Abbeville County.
Crawford’s financial success was extraordinary in a society where racial prejudice and segregation ran deep. However, it was his attempt to exercise his rights and challenge the established norms that led to his tragic demise. In October 1916, a dispute over the price of cottonseed escalated into an argument between 51 year old Crawford and a white merchant. This seemingly minor disagreement quickly spiraled, resulting in Crawford’s arrest on charges of assault and battery.
While Crawford was in police custody, a white mob gathered, demanding his release and resorting to threats of violence. On October 21, 1916, this mob of white men stormed the local jail, overpowering the sheriff, and brutally dragged Crawford from his cell.
The savagery that followed was unspeakable. Crawford was mercilessly beaten, tortured, and hanged from a tree. The white mob, resentful of his success, shot his body multiple times, leaving it in a gruesome state as a stark warning to other Black individuals who might contemplate challenging the racial hierarchy. As a gruesome spectacle meant to serve as a warning to other Black individuals who dared to challenge the racial hierarchy, his body was left hanging on the tree.
The lynching of Anthony Crawford sent shockwaves throughout the African American community, underscoring the harsh reality that even economic prosperity and social standing could not shield them from the pervasive violence of racism. Two days after his lynching, the white citizens of Abbeville voted to expel the remainder of Crawford’s family from South Carolina, seizing their significant property holdings and closing down many black-owned businesses in the area.
The subsequent trial and legal proceedings, which should have delivered justice, proved to be another travesty. Despite the murder occurring in broad daylight, with numerous witnesses and clear evidence, the grand jury astonishingly failed to find any of the white mob members guilty of lynching or rioting.
In 1928, the remnants of Crawford’s once-extensive land holdings were auctioned, further diminishing his family’s generational assets.
Anthony Crawford’s story serves as a sad reminder of the immense challenges faced by African Americans who dared to challenge racial norms and speak out against injustice in the past.
After reading about Anthony Crawford, read about Mary Turner, the Pregnant Black Woman Lynched in 1918 for Condemning Her Husband’s Killers