Primary Resource

"Judge Lynch!," Roanoke Times (February 12, 1892)

In "Judge Lynch!," published on February 12, 1892, the Roanoke Times reports on the lynching of Will Lavender, an African American man accused of assaulting a twelve-year-old white girl. The day before the paper had named another suspect in the case.

Transcription from Original

JUDGE LYNCH!

Little Alice Perry Has Been Avenged.

ROANOKE'S FIRST EXECUTION.

Will Lavender Hanged to a Tree.

Arrested By the Girl's Uncle in the Afternoon—Taken to the Station-house, Followed by an Angry Mob—Threats of Lynching Freely Made—The Prisoner Removed from the Station-house—He Confesses His Crime to a Times Reporter—Taken from Officer Tally's House by Over One Hundred Men. Gallant Resistance by the Officers. Lavender Denies His Crime at First, but Acknowledges After Being Strung Up Once—No Shooting Indulged In. The Crowd a Very Orderly One.

The brutal negro who attempted to outrage little Alice Perry late last Monday evening has gone to his long home. He was captured yesterday afternoon, and within twelve hours had been tried, found guilty, condemned and executed by the highest of tribunals—the people—the court of last resort. The negro's name was William Lavender.

He is well known in Roanoke and is wanted for breaking into Levine's store a few nights ago and stealing a lot of goods, among them being a pair of rubber books, which helped to lead to his identification.

caught at the pump house.

Lavender was captured at the pump house of the Roanoke Gas and Water Company yesterday evening about 2:30 o'clock by J. W. Adams and Charles Critzer.

These gentlemen heard that the negro was still in the neighborhood and kept a sharp lookout for him. Fireman Clock, who is employed at the pump house, was also on the lookout. He had read a description of the negro in The Times and had received on also from Adams, the uncle of the little girl.

While clock was at work yesterday afternoon shortly after 12 o'clock a young negro entered the building. He wore a dark overcoat, but beneath this could be seen the edges of a gray suit. He wore a black slouch hat and rubber boots. He was thick-lipped and black.

Click eyed him sharply, and sized him up. Yes, he was the negro that was wanted, but he held his breath, maintained his composure and waited for the negro to speak.

He wanted work. What did he want to do? Oh, anything; he wasn't particular. Then Clock told him he wanted a man. He could cut wood. This seemed to suit the negro and pretty soon he had the axe going. As he chopped he watched about him.

Clock soon had a note written to Wesley Adams. It only stated that he should come quickly, as the negro was there. The missive was dispatched by a messenger, and Adams and Critzer armed themselves and started for the pump house.

As they drew near the negro spied them, and throwing down the axe, he ran in the direction of Mill Mountain; but Critzer was swift on foot and had vengeance in his eye. He soon overhauled the fleeing negro and had him by the collar. Then Adams came up. The negro resisted, but was soon compelled to submit by looking down the barrel of a dangerous looking pistol. He was taken back to the pump house and searched. He gave his name as Al. Winston, and said he was never in Roanoke in his life. Adams and Critzer decided to bring the negro to the city and turn him over to the authorities.

positively identified.

He was first taken to the home of Mrs. Perry and little Alice was called out. "That is the very negro," she said. The black scoundrel quavered under her piercing glance, and denied that he had ever seen the child.

"Yes, you have, sir, and I know you well enough," she added indignantly.

Little Jimmie Critzer was next called, and positively identified the man. Half a dozen men gathered around, and Adams and Critzer again took hold of the ruffian's arms and led him toward the city. Near E. H. Stewart's residence the part was met by a member of The Times' staff, who piloted them to the station house.

the prisoner recognized.

Just as the party came down Commerce street and turned up Campbell, Mack Morris, who was standing in front of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, said: "That's him," and at once joined the captors. Mr. Morris recognized the prisoner as Will Lavender, a notorious sneak thief, who assaulted him several months ago on Railroad avenue with a stone. Lavender served six months in jail for this offense.

On arriving at the station house the prisoner was searched and locked in a cell with chains on his feet. A great crowd, which had followed, flocked into the court room, and threats of lynching were freely made. The crowd became considerably excited but for want of a leader did nothing except walk about and sby [sic] they were ready to put the rope around his neck.

threats of lynching.

A prominent professional man was among the crowd. He did not believe in lynching when the law could be trusted, but he was of the opinion that justice in Roanoke could hardly be trusted. It had failed in too many instances to apprehend and punish crime.

Mayor Evans was apprised of the fact of Lavender's arrest and went to the station-house. He had a long private conversation with Chief Jones and a warrant was sworn out by the chief. Mayor Evans issued the document and it was served on Lavender in his cell.

It soon became reported that Lavender would be sent to Lynchburg on the 5 o'clock train. A crowd collected, and a plan was made to lynch the villain. A messenger was sent to the brick-yard and several men came over, but it soon became evident that Lavender could not be taken to Lynchburg. The crowd remained together, and then it was surmised that the prisoner would be taken on the 6 o'clock train.

The crowd was organized and sent to Shafer's crossing near the West End Furnace. Arrangements were made to stop the train at that point.

A large number of men were ready to take part, and Lavender would certainly have pulled hemp had he been taken away. But he was held at the station-house.

Chief Jones informed a Times reporter that it had been decided not to take the man away. He said it showed up badly for the city and the authorities to hustle a man off every time he was arrested on suspicion. He then consulted with the chief of the fire department and made arrangements to call out the department in case of an attack on the station-house.

the prisoner removed.

IT was but a few minutes after 8 o'clock when Chief Jones and Sergeant Griffin began hustling about he station-house. The doors leading into cells were closed and a Times reporter heard enough to be convinced that an escape was being planned.

The prisoner was let down by a rope from a window on the side of the building next to Roanoke street. Below were Officers Austin and Tally. As soon as the prisoner slid down to the ground Austin encircled his wrist with a pair of nippers. Tally seized the other arm and hustled the prisoner across Campbell street into the narrow alley behind the Methodist Church.

A Times reporter followed and up the narrow alley between Campbell and Church streets the party hurried.

"They don't want any one to go along," said Officer Tally.

But the reporter promised to keep still and was allowed to follow. He was virtually made one of the party.

"We are followed," said Austin, and turned out in Church street. But when the party reached the pavement he turned back in a run. Back into the main alley the party ran, and coming to a place where the fence was broken down, rushed into a small outhouse. Into this narrow enclosure the party rushed and just in time.

Pretty soon crowds began walking and moving about, and the officers, reporter and prisoner held their breath. Back again the crowd tramped, and after waiting about 15 minutes the party rushed through the muddy alley to Park street.

Here the moon was shining bright, but the coast was clear. Park street was followed by Eighth avenue, and then making a turn to the left a cluster of pines was cleared and the party took refuge under a stable shed, in the rear of a vacant house, on Tenth avenue.

lavender confesses.

Tally went back to report to the chief and sergeant, and Austin caused the prisoner to sit down. The officer and reporter did likewise and here, after several denials in which he was caught, he made a statement.

At first he denied ever being near the river and said he was at the Crozer Furnace on Monday evening looking for work.

He was then told that there was positive proof that he was at the river on Monday evening, and that he had better tell the straight story. It would be better for him. Still he hesitated and began telling about something.

"The impression is," said the reporter, "That you only pushed the girl over in play and did not mean to do anything serious or commit an outrage. The girl ran home and told that you tried to kill her, and people believed right away that you attempted an assault. Now tell us just how it was and it will be better for you."

Again he hesitated, but finally said:

"I'm going to tell you the truth, just how it was. I was over to the river that evening fishing under the bridge. I saw two men just above me. I fished till nearly dark, and left my pole with the hook and line on it under the bridge. I went up on the bridge and got up on top of it. I saw nothing of the girls. I went on up toward the brick-yard and happened to look around. I saw something white and didn't know what it was, but it was one of the girl's aprons. I stooped down and picked up two rocks. I didn't want anything to get after me. Then two girls come up walking fast and one of them passed me. The biggest one was behind. I pushed her with my elbow and she fell down. The little girl run and screamed. I asked the girl when she got up to excuse me. I asked if Mr. Scott didn't live around here. She didn't know, and went on."

He was then asked if he did not throw her down. He denied doing so, but afterward admitted in his conversation that he threw her down.

That was enough to convince the policemen and reporter that he was the guilty negro who attempted the heinous outrage.

in a private residence.

Shortly after this conversation two dark figures strode through the moonlight and up to the shed. They were Sergeant Griffin and Officer Tally. Then the party took a long walk through the alleys until a private residence was reached. Here the hospitality of the kitchen was thrown open. A fire was made in the cook stove and a general warming up followed.

Griffin placed a pair of handcuffs on the prisoner and he became talkative. Austin questioned him about a dozen or more cases of stealing, got the names of the thieves and where lots of goods were hidden.

Lavender told all he knew. He told where Paul Angle, who shot and killed a negro boy while in bathing in Roanoke river last summer, could be found.

The prisoner says he is 19 years old and was born and raised in Blacksburg, where his people now live. He looks to be older than he states and says he has been stealing since he was ten years old.

wanted to detain the reporter.

By this time it was getting late and the reporter desired to go. "No, you must remain until morning," said Sergeant Griffin.

The reporter then asked permission to send the matter to The Times office by one of the officers. This would not do, they said. The strictest secrecy must be maintained.

It was finally decided that The Times man could be trusted, and after this part of the story was written he was allowed to depart from the comfortable kitchen.

excitement runs high.

There was never such excitement known in Roanoke before. The mobs raged and roared, and when it became known that the prisoner had been taken out fo the station house a crowd, numbering more than three hundred people, gathered.

The men that went to Shafer's Crossing came back when they found that the negro was not on the train, and by agreement met in the rear of Williams' livery stable.

Then it was soon reported that the prisoner had been spirited away, and the crowd collected in front of the station house.

mayor evans addressed the mob.

Mayor Evans was present and when he saw the demonstration of the mob he stepped out on the porch and tried to pacify them. He told them tha the man was not in the station-house, that he had been taken away and it would be better to let the law take its course. As yet the man had not been positively identified.

There were two men that answered the description already given. He advised the man to go away and wait for the proper action of the law.

At this point some one called out that all they wanted to know was whether or not the man was in the station-house. He asked that one man be allowed to go in and search the cells, and if they failed to find him they would go away. The mayor would not consent, and again the mob raged and roared.

One man told Mayor Evans that he would get in or walk over his dead body. He was allowed to go in.

At one time it was reported that the prisoner had been taken to Salem. A rush was made for the dummy station and the mob was about ready to fire the machine up and start out. But it soon prevailed that the prisoner was in Roanoke in hiding, and would not be taken from the corporate limits.

searching for the man.

The mob soon divided into squads, and began to take in every portion of the city where a policeman's house was located.

Frequent inquiries came into The Times' office about the missing reporter. It had been stated that he skipped off with the policemen and prisoner, and it was thought he would reveal the whereabouts of the man they wanted.

One party of men boarded the 11 o'clock train and went to Bonsack's. Another party of horsemen went across the river and scoured the surrounding country.

the successful search.

The search for Lavender was conducted scientifically. IT was thought at first that he had been smuggled into a team and taken to Salem. It was after 11:30 before this was shown to be wrong. Word was received from Vinton, Bonsacks and Blue Ridge that he had not been brought there. The poor farm was looked at without success.

Then it followed that he was in all probability in the city limits. Where? Probably in some officer's house west of Commerce street, for in that direction he had been taken. Every policeman's house in that region was scrutinized with eagle eyes. The theory was right. The scent was struck. The quarry was run to its hole. He was located in Officer Tally's kitchen.

Within fifteen minutes a hundred determined men were there.. The house was surrounded. Admission was demanded and refused. "Officers," they said, "you can't help yourselves. We are going to see this negro." Still the officers refused. The door went in with a crash.

"Hold back," said the leaders. "Bring up the men who can identify him."

Three came forward. There was no question. The man was absolutely identified.

"Now, officers, we are going to take that man."

"Not if we can help it," was the response of the plucky officers.

But what were three against a hundred. They held the doorway for three minutes against the pressure of forty stalwart shoulders and gave not an inch. Then there was a rush and the crowd was in.

Still the officers protected the cowering wretch in the corner. But a half a dozen seized each policeman, and the negro went out. The officers struggled heroically to the last. But the die was cast, and they staggered panting and exhausted into the cool night air, their uniforms torn and disheveled, their strength gone, their prisoner taken.

The party hurried the negro to the bank of the river near the ore washer and just without the city limits on the north bank of the river. A long inch of rope was found at the washer, a hang man's knot quickly tied and the noose thrown over the quaking wretch's neck.

"Now say your prayers."

Down on his knees in the light snow went Lavender. His prayer was an almost incoherent jumble of denial. He was given a taste of the tightened rope. It quickened his memory.

He acknowledged that he was the man whom Alice Perry had identified. Still he denied touching her. Again the rope was tightened and he went three feet from the ground. When he came down again, he owned up. It was still a rambling confession, but he admitted being drunk and knocking the girl down.

"Are you satisfied?" the party was asked.

"Yes," came the answer from deep throats, "It is enough. Time!"

The execution took place at 1:30 a.m.

The black and pitiable body dangled six feet from the ground, swinging and swaying with the twist of the rope. There were one or two convulsive struggles and the deed was done. Twenty minutes later the party dispersed. There was not a drunken or boisterous man in the party.