Tarentum, Pike County, Alabama
Bill Fourney, also referred to as Lewis Hilliard, died at the hands of a lynch mob near Tarentum in Pike County, Alabama, in early September, 1901. Allegedly, Fourney chased two underage girls from their school with a gun and attacked one, who later was found bleeding and unconscious with her face badly bitten, after the younger girl escaped and alerted the town. The town citizens took it upon themselves to find the suspect and deal with his crime. A mob tracked Fourney to his house and dragged him from his bed, where he said he had been all night because he was sick. Despite Fourney’s claims to have been home sick, the younger girl identified him as her attacker. The mob then chained him to a stake at the site of the crime and riddled his body with bullets before burning it.
The sheriff later investigated the lynching, but said he found it impossible to determine who participated in the mob that lynched Fourney. Every man he interviewed claimed that he was in his fields working in his cotton during the time of the lynching, and even men who admitted to hearing gunshot claimed they had thought it was hunters. Like most lynchings, the investigation into this one went no further, stalled by a close-mouthed community and reluctant sheriff who perhaps had no real interest in pursuing justice.
Some of the details that newspaper accounts provide about this lynching raise questions and red flags, possibly throwing doubt on the original crime and Fourney’s involvement. Reports varied on the ages of the girls, as well as the type of the gun used, and these discrepancies, along with the uncertainty around the suspect’s name, call into question the accuracy of both the story that the mob used to justify its actions, as well as the later reporting of the events. Knowing how most of these cases played out leaves room for skepticism about whether the suspect actually committed the crime, or whether the community simply blamed another random African American man. This case demonstrates the racial injustice present in the early twentieth century, as well as the crimes that went unpunished as a result of this racial injustice.
“An Awful Crime,” Troy Messenger, 4 Sep 1901, p. 7.
“Negro Fiend Shot to Death,” Times (Shreveport, LA), 4 Sep 1901, p. 5.
“Negro Shot and Burned,” Elba Clipper (AL), 5 Sep 1901, p. 1.
“A Negro Lynched,” Shawnee County News (KS), 6 Sep 1901, p. 3.
“Lynching in Coffee,” Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery, AL), 6 Sep 1901, p. 10.
“Additional News of Dastardly Attempt by Lewis Hilliard to Rape Miss Wilson,” Troy Messenger, 11 Sep 1901, p. 5.
“Bullets and Torch Used by Citizens of Alabama to Avenge Assault on White Girl,” Canebrake Herald (Uniontown, AL), 11 Sep 1901, p. 1.
“Additional News of Dastardly Attempt by Lewis Hilliard to Rape Miss Wilson,” Elba Clipper, 12 Sep 1901, p. 1.