February 25, 1913 – Heath, Covington County, Alabama
On February 25, 1913, a mob shot sixteen year old African American teenager Joe Green to death at Heath, a small community outside of Andalusia, Alabama. Green’s white employer, Samuel Spicer, had accused the teenager of fatally shooting Spicer’s wife, Nobie, earlier that night, and then gathered and led a mob in shooting and killing Green not far from Spicer’s house.
Early newspaper accounts of the shooting and subsequent lynching proved wildly inaccurate. They incorrectly reported that Green had shot Spicer’s wife in revenge for Spicer having whipped him days earlier, labeled him an “assassin” and “murderous brute” who was “filled up on liquor,” gave no indication of his youth, claimed his body had been burned, and incorrectly referred to him as Jim. These inaccuracies demonstrate the common lack of concern for lynching victims and African Americans in general.
These early reports, along with the accusations against Green, quickly proved misleading and false. Three months after the shooting of Nobie Spicer and the lynching of Joe Green, authorities arrested Sam Spicer for having his own wife killed for the insurance money, which amounted to $16,000. At first, newspapers still tried to pin part of the crime on Green, alleging that Spicer had hired Green to kill his wife, but ongoing investigation revealed that the teenager had merely been a convenient scapegoat for Spicer, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After being convicted of killing his wife and sentenced to life imprisonment, Sam Spicer appealed his case to the Alabama Supreme Court, which twice upheld his conviction. Records from Spicer’s trial and appeals, particularly the witnesses’ testimony, clearly indicate that Sam Spicer led the lynch mob against Joe Green, and that no one—not even Nobie Spicer—saw Joe Green shoot her; rather, Sam Spicer based his allegations that Green had shot his wife on flimsy, fabricated claims and convinced others to believe his account. Although Spicer was held accountable for the murder of his wife, no one was ever prosecuted for Joe Green’s murder, despite witnesses testifying under oath to participating in the shooting. Sam Spicer later escaped from temporary parole from prison in 1930 and was never heard from again.
Some of Spicer’s descendants have recognized the injustice that their relative inflicted upon an innocent teenager, and have shared their account of the events with the family of Joe Green.
The family of Joe Green fled Covington County because of the violence against Joe and permanently relocated to Montgomery. Decades later, members of the family, despite their fear, participated in the Montgomery bus boycott and Civil Rights Movement. Some family members still remember and feel pain from what happened to Joe Green over a hundred years ago, but they are also determined that his story be told and remembered, to provide a measure of justice for a young boy who was granted none at the time of his murder.
Interviews with the family of Joe Green by Mya Bell, 2018.
Sam Spicer, Jr. vs. the State of Alabama, Alabama Supreme Court, 4th Div. 598 (July 1916).
Sam Spicer, Jr., Covington County. Alabama Convict Records, 1886-1952. Vol. 9: 1916-1920, ancestry.com.
Allen J. Green, Manuscript Census Returns, Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Staughns School House, Covington, Alabama; Page: 22; Enumeration District: 0034; FHL microfilm: 1240011, ancestry.com.
Joseph Green, Manuscript Census Returns, Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Andalusia, Covington, Alabama; Roll: T624_9; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 0046; FHL microfilm: 1374022, ancestry.com.
Allen Green, Manuscript Census Returns, Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920, St Clair, Lowndes, Alabama; Roll: T625_29; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 118, ancestry.com.
Allen Greene, Manuscript Census Returns, Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Saint Clair, Lowndes, Alabama; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 0020; FHL microfilm: 2339771, ancestry.com.
“Negro Shoots White Woman, Soon Lynched,” Pensacola News Journal, 26 Feb 1913, p. 1.
“Shot Woman; Was Lynched,” Evening Star (Independence, KS), 27 Feb 1913, p. 1.
“Negro Killed and Burned,” Washington Herald, 28 Feb 1913, p. 10.
“Lynchers Burn Victim,” Allentown Leader, 28 Feb 1913, p. 4.
“Covington Men Avenge Negro’s Brutal Crime,” Evergreen Courant (AL), 5 Mar 1913, p. 2.
“Negro Shoots a Lady. Lynching Follows,” Troy Messenger, 5 Mar 1913, p. 3.
“Shot Woman for Revenge,” Centreville Press (AL), 6 Mar 1913, p. 3.
“Dies from Injuries,” Opp Messenger, 4 Apr 1913, p. 6.
“Some Causes of Lynching,” Leavenworth Times (KS), 26 Apr 1913, p. 4.
“Charged with Hiring Negro,” Pensacola News Journal, 25 May 1913, p. 12.
“Had Wife Killed, Slew Slayer, Charge,” Nashville Tennessean, 29 May 1913, p. 1.
“Spicer in Jail,” Opp Messenger, 30 May 1913, p. 2.
“Charged with Slaying the Slayer of his Wife,” Evergreen Courant, 4 Jun 1913, p. 1.
“Held without Bond,” Guntersville Democrat (AL), 5 Jun 1913, p. 1.
“Parks Named Special Counsel,” Opp Messenger, 13 Jun 1913, p. 4.
“Alabama Items,” Franklin County Times (Russellville, AL), 19 Jun 1913, p. 3.
“Spicer’s Lawyers Make Arguments in his Defense,” Montgomery Advertiser, 18 Jul 1913, p. 2.
“Andalusia Man Hired Chauffeur…,” Pensacola News Journal, 20 Jul 1913, p. 1.
“Life Sentence for Sam Spicer is Verdict,” Troy Messenger, 23 Jul 1913, p. 5.
“Hired Negro to Kill Wife,” Mount Union Times (PA), 25 Jul 1913, p. 2.
“State Happenings: Sam Spicer is Convicted,” Rockford Chronicle (AL), 25 Jul 1913, p. 8.
“Spicer Must Spend Life in Prison for Wife Murder, Verdict,” Living Truth (Greenville, AL), 25 Jul 1913, p. 1.
“Case is Appealed,” Andalusia Star, 23 Jan 1914, p. 2.
“Returned to Andalusia,” Andalusia Star, 20 Mar 1914, p. 1.
“Sam Spicer Granted a New Trial,” Andalusia Star, 12 Jun 1914, p. 4.
“Sam Spicer is Found Guilty of Murder in First Degree,” Luverne Journal (AL), 15 Jul 1915, p. 5.
“Spicer Must Serve Life Imprisonment,” Andalusia Star, 7 Jul 1916, p. 1.
“Spicer Appeal Refused,” Andalusia Star, 2 Jan 1917, p. 1.
“Sues for Insurance,” Andalusia Star, 14 Dec 1917, p. 3.
“Payment on Life Insurance Will Not Be Made,” Andalusia Star, 30 Nov 1920, p. 1.