December 27, 1893-
Brantley, Crenshaw County, Alabama
In late December 1893, African American Mack Segars was walking along the tracks of the Georgia Central railroad near Brantley, Alabama, when he encountered a twelve year old white girl and a few other children. The girl, a daughter of a local white farmer, later alleged that Segars tried to seize and assault her, but when she warned him that her father was on his way, he became frightened enough to let her go and run away. Although the children were unhurt, the girl raised the alarm, prompting an armed mob to seek out and capture Segars near Troy. They returned him to Brantley, where the children identified him from the earlier encounter. Allegedly, Segars confessed to attempting to assault the young girl, claiming he had been drunk and had not known what he was doing. The mob took Segars just outside of town and murdered him, hanging him from an oak tree and shooting him repeatedly. Accounts of the lynching stressed that Segars had a “bad record,” having served time for a previous attempted assault. Statements like this and reports of confessions like Segars’, although often fabricated or coerced, served as methods of justifying lynching as necessary and acceptable.
While all lynchings functioned as warnings to the larger African American community to stay within the narrow restrictions of the Jim Crow system, white vigilantes known as whitecappers made the warning from this lynching more explicit, actively using Mack Segars’ death to intimidate other African Americans in the area. In the late 1800s and early 1900s in the US South and Midwest, mobs of white men known as whitecaps sometimes threatened, attacked, and even killed African Americans, particularly ones they viewed as being too successful and thus challenging the racial status quo. Whitecappers organized in Crenshaw and neighboring Pike County in late 1893 and early 1894, with reports stating that whitecappers were active in Crenshaw County just before Christmas of 1893, only days before Segars’ lynching, and again in February 1894 when they badly beat an African American man. In early March, these men posted notices on a local black church during services, ordering the members of the congregation to either leave the county entirely, or face the same fate as Mack Segars, explicitly linking the lynching of one man to the message for the whole community. Later that night, the whitecappers flogged and whipped an elderly black preacher and his wife so badly that they were not expected to live, again ordering the couple to leave the county. That same week, whitecappers posted notices at a lumber mill in Brantley with a similar warning for the African American workers the mill had recently hired to leave the area.
The Pike and Crenshaw whitecappers did not stop their work after their early March warnings to African Americans to leave town to avoid the fate of Mack Segars. Just a week after the church and mill notices and the beating of the elderly black couple, whitecappers attacked three African American men and one African American woman on a road outside of Troy, Alabama, beating them, shooting at them, and then setting their wagon on fire. The Governor issued a proclamation against whitecapping in Pike and Crenshaw counties and offered a four hundred dollar reward for help arresting the perpetrators. Pike County authorities did arrest five men for the crimes, but then discredited the witness testimony of the victims, leading to acquittal. The main witness who had been attacked on the road outside of Troy was himself later arrested for perjury against the alleged whitecappers. Newspaper accounts argued that the witnesses had poor reputations and should not be trusted, further turning public opinion against the victims rather than the perpetrators.
Prosecution of whitecappers was only slightly more successful in Crenshaw County, where eight white men were convicted and given one dollar fines and three months hard labor each. The convicted men included three uncles of the girl whose claim of having almost been assaulted led to the lynching of Mack Segars months earlier, demonstrating the community ties that enabled and protected racial violence. Despite the initial conviction of these eight whitecappers, however, the Alabama Supreme Court later reversed the that decision, and no one ever faced charges for Segars’ lynching. The rarity of white men being prosecuted much less convicted for violence and intimidation of African Americans, and the eventual acquittal of these men, underscores the lack of justice for African Americans such as Mack Segars during Jim Crow.
“Found Hanging from a Tree,” Houston Post, 29 Dec 1893, p. 6.
“Dangling from a Limb,” Atlanta Constitution, 29 Dec 1893, p. 2.
“The Alabama Method,” Morning Post (Camden, NJ), 29 Dec 1893, p. 4.
“He Had a Bad Record,” Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery), 29 Dec 1893, p. 7.
“He Had a Bad Record,” Montgomery Advertiser, 29 Dec 1893, p. 2.
“Rope and Lead: Administered to Mack Segars at Brantly,” Greenville Advocate (AL), 3 Jan 1894, p. 1.
“Late State News,” Marion Times Standard (AL), 3 Jan 1893, p. 1.
Covington Times (Andalusia, AL), 2 Mar 1894, p. 2.
“Brantley, Ala.: An Aged Negro Couple Whipped by White Caps,” Times-Democrat (New Orleans), 2 Mar 1894 p. 2.
“White Caps,” Kansas City Gazette, 3 Mar 1894, p. 1.
“Ordered to Leave,” Daily Times (Davenport, IA), 3 Mar 1894, p. 1.
“Late State News,” Herald Journal (Bessemer, AL), 8 Mar 1894, p. 6.
“Domestic,” Fayette County Leader (IA), 8 Mar 1894, p. 2.
Greenville Advocate (AL), 14 Mar 1894, p. 4.
“Local News,” Covington Crescent (Andalusia, AL), 16 Mar 1894, p. 3.
“Highland Crime,” Troy Messenger, 21 Mar 1894, p. 5.
“A Proclamation,” Troy Messenger, 21 Mar 1894, p. 4.
“Local News,” Troy Messenger, 21 Mar 1894, p. 3.
“He Told Many Tales,” Montgomery Advertiser, 24 Mar 1894, p. 2.
“The Pike Episode,” Montgomery Advertiser, 25 Mar 1894, p. 10.
“Warned by White Caps,” Saint Paul Globe (MN), 25 Mar 1894, p. 7.
Union Springs Herald (AL), 28 Mar 1894, p. 2.
Greenville Advocate (AL), 28 Mar 1894, p. 1.
“Arrested,” Troy Messenger, 28 Mar 1894, p. 3.
“No White Caps, ” Troy Messenger, 28 Mar 1894, p. 3.
The Times and News (Eufaula, AL), 29 Mar 1894, p. 4.
“Late State News,” Journal-Tribune (Gadsden, AL), 30 Mar 1894, p. 2.
“Around the State,” Montgomery Advertiser, 30 Mar 1894, p. 7.
“White Caps in Alabama,” Murfreesboro Index (NC), 30 Mar 1894, p. 1.
“Governor Jones’ Reply,” Troy Messenger, 4 Apr 1894, p. 3.
“Court Notes,” Troy Messenger, 4 Apr 1894, p. 5.
“The White-Cappers Tried,” Montgomery Advertiser, 28 Apr 1894, p. 7.
“Crenshaw White Caps,” Troy Messenger, 2 May 1894, p. 3.
Greenville Advocate (AL), 2 May 1894, p. 4.
“Negro Lynched,” Evening Messenger (Marshall, TX), 22 Nov 1894, p. 12.
“The Supreme Court,” Montgomery Advertiser, 10 Nov 1896, p. 7.
Montgomery Advertiser, 3 Feb 1897, p. 4.
“For Whitecapping,” Montgomery Advertiser, 18 Feb 1897, p. 3.