—By Doria Johnson

Anthony Crawford
Anthony Crawford

On Sunday, June 24, 1917 in Charlotte, North Carolina, some residents awoke to find their hometown newspaper, The Charlotte Sunday Observer, on their front lawns. As the readership sipped their morning coffee and turned to the editorial page, just under the picture of the American Flag and instructions for subscription renewals, was the headline, “The Departed Negroes.” The article explained that the Negro expert they consulted assured the newspaper that southern Black people were not upset by Jim Crow laws in North Carolina, nor by political disenfranchisement or segregation, because “they do not have to use these mediums in pursuit of his[sic] daily bread.” Instead, the article says:

The trouble is on the farm, and had been dissociated, up to the Anthony Crawford incident, from lynching, it being the truthful admission that “the penalty (for a lynching for the usual cause) has never affected the industrious, property-acquiring Negro.” But the Crawford Negro was killed not because he was a law-breaker, not that he had been guilty of a heinous crime, but that he had become a rich Negro and was an enviously prosperous figure in the community….[1]

The Great Migration of African Americans from the South was slowly gaining momentum in 1916. However this study asserts, in tandem with the Charlotte Observer editorial, the trajectory changed with the lynching of Anthony Crawford. African Americans could ask themselves, “If Anthony Crawford, a rich man, were publicly lynched like that, then how safe are the rest of us?” If we turn the lens on Abbeville, and observe the reactions of African Americans to his murder, we begin to see that the Great Migration was the largest protest march in American history.

Mrs. Ruby Alexander remembers Abbeville, South Carolina as a place where there was a lot of “prejudice and incidents.”[2] Her family were sharecroppers and, like everyone else, would hitch a wagon and go into town on Saturdays to obtain supplies. She recalled her family leaving Abbeville, South Carolina and moving to Evanston, Illinois, because of “an incident where a black man got ‘smart.’ He was Annabelle Crawford’s grandfather [Anthony].”[3] Alexander notes that her mother had family in Evanston, Illinois; so going there was a natural choice, a nod to the chain migration where information networks established places as safe and viable to quickly relocate the family.

Born in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1919, just after the lynching of Anthony Crawford, Ollie Hunter Boyd lived with the aftermath. Her family, she remembered, felt no other choice than to leave their farm and head to Evanston, Illinois. The lynching of Crawford culminated at a “…big old pine tree. Wasn’t in our backyard, but it was in a little field.”[4] Boyd’s father, Will Hunter, was a sharecropper. Boyd placed the decision to move with her mother, who was afraid that her children were endangered, as evidenced by the public lynching of Crawford. “Just the thoughts of them hanging a man, might as well say in our backyard, just killed the spirit of everybody, and that’s why the majority of the people moved away from Abbeville was because of that lynching.

There had been lynchings before in Abbeville, South Carolina County, however this rich landowner’s lynching, and subsequent terror, may have sent a message to African Americans who aspired to someday own their own land. However, Abbeville County, South Carolina proved that it could not accommodate a Black man who dreamed too big, or who wanted to fully enjoy self-defined citizenship rights.

Annabelle Crawford-Frazier, granddaughter of Anthony Crawford, was the first of her siblings born outside Abbeville, South Carolina. Her eldest sister Fannie was born in 1915; she was one of the fifteen grandchildren of Anthony Crawford living on the homestead at the time of the lynching.

Annabelle Frazier’s parents, George and Annabelle, left Abbeville, South Carolina in November 1916, after the lynching of their father and father in law, and especially at the urging of the townspeople who demanded the Crawford family “quit the state by November 15th.”[5] The Crawford family initially did not want to leave, and fought to stay in the “land of their father, and father’s father.” [6] The eldest of Anthony Crawford’s children, Walter C. Crawford, wrote to South Carolina’s governor, Richard I. Manning, asking the state for assistance and protection of the Crawford clan.[7] While the governor did send in a private investigator to sort out the facts of this widely reported lynching, he could not assure the family of state protection.[8] George and Annabelle wrapped themselves and little Fannie in newspaper, in preparation for the autumn cold of Chicago, and began their trek North to Evanston, Illinois.[9]

Annabelle Crawford Frazier did not know which of her mother’s family members moved to Evanston first or why; however, she knew her mother felt the area was safe, so she, George and Fannie moved there. Meanwhile, most of Anthony Crawford’s children moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, like some Black people with roots in Abbeville had done. It is not clear why this family, in particular, chose Evanston over Philadelphia, as both locations contained family members. It appears, however, that Annabelle’s influence affected the family’s destination choice since some of her family members had already migrated to Evanston.

Ollie Boyd’s mother was concerned about keeping her children safe from the violence of Jim Crow and began sending her children to Evanston, Illinois shortly after the Crawford lynching.[10]

The Great Migration challenged the importance of landownership for the ex-bondmen and women, and/or their descendants, because migrating ruptured the traditional road to freedom for the southern Black farmer—land ownership. The lynching of Anthony Crawford re-arranged the route to independence because landownership no longer guaranteed freedom–it sometimes equaled death. For some, migration was the answer to the problem of self-defined freedom for the ex-enslaved people and their descendants (whether they desired to own property, or usurp the tenets of white supremacy.) The white community sometimes responded with violence to loosen Black folks’ grip on self-determination. Sometimes, like the Crawford family, the costs of leaving was enormous, as they never again owned the land that Anthony Crawford spent his lifetime acquiring.

 

Note: This article is an excerpt and has been edited for length from Shhh, Big Momma  and Dem’ Left Last Night:  Shifting Violent Memories, The African American Chain Migration, Abbeville, SC to Evanston, IL, 1910-1945, 2009 Masters thesis by Doria Johnson and Shorefront resident scholar, in partial fulfillment of her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The entire thesis can be viewed at the Shorefront Legacy Centers archives.

Endnotes:

[1] Editorial, “The Departed Negroes,” The Charlotte Sunday Observer, June 24, 1917.

[2]Ruby Alexander, interview by George W. Williams, Conversations with Blacks in Evanston, Illinois: An Evaluation of African American Progress in this Suburb of Chicago (Baltimore: American Literary Press, 1998), 10.

[3] Alexander interview, Conversations with Blacks in Evanston, 10.

[4] Ollie Hunter Boyd interview by Jay Brakefield in African American Frontiers: Slave Narratives and Oral Histories ed. Alan Govenar (Santa Barbara: Abc-Clio, 2000), 123-126.

[5] Ware, Dr. Lowry, Old Abbeville: A History of the Town, 168.

[6] Walter C. Crawford to Governor Richard Irvine Manning, December 1916, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH), Manning Papers, 1915-1919, box 15, miscellaneous—lynching.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Governor Richard I. Manning to Walter C. Crawford, December 11, 1916. Richard Irvine Manning (1915-1919), General correspondence, box S 534005 Exhibit B. Manning Papers, 1915-1919, South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) box 15, miscellaneous—lynching.

[9] Eleanor Crawford-Hill and Lucille Crawford Babb-Boone, interview by author, February 2008 and April 2009. They are the sisters of Fannie Crawford and Annabelle Frazier. Born after the lynching and move to Evanston, they are acutely aware of the lynching of their grandfather, Anthony Crawford, and the hardships encountered by the family subsequent to their shift to Evanston, Illinois.

[10] Claessens, Marilyn, “Book Recalls Link to Abbeville, S.C.” The Evanston Review. February 15, 1996.

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