Returning Home: The Centennial of the Abbeville Lynching of Anthony Crawford

—By Doria Johnson

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In January of 2008, First Lady Laura Bush designated Abbeville a “Preserve America Community.” This initiative recognizes those communities that demonstrate a commitment to preserving their cultural and natural heritage. After years of denying the African American experience, Abbeville took one bold step towards that identity.

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With seven weeks notice, the community and country joined the Crawford family in honoring the centennial of their banishment, and “Grandpa Crawford’s” lynching in a two-day public history event. This well-attended and publicized affair included a “Freedom School”; a lynching-site soil collection and faith-based consecration service; an unveiling of a cast-iron marker by Bryan Stevenson; and a community-wide scholarship award service. There were roughly three hundred attendees at each event.

Filmmaker Keith Beauchamp noted, “The family of wealthy Black farmer Anthony Crawford just made history again”, harkening back to their role in the apology for lynching by the United States Senate in 2005. This time, they secured funding for the permanent marker at the site of his lynching in Abbeville, South Carolina on the centennial of his death. Many folks in Evanston have a connection to Abbeville, and the 1916 brutal mob lynching of Crawford fueled a large outmigration beyond the chain from Abbeville to Evanston, to all across the United States.

We made history today. No longer can folks walk into government buildings in Abbeville without first encountering Grandpa Crawford. – Doria Johnson

The American South is littered with physical representations of the Confederacy, an increasing controversial issue, especially in light of the 2015 racial terror Charleston shootings by Dylan Roof of eight praying Black church members, and the assassination of their pastor South Carolina State Senator, Clementa Pinckney. Abbeville district AME Bishop Samuel L. Green, Sr. said “these killings are the evidence that we are experiencing a new lynching era”.

A few months earlier just up the road in North Charleston, unarmed African American Walter Scott was gunned down by white Officer Michael Slager. Despite video and strong evidence that Officer Slager hunted Scott as if her were a deer, rabbit or turkey, Scott was granted a mistrial, even though Slager can be seen planting a Taser gun on Scott, in front of other officers. Roof was recently convicted and is eligible for the death penalty; he will be sentenced January 17, 2017. From Crawford until now, racial terror is as American as apple pie.

Joining the Crawford family members were the families of Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Emmett Till, as well as students from Kenyon College in Ohio, national and local activists, human rights workers, historians, sociologists and faith leaders. Many people from all walks of life descended on Abbeville to bear witness to the terror and trauma of the survivors of the Crawford lynching.

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Doria Johnson presenting at the Septima Clark Freedom School

On the first day of the event, Friday morning, The Septima Clark Freedom School was opened in the Jefferson Davis Park with undergraduate students from Kenyon College, teachers, activists and Crawford family members leading classes. Later at dusk, the soil collection interdenominational service included clergy from around the country, including Rev. Dr. Jim Forbes, Riverside Church; Rev. Dr. Freddy Haynes, Friendship West Baptist Church; Rev. Dr. Dale T. Irvin, World Churches, and Evanston native Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, who wrote the service of sacred memory.

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Doria Johnson with Bryan Stevenson

On Saturday morning, Bryan Stevenson unveiled the marker in front of a large crowd, including many press members and filmmakers. Stevenson not only congratulated the family for their steadfastness, but he also told stories of survival and racial conflict. One story was about a woman who could not enter a Southern courthouse after being terrorized by police dogs during the Black Freedom Movement demonstrations in her childhood in the 1960’s. She had been on Edmond Pettis Bridge in Alabama when police brutally beat marchers and set dogs upon them, and the trauma of those dogs followed her entire life. In front of Stevenson, she finally mustered the courage to attend a trial of an innocent Black neighbor, and declared “We are here!”. Stevenson asked the crowd to chant ‘we are here’ over again to demonstrate to attendees, ‘the region and the nation’ that the victims of lynchings did not disappear and are still affected by the aftermath.

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Doria Johnson holding a jar of soil collected near the site where Anthony Crawford was lynched

In the afternoon, the community gathered at the Crawford family church, 149-year old Cypress Chapel AME Church (which borders the Crawford homestead). Several local teenagers were awarded scholarships by the Equal Justice Initiative, and Crawford family members from around the country spoke about their legacies.

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Dance performed by Gail Hutchison before the unveiling of the marker

Local Evanston residents also participated including Second Baptist Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Michael C.R. Nabors, District 65 teacher Pat Gregory, Museum of Science and Industry/Yoga Instructor Gail Hutchison as well as 98-year old Lois Johnson, who attended as a salute to her dear late friend, Annabelle Frazier, Crawford’s granddaughter and family culture keeper.

Today, the Crawford family has made major strides towards recognition and justice. Just a few weeks later, Abbeville, the “birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy” elected its first Black mayor, Santana Freeman. White City Manager Dave Krumwiede, and his assistant Blake Stone, provided critical leadership, ensuring the installation’s realization and also comfort for the family. Krumwiede said it was time for ‘generational change.’ The Crawfords, and the institutional collective, has plans for other actions which should change the lives of the Abbeville community. Program partners “We Say Enough”, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference all contributed significant support ensuring a successful event.

 

Note: All photographs courtesy of Doria Johnson

For more information: 

Dedication of Lynching Marker to Anthony Crawford (Equal Justice Initiative) http://eji.org/news/hundreds-d edicate-lynching-marker-anthon y-crawford-abbeville-south- carolina

The Evil of Lynching Exposed (Huffington Post) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ entry/the-evil-of-lynching-exp osed_us_5802960ae4b0985f6d1571 f7

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Memories of a Forced Migration

—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.