Memorial Marker for Lynching Victims


The Account and Context of Three Lynchings in Davidson County, Tennessee

April 1892, Henry and Ephraim Grizzard, December 1924, Samuel Smith

Written and submitted by Natasha Deane, PhD., 6/5/17

“If we are honest, we know that it is this history of [racial violence] – not that of affirmative action or busing- that lurks in the dim, gray area of distrust, fear and resentment between and among blacks and whites. It is there where overwhelming anger, insistent denial, shame and guilt lie”
Sherrilyn Ifill, “On the Courthouse Lawn”, 2007

A definition of “lynching” is an extra-judicial mob murder of an individual, usually by hanging, but also murder by shooting, burning, dragging or other forms of torture. Between the years of 1882 and 1968, there were 3,437 documented lynchings of African-Americans in the United States. White communities, particularly Jewish communities, also experienced lynchings, but the vast majority

of victims were of African-American descent. The purpose of lynchings was often claimed to be “justice” but in the stories recorded here, the process of justice was in fact interrupted by violent public lynchings perfectly designed to inflict terror on people of all races in the community for generations.

It is important for us in this community to remember and become familiar with these stories in order for reconciliation to occur. The details of these stories are gruesome, but the unspoken shame and fear that they engender is a festering wound that prohibits spiritual growth and well-being in persons of all races, especially those who hope to thrive in a diverse community such as ours.

The stories below were compiled from articles published April 24-May 4, 1892 and December 3-19, 1924 in the Nashville Banner, The Daily American (Nashville), The Weekly American (Nashville), and the Tennessean Evening Herald. Other invaluable resources include the thesis “Reckoning with a Violent and Lawless Past: a Study of Race, Violence and Reconciliation in Tennessee” by Prof. Carrie Russell and “The Invisible Line: a Secret History of Race in America” by Prof. Daniel Sharfstein, both of Vanderbilt University.

There are striking similarities between the Davidson county events: both involved the fate of brothers (Henry and Ephraim Grizzard, Eugene and Samuel Smith), both involved victims being abducted from custody by the lynching mob, both elicited public condemnation from community leaders, both precipitated spontaneous gatherings of the public of “several thousand” (for Grizzard the crowd cheered the lynching and for Smith they condemned it) and both failed to serve justice for the victims. Despite all of the public attention that these events incurred at the time, scant public record of them exists and no record exists of how their memory was served. While the name Samuel Smith is so common as to be difficult to trace, records of the Grizzard family (descended of an Ephraim Grizzard whose recorded date of death appears to be 1925-26) remain in the Murphreesboro/Antioch region as late as 2011.

The Story of Henry and Ephraim Grizzard, April 1892

The climate of race relations in post-reconstruction era Davidson County, Tennessee was one of extreme economic power imbalance with overtones of cultural backlash from political gains of Blacks following reconstruction. Racial pogroms occurred in in Humphreys, Morgan and Polk Counties between 1885 and 1894 and Polk County, banished black residence altogether by threat of violence in 1894.

In 1892 Ida B. Wells Barnett published her seminal work entitled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases”, detailing the growing practice of lynching and the terror and injustices that were inflicted upon black communities because of it.

Between 1872 and 1896, black men were also increasingly imprisoned and outnumbered white men 2 to 1 in Tennessee prisons. Black convicts were overwhelmingly condemned to the most brutal treatment at the notorious Brushy Mt. State Prison and the prison system began the practice of leasing convicts to mining companies such as at Coal Creek in order to break up organizing laborers, largely pitting white against black workers and resulting in an violent period that in 1893 upended the administration of then Governor John P Buchanan.

Culturally, the concept of “racial purity”, emanating at its epicenter around Richmond, Virginia and Buchanan County, Virginia, was increasingly accepted and laws banning miscegenation were enacted along with laws banning blacks to own property or weapons, making it increasingly difficult for blacks to forge a secure living in most parts of the South. In 1896 the US Supreme Court upheld “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws in the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson decision.

On April 24th, 1892, the Nashville Banner published an article reporting on an assault “by two negroes” upon two daughters of a Mrs. Lee Bruce, keeper of the Long-Hollow Turnpike toll-gate just east of Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Henry Grizzard, a resident of Goodlettsville, was reportedly apprehended soon after the the incident and confessed, implicating an accomplice by the name of Mack Harper. Because of his confession, Henry Grizzard was hanged at that time near Mansker’s Creek by “a mob composed of the very best citizens”. Very little else was recorded about this event.

Soon afterward, John and Ephraim Grizzard (brothers of Henry), Manuel Jones and Mack Harper were also arrested and held in the jail on suspicion of involvement with the assault on Mollie and Rosina Bruce. John Grizzard and Manuel Jones were soon released for lack of evidence, but evidence found in the Grizzard home and a statement made by Mr. Grizzard’s sister, Ann, were deemed sufficient to hold Ephraim in the jail in Nashville with Mack Harper, even though the victims, Mollie and Rosina Bruce, had failed to positively identify them.

Nothing further was reported until the evening edition of the Nashville Banner on April 30th, 1892, provided a full front page account of the activities of a “mob” outside the Nashville jail. The people gathered were later said to have been among the “best citizens of Goodlettsville, Hendersonville, Madison Station and the surrounding communities” that had come for Ephraim Grizzard who was being held in the jail.

As police and onlookers gathered in anticipation of a possible attack on the jail, Sheriff Hill vowed to protect the jail and its prisoners and stated that he was in communication with Governor Buchanan about the potential need for additional backup.

At approximately 1am members of the mob rushed the iron-barred outer gate in front of the main entrance of the jail. Police reportedly remained quietly resolute,

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blocking the main entrance, while the mob worked to break down the outer gate. Beyond the line of police, the main jail entrance consisted of three heavily bared doors that still stood between the mob and the prisoners.

After the mob breached the outer gate, a spokesperson demanded the jailer, named Willis, to hand over the keys to the jail corridor but was rebuffed, saying that he had earlier ordered the night watchman to take the keys offsite in order to protect the prisoners. This greatly angered the mob.

By 1:30am, the Governor was at the jail and reportedly urged the mob to respect the legal process and disperse. Military reinforcements, lead by Captain Clack, began to arrive on the scene as well. Meanwhile, a group of about 100 armed men led by Captain Henry Marshall crossed the bridge from East Nashville where they had gathered and made their way up Front street toward the jail and demanded that Capt. Clack hand over the prisoner, Ephraim Grizzard. Upon rebuff, Captain Marshall turned to the mob and, urging them not to harm innocent bystanders in their objective to apprehend Ephraim Grizzard, ordered them to attack the jail.

Elements of the mob fired first at the jail door, but also struck members of the police who were standing resolutely at their post. Under attack, police fired back under orders from Capt. Clack and a gun battle with the mob ensued. A.B. Guthrie, one of the mob, was fatally shot and removed from the scene and Charles Rear, an onlooker standing across the street and resident locksmith, was also shot. Officer Davis, who had apparently shot A.B. Guthrie, had to be escorted under protection by Chief Clack to a rural location under threat of retaliatory attack by the mob.

A lull in the attack on the jail ensued the gun battle, giving Governor Buchanan another opportunity to again make a plea for peace. The Governor stated “that the life of one innocent white man was worth a thousand such as the negro they were trying to get a hold of” and “that the officers of the law were compelled to defend the jail and if the mob persisted, loss of life would be the result.” During the ceasefire, Governor Buchanan and Captain Marshall negotiated a deal in which the attacks would be called off as long as any apprehended men associated with the mob were released.

Upon release of the mob members held at the jail, Capt. Marshall prevailed upon many in the mob to abandon the fight, which many obliged. However, a group of about 500 men remained on the scene determined to complete their mission. The police, led by Sergts Polk and Davis, did there best to disperse the crowd and secure the area in front of the jail by rope.

Meanwhile, Judge D. M. Key issued an order to have Mr. Grizzard transferred to the custom house for guarding until the crowd dispersed. At 5:30am on the morning of April 30th, the nightwatchman returned quietly to the jail with the keys to Willis and a plan was forged to smuggle Mr. Grizzard out of the jail to the custom-house dressed as a woman.

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At approximately 1:50pm on that afternoon, just prior to the arrival of the team that was to transport Mr. Grizzard, Dr. Davis of Goodlettsville made a short speech to the mob and then led them back to the jail, again demanding access. Thousands of spectators were present at this time, and at least 1,000 people were reported to be crowded at the entrance of the jail, hanging on the iron bars. Though Jailer Willis refused to give up the keys with his life, the mob seized him and pulled the keys in his back pocket. Using the keys, the mob entered the jail unmolested by police (who had been ordered not to shoot except in self-defense, where they apprehended Mr. Grizzard.

Several thousand people on the square were present when the mob emerged from the jail with Mr. Grizzard and most cheered at the spectacle of the triumphant mob with Mr. Grizzard dressed as a woman. Mr. Grizzard endured taunts, slaps and was even reportedly stabbed in the back with a pocketknife while the mob escorted him to the Woodland Street Bridge to be hanged.

At the halfway point across the bridge on the downriver side, a noose was formed from a 3⁄4 inch thick hemp rope and Mr. Grizzard was gruesomely hanged and his body riddled with gunshot from a distance of about 18 inches where ~100 men stood above the hanging body. The mob reported violently jerked the lifeless body of Mr. Grizzard several times by the rope before leaving it to hang, bloodied and half nude from the waist down, for the remainder of the afternoon. The banner reported “The whole incident took about 15 minutes, and at no time were the police able to withstand the heavy rush of the mob”. By 3:30pm, a “large crowd of curious people were morbidly looking at the horrible spectacle” before it was removed.

Issues of the Nashville Banner from the days immediately following this report are missing from the archive at the Nashville Public library.

The Story of Samuel Smith, December 1924

Tennessee in 1924 was Governed by Democrat Austin Peay and, while mob violence had greatly decreased since 1892, racism, notions of racial purity and Jim Crow laws ruled the land. In the period spanning 1913-1938, 84% of executions using the electric chair were of black men, beginning a tradition of state sanctioned violence against communities of color.

On December 5th, 1924, an article published in the Nashville Banner reports on the findings of the Commission on Church and Race at the 5th Quadrennial Meeting of the Federal Council of Churches in Atlanta Georgia. Episcopal Bishop Frederick F. Reese addressed the convention declaring a 50% drop in lynchings over the prior year and the goal of elimination of all lynchings by the year 1926. In his plea to end discriminatory practices, the article quotes Bishop Reese as taking the position “that inter-racial co-operation and harmony between the white and Negro races can be

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brought about only when the churches realize the sense of Christian brotherhood towards every man. Such realization is a slow process, an iridescent dream, perhaps, but it is the business of the church to preach counsels of perfection, to hold up and work for the realization of what the world regards as an iridescent dream”.

An article published in the Nashville Banner on December 13, 1924 entitled “Negro Accused of Shooting Caught: Ike Eastwood, rural merchant victim, is in critical condition” reported on a series of events that would lead up to they lynching of Samuel Smith. The Banner reports that around 1am that day, 45 year old Ike Eastwood was aroused from bed by sounds outside of his window. Mr. Eastwood reported that he found Eugene Smith raiding spark plugs from Mr. Eastwood’s car, claiming that Mr. Smith’s car had broken down. Mr. Eastwood lived off of Nolensville Pike on Frank Hill Rd., about 12 miles outside of Nashville near the Davidson/Williamson county line.

The paper reports that Mr. Eastwood apprehended Eugene Smith at gunpoint before being accosted and shot in the abdomen by a second intruder. A wounded Mr. Eastwood allegedly shot at the second intruder who managed to run away. Neighbors who had awoken to the noise tended to Mr. Eastwood and handed over Eugene Smith to Sheriff Bob Briley upon his arrival. Mr. Eastwood was taken to St. Thomas hospital in Nashville in critical condition and later survived his wound.

When interrogated about the identity of the second intruder, Eugene Smith implicated a man by the name of Robert Owen. In the an article published in the Nashville Banner on December 16th, 1924, Sheriff Briley was quoted as saying that he “considered that Eastwood’s wound was not serious and that the Negro’s would probably prove fatal” and said that he saw not necessity for further action at that time.

But sometime later, Eugene’s brother Sam, age 15, reportedly arrived at the home of Burt Cochran, a neighbor of Mr. Eastwood, asking if Mr. Cochran would help to get to Nashville. Mr. Cochran called the sheriff who arrested Mr. Smith and took him to the jail holding Eugene. Samuel was charged with assault with a pistol with intent to commit murder and carrying a pistol and Eugene was charged with robbery.

On December 16th, the Banner published another article entitled “Mob Lynches Young Negro: masked men take Sam Smith from Metro General Hospital and hang him, fire shots into body” on the front page of the morning paper. The article reports that Samuel Smith was abducted from Nashville General Hospital by a large mob of masked men just before midnight the night before. Witnesses to the scene included the General Hospital custodian, Larry Hardeman, Nurse Amy Weagle (who lied to the mob to try to prevent the abduction) and Ed Lee Derrick who was a patient in the adjacent bed to young Mr. Smith.

The mob of men reportedly covered Mr. Hardeman with guns, pushed their way into the patient unit past Nurse Weagle and proceeded to cut chains holding Samuel

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Smith to his hospital bed then forcing Mr. Smith to walk (though he was compromised by injury) to a waiting vehicle in which he was transported back to Frank Hill. There, Mr. Smith was stripped, hung from a tree, and shot at repeatedly. About 30 parked vehicles were reported to be at the site at that time.

After some delay, law enforcement arrived on the scene including Sheriff Bob Briley, Chief Deputy Joe Dixon, Deputy Harrison Pugh, Sergt. J.W. Hurt, Sergt. J.T. Jennett, officers Robert Malone, Charles Beardon and A.A. Foster. The first civilian on the scene was a farmer by the name of W. F. Fly who lived ~12 miles from the lynching site and had been awoken by the commotion.

In an accompanying front page article in that same day’s paper, prominent local citizens published a full throated condemnation of the lynching addressed to then Governor Austin Peay and Sheriff Robert Briley demanding that the perpetrators be identified and punished for their actions. The letter is signed by B. Kirk Rankin, W. R. Cole, Leslie Cheek, Eustice A. Hall, Luke Lea, Paul M. Davis, P.D. Houston, J.H. Ambrose, G.P. Rose, Walther Keith, J.S. McHenry, D.F.C. Reeves, H. L. Williamson among others.

The following day, two more front page articles entitled “State Moves Against Mob: criminal judge charge grand jury to investigate conspiracy, Sheriff makes petition” and “Big Audience Condemns Mob” appear in the Nashville Banner. The first article describes the initiation of Grand Jury and Coroner investigations in pursuit of any charges to be brought upon the lynch mob of December 15th. The second article describes an evening gathering of >7,000 people at the Haymarket Tabernacle in which 3 resolutions condemning the mob action and approving the collection of legal funds by the Chamber of Commerce and reward money for the arrest and conviction of any perpetrators were passed. Dr. H. B. Trimble, pastor of McKendree Methodist Church, and Dr. John L. Hill of the Baptist Sunday School Board presided over the gathering at Haymarket Tabernacle.

On December 18th, 1924, a front page article in the Nashville Banner entitled “Lawyers Employed to Prosecute Mob” reported that the firm of Thomas & Cummings was retained by the Chamber of Commerce to prosecute any findings from the grand jury investigation and noted that $5,000 had been raised to go toward legal expenses and cash rewards to informants.

Not a single conviction was ever obtained in the lynching of Samuel Smith. Written and submitted by Natasha Deane, PhD., 6/5/17