A Back Down Country Roads column titled “The Tragic Hangings,” published in last week’s edition, contained an inaccurate and misleading recount of historical events occurring in Greenbrier County in 1931. The “hangings” described by the author were the lynching of two black men, Tom Jackson, 26, and George Banks, 27, by mob after being forcefully taken from the Greenbrier County jail at Lewisburg on Dec. 10, 1931.
The Greenbrier County Historical Society’s Echoes of Slavery exhibit details the events as follows, “In Leslie, two white officers, Joseph Myles and Jack Brown, were called to break up a Black party. While the officers were leaving the scene, they were fatally shot. Some say they were shot unprovoked while others say they were shot in self-defense. Two Black men, Tom Jackson and George Banks, were arrested. On Dec. 10, 1931 Jackson and Banks were taken by a mob, hanged from a telephone pole, and shot numerous times. West Virginia’s anti-lynching law required Greenbrier County to pay $5,000 apiece to the families, but they refused to pay until the state demanded payment in 1933.”
As of this month, this tragic injustice took place merely 91 years ago.
We invite the public to visit the Historical Society at 814 Washington Street West to learn more about this and other defining events that compose Greenbrier County’s history. The Society’s Echoes of Slavery exhibit, which was made possible with support from the Daywood Foundation and their community advisory panel, contains a wealth of knowledge about slavery, the Civil War, the Jim Crow era, and more in our area.
To view the exhibit online visit www.greenbrierhistorical.org/echoes-of-slavery-in-greenbrier-county.
Moving forward, the Mountain Messenger will no longer be accepting submissions from the original contributor.
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Blatant omissions were missing from last week’s article “The Tragic Hangings” by Nancy Richmond. Lynching is the correct term for the events of Nov. 22, 1931, after Greenbrier County Constable Myles and Deputy Brown antagonized some dancers at a “Negro dance” in Leslie. After events escalated and resulted in the deaths of both lawmen, the two black men involved in the shooting, Jackson and Banks, were delivered to Lewisburg’s jail. On Dec. 10, 1931, an angry mob from Quinwood did break into the jail, hauled Jackson and Banks to the edge of town and lynched them while riddling their bodies with bullets.
A Greenbrier County grand jury refused to pay a bill for $10,000 as established by the 1921 Capehart Anti-Lynching Law which set compensation for mob induced violence.
However, due to the involvement of the NAACP in February 1933 Kanawha County Judge Arthur Hudson awarded $5,000 to each estate of both Jackson and Banks.
This financial reckoning signaled the end of lynching in West Virginia.
The disingenuous whitewashing of the historical facts by the article’s author, Ms. Richmond, is reprehensible.
The people of the Greenbrier Valley need to know the harsh truth.
The article from the original contributor read:
On a wet and blustery evening in November of 1931, a dance was being held in the small coal mining community of Leslie in western Greenbrier County. There was a band playing at the dance hall, which was owned by the Smith family, and most of the people attending the affair were drinking heavily. When the revelry lasted into the early hours of Sunday, a neighbor called the police to report the disturbance. Constable Joseph Myles, a Meadow Bluff District police officer, was dispatched to Leslie, along with his deputy Jack Brown.
The officers entered the establishment, where they quieted the crowd. Constable Myles attempted to arrest a man named Miller for disorderly conduct, but was prevented from doing so by Miller’s friend Tom Jackson. A fight between Deputy Brown and Jackson ensued, but ended when Jackson broke free and ran outside.
The policemen took Miller into custody and headed back out to their car, which was parked a short distance away. Before they could leave however, Tom Jackson and George Banks, a member of the band, confronted the officers. Jackson shot both lawmen with a 12-gauge automatic shotgun, hitting them each twice. The Constable was killed instantly, and his Deputy was severely wounded and died the following Monday. Both men were residents of Quinwood, and well-liked by the townspeople. Over 2,000 people attended the funeral, and sentiments of anger against the killers ran high.
When word of the shooting reached the State Police, Jackson and Banks were quickly arrested and incarcerated in the Greenbrier County Jail in Lewisburg. Jackson was indicted for murder, and Banks was indicted as an accessory.
Sometime after midnight on December 10, an angry mob of more than fifty men from Quinwood decided to take justice into their own hands, and headed through a heavy fog towards Lewisburg. As they approached the jail, which was then located along the Midland Trail (now Route 60) on the western end of town, the men removed the license plates from their cars and turned off their headlights, in order to prevent being identified.
Silently, they parked their cars and entered the building, where they accosted the lone jailer, Wallace Flint, taking him prisoner and relieving him of his set of keys. Several men held Flint while others opened the cell door and removed the frightened prisoners, who were dressed only in their underwear. They were thrown into one of the waiting cars, and the convoy drove west up the Midland Trail to the outskirts of town. Stopping along the side of the highway, the mob dragged the two captives to a telephone pole, where they were hanged and then shot repeatedly with shotguns and pistols. The vigilantes then cut all the telephone wires going into Lewisburg in order to slow any pursuit, and hurried back towards the western end of the county.
Newspapers as far away as New York City printed the story of the hangings, and West Virginia Governor William G. Conley deployed twenty State Police Officers to Lewisburg to investigate the incident. The troopers collected nearly a gallon jug full of shell casings at the crime scene. Several Quinwood residents were picked up and questioned by the police. A few of them were beaten and abused, but the men would not talk and eventually were released for a lack of evidence. No one ever stood trial for the murders, and the incident became known locally as “the tragic hangings.”