9 Historical Reasons Tennessee Lawmaker Paul Sherrell’s “Hang them from a Tree” Suggestion is Remarkably Racist
Recently, Tennessee state representative Paul Sherrell suggested adding an amendment to a Death Penalty bill that would include “hanging by a tree” as a method of execution. This incredibly tone deaf and vile suggestion felt as nasty as the smiling faces that stood around the bodies of our tortured and tormented ancestors to be photographed and passed around like souvenirs. Because of the clear racial implications attached to his statement, intended or otherwise, we felt that it was important not only to highlight just how audacious his comment was but also provide historical examples of lynchings in Tennessee to highlight why Tennessee should be moving away from Sherrell’s mindset rather than building upon it.
Tennessee has a long history of racial violence against black people, particularly through lynchings. These extrajudicial killings were often carried out by white mobs without trial or due process and were used to terrorize and control Black communities. Here are nine historical examples of lynchings in Tennessee:
1. The Lynnville Lynching of 1884: In December of 1884, a black man named William Otey was accused of assaulting a white woman in Lynnville. A mob of white men captured Otey and lynched him without trial.
2. The Memphis Massacre of 1866: In August of 1866, a group of white men attacked a meeting of black politicians and activists in Memphis. The mob then went on a rampage, killing 46 black people and burning black homes, schools, and churches.
3. The Chattanooga Lynching of 1906: In August of 1906, a black man named Ed Johnson was accused of raping a white woman in Chattanooga. Despite a lack of evidence, Johnson was found guilty and sentenced to death. The case was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court, but before a retrial could take place, a mob broke into the jail and lynched Johnson.
4. The Knoxville Race Riot of 1919: In August of 1919, a group of white men attacked a black man who had been accused of assaulting a white woman in Knoxville. This led to a race riot that lasted for two days and resulted in the deaths of at least eight black people.
5. The Maryville Lynching of 1915: In August of 1915, a black man named Maurice Mays was accused of assaulting a white woman in Maryville. Mays was captured by a mob and lynched without trial.
6. The Nashville Riot of 1967: In April of 1967, a group of white police officers attacked a group of black students who were protesting segregation in Nashville. This led to a riot that lasted for three days and resulted in the deaths of two black people.
7. The Brownsville Lynching of 1906: In August of 1906, a black man named Jesse Lee Bond was accused of assaulting a white woman in Brownsville. Bond was arrested, but a mob broke into the jail and lynched him without trial.
8. The Milan Lynching of 1913: In June of 1913, a black man named Sam Hoskins was accused of assaulting a white woman in Milan. Hoskins was lynched by a mob before he could stand trial.
9. The Pulaski Riot of 1867: In January of 1867, a group of white men attacked a meeting of black activists in Pulaski. The riot resulted in the deaths of 11 black people and the destruction of black homes, schools, and churches.
These nine examples of racial violenceand lynching in Tennessee are just a small sample of the larger pattern of racial terror that has characterized the state’s history. A history that Mr. Sherrell is well aware of as a state representative. It is important to remember and acknowledge this history in order to fight for a future where the mindset that Sherrell displayed becomes obsolete in homes, workplaces, schools and certainly in spaces where laws are made.