Advertisement

Early on the morning of November 22, 1899, in the woods near the North Escambia community of McDavid, a mob of white citizens lynched a black man named Wesley Lawrence.

Lawrence had been accused of assaulting a white woman, Mrs. W. M. Bowman, five days earlier. The Pensacola Daily News, in the starkly sensationalist and racist language of the time, detailed the events:

Mrs. Bowman was alone at home, about a mile south of McDavid, and was in the back yard when the negro slipped behind her, choked her into insensibility and dragged her into the barn. Lawrence left his victim in the barn, unconscious and in a precarious condition, and evidently thinking her dead, fled into the swamp.

An alarm was sounded, and as many as 100 armed citizens as well as a sheriff’s posse were out all night unsuccessfully searching for the “fiend,” the Daily News added.

Then and now, McDavid was and is a small rural community located about 35 miles north of Pensacola. At the turn of the century, McDavid was home to just a few hundred residents, most of whom worked in agricultural trades or in the timber industry.

A rural road near McDavid circa 1911. (Florida State Archives/Special to the Pulse)

A rural road near McDavid circa 1911. (Florida State Archives/Special to the Pulse)

Lawrence was apprehended on November 21 near Canoe, Ala., some 14 miles north of McDavid. From there, he was taken back to the Bowman home, where the victim is said to have positively identified Lawrence as her attacker. Rather than hand the accused over to the sheriff, though, the mob carried Lawrence into the woods, strung him up, and riddled his body with bullets.

The Daily News recounted the events in the following afternoon’s paper, under the simple headline “Lawrence Lynched.”

The lacerated body of Wesley Lawrence, the negro fiend who recently assaulted Mrs. W. M. Bowman at her home near McDavid, was found swinging from a tree near the scene of the crime this morning.

A deputy named A. C. Brewton sent a telegram to Sheriff George Smith, added the Daily News, “announcing the finding of the body and asking what to do with it.”

And that was it — no call for an investigation, no plea imploring citizens not to engage in vigilantism. The paper did, however, publish a letter celebrating the lynching from McDavid resident A. C. Brewton, Sr. (it’s not noted whether he’s any relation to the aforementioned deputy):

I do not believe in lynch law, but I do believe in lynching the fiend that commits the crime that West Lawrence committed. I am 72 years and 7 months of age. I am among the oldest citizens in Escambia county, but when I heard this morning that they had lynched the brute that committed the outrage on Mrs. W. M. Bowman, I was overflowed with joy. I hope that will be a warning to others. I was visiting in Pensacola when I heard the news that they had lynched the negro who had committed the outrage. I had to cut my visit in two, and go home to see the negro swinging in the air to pay the penalty for the crime he committed.

If any motive or explanation for Lawrence’s alleged assault was ever offered, it wasn’t recorded for posterity. Without a trial, the only side of the story told was the victim’s. Lawrence became one of thousands of black men to be murdered in backwoods and town plazas in the Jim Crow South — and neither the first, nor the last, to be lynched in Escambia County.

Advertisement
27 Shares
Share
Tweet
Email