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Candlelight vigil in memory of the lynching of Pierce City, the 1901 race riot

August 7 – A candlelit memorial service for the African Americans killed in the 1901 Pierce City race riot will be held at 9:00 p.m. Saturday, August 19, the hour and date of the anniversary.

It is held in the parking lot of City Hall on Pierce City, Walnut and Commercial Street, where Will Godley’s lynching took place.

Local historian and journalist Murray Bishoff will tell the story. Visitors are requested to bring candles and garden chairs. The program lasts approximately one hour.

More than a dozen lynchings have been recorded in southwest Missouri, four of which historians say displaced black families: Monett in 1894, Pierce City in 1901, Joplin in 1903, and Springfield in 1906.

James Loewen, a sociologist and author, has studied and written books about the events, previously telling the Globe that “a series of at least six race riots in the Ozarks, along with smaller undocumented evictions, led to the near-total whiteness of most Ozark counties.”

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The Monett lynching occurred after white railroadmen had a dispute outside a Monett bar with black workers on their crew. A gun held by one of the workers went off and one of the white workers, Robert Greenwood, was shot and killed. Eight days later, law enforcement officers arrested one of the black men in Neosho, Hulett Ulysses Hayden. They took him by train to Cassville, to the Barry County Jail. When the train stopped at Monett’s, a vigilante boarded the train, carried Hayden away, and hanged him from a telegraph pole along the railroad.

Three men were lynched in Pierce City on August 19, 1901 after an attack that occurred when a white woman was killed after leaving the church while walking home alone. Black residents were blamed, and an angry white mob hanged them and then burned the homes of five black families, sending 30 other families to scatter into the woods.

National newspaper accounts of the violence caught the attention of Missouri author Mark Twain, who wrote an essay entitled “The United States of Lyncherdom” in response.

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Two years later, on April 15, 1903, Joplin police officers, including 36-year-old Theodore Leslie, searched what were called the Kansas City bottoms for robbery suspects. When Leslie stopped at a train car near where the Union Depot now stands, the police officer was hit by a gunshot and later died. A search party formed and the next day Thomas ran into Gilyard, a 20-year-old black man who had a gun. He was arrested and taken to the Joplin City Jail at City Hall, where a mob later formed. The Globe reported that Mayor Thomas Cunningham and city attorney Perl Decker tried to reason with the mob, but the mob pulled Gilyard from his cell and hanged him at Second Street and Wall Avenue.

On April 13, 1906, a white woman in Springfield reported being assaulted by two black men. Two black men, Horace Duncan and Fred Coker, were arrested and then released after their employer vouched for them and provided an alibi. However, they were later arrested again and a white mob stormed the jail and hanged them in the town square as thousands of Springfield residents rioted. The bloodthirsty mob then returned to the prison and kidnapped another man, William Allen, who had no connection to the case or Duncan and Coker. He was also taken to the square and hanged.

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Their bodies were burned and fragments were taken as souvenirs by those who walked across the square to go to church the following morning, Easter Sunday.

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