Although the number of lynchings1 of African Americans in the United States had declined from its twentieth century peak of 106 in the year 1900, by the 1930s, vigilante violence had not disappeared from American life. Between 1933 and 1940, at least 85 African Americans were lynched, 24 of them in 1933 alone.2 As the threat to the Western democracies posed by fascism increased during the 1930s,3 African Americans were well aware that their native country, whose security they might one day be called upon to defend, tolerated mob violence towards its minorities much like Nazi Germany.
On July 19, 1935, an African American man named Rubin Stacy was lynched in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The details of his murder are typical of the way many lynchings unfolded. According to court records, Stacy knocked on the door of a white woman, Marion Jones, to ask for a drink. She admitted him to the house and went to get the water. Mrs. Jones testified that Stacy then came after her with a pen knife and attempted to assault her. She screamed until Stacy ran off. He was seen hiding in bushes near the highway and reported to the police. After his arrest, Stacy denied having attacked Marion Jones.
Rumors spread that Mrs. Jones had been raped and that vigilantes planned to seize Stacy from the county jail once night fell. It was decided to move him to Miami for his own protection. But before driving him to Miami, Chief Deputy Sheriff Bob Clark took Stacy back to the Jones home. According to newspaper reports, Mrs. Jones received a 25 dollar reward for identifying the suspect, as did each of the deputies who brought him to her house. Stacy was returned to the car which was quickly followed and run off the road. "Masked white men" then "snatched the praying negro from the deputies." They took Stacy back about 10-15 miles where they hanged him.
In 1937, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) selected a photograph4 of the Stacy lynching for a flyer distributed to raise support for passage of the Costigan-Wagner Anti-Lynching Bill, the last of a series of such bills that had failed on the floor of the US Congress since 1922.5
Interviewed fifty years later, witnesses speculated that Sheriff Clark was the leader of the lynch mob. According to one eyewitness, Clark walked to a nearby house where he yanked down the wire clothesline and threw it over a limb of a tree. One end was tightened around Rubin Stacy's neck and his body was raised slowly from the ground. In moments, his neck was broken. Clark then told those present to shoot the body as it swayed from the tree and began passing around his handgun. Seventeen bullets hit their mark.
The governor of Florida ordered an investigation to determine who was responsible for Stacy's death. The coroner's inquest concluded Stacy had died at the hands of "a person or persons unknown." No indictments were handed down. Years later, Marion Jones recanted her story: she stated that Rubin Stacy never attacked her or caused her harm.