Part two of the history of racial violence in Kaufman County, TX.
“Staying In Your Lane,” is a series on racial violence in Kaufman County and how the culture of white supremacy thrived in Kaufman County for decades and is fighting to stay relevant today. Go here for part one.
Kaufman County poor farm.
If you currently live in Kaufman County, you may be aware of this historical site, which still stands. Preservation Texas and various other historical references now refer to this place as somewhere poor people could work and live. While they have acknowledged the jail built on site, I have found very few references on how Kaufman County poor farm was used to exploit free Black labor.
However, when looking back at historical newspaper articles, there are a lot of references to Black men being brought there for labor and no references to poor and indigent people. Since Kaufman County’s poor farm was operational until the 1970s, it likely evolved passed the old Jim Crow laws of forced labor, although clearly a piece of Jim Crow during that time.
The persistent Karen story.
As we covered in part one, Kaufman County has a history of killing Black men accused or either assaulting or raping white women. In our modern era we’ve seen countless Karens caught on video calling the police and making up stories about Black men. Many believe this is not a new phenomenon, likely Karens have been doing this for centuries. Going into the 1900s, the deaths of Black men based on white women’s accusations persisted.
In 1900, King Martin was arrested and lynched. He was working on for a white family near Kaufman. The teenage girl accused Martin of assault, but waited an entire day to tell her parents.
By the next day, King Martin was with his wife in Terrell.
Over 2,000 people showed up to watch this man die, but the local papers reported they were disappointed, because it was a small enclosure and only 65 people were able to but tickets to see the end of this man’s life.
In 1900 Kaufman County, Texas, assaulting a white girl was the worst crime a Black man could commit or be accused of.
How did it compare with other crimes?
Here are a few other articles from the same year. The first, John Taylor, a Black man, he killed another Black man, and he was given 25 years in prison. The second, Jabe Gardner, a white man, killed a Black man and was given bond.
I looked further to find out what happened with Jabe Gardner, who was awaiting trial in February, 1900.
America has never had an equal justice system.
It happened again in Kaufman County in 1903.
The lynching of Henry Johnson.
Henry Johnson was accused of assaulting a white woman. He was tried, the entire trial took a little over an hour, found guilty, and then lynched the very next day.
Aside from the numerous lynchings, many which we will likely never know about, there is a history of white men “accidently” killing Black men in Kaufman County.
Accidently? While the misfire of a gun seems plausible. The fact that it happened in Kaufman County so many times is likely more than a coincidence.
Jabe Gardner, who “accidently” killed a Black man in 1900 Terrell was just a first.
Carroll Hindman “accidently” shot a Black man named Willie Gibson in the back of the head in 1902. Then a year later, another Black man, Henry McRuffin was also accidently killed while hunting, although who pulled the trigger is undisclosed.
Then, in the early 1900s, bodies started appearing.
Back when Black Lives didn’t matter.
One article I found, from 1906 was a highlight of Judge Madison M. Brooks, from Kaufman County. The reason Judge Brooks was highlighted in an article was because he was running for Governor that year. He didn’t win. Aside from being a gubernatorial candidate and a judge, he also served as a Kaufman County Commissioner, at one time.
This article told a story of the time a white man killed a Black man over a dispute. Except the article referred to the Black man as “an insolent negro.”
The white man went in front of the judge and gave a sob story about being poor, although he used to be a Confederate soldier.
That story just touched the Judge, a tear drop fell from his eye and he told the murderer to go in peace. This was only five years before the Confederate statue was placed in Kaufman.
To understand this, in context. A white man murdered a Black man in 1906 in Kaufman County. Because that white man said he was an ex-Confederate, Judge Brooks decided he should receive no punishment for murder.
I did a little digging into Judge Brooks, who was originally born in Mississippi. His father grew up on a plantation that had slaves. His son, Benjamin Brooks, followed in his dad’s footsteps and became a judge.
What’s the point? Judge, county commissioner, Brooks had influence on the things that went on in Kaufman County and is just one of many examples how Kaufman County’s white community partook in racism and white supremacy.
Kaufman County death records.
Around the turn of the century (the 20th century), there was a lot of evidence of racial violence in Kaufman County, but then around 1910 it seemed to slow down. I thought that was odd, considering the White Cap and Ku Klux Klan activity still happened for decades. So, I started looking through the death certificates issued in Kaufman County for Black individuals.
I should say what I found shocked me, but considering what we have already learned about Kaufman County, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise.
The biggest reason that some of these are so shocking, is because I was unable to find corresponding news articles for many of them. In the early 1900s, white people love to scare other white people about “Black crime.” Really, if you watch your local news programs in the modern era, that hasn’t changed much. Local media almost always covers a story when a Black person kills another Black person or if a Black man assaults a white woman.
Perhaps some of these death certificates I found were issues of domestics violence or Black on Black crime, in which case, we should expect the local news would have put these stories on blast. Yet, I found several death certificates, where the cause of death was homicide, and nothing in local papers about it.
In 1910, the population of Kaufman County, Texas was 35,336 and of those, 6,120 of those were Black.
The murders of the Kaufman County Black Community.
- March 10, 1910. Dee Humphreys, 24 years old. Dee was a married laborer in Kaufman County and the son of Abe Humphreys. His cause of death was gunshot wounds.
- August 23, 1910. Nannie Wren, 26 years old. According to her death certificate, she died of homicide. Specifically, gun shot wounds. However, the official report filed with vital statistics lists her cause of death both knife and gunshot wounds. The death certificate lists her as a single laborer. Her family was unknown.
- August 23, 1910. Jennie Nash, 26 years old. Like the other Black young lady murdered that day, Jennie’s cause of death certificate also said homicide, gun shot wounds. She was a laborer, who was divorced. Her parents were Lewis and Fronie Nash.
On August 23, in the Daily Express, there was an article that said a Black man and woman’s bodies were found. It’s possible the initial report given to the newspaper was mistaken, and the corner determined they were both women.
It should be noted, both Nannie Wren and Jennie Nash’s bodies were discovered. Finding dead Black bodies in Kaufman County was a regular occurring thing that happened for many decades.
In 1910, the murder rate in America was 4.6 per 100,000, which means the murder rate for the Black community in Kaufman County that year was three times the national average.
Sometimes the coroner would help us out.
Although, it’s doubtful that was his intention over 100 years ago. Like on Willie Ander’s death certificate said “shot in the head by unknown person.”
- December 6, 1911. Willies Anders, 29 years old. He was shot in the head by an unknown party. His death certificate labeled him as a married laborer who was born in Mississippi.
Kaufman County’s corner from 1910 to 1918 was A.P. Clark, during my research, I found four death certificates of young Black individuals where he left the cause of death completely blank and eight, which he wrote the cause of ‘death as unknown’ or ‘no doctor on site.’ Which doesn’t necessarily mean they met a nefarious demise. However, it is odd that during that decade, 12 young Black people died (men and women), and we will never know how.
A string of murders in 1917.
- February 16, 1917. Mill McGruder, 28 years old. Mill was a married farmer who was shot and killed before he even reached the age of 30.
- September 8, 1917. Henry Parker, 45 years old. The death certificate listed the cause of death as ‘shot and (illegible) killed homicide.’ His death certificate, I found upsetting because underneath his cause of death it said he was a transient and ‘no one knows anything about him.’ While it lists him as married, I was unable to find any marriage records or occurrences of Henry on the previous census.
- September 19, 1917. Jesse Tate, 30 years old. His death certificate said he was stabbed and instantly killed. Just like the other man killed earlier in that month, Jesse was also a transient. However, this time A.P. Clark wrote, ‘no one cared.’
Aside from these three murders in 1917 in Kaufman County, there were four other Black people who were murdered in neighboring counties, most towards the end of the summer.
The murders published in the newspaper, that had no corresponding death certificate.
It’s unclear how or why some homicides have corresponding death certificates, while others have none at all. Just as it is unclear why some homicides were not published in the paper.
Like Will Blanch, who apparently got into a shoot out with law enforcement in Ellis County and then was chased to Kaufman County, where a constable shot him.
In 1917 there was no death certificate issued for Will Blanch. Not in Kaufman County or Ellis County.
Then, in August 1918, several reported that they were in Kaufman County and witnessed a lynching.
Aside from this little blip in a news article, there is no other records of a lynching in 1918 in Kaufman County. There are also no death certificates that year that listed the cause of death as strangulation or something similar.
It’s clear that between 1900 to 1920 in Kaufman County there was an excessive amount of racial violence, but because of the poor record keeping and local news’ indifference, we may never know how bad it truly was.
What about Kaufman County’s white community?
While Black bodies were being randomly found on the side of roads, Black men were being lynched, the murders of Black people were being unreported, and Black criminals were subjected to slave labor at the poor farm; the white community had parades and Confederate meetings.
And in 1908, the talks about Kaufman County’s Confederate statue begun.
About that statue.
The Kaufman County Confederate Veterans named their camp after Judah Philip Benjamin (August 11, 1811 – May 6, 1884), a wealthy plantation owner and human trafficker who held Black people in slavery in Louisiana. He served in both houses of the Louisiana legislature prior to his election to the US Senate in 1852, where he was a staunch supporter of slavery.
When Harriet Beecher Stowe released her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852, which detailed the horrors of slavery, Benjamin spoke out against her portrayal with claims that enslaved black people in the South were well cared for, and that plantation punishments like whipping or branding, were not nearly harsh as the punishment of incarceration received by white men.
After Louisiana seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy in 1861, Benjamin resigned as senator and returned to New Orleans and was shortly thereafter appointed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis as Attorney General of the Confederacy, only to be promoted to Secretary of War shortly thereafter.
In March 1862, Benjamin was promoted again to Confederate Secretary of State, after which he began a failed campaign to seek official recognition of the Confederacy from France and the UK. In early 1865, as Union troops decimated the last of the Confederate ranks, Benjamin fled the Confederate capital in Richmond, VA with President Davis who was later captured by the US. Benjamin, however, was able to escape capture by fleeing on a boat to Great Britain, where he ultimately lived out his life in high esteem and wealth but as a traitor to the United States of America.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC)
Jan 3, 1910 – Kaufman County Commissioner’s Court granted Kaufman County Judah P Benjamin Camp of Confederate Veterans permission to erect a Confederate Monument on the east lawn of the Kaufman County Courthouse. Confederate Veterans retained ownership of the monument but were allowed the space.
In their petition to the Commissioner’s Court, the UCV stated: “We are putting up our [monument] by private contributions and in the hope that it will stand forever as an inspiration to duty and patriotism to all those who shall come after us.”
On November 12, 1912, the Confederate Monument was unveiled with a large ceremony on the Kaufman County Courthouse lawn. Confederate Veterans from across the county were brought in by train and marched into town with an escort by a “local militia.”
State President of the UDC, Katie Daffan (proud daughter of Confederate Veteran Reconstruction Klansman Lawrence Daffan) gave a speech in the courthouse in honor of the occasion. At the moment of the unveiling, Ms. Daffan paid homage and dedicated the monument, “in the name of the Confederate Government.”
Did the Black community have any say or input on whether the Confederate statue was placed on the lawn of the halls of justice?
Of course not. The Black community had say on very little.
In August 1900 Kaufman County was one of the first counties in Texas to implement whites only primaries.
White only primaries persisted in Texas until the Supreme Court finally banned them in 1944.
As you may remember from part one, the white men of Kaufman County attempted to stop Black men from voting in the 1870s, that was only their first attempt.
Then, in 1903, Texas passed the Terrell Election Law.
Alexander Terrell was a Confederate soldier, a racist, and in the later part of life, a supreme court justice of Texas. The most notable part of the Terrell Election Law was poll taxes.
Remember, in 1910, the population of Kaufman County was 35,336, of which 6,120 were Black. In the early 1900s, how many people that paid poll taxes were printed in the newspapers.
In 1906 only 4,230 men in Kaufman County were eligible to vote and in 1910 only 4,875 were. Do we want to guess how many of those voters were Black? Likely none or very few. Poll taxes persisted in Texas until 1966.
The Black community had no say on the statue, as they had no say on most things. The white people didn’t want them to vote, nor did they want them to live there, either.
After the Civil War, Egypt was a thriving Black community in Kaufman County. There were many Black families who lived there, Black businesses, a general store, and their own physician.
In 1901 it was reported that gold was found in Egypt and by 1903 it was reported that all Black people had to get out.
While the demand to leave only appeared as a blip in the newspaper, locally we don’t know what happened.
Did the county sheriff knock on all of the doors in Egypt and tell them it was time to go? Were notices posted on their doors? Or did mobs show up and run them out? No matter what the circumstances were, it is clear that it was believed gold was under their community and because of that, they were forced out.
More White Cap activity.
The White Cap activity started in the late 1800s and continued on. Then, in 1914 there was a surge of it. They wanted Black farmers do reduce their cotton output. And by 1915, it led to murder.
In 1914, H.C. Ghent was hired by the owners of a farm in Kaufman County.
Apparently the White Caps had been successful by that point and were running tenants out of town. The owners of the farm hired Ghent to protect the property and stop the White Caps from posting notices.
Somehow this led to Ghent killing W.B.J. Jering. Although the article doesn’t say directly, Jering was likely a White Cap.
Ghent was convicted of manslaughter and given two years in prison.
Part three of “Staying In Your Lane.”
Check back next week for part three, as there is still so much to tell. Between the 1920s and 1960s racial violence, lynchings, and white supremacy persisted in Kaufman County.
In 2020, the Klan may not being parading on Kaufman County streets and racism may no longer happen in the open, many of those who were alive in Kaufman County during times of racial violence, may still be alive today. If not, their children or their grandchildren may be in high school calling your child the n-word or they may be at the county commissioner hearings, fighting to keep their history in place.