Before we began to #SayTheirNames, thousands of Black and brown bodies in America, whose names we forgot or never knew, Bob White was one of those names that we should remember.
I came across the story of Bob White in an old newspaper. Haunted Conroe also wrote about him years back. Other than that and a summary here, you would have difficulty learning about this case. That’s the true tragedy. Bob White was robbed of his human rights, civil rights, and constitutional rights. What was done to Bob White was a miscarriage of justice, and no one ever was held accountable. Yet, 80-years later, very few people can tell you what happened.
In 1937, Bob White lived with his wife Ruby Lee White in Houston when his mother asked him to help her on the cotton farm where she was working in Livingston. Needing the money, Bob White agreed and headed up to Polk County. During that sweltering August summer, the wife of a prominent farmer, W. S. Cochran, claimed to had been raped in her home.
According to Ruby Cochran, while her husband was out of town on business, a man broke into her house by cutting a window screen open. The attacker crept past her eight and ten-year-old boys and attacked her in her bedroom, holding a knife to her the entire time.
However, there was no evidence. Ruby Cochran told law enforcement that her attacker “was barefooted, that he had a very offensive breath, and was undoubtedly a negro.” She was unable to provide any identifying information to the Sheriff about what the attacker looked like. She didn’t even know the color of his skin. She just assumed it because of her attacker’s bad breath.
The Sheriff was unable to find any fingerprints or other evidence at the house.
The Sheriff rounded up a dozen Black men.
Not having any evidence or suspects, the Sheriff went to the farm where Bob White was working and arrested over a dozen Black men. The Texas Rangers also came in from Houston to help.
Ruby Cochran listened to each one, and then when Bob White recited the selected words, Ruby Cochran told the Sheriff, “that’s him.” She was sure of it.
A lynch mob had already formed in the town, waiting to kill whomever they thought was the man who raped Ruby Cochran. The Rangers had to stand guard outside of the jail to ensure the lynch mob didn’t store it.
Bob White denied the allegations.
In August 1937, a few Texas Rangers were accused of torturing another Black man in Livingston to coerce a confession out of him.
Bob White’s confession came the same way.
For a week, the Sheriff would take Bob White out of jail and drive him to another location. The Sheriff tied him to a tree and brutally beat him every day. After a week, Bob White couldn’t withstand it anymore and signed a confession. It was later reported that he signed the confession while tied to a tree after one of these beating sessions, after not sleeping for four straight days.
Bob White could not read or write, so it’s unclear whether or not he knew what he was signing. His attorney argued that Bob White was under duress when he signed it.
However, prosecution witnesses testified that they witnessed him sign the confession and didn’t appear under duress.
Bob White was found guilty and sentenced to death.
His case was often referred to as “another Scottsboro case.”
His appearance didn’t identify him. There were no fingerprints, bloodhounds didn’t match his scent, and no evidence to tie him to the crime. White appealed his sentence.
Then, in March 1940, the Supreme Court overturned Bob White’s conviction under the grounds that he was subject to inhumane treatment and a forced confession. The land’s highest court also determined that White was not given a fair trial because the jury commissioner intentionally only selected white people for the jury.
Bob White headed back to court for a retrial in 1941.
Unfortunately, the trial never happened. On June 10, 1941, as the jury was being selected for the trial, W. S. Cochran, the husband of the alleged rape victim, walked up to Bob White, and from about 3-feet away, shot him in the back of the head.
Bob White was railroaded, he was accused of a crime, yet there was no evidence implicating him. The victim didn’t even know the color of the perpetrator’s skin. She said because he had bad breath, he must have been Black.
White maintained his innocence until the sheriff tied him to a tree and beat him for days, forcing him to sign something he couldn’t even read.
Bob White was protected from lynch mobs multiple times, sentenced to death, and then had his sentence overturned. At the time of his murder, he had already served 5 years in prison for the alleged crime.
W. S. Cochran shot Bob White in front of a packed courtroom of 300 people. After pulling the trigger, he calmly handed his pistol over to one of the attorneys standing by and then surrendered to the court’s deputy.
Cochran paid the $500 bond and walked out of jail later that afternoon.
Only one week after Cochran killed Bob White; his case went to the grand jury.
On June 16, 1941, the grand jury deliberated for only two minutes and found Cochran not guilty. He never even served one night in prison.
Did Bob White assault Ruby Cochran? All indications in this point to no. W. S. Cochran murdered an innocent man and then was set free and able to live out the rest of his life. This is what systematic racism is.
June 10, 2021 will be the 80th anniversary of Bob White’s murder. In the scope of things, 80-years wasn’t so long ago. When we say the names of all the other Black and brown people murdered at the hands of systematic racism since then, please say Bob White’s name, too. His life also mattered.
You can now read an ad-free version of Living Blue in Texas and help support our mission to turn Texas blue for the price of a coffee. Sign up now.