The 1933 Brutal And Gruesome Act In Kountze, Texas

The 1933 Brutal And Gruesome Act In Kountze, Texas

*Trigger Warning* Death, Violence, Racial Terror

On Sunday, December 2, 1933, Mellie William Brockman, a white woman, left her Hardin County Home around noon to drive to Kountze and exchange a pair of baby shoes. Later that day, her body was found shot to death and burned almost beyond recognition.

Upon finding her charred remains, local law enforcement officers got to work. Not far from where her body was found, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corp told the local Sheriff that they had seen a Black man earlier that day who carried a shotgun on his shoulder. They reported witnessing the man walking from the road and into the woods.

Officers and citizens formed a posse to seek out the killer. Although they didn’t find the suspect that day, by December 5, 1933, Hardin County filed charges of assault and murder against David Gregory.

Why was David Gregory blamed?

David Gregory was a 25-year-old Black man just released from prison and starting a new life, living with his mother in Kountze. I searched through newspapers and records high and low and could not find any reference to why Gregory was accused of being the killer. No eye-witness accounts, no confessions, and of course, in 1933, no fingerprints or DNA evidence.

What is most likely in rural East Texas in 1933, Gregory became a person of interest since locals knew he was recently released from prison.

Gregory was imprisoned in Huntsville for burglary from October 1932 until June 20, 1933, when he was released on parole. Gregory would have been an easy target for the locals looking to blame a Black man for the terrible murder of a white woman.

Did David Gregory commit the crime?

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but this story isn’t about the murder of Mellie William Brockman, and it’s not about David Gregory’s death. Instead, it’s about what was done to Gregory afterward and how the Black community in Kountze was racially terrorized during the aftermath.

Once Gregory was identified as the killer, a $700 reward (the equivalent of $15,000 in 2022) was issued for his capture.

On December 7, 1933, the search posse tracked David Gregory to a Black church in Voth. Voth was a town between Beaumont and Kountze, although it no longer exists, it was annexed by Beaumont in 1957.

Hardin County Deputy Sheriff Ralph Chance reported that he ordered Gregory to come out of his hiding spot, and when he did, the Sheriff could see he was holding a pistol. So chance fired his shotgun, hitting David Gregory’s face and neck.

Gregory was fatally wounded. According to law enforcement officers, they put Gregory in the car and rushed towards the Beaumont hospital, but they turned the car around when Gregory succumbed to his wounds. Only to be met by a mob of about 400 people on the road headed into Kountze.

The mob demanded the police give them David Gregory.

When officers insisted he was dead, they demanded his body. The Sheriff complied with their demands.

The mob took the body, used chains to tie it to the back of a car, and then drove around the Black section of Kountze for over a half-hour.

Why? Why did this mob of white people tie a dead body on the back of their car and drive it around the Black section of town, for all to see? Terror. They did it to terrorize the Black community in Kountze. It was a message to all of them that if they stepped out of line, they could befall the same fate.

The parade of cars stopped in the middle of the highway and then set David Gregory’s body on fire. But as the car drove again, the fire went out. That’s when members of the mob cut out his heart and various other internal organs.

The mob, once again, drove to the Black side of town, Gregory’s charred and mutilated remains still dragging from the bumper of a car. They started another fire and planned on throwing the corpse into it, but not before they made a stop at his mother’s house.

Georgia Ross Gregory was the daughter of enslaved people.

One can only imagine what was going through 52-year-old Georgia Ross Gregory’s mind as hundreds of white people showed up with her dead son’s mutilated body at her doorstep. Both her parents were enslaved in East Texas before emancipation, and she was born just after the end of Reconstruction. So the brutality of the white man during the Ku Klux Klan’s glory days in Deep East Texas was something she had a front-row seat for.

The mob forced her to stand on the porch of her home as they dragged her son’s body up and down the street in front of her house. Her only comment to them was, “You all done right, white folks.”

What did she mean by that? We can only speculate. While she seemingly praised their actions, perhaps it was out of fear of her safety or the safety of her other grown son. Or maybe it was a backhanded way to tell them that they couldn’t break her. Regardless, this moment of her life, likely seared into her brain, is something she probably relived repeatedly. Parents can understand the anguish over the death of a child and only hope we outlive each of our offspring. Unfortunately, Georgia Ross Gregory wasn’t so lucky.

After, the mob threw Gregory’s remains in a fire and dispersed.

Over the following weeks, Black residents of Hardin County were targeted for violence. Many of the Black community left town until things blew over. The Sheriff investigated to try and find out who was involved in the mutilation of David Gregory’s body and terrorizing the Black community but said he didn’t think it would be possible to identify any of them.

And while life has gone on, many in Kountze were likely traumatized and scarred from this incident, none of whom are likely to still be alive 89-years later. The brutality that happened on that December night in 1933 has long been forgotten, absent in history books or historical placards. Another tragedy of the South, where the echoes of long ago violence can still be heard.

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