Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

Jim Crow Justice

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Cleo Wright

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

This photograph, taken in Sikeston, Missouri, in 1942, probably shows the body of Cleo Wright. A young drifter with a criminal record, Wright was arrested by two white police officers shortly after the sexual assault and stabbing of Grace Sturgeon, a white woman who lived nearby. During the arrest Wright stabbed one of the police officers in the face and was himself shot four times. A white mob of around 700 people soon gathered, determined there would be no trial, and stormed the cell where Wright was being held. They tied Wright's legs to the rear bumper of a Ford automobile and drove to a black Baptist church in Sikeston, where they stopped, doused him in five gallons of gasoline, and set their victim ablaze as the astonished black parishioners looked on in horror. Wright mercifully died within minutes of being set on fire. In March 1942 a grand jury established to investigate the lynching handed down no indictments.

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