By Brittany N. Gaddy
COLUMBUS, Miss. — The Columbus Dispatch and The Columbus Commercial for decades published information that condoned the lynching of African Americans. But one incident was so heinous that it prompted The Columbus Commercial to write that those who lynched a Black Mississippi woman should be punished.
This work is a collaboration of the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and Capital News Service at the University of Maryland, Morgan State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and the University of Arkansas.
On Oct. 28, 1915, The Columbus Commercial reported the barn of G.C. Franks, a white man also referred to as Edward Franks, was destroyed in a fire on Oct. 25. Two months later, newspapers across Mississippi reported Cordella Stevenson, also referred to as Cordelia Stevenson, was hanged because it was suspected she burned the barn down.
Her lynching “is still a mysterious affair,” wrote newspapers such as the Simpson County News in Mendenhall, Mississippi. “Efforts to learn just how the woman met her death are unavailing.”
On Dec. 18, The Chicago Defender, a widely circulated Black-owned newspaper, reported Franks used bloodhounds to search for the culprit who burned his barn, but he was unsuccessful.
“Then the populace had to have a goat,” it wrote. Stevenson’s son was suspected of the crime, “however, the boy had not been seen around for months.”
Police jailed Stevenson after the barn was burned and questioned her about her son’s possible involvement, the paper said. She was allowed to leave the station after several days because police were “convinced of her innocence,” the paper said.
Later, a white mob broke down her door, The Defender reported. The men threatened Stevenson’s husband, Arch Stevenson, pointed rifles at his head and told him not to move as they took his wife away.
At his earliest opportunity, her husband “ran mid the hail of bullets,” the paper wrote. “After telling his story he left for parts unknown.”
After the mob took Stevenson, “no one knows exactly what happened,” according to The Defender.
On Dec. 9, Stevenson was found lynched in Lowndes County “about fifty yards north of the Mobile & Ohio R.R. (railroad), and the thousands and thousands of passengers that came in and out of this city last Thursday morning were horrified at the sight,” the newspaper reported. Stevenson hanged naked from a tree and “the condition of the body showed plainly that she had been mistreated,” the paper said.
“Justice of the Peace McKellar” was called to conduct a judicial inquiry into the hanging, but he was out of town, the paper said. Meanwhile, Stevenson’s body remained hanging for more than a day until a judicial inquiry was held after McKellar arrived. The jury determined Stevenson died by persons unknown.
“It was the same old verdict that all southern juries return in the cases of this kind,” The Defender wrote.
The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library does not have the complete editions of the weekly Columbus Commercial for 1915 and does not have copies of The Columbus Dispatch during that year. But there is a quote in the Jackson Daily News on Dec. 15, 1915, that was taken from The Columbus Commercial that said “if the laws of Mississippi stand for anything, the perpetrators of this dastardly deed should receive due punishment. . . . Should this murder remain unnoticed, it will be a reproach on the escutcheon of Lowndes.”