The racial terror and acts of barbaric violence that took place in Missouri are among the worst in America. Racial terror lynchings took place in over 20 states, in both rural and more urban settlements. State officials did very little to curb the white mob violence that menaced so many African Americans, and sometimes officials were even complicit and actively involved in committing acts of racial terror.
Learn more about the Community Remembrance Project of Boone County below, and their efforts toward racial justice, reconciliation, repair, and remembrance.
On September 7, 1889, an armed mob of white men gathered at the Boone County Courthouse in Columbia, Missouri and lynched an African American teenager named George Bush from the railing of one of the courthouse windows. George Bush, who was only 17 or 18 at the time of his death, had been arrested without investigation into the allegations against him and was awaiting trial in the county jail when the mob forced their way into the jail and seized him in the early morning hours of September 7. The following day, members of the mob sent a message to a local newspaper in Columbia called The Herald, requesting that the editors publish a message from them stating that as "good citizens of Boone County," they carried out the racial terror lynching of George Bush to "[mete] out justice." They went on to warn that anyone who faced similar accusations as George Bush and anyone who exposed the mob members’ identities would "receive the same punishment." Despite the mob’s lawlessness and continuing threats to menace the community with lynching, no one who participated in the mob that killed George Bush was held accountable.
According to surviving documentation, in September 1889, George Bush lived and worked on a farm owned by a white family just one mile northeast of Columbia. On September 5, the young daughter of a white woman employed on the same farm told her mother that she had been "mistreated" by Mr. Bush. Nothing more was reported about the accusation, except that doctors examined the daughter and presumed Mr. Bush’s guilt. without further scrutiny, the constable arrested Mr. Bush that afternoon and took him to the county jail in Columbia.
News of Mr. Bush’s arrest and the reported allegations of assault against him spread, and "muttered threats of lynching" began circulating in the community. Law enforcement officers in charge of overseeing Mr. Bush’s custody were informed of the threats, but thought little of the warning and took no further precautions. That further precautions were deemed "unnecessary" ignored the fact that in this era, accusations of sexual impropriety against Black men and boys involving white women or girls were particularly charged with racial animosity and regularly aroused stunning displays of mob lawlessness and lynching, whether evidence existed to tie the accused to any offense or not. Nearly 25 percent of all documented lynchings were sparked by charges of sexual assault, often before the legal system could or would act. In disregarding the ongoing circulation of threats and lessening their vigilance and guard, the officers failed their legal duty and left Mr. Bush vulnerable to those threats being fulfilled less than 48 hours later.
On the evening of September 6, a man who was at the local fairgrounds near the courthouse reported seeing four covered wagons near the grounds and about 25 armed white men around 11:00 pm. The sheriff, who resided on site at the jail, and the deputy sheriff, who often slept in the courthouse, would later report that they did not notice any disturbances until after midnight on September 7. Between 1:00 and 2:00 am, the armed mob approached the jail, and one member knocked on the door pretending to be a constable bringing in a new prisoner. When the sheriff arose to go to the door and opened it, members of the mob forced their way in, quickly detained the sheriff, and obtained the keys to the jail. Mobs regularly showed complete disregard for legal authority and functioning legal systems, often storming jails, prisons, and courtrooms to seize their victims from police custody in order to lynch them. Once inside, the mob made its way to the cell area, and upon finding Mr. Bush, kidnapped him and tied a piece of wood in his mouth in order to gag him.
The mob took Mr. Bush outside and dragged him from the jail to the courthouse lawn. The sheriff’s mother-in-law, who had been awakened and had become aware of the situation, saw the mob and thought they might be heading to hang Mr. Bush on one of the trees behind a Baptist church next door to the jail. Rather than attempting to alert someone for help or awake the deputy sheriff, who was still in the courthouse next door, the woman merely urged the mob to not hang Mr. Bush to that particular tree because it was the place where she customarily went to milk cows. Not uncommon for this era, white people present prior to lynchings often failed to attempt to intervene or even condemn mob actions. It was often accepted within white communities that lynching was a means to uphold white supremacy and enforce racial subordination and control. White people accused of similar crimes during this era were much more likely to be taken into police custody, stand trial, and receive a verdict by jury rather than being killed extrajudicially. Racial terror lynching was reserved for Black people who were almost always killed before having any chance to defend themselves in a court of law.
It is unknown whether the mob heeded the request of the sheriff’s mother-in-law or never intended to stop behind the church, but the mob headed towards the courthouse building. At the courthouse, a member of the mob went to wake and distract the attention of the deputy sheriff. When the deputy sheriff emerged and reportedly saw no disturbance, he left the premises. He was not gone long before he started to make his way back to the courthouse, and was reportedly stopped by an armed member of the mob. As he moved away from the armed man, he then saw the mob exit the gate by the circuit clerk’s office with Mr. Bush and entered the courthouse. The mob moved quickly to tie the noose around Mr. Bush’s neck, brought him to the second story of the courthouse, and hanged him from a second story window with the gag still in his mouth at approximately 1:30 am. The deputy sheriff did not attempt to intervene.
The mob reportedly waited until Mr. Bush was dead before pinning a note to his chest, which read, "Don’t cut this down till 7 a. m. This is what we intend to do with all who commit this crime. (Signed) White Caps’." The mob quickly dispersed thereafter, and the deputy sheriff went to notify the coroner. then daylight
came, Mr. Bush’s lifeless body remained hanging to the courthouse building. The Herald newspaper, based in Columbia, reported that both white and Black spectators were seen on the courthouse lawn, bearing witness to "the gruesome and ghastly sight." The Herald’s editorial went on to state that, "upon the faces of none were the signs of commiseration or regret. The general sentiment was that justice had been done." It was not uncommon for the white press to justify lynchings and to suggest that no one in the community was upset by the actions of a lynch mob. In doing so, white newspapers ignored the trauma that lynching intentionally inflicted on the entire Black community. Racial terror lynchings created fearful environments in which remaining Black residents had to navigate a dangerous and arbitrary system of racial hierarchy. Forced to view the lifeless remains of one of their community members, Black people suffered from terror and trauma after lynchings. Further deepening the trauma, the fear of violent or fatal retaliation often suppressed Black people’s willingness to openly demonstrate visible signs of dissent or disapproval.
The coroner finally had Mr. Bush’s body taken down after 7:00 am, seemingly in honor of the mob’s request, and brought his body into the courtroom where an inquest was held. The coroner’s verdict was rendered that day, concluding that George Bush came to his death by strangulation and had been hanged by parties "unknown." After the inquest, news articles did not indicate that further investigation was pursued or that any attempts were made to identify the self-reported "white caps" who participated in the mob. During this era, the whitecapping movement was often composed of bands of poor, white farmers who targeted Black people with intimidation, and at times fatal violence, if they were deemed to be economic competition, perceived threats to the racial order, or thought to have violated the social expectations of racial hierarchy. Like nearly all racial terror lynching victims accused of crimes, George Bush never had a chance to stand trial and was killed by a white mob who never faced prosecution for their crimes of lynching.
George Bush was one of at least two documented African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Boone County, Missouri between 1877 and 1950. At least 60 African American victims of racial terror lynching have been documented in Missouri in the same time period.
The Kansas City Gazette, (Kansas City, Kansas), September 9, 1889, page 1.
Mexico Weekly Ledged, (Mexico, Missouri), September 12, 1889, page 2.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (St. Louis, Missouri), September 8, 1889, page 7.
The Kansas City Times, (Kansas City, Missouri), September 9, 1889, page 1.
Columbia Herald, (Columbia, Missouri), September 7, 1889. Mexico Weekly Ledged, (Mexico, Missouri), August 18, 1892, page 3.
"Sandborn Fire Insurance Map from Columbia, Boone County, Missouri, January 1890, Image 2." Library of Congress. Accessed
Online at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g4164cm.g4164cm_g046201890. Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (3d Ed., 2017).
On the afternoon of Sunday, April 29, 1923, a large white mob stormed the Boone County Jail in Columbia, Missouri and seized a Black man named James Scott, intent on lynching him. The day prior, Mr. Scott had received a trial date of May 21 and remained detained in jail awaiting trial. However, nearly 1,500 angry mob participants were determined to carry out violent retaliation against Mr. Scott without regard for his legal right to due process. Seizing Mr. Scott from the jail, the mob brutally beat and dragged him to the Stewart Road Bridge near the University of Missouri and hanged him from the bridge in a public spectacle lynching. Despite hundreds of eye-witnesses and five indictments of identified mob participants, no one was convicted or held accountable for the racial terror lynching of James Scott.
In April 1923, James Scott, a husband and father of three children, worked at the University of Missouri as a janitor in the medical school’s laboratories. On Friday, April 27, the daughter of a white professor at the university reported being lured into a secluded area near the railroad tracks that ran close to the university by a man attempting to physically assault her. The man was reportedly "frightened away" before the alleged assault was carried out and attempts to identify a suspected assailant began. News reports did not provide any information about why suspicion was directed towards Mr. Scott. However, the reports indicated that Mr. Scott was arrested and placed in the Boone County Jail "following his identification" by the young woman.
During this era, accusations lodged against Black people were rarely subject to serious scrutiny. Race, rather than the alleged offense, most often played a key role in the presumptions of guilt and assignments of dangerousness that Black people faced, especially for Black men or boys following allegations of crime made by white women or girls. After Mr. Scott’s arrest, a preliminary hearing was held on April 28, and a trial date was set for May 21. However, news of the accusations against Mr. Scott had spread throughout the community, and white men, thought to be "chiefly townspeople" of Columbia, were seen "along the streets expressing their indignation against Scott, the accused prisoner." By 11:00 pm on the night of April 28, an angry mob had begun gathering in front of the jail and in the streets surrounding the jail, where Mr. Scott remained in custody.
Around midnight, the mob in their determination to seize Mr. Scott approached the jailer, Wilson Hall, and demanded that he hand Mr. Scott over to them. When Jailer Hall refused, someone from the mob thrust a brickbat through the kitchen window of his home, which adjoined the jail. Mobs regularly displayed a complete disregard for the legal system when they sought to seize accused Black people from jails, prisons, courtrooms, or even directly out of police hands. Recognizing the growing threat of the mob’s aggression and impending violence, the Boone County Sheriff, Fred T. Brown, called Governor Arthur M. Hyde to inform him that a mob had formed intent on lynching Mr. Scott and that assistance was needed to "protect the prisoner from violence." Governor Hyde responded by calling for the Columbia light battery troops to report to Sheriff Brown to assist. However, no militia members arrived to help resist the mob, which had steadily grown to over 1,000 participants and spectators.
Sheriff Brown later stated that he and his officers had "felt, even up to the very last that the jail was strong enough to withstand the attempts of the mob." However, around 1:00 am, the mob acquired a sledge hammer and battered off the lock to the south door of the jail. Without resistance, the mob rushed for the jail doors to storm the jail and locate Mr. Scott. Sheriff Brown and his officers refused to use force to resist the mob, though they were armed and legally responsible for defending the lives of those in their custody. Boone County’s Prosecuting Attorney, Ruby Hulen, and another local judge had joined Sheriff Brown and the officers at the jail prior to the mob’s attack and attempted to deter the mob, urging them to "let the law take its course." However, with no indication from law enforcement that force would be used to stop them, the mob continued undaunted, the other jail doors were battered in, and a blow torch was used to cut through the last remaining barriers to Mr. Scott’s cell.
When the mob found Mr. Scott, they seized him and placed a rope around his neck to drag him towards the railroad tracks, where the alleged assault took place. Mr. Scott tried to resist his abductors, but he was beaten and kicked by the angry mob participants. The mob paused briefly at the jailer’s house to confirm Mr. Scott’s identity under the porchlight, and Mr. Scott was able to regain his footing. Offering no further resistance after the brutality of the mob’s assault, but still able to speak, Mr. Scott asked the mob participants to allow him to see his father and repeatedly stated, "I am an innocent man, I am an innocent man." The sheriff, local judge, and Attorney Hulen also arrived and made further "appeals to the men to return him to the jail;" but shouts of "Hang him, lynch him" and "Take him to the Stewart Bridge and get it over with before the militia comes" prevailed.
The mob resumed its course towards the Stewart Bridge overlooking the railroad tracks, still beating and knocking Mr. Scott to the ground and dragging him several feet before he managed to get to his feet again. Once the mob reached the bridge, some of the participants went to the base of the bridge to watch the lynching, while the mob leaders and other participants held Mr. Scott captive. During this era, public spectacle lynching was intended to maintain white supremacy and instill fear in the Black community. These lynchings were not the acts of a few extremists, but rather were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community and sent a clear message that African Americans could be subjected to mob lawlessness and excessive violence in order to maintain racial hierarchy.
When news of the lynching reached the professor, whose daughter had reported an assault, he also came to the bridge. The professor reportedly tried to deter the mob from hanging Mr. Scott and to instead let him be prosecuted, but the mob "swore at him" and threatened to kill him too. In order to maintain terroristic control over Black people, white mobs were not afraid to threaten other white people who tried to deter them from murdering a Black person. After his life was threatened, the professor left, and the mob participants carried forward their plan to lynch Mr. Scott.
The mob had delayed only briefly in search of a longer rope. Once a new rope was secured, the mob fastened it around Mr. Scott’s neck as he fell to his knees to pray. Mr. Scott had been "repeating over and over, “I am an innocent man. You are going to hang an innocent man. I can prove that I did not do the deed. I am married and have three children, one a girl fifteen years old. I have never touched a white woman in my life" but the mob paid no attention to his claims of innocence. Before thousands of onlookers, the mob set Mr. Scott on top of the bridge’s railing to balance him and then threw him over the bridge. With the lynching complete, the mob dispersed, abandoning Mr. Scott’s body, which was still hanging from the bridge.
The local coroner arrived about an hour later, and Mr. Scott’s body was cut down and taken to a local undertaking parlor. Shortly after his body was relocated, numerous spectators arrived to try to see his remains. By that afternoon, the coroner’s jury reached their verdict, stating, "We find that James Scott met his death by hanging by men unknown to this jury." then the governor learned of the lynching, he reached out to Prosecuting Attorney Hulen, who "assured [him]...that a grand jury would be called at once and that there did not appear to be anything that the chief executive could do at the present time." The grand jury was assembled and began its investigation into Mr. Scott’s lynching on May 2.
During the grand jury proceedings, 24 witnesses gave testimony, though it was reported that "not one Columbia citizen came forward to tell the facts, though there were between 500 and 1000 who witnessed and participated in the mob’s action." Attorney Hulen, who was present when the mob stormed the jail, was convinced that the mob leaders were "known to the officers in Columbia," but the sheriff and three other officers claimed that they could not identify the leaders of the mob. Further, when asked about their defense of Mr. Scott and the jail, the sheriff stated that "he wouldn’t have attempted to resist the mob with firearms because, “They were crazy, and any show of guns would have caused a riot. The result would have been worse than the lynching. It was impossible to reason with the men." The local judge presiding over the grand jury defended the sheriff’s response, stating that he didn’t "feel that Sheriff Brown meant to leave his prisoner in a dangerous position -- he simply didn’t realize the feeling and the danger of violence." In most cases of racial terror lynching, local law enforcement failed to intervene or use force to repel lynch mobs, even when the threat of lynching was evident and underway. It was not uncommon for white officials to later excuse these actions, framing them through the lens of inability or unfortunate circumstances. Despite abdicating their legal responsibility to equally protect anyone in their custody, Law enforcement would often be excused of the ways in which they contributed to or failed to resist the seizure or lynchings of Black men, women, and children.
The following day, the grand jury returned indictments against five people "indicated on charges of participating in the lynching of James T. Scott" in "storming of the jail and the lynching." Bench warrants were released, and the NAACP, having learned about Mr. Scott’s lynching, wrote to the governor demanding that a trial for first degree murder be set for all mob participants in the lynching of Mr. Scott. A trial date was set for one white man named George Barkwell, who was indicted for first degree murder and reported to be the man who pushed Mr. Scott from the bridge.
Commentary about the case and Mr. Scott’s innocence flared as the trial approached. The process of jury selection took longer than expected, as several of the potential jurists had to be dismissed because they expressed "their approval of mob law in certain instances." Lynching was often not merely the result of fringe violence by a few extremists, but rather due to the broader acceptance of racial terror lynching by the white community. Once the trial was underway, multiple witnesses gave testimony that Barkwell was a participant in the mob, though accounts varied on his role. Nevertheless, white community members expected Barkwell to be granted impunity. In anticipation of an acquittal, "a celebration [was] planned for the night the case goes to the jury in the full expectation of an acquittal." Despite the testimony of Barkwell’s involvement, when the decision went before the jury, it only took 13 minutes for Barkwell to be acquitted, with "many in the audience who expressed gratification at the outcome of the case." It was thought that the other four men who were indicted would not go on to be successfully tried, either, and no documentation was identified to suggest that anyone was ever held accountable for the lynching of James Scott.
Shortly after the lynching of Mr. Scott, a white resident of Missouri wrote an editorial that was published in the Rebublican Tribune of Union, Missouri, stating that "it becomes Missourians to hang their heads in shame because of such acts as were committed in Columbia early Sunday morning." Referencing the "majesty of the law" over mob lawlessness, the author trusted "that the ring leaders of the mob will be brought to speedy justice." However, as was the case for Mr. Scott and nearly all victims of racial terror lynching, white elected officials, law enforcement officers and community members were all implicated in racial terror violence and rarely held white mobs accountable for their crimes of lynching. Less than one percent of participants in racial terror lynchings were held accountable, even when there were hundreds to thousands of witnesses and spectators, as there were at Mr. Scott’s public spectacle lynching. This grant of impunity to lynchers contributed to a terrorizing environment for African Americans. Silence about - or even worse, the celebration of - lynchings by the white community, made the era of racial terror lynchings possible.
Mr. Scott’s body was prepared for burial and entrusted to his wife. Like nearly all lynching victims, Mr. Scott was killed before he had an opportunity to stand trial to defend himself by a white mob that was granted impunity and sanctuary by the white community.
James Scott is one of at least two documented African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Boone County, Missouri between 1877 and 1950. At least 60 victims have been documented across the state of Missouri within the same time period.
Arizona Republic, (Phoenix, Arizona), April 29, 1923, page 1. Republican Tribune, (Union, Missouri), May 4, 1923, page 2.
The Dighton Herald, (Dighton, Kansas), May 11, 1923, page 2. Chattanooga Daily Times, (Chattanooga, Tennessee), April 30, 1923, page 1.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (St. Louis, Missouri), May 4, 1923, page 11.
The Centralia Courier, (Centralia, Missouri), May 4, 1923, page 1. The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, (Chillicothe, Missouri), July 12, 1923, page 1.
The Evening Kansas-Republican, (Newton, Kansas), April 30, 1923, page 1.
Leader-Telegram, (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), May 1, 1923, page 1. The Charlotte Observer, (Charlotte, North Carolina), April 30, 1923, page 1 and 2.
The Kansas City Star, (Kansas City, Missouri), April 30, 1923, page 3.
St. Louis Globe-Democrat, (St. Louis, Missouri), July 11, 1923, page 3.
Messenger-Inquirer, (Owensboro, Kentucky), July 13, 1923, page 1.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, (St. Louis, Missouri), July 13, 1923, page 3.
St. Joseph News-Press, (St. Joseph, Missouri), July 6, 1923, page 1. Patson, Matt. 2016, November 29. "Stewart Road/Stewart Bridge."
Como Magazine. Accessed online December 2020 at https://comomag.com/2016/11/29/stewart-roadstewart-bridge/.
On April 29th, 2021, The Community Remembrance Project of Boone County (CRP-Boone County), Missouri held a soil collection and marker rededication for Mr. James T. Scott, one of at least 60 known racial terror lynching victims in Missouri.
Members of the CRP-Boone County along with the Columbia community held space together as they read the marker of James T Scott, called one another to action, shared Mr. Scotts life's story, and held peaceful silence with one another in honor of Mr. Scott. A Soil Collection Ceremony was then held with keynote speaker Reverend C.W. Dawson, and those in attendance were asked to fill jars with soil collected at the site where Mr. Scott was lynched.
Program Participants included:
Honorary Brain Treece, Mayor, City of Columbia
Honorary Janet Thompson, Commissioner, Boone County
Reverend Dr. Clyde Ruffin, Pastor, Second Missionary Baptist Church, Columbia
Reverend Dr. C.W. Dawson, CEO/Pastor, Dawson Journeys Ministry
Bill Thompson and Robert Wilson, Musicians
Members of the Community Remembrance Project of Missouri:
Valerie Berta, Brad Boyd-Kennedy, Anastasia Busby, Ken Butler, Melissa Clarke, Nick Foster, Brittani Fults, Candace Kuby, Wiley Miller, Annabelle Simmons, Keslie Spottsville, Bill Watkins, Preston Wilson
A program for the day read:
"The Columbia/Boone County Community Remembrance Project welcomes your participation with our efforts to stir our community to address racism in light of our history of racial terror. We are focusing specifically on the murders by lynching of James Scott and George Bush.
Our Boone County group is affiliated with the Community Remembrance Project of Missouri, a group established by Missourians in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to raise public awareness, facilitate education, and word toward reconciliation in coordination with community throughout the state regarding Missouri's history of racial injustice.
Today is the 98th anniversary of Mr. Scotts death. Our intent today is to collect three jars of soil to be displayed locally, at the Black Archives of Mid-America Kansas City, and at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.
The CRP of Boone County's ongoing work will continue to engage our community, to recognize that the past is the present and our history of racism will continue unless we confront it together, openly and constructively.
The Community Foundation of Central Missouri, our Fiscal Sponsor; all donations are eligible for tax exemption. To donate, send a check to the Community Foundation of Central Missouri with "CRP Boone" in the memo line. Check can be sent to: Community Foundation of Central Missouri, P.O. Box 6015, Columbia, MO 65205. Donate online at www.cfcmfoundation.org/donations/community-foundation-of-central-missouri/. To reach us, donors must check the box labeled "I want my gift to go to the Community Remembrance Project of Boone County, Missouri"."
The National Memorial in Montgomery Alabama contains over 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the US where racial terror lynchings took place. It is our mission to bring home the Boone County Monument from an adjoining park which contains identical monuments waiting to be claimed and installed in the counties they represent. Over time, the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the US have confronted the truth of this terror, and which parts have not expressed this willingness to face the past.