Emmett Divers Callaway County, Missouri, August 15, 1895
On the morning of August 15, 1895, Emmett Divers, an African American man, was lynched by a white mob “full of desperate men, all clamoring for vengeance” in Fulton, Missouri. Mr. Divers was being transported from St. Louis to Fulton after being arrested for being involved in the death of a white woman. Before he could be tried, Mr. Divers was seized by a mob that declared, “Divers should never be granted the formality of a trial.”
On July 23, 1895, a white woman was found dead in her home. One newspaper reported that suspicion was being directed towards many African American men in the area, “but the strongest suspicion was directed against Emmett Divers.” When Mr. Divers was found at a farmhouse two miles away, he was arrested and taken to jail in Mexico, Missouri. Word of Mr. Divers’s arrest and whereabouts spread quickly throughout the white community and soon a lynch mob began to form. The local deputy sheriff tried to avert a lynching by setting out to transfer Mr. Divers to a jail in St. Louis.
During this era, deep racial hostility towards African Americans permeated Southern society, and manifested itself most dramatically in racial terror lynchings. Though most pervasive in the South, non-Southern states also used racial terrorism to enforce white supremacy and assert racial hierarchy. Burdened with presumptions of guilt and dangerousness, many African Americans were indiscriminately targeted as suspects when alleged crimes were discovered, whether evidence existed against them or not. Such suspicion, coupled with whites’ indignation at the mere suggestion of black-on-white violence, led to many African Americans being lynched before the legal system could or would act. Nearly twenty-five percent of documented victims of racial terror lynching were African American men accused of offenses against white woman and, as in Mr. Divers’s case, the accusation alone sparked violent reprisal.While police were taking Mr. Divers to St. Louis, a group of white men stopped them. When the officers revealed that they were transporting a prisoner, additional members of the white mob emerged from the woods, surrounded Mr. Divers and the police, and ordered the officers to continue on to a local bridge.
The mob then seized Mr. Divers from police, who made no attempt to resist with force. it was not uncommon for white lynch mobs to seize their victims from jails, prisons, courtrooms, or out of the hands of police. Though they were armed and charged with protecting the men and women in their custody, police almost never used force to resist white lynch mobs intent on killing black people. In some cases, police were either complicit or active participants in the lynchings.
After seizing Mr. Divers, the white men bound him with rope, dragged him to the center of the bridge, and tied one end of the rope to the bridge while placing the other end around his neck. When Mr. Divers refused to jump, a member of the mob shoved him off of the bridge and the impact of the fall reportedly broke his neck. The mob then watched approvingly as Mr. Divers’s corpse swung from the bridge.
After the lynching, the mob cut Mr. Divers’s body down and returned it to Fulton to be placed on public display. Press coverage reported that the “howling mob of over 500 horsemen” took Mr. Divers’s body through the courthouse square as hundreds of people came to view it. The husband of the dead white woman then had the mob re-hang Mr. Divers’ body from a telegraph pole, where it was left until the evening.
Although the police officers who witnessed Mr. Divers’s abduction by the mob were near enough to speak with the mob members, press coverage did not indicate that officers had identified or arrested any of the men involved in Mr. Divers’s lynching. As was the case for nearly all documented lynching victims, Mr. Divers never had a chance to stand trial for the allegations against him, and he was killed by a white mob that never faced prosecution for his death.
Emmett Divers was one of at least 60 African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Missouri between 1877 and 1950, and one of at least four victims killed in Callaway County.
Location of Soil Collection: According to news reports, Emmett Divers was hanged nine miles east of Fulton, from “The Caldwood Bridge” that reportedly crossed Auxvasse Creek. His body was then cut down from the bridge, taken into the town of Fulton and re-hanged from a telegraph pole in front of the courthouse where the “circuit court [was actively] in session.”
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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 Callaway 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.