On April 3, 1882, Levi Harrington, a young African American man, was abducted from police custody by a large white mob of several hundred participants and lynched in West Kansas City. Within two days of the mob’s violent hysteria, newspapers began to report that Mr. Harrington was “the wrong man” and had been innocent of the alleged crime that provoked his murder.
Earlier in the day on April 3rd, a white police officer was shot and killed while attempting to arrest two African American men accused of theft. The two African American men fled the scene and a lynch mob swiftly formed. Mr Harrington was also making his way through West Kansas City on this day, and white men and officers searching for the shooting suspects arrested Mr. Harrington and took him to the local jail. News reports stated that, “while there was nothing to indicate his guilt,” the white officers had targeted Mr. Harrington because he was black. For the growing lynch mob of hundreds, the arrest was enough to prove guilt.
African Americans carried a heavy presumption of guilt during this era, and many hundreds of African Americans across the country were lynched based on false allegations, accusations of non-serious crimes, and even for non-criminal actions that were deemed by the white community to have violated social customs and racial expectations. When crimes were discovered, suspicion would often shift to any African American person and the entire community, such that an African American person with no connection to the crime was at risk of being accused, arrested, and targeted for mob violence. Race, rather than alleged offenses, most often sparked violent reprisal, even when there was no evidence tying the accused to the offense.
Soon after his arrest, a senior police officer ordered Mr. Harrington transferred to a different facility – but as soon as Mr. Harrington was brought outside the local jail, the now urgent mob erupted with “cries of ‘Lynch him!’ ‘String him up!’ and ‘Shoot the rascal!’.” When the police officers drew their weapons to assert some resistance, even more angry white community members
In Remembrance: Lynching in America The Soil Collection Project Equal Justice Initiative
joined the mob until, according to one news report, “it numbered not less than 2,000.”
Police managed to successfully move Mr. Harrington out of sight, but during the next attempt to transfer him, the mob forcefully abducted him near a local bridge. Once in the mob’s hands, Mr. Harrington was taken under the bridge and hanged from its beams. A mob participant then shot Mr. Harrington, striking him near the neck. After a time, Mr. Harrington’s lifeless body was cut down and left behind on the ground as the “singing, swearing crowd” of lynch mob participants dispersed.
As early as April 5th, just two days later, newspapers began to report that Mr. Harrington was in fact innocent of the crime for which he was lynched. An early article read, “The Kansas City papers are now under the impression that Levi Harrington, the colored man hung by a mob the night before last for shooting and killing [a] police officer [...] in West Kansas City that evening, was the wrong man [...].” By the following week, a newspaper reported that, “there was no proof against Harrington, and there is every probability that he was totally innocent. And such is mob law.”
The local African American community tried to pursue legal recourse against the mob participants who lynched Mr. Harrington, but no serious legal action or investigation was undertaken to identify and convict his murderers. Like nearly all documented racial terror lynching victims, Mr. Harrington had not had an opportunity to receive due process when accused, and he was killed by a mob who never faced prosecution for his lynching.
Levi Harrington was one of at least 60 African Americans victims of racial terror lynching killed in Missouri between 1877 and 1950.
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 Jackson 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.