FrontNear this spot, on May 22, 1917, a mob tied Ell Persons to a log, doused him with gasoline, and burned him alive. Several thousand people watched in what newspapers described as a holiday atmosphere."The way to right wrongs is to
Authorities had arrested Persons, a local African American woodcutter, for the murder of Antoinette Rappel, a fifteen-year-old white girl riding here bicycle across this bridge. The local press reported that authorities had used physical and psychological force to obtain a confession from Persons. The press also reported that law enforcement disagreed about the identity of the culprit. The city police reportedly believed the true culprit was white, while the county sheriff directed the investigation toward African American woodcutters. Before Parsons could be tried, a mob took him from authorities. A local newspaper announced the time and place of the lynching. Some onlookers took pieces of the body for souvenirs.
Others dismembered what was left of Persons and drove to Beale Street where they threw his head and a foot at African American pedestrians.
No one was ever tried for either violent crime.
NAACP Field Secretary James Weldon Johnson came to Memphis to investigate the lynching of Ell Persons. He concluded that there was "no positive evidence" pointing to
Persons' guilt. As a result of Johnsons' report, Robert R. Church, Jr. and other community leaders formed the local branch of the NAACP in June 1917. By 1919, the Memphis branch was one of the largest in the South.
shine the light of truth upon them."
-Ida B. Wells