We don’t have a picture of John Jeffress, at least I haven’t found one. Same for personal background: where he was from, when he was born. We only have a report about his end, which came on this date, August 25, 100 years ago.
This report was published in several papers on August 26, 1920:
Sheriff Storey and Jeffress were in Graham NC, the seat of Alamance County. When they turned toward the courthouse, they passed near this Confederate memorial, 30 feet high including the statue on the top, which had already been standing for six years.
At this point, the crowd made its move:
In the version of this report published in the Charlotte NC News, additional details were included:
Sheriff Story [sic] and his six assistants started with Jeffress to the courthouse one block away. Arriving at the spot where Ray was killed, a mob formed around the Officers and their prisoner. There was a sudden surge forward and in the twinkling of an eye, according to the sheriff, the prisoner had been taken from the officers and was placed in an automobile and rushed away. There was not a shot fired: not even a gun drawn during the minute scuffle between the mob and officers.
Sheriff Story said tonight that resistance would have been folly as the mob was made up of between 25 and 50 determined men. There were at least 150 additional men nearby whose sympathies were with the mob, he stated tonight. Answering a direct question, Sheriff Storey declared that he did not know anyone in the mob. The man who led the mob and took the prisoner away, the sheriff said, must have just moved into the county and was not known to him.
There were no arrests or prosecutions after this killing. And there is no memorial to John Jeffress in Alamance County. There was none anywhere — until the spring of 2018. In Montgomery, Alabama, the Equal Justice Initiative opened what it called the National Memorial for Peace & Justice.
In this unique structure, there are 800 pillars, one for each county where the founders could verify a lynching. Names of the known victims are engraved on the pillars.
That, of course, includes Alamance County, NC. and on the Alamance pillar, there is one name:
The fact that we know this much (or this little) about John Jeffress is because in those years, a century and more ago, the young (and often denounced as “radical”) NAACP was compiling a record. It often hung this flag outside its New York office:
The Equal Justice Initiative, sponsors of the Montgomery Memorial, is encouraging persons elsewhere to remember these “erased” crimes.
The Charlotte News editor, whoever it was, gets a bit of credit with their account:
“The crime for which the young negro was put to death is, alleged to have been committed at 10 o’clock yesterday morning, near the child’s home. Cries of her mother, it is said, caused the negro to run, leaving the little girl without serious injury.”
At least he said “alleged.” This entire affair began about 10 AM, and was over by shortly after 3 PM. Jeffress was on his way to be arraigned, formally charged, when he was snatched and then killed. No arraignment, no trial, no evidence, no defense, nothing.
Is all this far in the past, better left alone? I don’t believe that. I snapped the photos below outside a McDonalds in Graham in mid-2018.
I don’t have a bumpersticker for John Jeffress, to mark his lonely centennial. But I can contribute this remembrance.