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Mr. Grover C. Everett, Remembered 97 years after Lynching

Mr. Grover C. Everett, Remembered 97 years after Lynching

By Kathy Barr

 

 

 

  • Ceremony to be held April 13th

Grover C. Everett was a thirty-six year old migratory farm worker according to a street contractor who had known Everett for 11 years. When talking to Judge W. R. Ely, the contractor said Everett was a “hard -working negro.” Born on May 25, 1885, Everett had a WWI Registration out of Josephine, Hunt County, Texas.

“No records show that he had ever gotten into any kind of trouble with the law, he was harmless and never even shot craps, according to the local newspaper, the Abilene (TX) Daily Reporter. Judge Ely was angry that, for no apparent reason, Everett had been shot and killed in Abilene. Everett had been staying at the Joe Davis hotel, on the “negro” side of town in Abilene, and had gone to bed early the evening of Saturday, September 9, 1922. Records show that four men wearing masks and long white robes entered his room around midnight, shot Mr. Everett through the right breast and ended his life.

The judge, unfortunately, did have some words to say about Everett’s black skin, “The man who shot that negro is guilty of murder and should be punished…Of course, he (Everett) was just a negro, but under our system of government, all men have an equal right in the courtroom.”  And unfortunately, Grover Everett’s race practically guaranteed that the group of men who shot him would never be held accountable. Joe Davis, the owner of the hotel, was asked by District Attorney Cunningham during the grand jury hearing what Davis knew about the shooting, and upon reporting that he saw men in robes enter Grover’s room, Davis was informed by Cunningham that he was lying and did not witness any men in white robes entering Grover Everett’s room that evening. That ended Joe Davis’ testimony.

In addition to Joe Davis’ testimony, 230 people were examined. But no solid leads were discovered.

Abilene, like many cities in the south, had a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, an active and large group of white men who joined together to repress the rights of blacks and other minorities. In 1915, the KKK was revived by William J. Simmons of Atlanta (after having been repressed by the federal government for several years) and was estimated to have approximately five to six million members across the country by 1924. The Abilene Klan (Klan Number 139) announced in November 1921 that it was an active group, about a year before the tragic slaying of Grover C. Elliott. The KKK’s first public appearance in Abilene, was at the Thanksgiving parade, where it was predicted by the local newspaper that thousands of people would show up to see the unusual group of men wearing their white robes. About 225 Klansmen marched in the parade, with spectators on Pine and Chestnut Streets. According to the Abilene Reporter, it was one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Abilene, and representatives from Abilene as well as towns outside of the city made the crowd size formidable.

The initial organization of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed soon after the Civil War ended, and, although they attempted to present themselves as an organization whose main aim was to better the community (Abilene Daily Reporter, 1921) their real goal was to control and subjugate blacks. Using fear and intimidation, Klan members used their power to punish blacks for anything from looking at a woman the wrong way to allegedly raping and killing a white person. Blacks were not allowed to ride an elevator with a white person, schools were segregated, and blacks lived in areas where crime was rampant.

Members of the Klan were so angry about the outcome of the war that they decided they needed to do everything they could to show African-Americans who was in control. And their methods were torturous and brutal. The KKK was well known for beating and hanging someone they thought was guilty of a crime, but there were times when victims were burned alive. Many lived in fear of the KKK because of their power, and the fact that they never faced consequences for their actions. Some KKK members held prominent positions in the government, civic organizations, and churches. Fortunately, the KKK fell into decline around 1924 because of its vigilante nature, corruption in the KKK national leadership and involvement in politics.

 Good did come as a result of Judge Ely’s actions. Because he was insistent that the murder of Grover Elliott be investigated, there were fewer attacks by Klan members against blacks after the investigation and the size of the Klan group in Abilene shrank.

Grover Elliott’s death, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, could be labeled a lynching. Characteristics of a lynching include: evidence that a person was killed illegally; a group of three or more persons participated in the lynching; and the group stated that their purpose was to protect justice or tradition.

Up until recently, there has been little recognition of the practice of lynching and the negative impact it had on blacks. Numerous blacks left the south and went to communities in the north where they were safer, away from the violent tactics of the KKK. Lives were negatively impacted not only by the murders, burnings and other forms of violence but also by the fear many lived in due to the threat of lynching, and the difficult decision involved in moving to another part of the country because of the fear of being tortured and/or killed.

The Equal Justice Initiative is changing this situation. Located in Montgomery, Alabama, the EJI has established the National Memorial for the Victims of Lynching.

“One project of the museum is to collect soil from the sites of lynchings from all spots in the United States,” said Dr. Baker, a retired professor from McMurry University. On April 13, at 10 AM at 341 Ash Street, Abilene, there will be a soil collection ceremony in honor of Grover Everett. The Ash Street location is where the Joe Davis hotel was located. Organizers of the event include the Interested Citizens of Abilene North (leading in the organization of the event), the Sociology Club at McMurry University (who started the organization of the event), Abilene Christian University and Hardin-Simmons University. Speakers at the event include Dr. Robert Wallace, professor of sociology at McMurry University, who will be speaking on “Abilene/Taylor County in the 1920’s; Bria Kimble, speaking on Abilene’s lynching victim Mr. Grover C. Everett and Tryce Prince, Exec. Assistant at Abilene Christian University’s Carl Spain Center speaking on “Racial terror and lynching in America and Texas.” At the end of the ceremony, each guest will come forward and place a trowel of soil into each of two one-gallon sized jars. One will be taken to Montgomery, Alabama and one will be taken Curtis House Cultural Center in Abilene by interested guests.

On April 15, the sociology club from McMurry University will start making a civil rights tour, and one stop will be Montgomery, Alabama to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial to Peace and Justice’s Community Remembrance Project.   On May 15, the soil from Abilene will be presented to the museum. The soil will be added to the other soil samples from across the country that commemorate where 4,384 victims have been lynched. (The Atlantic, 2017).

Why is it so important for this dark chapter in American history to be remembered? “Viewing history with clear eyes helps us go forward with clear eyes,” Dr. Baker said.

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