On July 11, 1942, 16-year-old Thomas Mattox was riding in the car with his sisters, 19-year-old Emmie and 22-year-old Gussie, from their home in Bowman, GA to a show in Elberton, 12 miles away. While traveling on the highway, the group passed a white motorist, 19-year-old Wilbur Cornell, who also lived in Bowman.
Cornell became enraged that a black person had passed him on the road. Therefore, he overtook the Mattox car, blocked the road, and got out of his vehicle yelling at Mattox and his sisters. Gussie stepped out of the car and asked Cornell to allow them to pass, but instead, Cornell took his automobile jack and beat both her and Emmie to the ground.
Mattox tried to stop the attack. After Cornell hit him with the jack, he pulled out a knife and cut Cornell. Injured, Cornell ran to his car and later received stitches at a local hospital.
Thomas knew what happened to young black men who got into altercations with white men, so he fled to Philadelphia. Elbert county police officers soon arrested both sisters, who were held hostage for three months. Thomas, who had nothing to do with the altercation, was also arrested and threatened with mob violence. Neither sister revealed the whereabouts of their brother.
In order to find out where Thomas was hiding, white local residents also threatened his mother. Once the mob wrapped a chain around her neck, she gave up the whereabouts of her son. There were no actions whatsoever taken against Cornell.
On October 14, 1942, Judge Clare G. Fenerty refused the State of Georgia’s request to extradite Thomas back to Georgia on charges of assault and battery and attempted murder. Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Judge Fenerty’s decision on April 16, 1943, stating “[Thomas Mattox] will not receive a fair and impartial trial and is in grave danger of being lynched or abused by mob action.”