The lynching of John Carter in 1927 rocked Little Rock, Arkansas, and negatively affected the state’s national image for decades. The lynching was one of the most notorious incidents of racial violence in the state’s history.
On April 30, 1927, the body of a 12-year-old white girl named Floella McDonald was discovered by a janitor at the First Presbyterian Church in Little Rock. The next day, police arrested the janitor and his 17-year-old mixed-race son, Lonnie Dixon, for the murder.
Realizing the outrage present in the city, the police secretly transported the Dixons to the Miller County city jail. This tactic proved to be prudent, as that night thousands of people gathered outside the state penitentiary and city hall in Little Rock, determined to seek revenge against the Dixons.
Determined they had their murderers, the police proceeded to build their case up against the two men until May 4. On that day, a 38-year-old Black man named John Carter allegedly assaulted a white woman and her daughter six miles west of downtown Little Rock.
An armed posse formed quickly and searched the countryside for Carter. He was found a day later, and the angry mob shot him and hanged him from a telephone pole. His body was then dragged through the streets of Little Rock, stopping at the intersection of 9th and Broadway, “The Heart of the Black Community.”
It was estimated that 5,000 white people rioted the streets of Little Rock after they set Carter’s body on fire. Hours later, Governor John Martineau deployed the Arkansas National Guard to the scene. When they arrived, they found one of the white mob members directing traffic with one of John Carter’s charred arms. The following day, the police detained a boy on Main Street for selling pictures of John Carter’s lynched body for 15 cents a copy.
A grand jury convened to investigate the incident, but it deadlocked and was dismissed without issuing indictments. The lynching also received immediate coverage from the national media, whose attention was already focused on Arkansas because of the devastating Mississippi River.
Many black citizens fled the state. Lonnie Dixon was also tried for the murder of the Floella and sentenced to death. He was executed the following month.