Photo credits: Brettman/Corbis
Rev. Isaac Simmons (pictured), a Black clergyman, and farmer, was killed on March 26, 1944, by a mob of white men who wanted to take his property in Amite County, Mississippi. Members of his family left the state — afraid for their safety after seeing his murder. The white men who lynched him were successful in stealing the Simmons’ land, and they were never prosecuted for their crimes.
Rev. Simmons held more than 270 acres of debt-free Amite County property that his family had owned since 1887 when he died. This was a rare occurrence among Black families in the South, where racism and poverty had long been barriers to economic success. Rev. Simmons and his children and grandchildren cultivated the area, growing crops and selling the property’s timber.
A story circulated in 1941 that there was oil in Southwest Mississippi. Six white individuals decided they wanted the Simmons’ property and urged Rev. Simmons not to remove any more trees. Rev. Simmons sought legal advice in order to resolve the conflict and assure that his children would be the only heirs to the land.
A group of white men appeared at the house of Rev. Simmons’s oldest son, Eldridge, on March 26, 1944, and urged him to show them the property boundary. He consented to do so. However, as soon as Eldridge Simmons boarded the men’s car, they started beating him. The white males were shouting — saying that the Simmons family thought they were “clever niggers” for consulting a lawyer. The culprits then carried Rev. Simmons a mile away from his residence and started beating him again. They drove both Simmons men farther into the property and forced Rev. Simmons out of the vehicle. Then they brutally murdered him — shooting him three times and severing his tongue. Eldridge Simmons was released. However, he and his relatives were given 10 days to quit the family’s land.
The land was taken over by the white males who perpetrated the lynching. Even though his son, Eldridge, and two daughters, Emma and Lee, were there and able to identify by name at least four of the six persons responsible, the constable and Sheriff came to the conclusion that Rev. Simmons had “met his death at the hands of unknown people.” Fearing for their life, Emma, Lee, and other family members evacuated Amite County during the following two days before their father’s burial on March 29, 1944. Eldridge stayed in Amite for his father’s burial. However, he was arrested the following day, ostensibly for his own safety. Despite being the victim, Eldridge was held in prison for more than a week before being released on April 8, 1944, and advised to leave the area.
Only one of the six white men accused of lynching Rev. Simmons was ever brought to justice. Eldridge and his sister, Emma, were arrested in New Orleans, Louisiana, on November 1, 1944, more than seven months after their father was killed, on grounds that they had left the state to avoid testifying as witnesses in the trial of the sole white man charged with their father’s murder. Eldridge, Emma, and Lee all declined to identify the culprits in their evidence at the trial on November 11, 1944, because they feared for their lives if they were convicted. An all-white jury finally acquitted the one white defendant due to “lack of evidence.”
Angry white mobs intimidated Black people with violence and murder to preserve the racial hierarchy and establish economic dominance during the age of racial terror. These acts of anarchy were carried out with impunity by crowds who were seldom arrested, prosecuted, or even publicly shamed. Law enforcement provided little security to black people, and they were aware that opposing their own maltreatment or a loved one’s lynching may end in even more violence and death.
Between 1865 and 1950, at least 14 African-Americans were lynched in Amite County, Mississippi. Read EJI’s reports Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America to learn more about how over 6,500 Black women, men, and children were victims of racial terror lynching in the United States between 1865 and 1950.