The Dawson Five: Arrested and Forced Into Murder Confession

11 Posted by - November 30, 2022 - BLACK MEN, Injustices, LATEST POSTS

On January 22, 1976, cattle ranch worker Gordon Howell was shot to death in a one-room grocery store. The store was just six miles east of Dawson, a rural town in southwest Georgia. It was believed through testimony, that Howell was shot by a group of young African-American men who arrived at the store that evening, all of whom donned ski masks behind a beer cooler before pulling out a weapon. The store owner Denton identified Roosevelt Watson, who was 19 at the time, as the gunman.

Police arrested Watson’s brother, Henderson Jackson, 21; brothers Johnny B. Jackson, 17, and James Jackson, 16; and J.D. Davenport, 18, who was related to Watson. Before the boys became known as “The Dawson Five,” they were five poor, young, black men from rural Terrell County later to be charged with robbery and first-degree murder. In a preliminary hearing, the prosecution claimed the boys had confessed to the accusations, and they would be seeking the death penalty.


The men were represented by Millard Farmer of the Team Defense Project Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. Farmer contended that police coerced the defendants’ alleged confessions by threatening to shoot, electrocute, and castrate the young men. However, the prosecution’s case didn’t hold up.

In August 1977, a former police captain testified that he was present when a fellow officer jammed his gun into the forehead of one of the defendants, cocked it, and ordered the young man to confess. By the last week in August 1977, the Dawson Five story had spread across the nation; “A case of murder; a charge of forced confessions” read one headline from the New York Times.

On December 17, 1977, the district attorney dropped the murder and robbery charges, saying that without the confessions, there was not much of a case. By that time, two of the defendants had spent one year in jail, and the other three had been incarcerated for almost two years.



  • Cheryl June 18, 2016 - 11:00 am

    Are these men still alive and did any of them sue the police? I am so happy to hear they were free if the charges. So many did not get off. And people wonder why we still talk about the wrongs that our people went through.

    • Tammi June 9, 2019 - 5:42 am

      JD Davenport is alive. My mom talk to him everyday

      • Robin June 9, 2019 - 12:33 pm

        I would love to contact him for a radio show

        • Chaplain Lang June 9, 2019 - 1:33 pm

          Yes and contact Roland Martin with Unfiltered Digital.

        • Peggy A Bynes June 16, 2019 - 10:12 am

          My cousin JD is living in Tifton, Georgia

      • Kcks June 14, 2019 - 9:36 am

        Wow!!! I learned something new! Sad they had to spend anytime in jail.

    • Remy Rock June 9, 2019 - 8:09 am

      Our people were accused of murder.

    • Beverly June 9, 2019 - 12:35 pm

      Johnnie Jackson and his brother James are my first cousins. They were never compensated for the traumatic experience that they went through. James the younger brother died .

      • Erica June 11, 2019 - 2:21 am

        I’m so sorry your family went through that 🙁

        • Monique June 13, 2019 - 9:26 am

          Damn Shame!!! The atrocities this government has committed against black men, is unbelievable!!! This is why reparations is deserved asap!!

    • Yvonne Essex June 10, 2019 - 6:57 pm

      Never knew about this!!!! Thank you for for telling this story!! Are any of them still alive today? What happened to them after this incident!!!!! Very interesting!!!

  • Marqus September 16, 2016 - 11:01 pm

    I think they are all deceased with the exception of Johnny B. Jackson who resides in the local area.

  • Velma Watson June 20, 2017 - 4:48 pm

    They all suffered and the Jacksons were my great grandfather’s brother’s great grand sons. This was so tragic.

    • Taja June 9, 2019 - 7:40 am

      Soooooo.. your cousins ??

      • David June 9, 2019 - 10:51 am

        Cousins Twice removed… or something like that.

        • Leonard June 12, 2019 - 11:21 am

          It was totally a travesty, I was born and raised around Terrell county was back there when it all down a few miles from my grandfather’s farm we all knew it was BS

    • David June 9, 2019 - 10:55 am

      Your Cousins twice removed… or something like that.

    • James Vickers June 10, 2019 - 11:39 am

      Your third cousins

  • Clyde June 21, 2017 - 5:45 am

    Thank God they were set free, however they still went to jail for NOTHING . It makes me so angry to see brother’s treated like this

    • Rod June 8, 2019 - 12:36 am

      Sorry your family had to endire this treatment

    • fhsmct June 9, 2019 - 1:30 am

      your cousins

    • Taja June 9, 2019 - 7:39 am

      Soooooo, your cousins ???

    • Pamela June 10, 2019 - 11:41 am

      How many of them are still living did any of them have wife and children

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  • Al June 6, 2019 - 6:51 pm

    Thank god for the captain that came forward and did the right thing. Had it not been for him these men would’ve beem executed. How many haven’t been so lucky then, now and in the future….

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  • Denesha Davenport Smith June 8, 2019 - 3:00 am

    Hey Cheryl, all are deceased except the guy in the hat, which is my uncle JD and the guy to the left of him.

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    Great article..I’m happy to see this history being told again. I grew up playing in with Johnny B and James Jackson in the Dawson projects during this time period. Thanks!

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  • […] 22, 1976: Gordon Howell, a cattle ranch worker, was shot to death in a one-room grocery store owned by Linward Denton, six […]