remembering her great-great-grandfather Anthony Crawford, who was lynched in 1916 in Abbeville, SC.
Doria Dee Johnson: I am the great-great-granddaughter of Anthony Crawford who was lynched, October 21,1916.
And in my aunt’s home, which was where we had our Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas, she owned the largest photograph of him in a permanent space over the dinner table. And they always pointed to him and said, “Walk with a sense of pride,” because Grandpa Crawford stuck up for his rights to the time of his death.
As a child, when we were told the story of Grandpa Crawford, he’s like a king almost. We were told that he was born enslaved, and had worked his way up to owning property, and was wealthy. He started a school for the black children of Abbeville, he was the president of the Black Masons of South Carolina, and, at the time of his death, Grandpa Crawford owned 427 acres of prime cotton land.
So one day in 1916, it’s a Saturday morning, Grandpa Crawford went to town to sell cotton seed and they offered him 85 cents per unit, when it was worth more. He said, “Give me my damn cotton seed back,” and was arrested for cursing a white man. Word had gotten around town that Anthony Crawford had started acting uppity, and so about 400 people gathered, taking Grandpa out of the jail. They stabbed him, beat him, tied him to the back of the buggy, and drug that around town to the county fairgrounds. They hung him there and riddled his body with 200 bullets.
The last thing he said was, “I thought I was a good citizen” and “Give my bank book to my children.” The family tried to retrieve the body and were told to leave it there. So if you could imagine your grandfather being at home eating breakfast with the children, laughing, and now all of the sudden, he’s hanging from a tree with 200 bullets in him. That’s a form of terrorism.
And then there was an ad taken in the newspaper by white citizens, and they said that the Crawford family needed to leave the state of South Carolina, otherwise everybody’s life was in danger. My great-great Uncle Walter, Grandpa’s oldest son, wrote Governor Richard I. Manning, and asked him for protection. Governor Manning wrote back and said, while he deplored the lynching he could not guarantee our safety.
So my family didn’t leave the South, they were chased away from the South. We moved to Evanston, Illinois, and, not only did the Crawfords leave, but half of the black population of Abbeville was gone within the next 10 years.
I haven’t spent a lot of time in the South—the first time I went to Abbeville was the first time I could understand what 427 acres looks like, and that’s when I think I got really offended. That’s the day I became an activist.
I came home and I started writing congressmen, and I’m saying, “Do you know that our family was kicked off this property for this?” These are unsolved murders. And people who benefitted from lynchings, their families are still alive, and they’re still benefitting financial rewards from the land of our ancestors, and that just seems a shame.
So from Grandpa to Emmett to Trayvon, the trajectory of lynching history has shifted over time in America, because when grandpa was killed in 1916, there was no charges brought, and no trial. In 1955, Emmett Till’s murder, there was a trial, but no convictions. And then Trayvon Martin, now you have a trial, and a not guilty verdict. So all the time you have dead black bodies, and nobody is ever convicted for the murders.
And so on the 100th anniversary of Grandpa Crawford’s lynching, we went back to Abbeville. Over 200 family members came from all over the United States to help unveil the marker dedicated to Grandpa Crawford’s lynching.
And I remember grandpa’s granddaughter, one of only living grandchildren, was next to me in a wheelchair, and when we took the cover off of the marker, she looked at the picture of him, I saw her face light up, and I heard her say, “My, my, my.” And to watch her enjoy that moment, that meant the world to me.
So the marker being in Abbeville is important because the story has been denied for so long. But now, if you go to Abbeville City Hall to do business, you have to walk right past Anthony Crawford to do it. You can’t bypass him anymore.