Unknown Man

Lynched on May 9, 1909

Soil Collection on May 16, 2021 at 3:00PM

His name has been forgotten, but organizers commemorated the 1909 killing of a Black man by a mob seeking the man who assaulted a white woman.

 

“This was a human being, a Black man accused of a crime and presumed guilty without benefit of a trial,” said Lynn Sherman, co-chair of the Jacksonville Community Remembrance Project. 

Members marked the unknown man’s death during a livestreamed ceremony near the Westside Jacksonville woods where he was shot repeatedly and his throat was cut.  The crowd blamed the man for an assault on a white woman earlier in the afternoon and “got quick revenge for the outrageous crime,” the Florida Times-Union reported in its May 10, 1909, coverage of the killing.

Sheriff R.F. Bowden arrived later, but “of course no one could be found that knew anything regarding the killing, neither could the names of the parties that composed the mob be ascertained,” the story said.  The dead man deserved better than that, and still does, 904Ward CEO Kimberly Allen said.

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“We may not know his name, but he is worth being remembered regardless,” Allen said. “… Maybe they never asked his name in the first place.”  The killing is the earliest of seven documented lynchings, with eight victims, the remembrance project has researched for commemorations and outreach efforts including participation in a 2019 museum exhibit at the Museum of Science & History.

 

The death happened near what’s now Jacksonville’s Marietta area, said Scott Matthews, a Florida State College at Jacksonville history professor who has worked on researched lynchings for the remembrance project.

The area was farm country at the time, Matthews said, with a railroad station called Cambon that gave a name to the area around Jones Road and Commonwealth Avenue. Census records show there were white farm families in the area and a smaller number of Black residents, mostly male laborers or employees of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad that ran where Baldwin Rail-Trail is now.

Late in the afternoon of May 8, 1909, a 47-year-old woman said a Black man attacked her while she was tending to cows, and her 30-year-old son raced his horse through the area, asking neighbors to help find the attacker.

“While the mob was at the station they saw a negro walking up the railroad track that answered the description … He made an effort to get away but was quickly overtaken,” the Times-Union reported. The newspaper said the woman identified him as her attacker and people in the crowd led him about two miles away and killed him.

As published in the Florida Times Union on May 15, 2021