1927 Jeff Calloway beating

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The 1927 Jeff Calloway beating was a violent incident that occurred in June 1927. Jeff Calloway, a mentally-impaired man who had been orphaned and grew up in the area without a family, was assaulted outside the a Blount County church, abducted and driven to Mount Pinson in Jefferson County, where he was whipped and beaten unconscious.

The successful prosecution of seven men for Calloway's beating marked a turning point in the wave of Ku Klux Klan-related floggings across the state.

Abduction

On Sunday June 26, the Antioch Baptist Church on Straight Mountain hosted three Ku Klux Klan-friendly ministers. Calloway was part of a group of boys who were laughing and drinking outside. When church let out, a group of men abducted Calloway at gunpoint and drove him to Mount Pinson in Jefferson County. They then tied him to a tree and beat him unconscious.

Outcry

The flogging, which was widely acknowledged as Klan vigilantism in defiance of regular law enforcement, became well-publicized. Montgomery Advertiser editor Grover Hall latched onto the case in one of his Pulitzer-winning opinion columns, criticizing the fact that 'human beasts feel free to fall upon a fellow man... whisk him away, kick him, curse him, and then beat him unmercifully." In a follow-up criticizing the lack of attention given to the injustice by other newspapers, he called on his peers to be moved by the, "blood and groans of all the uncounted Jeff Calloways in Alabama."

While some took up Hall's appeal and petitioned Governor Bibb Graves to push for stronger measures against vigilantism and Klan activities. Many who felt obliged to regret the violence of Calloway's beating also found ways to suggest that he had deserved it, or expressed hopes that the Klan would help expose the "real" floggers.

Prosecution

Under the pressure, Governor Graves did make moves to pursue an investigation, creating a special grand jury. However he and Attorney General of Alabama Charlie McCall had been elected as Klan-friendly candidates and there was little reason to hope that justice would be swift and sure, but McCall surprised many by publicly calling on Grand Dragon James Esdale to turn over the names of all the men involved in Calloway's beating. Meanwhile, local authorities apprehended seven suspects, all members of the Klan, and mostly from Tarrant. A trial was convened at the Blount County Courthouse in Oneonta in August Horace Wilkinson led the unsuccessful defense, managing only to force the proceedings into a protracted standstill. Judge O. A. Steele overruled most of his objections. Two of the men were found guilty at trial and sentenced to prison, leading five others to plead guilty in exchange for reduced sentences.

References

  • Chappell, James (July 4, 1927) "Alabama's Shame: What Will the Governor Do?" The Birmingham News
  • Feidelson, Charles N. (September 28, 1927) "Alabama's Super Government" Vol. 125, No. 3427, pp. 311-312
  • Feldman, Glenn (1999) Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press ISBN 0817309845