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Macon’s history marred by account of 1898 lynching

After the War, life in Macon County continued, but it certainly wasn’t business as usual. Hundreds of brothers, sons, and Fathers never returned home. Entire family legacy’s died with the War – with many family namesakes paying the ultimate price, for both the Union and the Confederacy. Records for Macon County men who fought for the confederacy are scare, but not entirely non-existent. Early records repeat “22” as being the number of men who fought for the confederacy, however names and identifiers beyond that, even after searching federal pension records, seem to be lost. The 1890 Veteran census does identify hundreds of Civil War Veterans or their widows, however they are simply listed as a veteran, not Confederate or Union. If any family has generational information connecting local families to the Union, contact me. I would love to share those stories.

Just before the turn of the century, more than 30 years after the war ended, a Black man was lynched in Macon County. According to Macon County Historical Society Curator Robert Shook the lynching of Mitch Mozeley is the only tale of a lynching of a Black man in Franklin.

Mozeley’s death isn’t without historical controversy. On November 10, 1898, the Asheville Citizen Times summarized a report that ran in the Franklin Press on November 8 describing Mitch as a 22 year old man who was taken to the jail on a Monday night by an “infuriated mob” and carried to the iron bridge and hanged. Mozeley had been arrested and jailed for allegedly breaking into two homes on Sunday night and “attempting to commit the most heinous crime known,” rape.

Lynching, the unlawful killing of a person by a mob and one of the most extreme forms of community sanction, has occurred in North Carolina on numerous occasions throughout its history. The term originally referred to whipping, but by the beginning of post-Civil War Reconstruction it had come to mean killing almost exclusively.

The only account of the incident is that which was published in newspaper during the era. Studies of lynchings across the South at the turn of the century were often related to rape accusations. It has been argued that the accusation of rape was made when an interracial relationship was discovered during the time period and even further suggests that newspapers rarely reported more than a description of a black brute and a helpless white woman – however in Mozeley’s case, the newspaper archives both days after the incident and even years later, presents a picture of both Democrats and Republicans, Blacks and Whites, convinced of Mozeley’s guilt.

The ACT reports that “never before has Franklin been stirred and excited as on last Sunday night and Monday.” The newspaper goes on to report that Mrs. J.A. Munday was home alone with her children in the heart of town when she heard a noise at the rear door of her bedroom. Although she was in bed, she had left the lamp burning on the table. Her account of the events report that a “negro entered the room. She has who he was. He made an indistinct reply and blew out the lamp.” Munday goes on to claim that she was able to get out of bed, relight the lamp and retrieve a pistol from the head of her bed and got off five rounds as the man ran out of the house.

The same man allegedly then went to the Methodist parsonage where Mrs. C.F. Sherill and children were at home while Mr. Sherill was at the church next door. The man identified himself as Tom Greenwood and claimed to want to see Mr. Sherill. Once he learned Mr. Sherill wasn’t home, he forced his way into the home. Mrs. Sherill was able to retrieve a pistol, but didn’t know how to fire it. The man got the pistol out of her hand, leaving her hand torn and bleeding.

The newspaper goes on to report, “As he ran across the alley that lies between the parsonage and Rev. G. A. Bartlett’s, Mr. Bartlett happened to be just returning from service at the Baptist church, and hearing Mrs. Sherill’s screams and seeing the negro running, pursued him until he crossed the fence into Mr. Jones field.”

Suspicion turned to Mozeley, who was employed at Cunningham’s livery stables early on. Mozeley was arrested and found to be in possession of the gun he stole from the Sherill residence. Mozeley was then presented to Mrs. Munday, Mrs. Sherill, and her daughter, all of whom identified him.

The town was almost immediately split the following Monday, with a large group calling for an immediate lynching and another asking for justice to take its course and a special session be petitioned by the Commissioners for the Governor to allow a speedy trial.

The newspaper report goes on to say, “We talked with a number of colored men Monday, and without exception they all condemned the act, and expressed themselves as ready to give the fiend justice as any white man could be. We were waiting upon Monday by a committee of colored preachers, who asked us to state in the Press that the colored people of Macon had no sympathy for the negro, but condemned him in the strongest terms, stating that he justly deserved hanging.”

Mozeley allegedly confessed to the crimes , possibly under duress, on Monday and asked for a colored preacher, whom he also confessed to. In his confession he claimed he was drunk and that caused him to act as he did. A mob of 150-300 people then reportedly removed Mozeley from the jail and hanged him from the bridge. He stayed there until Dr. J.H. Fouts arrived the following morning to serve as coroner.

“There was no politics in this affair, as it is supposed the mob was composed of Democrats and Republicans alike, and in order to prevent the news going abroad and being used in the elections yesterday, the telephone wire was cut, and a guard posted on the Dillsboro road to prevent the news from reaching the telegraph and being used for political effect,” states the article.

Two years after the lynching, political ramifications continued when the Democrats of Macon held a convention and denounced Richmond Pearson for congress for attempting to make political capital of the lynching.  In the Asheville Citizen Times March 29, 1900 account of the events, the Democratic resolution reiterates the lack of politics in the decision as the lynching was supported by Democrats even though one of the victims was a “prominent Republican” and stated that the lynching was carried about by both Black and White residents of Macon County.

The 1898 lynching in Macon was the second to occur in a short period for North Carolina. In the year’s that followed, sweeping changes moved to eliminate lynchings, although over the next 50 years more than a dozens other would be killed.

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