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Thu, 08.07.1930

The Lynching of J. Thomas Shipp, and Abraham S. Smith Occurs

*On this date in 1930, the lynching of J. Thomas Shipp and Abraham S. Smith occurred.  They were two young Black men who were murdered by a mob of thousands in Marion, Indiana.

Three suspects had been arrested the night before, charged with robbing and murdering a white factory worker, Claude Deeter, and raping his girlfriend, Mary Ball. The local chapter of the NAACP had tried to evacuate the suspects from town to avoid the mob violence but was not successful. A large crowd broke into the jail with sledgehammers, pulled out the three suspects, beating them and hanging them. When Abram Smith tried to free himself from the noose as his body was hauled up, he was lowered, and men broke his arms. Police officers in the crowd cooperated in the lynching.

The third suspect, 16-year-old James Cameron, had also been arrested and narrowly escaped being killed by the mob; an unknown woman and a local sports hero intervened, and he was returned to jail. Cameron later stated that Shipp and Smith had committed the murder but that he had run away before that event. A local studio photographer, Lawrence Beitler, took a photograph of the dead men hanging from a tree surrounded by the large lynch mob; the crowd was estimated at 5,000 and included women and children. He sold thousands of copies of the photograph in the next ten days. Mary Ball later testified that she had not been raped. Cameron was tried in 1931 as an accessory to murder before the fact, convicted, and sentenced to state prison for several years.

After being released on parole, he moved to Detroit, where he worked and went to college. In the 1940s he returned to Indiana, working as a civil rights activist and heading a state agency for equal rights. In the 1950s he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1988 he founded America's Black Holocaust Museum, for African American history and documentation of lynching of African Americans. According to Cameron's 1982 memoir, the police had originally accused all three men of murder and rape. After the lynching, and Mary Ball's testimony, the rape charge was dropped against Cameron.

He said in interviews that Shipp and Smith had shot and killed Claude Deeter. In 1991 Cameron was pardoned by the state of Indiana. Flossie Bailey, a local NAACP official in Marion, and Attorney General James M. Ogden worked to gain indictments against leaders of the mob in the lynching, but the Grant County grand jury refused to return an indictment. Attorney General Ogden then brought charges against four leaders of the mob, as well as bringing impeachment proceedings against the Grant County sheriff who had refused to intervene. All-white Grant County juries returned "not guilty" verdicts for all of the leaders charged.

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