Sam Meeks Jr.

About the Case

Date: July 2, 1916

County: Pickens

Victim(s): Sam Meeks Jr.

Sex of Victim(s):male

Case Status: confirmed

A picture of the 1910 census that lists Sam Meeks
A picture of the 1910 census that lists Sam Meeks

Sam Meeks was lynched on Sunday, July 2, 1916, near Pickensville, Alabama, after a long chase by a search party of armed white men that started in Crawford, Mississippi. Crawford is a small town in Lowndes County, Mississippi about 17 miles southwest of Columbus, Mississippi. The story of his murder began a day earlier when he was accused of allegedly committing cruelty to animals.

Meeks had originally been accused of the crime by William Henry Bledsoe, a fellow resident of Crawford.[1]  Mr. Bledsoe was the brother of a prominent local physician, Dr. George Troop. After Meeks was accused, a warrant for his arrest was sworn out on July 1st and given to the marshal[2] of Crawford, Mississippi, to carry out.

Officer Edward Upton, a single, young 24-year-old white man, attempted to serve Meeks with his warrant. Officer Upton, joined by Mr. Bledsoe, “went to the negro’s house for the purpose of putting him under arrest,”[3] according to the local press. When Officer Upton was preparing to handcuff Meeks, and as Bledsoe watched carefully with a drawn revolver, Meeks surprised them both. He reportedly “grabbed Upton and placed his arm around his neck, drew him close and with a [concealed] automatic revolver shot him twice through the bowls and another shot glanced his nose.”[4] Officer Upton died shortly afterwards. Mr. Bledsoe apparently ran away during the altercation. Sam Meeks also fled the scene, in the direction of Pickensville, Alabama.

A picture of a Starkville newspaper reporting the lynching of Sam Meeks
A picture of a Starkville newspaper reporting the lynching of Sam Meeks

Immediately after Officer Upton was killed, Sheriff Thomas G. James formed a search posse[5] to hunt down Meeks, who was being publicly described as “a yellow negro, minus several front teeth, and [who] has a slight impediment in his speech.”[6] Meeks initially evaded the hunting party. The Hattiesburg News reported that Meeks had successfully fled Crawford “in a buggy with his wife and brother, well-armed”[7]. On Sunday morning, July 2, the search posse caught Sam Meeks near the small town of Pickensville where he “offered no response,”[8] and “the negro was strung up to a tree on the spot where he was captured.”[9] It wouldn’t be until July 7 that most newspapers broke the news of Sam Meeks’ lynching. The final details of Meeks’ death are not clear, and at least one newspaper reported that rumors of his death were erroneous.[10]

The story of the lynching did not die when Sam Meeks was killed. One month later, on August 6th, The Columbus Commercial reported that the father of Sam Meeks, Sam Meeks, Sr., was on trial for aiding in the escape of his son Sam Meeks Jr. The trial was presided over by Justice T. M. Cummings and Justice J. O. Hinkle. Meeks, Sr., was “placed under bond in the sum of $100 to await action of the grand jury”.[11] Reports on the trial would show up again in the East Mississippi Times on December 22, 1916, which detailed that Officer Upton’s father attended the trial to testify against Meeks Sr. However, the trial would be delayed until the second Monday in January 1917. The final outcome of the trial is unknown.

The tragedy of Sam Meeks offers important insight into the culture of lynching during this time in rural Mississippi and Alabama.  Indeed, Sam Meeks’ story is not uncommon. Reporters often used their influence in the press to portray African American men as obvious criminals and deserving of the punishment they receive. The journalists who claimed that Sam Meeks “offered no response” to his killers helped justify the lynching. People would likely read Meeks’ lack of a challenge or protest to the lynch mob and interpret it as a sign of his guilt. But far more likely an interpretation is that Meeks had no choice but to submit to the overwhelming power of white authority. Even the description of Sam Meeks was used to demean him. Calling him a yellow negro, saying he was missing front teeth, and including that he had a speech impediment conveyed a sense of him as dangerous (he could possibly pass as a white person because of his light skin color), poor, and untrustworthy. Different newspapers often closed their stories about him by stating that “The announcement of the negro’s fate did not come as a surprise.”  They also regularly referred to Meeks as “it” instead of by his name, as if to associate him with an unfeeling object. This type of deceptive reporting dehumanized blacks and turned them into threats to society. It also warned blacks that if they were to violate local customs and norms they would face some form of punishment, maybe even death.

[1] Author’s Note: William Henry Bledsoe lived in Noxubee County which is just south of Lowndes County where the crime took place.

[2] Author’s Note: Every article said that the marshal of Crawford received the warrant, not the sheriff.

[3] July 7, 1916; The Macon Beacon, Ed Upton Killed By Negro, VOL. XLIX No.32. pp.2

[4] July 7, 1916; The Macon Beacon, Ed Upton Killed By Negro, VOL. XLIX No.32. pp.2

[5] Author’s Note: The number of men in the posse is unknown, the only description we are given is “Determined Posse.”

[6] July 7, 1916; The Macon Beacon, Ed Upton Killed By Negro, VOL. XLIX No.32. pp.2

[7] July 5, 1916; The Hattiesburg News, pp.2

[8]   July 7, 1916; The East Mississippi Times, Reported Negro Lynched: Slayer of Ed Upton Said To Have Been Hanged In Alabama, pp.1

[9] 1916-07-07, The Starkville News, Meek Lynched, Says Report, VOL. XV., NO. 10, pp.1.

[10] 1916-07-07, The Starkville News, Assassin Makes Good His Escape, VOL. XV., NO. 10, pp.1

[11] August 6, 1916; The Columbus Commercial, Negro Bound Over, VOL. XXIL. No. 30. pp.1