Ed Avery

August 20, 1904

Cordova, Alabama

On August 20, 1904, Ed Avery was lynched by a mob of angry white citizens in the Cordova, Alabama. The events of that day began at the local supply depot, Konkle and Co.’s. Avery was confronted by Toney Rush, described in the papers as “a well-known white man”[1] over a small amount debt that Avery supposedly owed him. According to several sources, the purported debt was only twenty-five cents. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index $0.25 has the equivalent purchasing power of about $7.23 in 2019.[2]) Avery refused to pay and retreated to the servant’s quarters behind Konkle and Co’s, where his wife, Annie Brown, who worked as a cook for the Konkle family, lived. Rush went to get the town marshal, John Mack Nelson, to arrest Avery and collect debt. The servant’s house behind the depot was surrounded by a high board fence with a gate. When Nelson arrived at about 6:00 pm and knocked on the gate, Avery asked who was there and Nelson replied, “It’s Nelson, the marshal, open the gate.”  He pushed the gate open and started to step through it when Avery shot the marshal in the head, killing him instantly. Avery immediately ran into the depot to find his wife, who was working on the second floor of the shop in the Konkle’s private residence but was stopped by 27-year-old Estella Konkle on the stairs.[3] Though fatally wounded, Konkle held Avery at gunpoint until help arrived.[4] A clipping from The Semi Weekly Messenger which shows the newspaper title, "Negro Murderer Lynched: The Slayer of Cordova's Town Marshall Put to Death With Stones and Pistol Balls" Deputies W.H. Nation and F.W. Walker rushed to the scene, arrested Avery, and unsuccessfully tried to save Nelson’s life.  They brought Avery to the Cordova city jail. Soon a large mob of about 250 white men broke down the door to reach Avery. The mob stoned him with bricks, stabbed him several times, and shot him once. Avery died quickly. Dr. Miller, the local coroner, stated that it the shot, which entered his mouth and went out through the back of his head, that killed Avery.[5] Marshal Nelson was buried in Mt. Carmal church in Cordova and Avery a short distance outside the cemetery. Avery was the third lynching victim in Alabama in two months and his death caught the attention of Acting Governor Cunningham, who issued a reward for any information leading to the conviction of any member of the any of the three lynch mobs.[6] Cunningham’s appeal for information led Walker County Sheriff J.S. Moore to launch an investigation into Avery’s lynching but no suspects were ever arrested.[7] Avery’s murder was the first lynching to take place in Cordova, but it was very reminiscent of a similar incident that took place the previous 1903.  In March 1903 Henry Walker, a young African American man, entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Dickinson and allegedly assaulted both with a hatchet. Mrs. Dickenson died of her injuries and Walker was arrested and sentenced to death, but Walker appealed his sentence, and, at the time of Avery’s murder, it was with the Alabama Supreme Court. It is likely that the failure of the court to quickly execute Walker that caused the people of Cordova to lose faith in the legal system, bring matters into their own hands, and inflict mob justice on Avery. Not much is known about Ed Avery. He is not recorded in any government census and he does not have a birth or death certificate. In fact, the only state issued document that still exists for Avery is his marriage certificate.[8] Avery was married on July 21, 1904, to Annie Brown, mistakenly named Annie Boewer on the certificate, only three weeks before his death. The average age at first marriage for a man in 1900 was 25.9 years old, so it is likely that Avery was in his mid to late twenties when he was lynched.[9] Avery’s occupation is also unknown; however, it is possible to make an educated guess based on the limited opportunities available in Cordova at the turn of the twentieth century. Because Annie Brown was employed by the Konkle family it is possible that Avery also worked for the Konkles but in all of the reports of Avery’s lynching the servant’s quarters are specifically referred to as Annie’s place of residence, not Avery’s. Outside of the Konkle’s there were two major employers in Cordova at the turn of the century, the mining industry and Indian Head Mills, a cotton mill and textile company.[10]  Because Avery did not live with his wife it is most likely that he worked in and lived near the mines. Nothing is known about Avery’s extended family except that he has a brother who reportedly threatened members of the lynch mob.[11] The story of Avery’s lynching spread all across the western part of the United States in large part due to the sensational nature of crime and death of a law enforcement officer. Articles covering the lynching appeared in newspapers across Alabama and as far afield as Chicago, New York City, and Baltimore.[12] The articles were variations of two basic stories. The first was the report of the actual lynching itself, and the second of Governor Cunningham’s failed investigation into the lynching. Although most of the articles being circulated were just duplicates of each other on occasion there were discrepancies between the accounts given in different newspapers. In these cases, I deferred to the article printed in The Daily Mountain Eagle because it contains the most complete account. It should be noted, however,  that even the newspaper articles acknowledged that there were several versions of the narrative told by the different witnesses. The Daily Mountain Eagle printed the version that they thought was most reliable. Outside of the newspaper articles there are few sources with any useful information pertaining to Avery’s lynching. Sheriff Moore wrote a report that he sent to the governor but there is little new information in it; in fact, it reads like any of the newspaper articles.[13] It is also important to note that all these sources were written by white men and that they contain significant bias. Some aspects of the official story seem unlikely and throw doubt on the official narrative. For instance, it seems unlikely that Avery would kill a man over the equivalent of $7.23. It also seems unlikely that a young house wife would be able to overpower a fit young man with a gun. Whatever truly happened on August 20, 1904, has been intentionally obscured. After Avery’s death there was some unrest caused by rumors that Avery’s brother was also going to be lynched because of threats that he had made against several prominent members of the lynching party.[14] However, Avery’s brother was never lynched and there is no historical record of another lynching taking place in Cordova. Avery’s death reminds me of the depth of cruelty that hatred can inspire and the ease at which history can be re-written. Although much of Avery’s life has been lost to history, I believe that it is important to remember who he was and I hope that the work that I have done gives him some measure of justice.   [1] “Marshal Nelson Shot Dead: At Cordova By a Negro and a Mob Immediately Stones and Beats the Slayer to Death.” Daily Mountain Eagle (Jasper, AL), Aug. 24, 1904.; “Mob Kills Negro: Who Had Shot the Town Marshal of Cordova.” The Abbeville Times (Abbeville, AL), Aug 25, 1904. [2] “1904 dollars in 2019 | Inflation Calculator.” U.S. Official Inflation Data, Alioth Finance, 27 Nov. 2019, https://www.officialdata.org/us/inflation/1904. [3] Year: 1900; Census Place: Cordova, Walker, Alabama; Page: 3; Enumeration District: 0146; FHL microfilm: 1240043  [4] “Marshal Nelson Shot Dead: At Cordova By a Negro and a Mob Immediately Stones and Beats the Slayer to Death.” Daily Mountain Eagle (Jasper, AL), Aug. 24, 1904.; “Woman Captured Murderer.” The Florala News (Florala, AL), Aug 25, 1904 [5] “Marshal Nelson Shot Dead: At Cordova By a Negro and a Mob Immediately Stones and Beats the Slayer to Death.” Daily Mountain Eagle (Jasper, AL), Aug. 24, 1904. [6] “Big Reward for Lynchers” Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, IL), Aug 23, 1904; “Reward for Lynchers.: Gov. Cunningham Seeks Apprehension of Members of Alabama Mob.” The Washington Post (Washington D.C), Aug 23, 1904; “REWARDS FOR THEIR ARREST.: GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA AFTER THE LYNCHERS” The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA), Aug 23, 1904 [7] “Moor’s Report on Cordova Lynching” The Birmingham News   (Birmingham, AL), Aug 29, 1904; [8] Ed Avery to Annie Boewer,30 July 1904, Walker County, Alabama. Cordova, Alabama. Copy in possession of Tuscaloosa Public Library, Tuscaloosa, Alabama [9] U.S. Census Bureau, Decennial Censuses, 1890 to 1940, and Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplements, 1947 to 2019 [10] Kaetz, James P. “Cordova.” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Alabama Humanities Foundation, August 16, 2012. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3297. [11] “May be Double Lynching”  Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, MA), Aug 22, 1904; “Mobbed” The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, KY), Aug 21, 1904; “Negro Murderer Lynched” The Semi-Weekly Messenger (Wilmington, NC), Aug 23, 1904 [12]“Big Reward for Lynchers” Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, IL), Aug 23, 1904; “REWARD FOR LYNCHERS.: ALABAMA’S ACTING GOVERNOR WILL PAY FOR THEIR CONVICTION.” New York Times (New York, NY), Aug 23, 1904; “”Negro Beaten to Death.” The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, MD), Aug. 21, 1904. [13] “Moor’s Report on Cordova Lynching” The Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL), Aug 29, 1904 [14] “May be Double Lynching” Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, MA), Aug 22, 1904; “Mobbed” The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, KY), Aug 21, 1904; “Negro Murderer Lynched” The Semi-Weekly Messenger (Wilmington, NC), Aug 23, 1904