Shawnee author Charles Clark, hunched over signing his new book, will hold a signing of his new book, “Lynchings in Oklahoma: Vigilantism and Racism in the Twin Territories and Oklahoma, 1830-1930,” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., June 6 at Waldenbooks in Shawnee Mall.
Shawnee author Charles Clark will hold a signing of his new book, “Lynchings in Oklahoma: Vigilantism and Racism in the Twin Territories and Oklahoma, 1830-1930,” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., June 6 at Waldenbooks in Shawnee Mall.
“What started out as a class assignment morphed into a passion to discover a truth that very few knew about,” Clark said. “Lynchings played a significant role in our history, from how justice was dispensed during the territorial years to how some black communities came into existence. And, of course, it was an instrument of racial terrorism in the Jim Crow years after statehood.”
The book verifies 91 cases involving 153 victims from the early 1830s to 1930.
“This does not sound like a lot of victims,” Clark said. “But it had a profound impact. These statistics rank Oklahoma 11th in the nation for most lynchings, and by all accounts this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
One case in particular focuses on a lynching that took place in Shawnee.
On Aug. 6, 1915, just before 3 a.m., a train made an unscheduled stop at the Santa Fe Depot in Shawnee.
Ed Berry, a man with a long criminal history, was on that train.
For his own protection, Berry was spirited to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He was scheduled to stand trial at the Pottawatomie County Court House, Aug. 9.
Berry’s past had caught up with him and now he was going to answer for it.
Charged with two counts of rape and one count of robbery, Berry was suspected of having committed 10 more rapes and numerous robberies and burglaries over the years. In each case, people were afraid to come forward to help convict him, fearing that if he beat the rap, Berry would surely have his revenge.
Berry’s arrival was ostensibly secret, but word leaked out.
As soon as Officer Gus Mitchell from McAlester stepped off the train with his prisoner, an unknown number of men who were hiding in the darkness confronted Mitchell and demanded custody of Berry.
Orderly and quietly, Berry was taken to one of 12 cars parked across from the depot. The caravan drove to the Beard Street bridge where, it was believed, one of Berry’s victims was raped.
A noose was fitted around his neck and adjusted, and the slack was thrown over a telephone pole.
Berry was questioned about past crimes. It is said that he admitted guilt for all but one.
He made his peace, and with a wave of a hand, the rope was pulled taut, lifting him into the sky, and tied off. He struggled briefly, gasping for air, and died moments later.
Berry’s body was left hanging. The mob quietly dispersed.
His corpse was discovered at daybreak and taken to a local undertaking establishment.
Nearly 4,000 people came to see Berry’s body. Most expressed approval of the manner of his death.
The rope used in the lynching was cut into small pieces and handed out as souvenirs.
This is just one of 55 stories from the book.
Clark spent several years tracking down such incidents, which he calls “a dark history of our past.”
Clark’s book may be purchased at The Book Stall in Shawnee, Norman or Ada, at any Waldenbooks store in the state or at Borders in Norman.
For more information, visit Clark’s Web site at www.LynchingsInOklahoma.com.