Little Known Black History Fact: The John Carter Story

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  • In Little Rock, Arkansas, 1927, a racial riot erupted over the lynching of John Carter, a black man who was the fall guy for the homicide of a 12-year old white girl named Floella McDonald. The child was found in First Presbyterian Church. Originally, the blame fell on the church janitor who found the girl along with his mixed-race son.  The men were safely moved to a Texarkana jail before a mob demanded blood.

    In a nearby city, a 38 year-old black man named John Carter had been accused of assaulting a white woman and her daughter. The angry white mob of 5,000 people found Carter, hung him from a pole, shot him and drug him through the streets. They took him to the black community and incited a riot, breaking into buildings, including a furniture retail store. The mob piled the wooden furniture and doors from the church together, set it on fire and burned Carter’s body at the intersection of 9th and Broadway.

    The Arkansas National Guard was deployed to stop the riot, and upon arrival, found one of the mob members directing traffic at the intersection with the arm of John Carter. Fortunately, the black community leader had encouraged black families to stay inside, avoiding a large death toll during the massive tension.

    Once the riot and killing of Carter went to trial, it was dismissed without indictment of anyone involved. The city was concerned about their national reputation in the media. They banned distribution of the black newspapers, The Chicago Defender and The Pittsburgh Courier, with fear that it would cause more tension.

    To make matters worse, the town was still in search of the killer of 12 year-old Floella McDonald. On May 19th, Lonnie Dixon, the mixed-race son of the First Presbyterian Church janitor, was tried and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to death. After being under watch by the Arkansas National Guard during trial, Dixon was executed a month later.

    There are current efforts underway to obtain a public marker at the intersection of 9th and Broadway to honor John Carter and pinpoint the tolerance of the Little Rock court system. A small display exists at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center.
     

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