The 1926 Lynching of Raymond Byrd Part II

The August 1926 lynching of my second cousin twice removed, Raymond Arthur Byrd, remains one of my most read posts. Every week. Thanks to Google Analytics, I’ve been able to monitor the reach with posts relating to Raymond’s story. It doesn’t surprise me that Black History/Studies academics have read it. I can gauge this from all of the readers accessing the original post from university computers (e.g. IPs associated with accounts like .edu and .ac.uk). The NAACP has certainly read it. As have journalists from CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC the UK’s Channel 4, Italy’s La Repubblica and the French newspaper Le Monde. It’s also been read by people at Twentieth Century Fox. It’s reach led to a British PhD student to get in touch with myself and one of Raymond’s descendants as part of her research into race issues in America.

This is a widely read story.

I’ve published one chapter of the story. That post covered  the circumstances which led up to Raymond’s lynching (Love and Lynching in Wytheville: Raymond Arthur Byrd https://genealogyadventures.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/love-and-lynching-in-wytheville-raymond-arthur-byrd).

I’d drafted a second chapter which discussed the immediate aftermath and the effect it had on his wife and children. I’ve never been able to bring myself to publish it. However, the poem written by Raymond’s widow, Tennessee “Tennie” Hawkins speaks to this far more eloquently and poignantly than I ever could:

In the cemetery at Murphysville where the flowers gently wave
Lies the one I love so dear in a cold shallow grave.
Folks may think I have forgotten and may think the wound has healed,
but they do not know the sorrow that is in my heart concealed.
I do not know the pain he bore
I did not see him die,
but this I know,
he had to go and did not say goodbye.
Sleep on, Sleep on, early fallen in your green narrow bed.
I will see you in eternity where no more goodbyes are said.

picture of WWI veteran Raymond Arthur Byrd with his wife, Tennesse "Tennie" Hawkins. Image courtesy of Anthony Q.

WWI veteran Raymond Arthur Byrd with his wife, Tennesse “Tennie” Hawkins. Image courtesy of Hayes family and Anthony Quinn. This image is subject to copyright protection. Permission is required for use.

With a story as horrific and tragic as this, there is always more to be told. This is a painful story. Raymond’s descendants still feel the pain of his loss and the circumstances behind that loss. So needless to say they are not always up to the task of discussing it. No one wants their family defined by personal events like this. His descendants have been. And that is a hard past to live with.  I write this update mindful that thousands perished in the southern states due to lynching:  African Americans, Irish, Italians, Hispanics and Chinese. The pain of Raymond’s family is one that too many families will be all too familiar with.

Raymond’s lynching was big news in America in 1926. Time Magazine and several newspapers around the country wrote several articles about it. I’ve embedded a number of contemporary articles at the bottom of this post.

My cousin Anthony Q recently provided more information about the aftermath of Raymond’s lynching.  Anthony’s wife is Raymond’s direct descendant. Anthony has provided a glimpse into an aspect that I’ve never really thought about: how did those who did the lynching live with themselves afterwards? 90 years later people are still uptight speaking about it.

I’ve seen pictures of lynch mobs. All those proud and smiling faces. Seemingly righteous and congratulatory  in their actions. I’m now asking myself if this was always the case. I’ll let Anthony’s own words do the talking:

Raymond Byrd, Wythe County, Virginia, was lynched (shot in the head, beaten about his head, dragged from his jail cell and taken about 9 miles and hung from a tree near a church) in 1926. He was a married man, age 31, veteran of WW1, of 3 daughters. He became involved with a young white woman (employer’s daughter) and she was impregnated by him. They hid the pregnancy but tried to find a home for the baby. They eventually found one.  However, by then, the walls were caving in.

The white woman’s [Minnie Gubb] father and locals found out about the affair. They tried to coerce the young woman to lie and say he raped her. She wouldn’t do it. They then made her 12-year-old sister lie and say he ‘came after’ her. This statement in hand, locals arrested him on these charges. After threats, and people warning to move him to a jail where he would be better protected were ignored, 50 white men in masks came in the jailhouse that night (sheriff/deputies somehow were nowhere to be found) got the keys and brutalized and killed him in a manner to warn other African Americans who thought about stepping out of what was deemed acceptable in that town.

Minnie never got along with her father after the killing and had as little as possible to do with him.

Floyd Willard was the only man indicted by a Grand Jury for the lynching bragged about being involved. He was acquitted after only ten minutes of deliberation during the trial on July 19, 1927. His family lied and said he was home during the whole time of the killing.

Walter White, later head of the NAACP, helped the family to investigate the murder.


Click for larger image.

It’s the next piece of the story that Anthony recently shared that really hit me.

Talking to descendants and others, most of the men involved [in the lynching] all died terrible deaths. There was a case where a man was on his death bed saying, “Raymond Bird! Leave me alone. Leave me alone! Help me someone. Get him out.” I’m not sure how true this is, but many people I spoke to who don’t know one another told similar stories about how some of these men died. Many of them seemed to be haunted by [Raymond].

Haunted. In its rightful context, it’s a powerful word. And apt. The more I learn about this part of my family’s history, the more the facts reveal themselves, the more I realize that no one came out of this unscathed.

While a social and legal justice did not serve Raymond or his family, another form of justice seems to have prevailed on those who killed him.  That’s where I’m going to leave this post.

Note: I expect there will be a number of comments for this post. Please note that I read and approve every comment before it’s published. I also check each and every backlink to Genealogy Adventures posts. There will be a short time lag (usually an hour or two) before comments are published and/or backlinks approved. It’s a very sad commentary of our times that just because something can be said – no matter how incorrect, faulty or just plain nasty – doesn’t mean that it should be. So I take these measures to ensure that this blog remains respectful and, well, a safe place for conversations to be had and viewpoints shared.

I’ve provided clips below to indicate the scale of this story in Virginia and the rest of the country. The clippings are courtesy of https://www.newspapers.com. Please click on each to see a larger image. Raymond’s surname was changed from Byrd to Bird. It’s a guess, but I’m of the mind that this was done to disassociate Raymond from then Virginia Governor, Harry F Byrd, who may or may not have been a distant relation.

Clippings

The first article below shows how quickly misinformation spread. The 3 children mentioned in this article were most likely the daughters he had with his wife, Tennie Hawkins. He only had one child with Minnie Grubb, also a daughter. Despite claims made at the time, Minnie was the only other woman Raymond had relations with.

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10 thoughts on “The 1926 Lynching of Raymond Byrd Part II

  1. Glad you are writing about this. My fella is the grandson of Minnie Grubb. We are working on the records to prove her daughter Clara was the daughter of she and Raymond. We are trying to get a copy of the original birth certificate. We think how she did it is that many children were born at home and you could record a “delayed” birth certificate and vouch it was true. The comment she had nothing to do with her father afterwards is not quite correct. She did but it was strained to say the least. She married James Cox.who was MANY years older than her and had two more children. He died in North Carolina, got a hold of some bad moonshine and it killed him. For a time in the 1930 census Minnie is living with her father, but going by the last name Taylor. She then moves to Columbus Ohio with Clare. Her other two children mostly remain here and also visit their mother on many many occasions. Why Ohio? there is a rumor that some of Raymond’s family helped her move there and Ohio was one of the states that didn’t have any miscegenation laws. Would be the safest place for a mixed race child in 1930s. Louis Jaffe wrote about this case and even wrote about Minnie’s testimony of her saying it was not rape.There is another sister in here with another mixed race child. There are family member today that are STILL upset with this on the white side. They refuse to even believe the testimony of Minnie and want to declare it was rape. This story to me is the best snapshot of a complicated time period and sheds a different light on different aspects of race relations.. I hope they do a story of it. The tree I read was at the corner of the church property. Minnie and Clare are buried there in the church graveyard in unmarked graves.

    • Dear Denise

      Thank you so much for your comment. And many, many thanks for the information you’ve provided.

      I too didn’t believe that Ohio wasn’t as random as it appeared to be when it came too raising the daughter. Raymond had quite a few members from his extended family who lived there. Minnie did too. One of her father’s second cousins married a free woman of colour and moved his family out that way.

      There were mulatto Grubb cousins who also moved into Ohio, Illinois and Indiana from the 1870s onwards. These were children of a handful of white Grubb men in places like Cripple Creek, Blck Lick, and Fort Chiswell who had second families with free women of colour. There were plenty of likely candidates from within the family who could have easily returned to Wythe County to collect the baby and take her away where her history would be anonymous.

      One of the tragedies of this story is that no one came out of it unscathed. Not a single person. The descendants of the parties involved are as haunted by the events as the people who immediately lived through it.

      I visited Wytheville last summer and this story came up in the course of conversation. The conversation was quick and discussed in very hushed tones, the speaker clearly not wanting anyone nearby to hear it being discussed, 90 years after it happened.

      I hope you don’t mind but I’ve let Anthony Q know about your comment. Minnie’s daughter is family and I know his wife and her family would love to finally know her story.

      • It’s Ok, Anthony and I have been corresponding trying to figure out the story from both sides for some time.This is such a raw subject TODAY among many of the descendants and family of Grover Grubb. But it’s a story that reflects a different version of race relations in this country that had dire consequences. I don’t know if there will ever be a healing because how awful it was but an understanding and the truth would help. My fella spent many a summer in Columbus with his Aunt Clare and he tells me she had brown eyes, dark curly hair but not tightly curly and darker skin but could pass white. Her siblings, one of which was his mother, were much fairer with blue or hazel eyes and light hair. They did not look like they came from the same father.

        The story of Minnie Grubb’s sister who was reported in the accounts as also having a child by Raymond has never been actually researched. She also moves to Ohio and then returns to live here after her father dies after she receives an inheritance. Which I don’t think Raymond being the father is true either. I believe the story that it was another man who worked for Grubb and the community in order to prevent another lynching got the man out of there and just blamed it on Raymond since he was already dead.

        My family is also from this area and I get aggravated at the accounts that try to “clean up” the past for the present. i.e. this wasn’t the Klan…they sure acted like the Klan. My own great grandfather who knew some of these men and were kin to them…they used to take photos of people in their coffins and the grave sites. My grandfather’s gravesite photo from 1939 one day I was studying the flowers and to my shock was a wreath with black letters on it that spelled KKK. Which makes me wonder was he one of the mob? Kind of gave me a sick feeling to think about that. And it’s hard to grapple with. They moved to Bluefield about that time period and we were kin to some Huddles. But to say it wasn’t the Klan today….no one should make that assumption. Long after the event, my fella tells a story of him accompanying his mother to a store and a man gave her an application for the Klan. She cussed him, tore it up and threw it back at him.

        We are all human being with a lot of flaws. These stories need to come out and be told. I’m a firm believer that those that don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Too much PAIN to ever have this repeated again.

  2. I grew up a mile from the Grover Grubb farm. When my father told me about Raymond’s lynching, he always said to be careful with whom and where I talked about it because Grubb’s descendants still live in the community. My grandmother’s family lived in that same community in 1926, as well. I once asked my grandmother if any of our kin were involved, and she said she didn’t think so. It sickens me to think that any of them might have been. I am acquainted with a great-granddaughter of the jailer. She was offended when I insinuated that he allowed the events at the jail to transpire (which he clearly did, when he didn’t even report the events until hours later).

    I’ve always felt a connection to the story somehow…I’m not sure if it’s because I lived so close to the events, or if it’s some other reason. When I visited Raymond’s grave at the Murpheyville Cemetery, I stood there and sobbed. To know how much Tennie grieved for him years afterward breaks my heart even more. Grover Grubb was later involved in another lawsuit for the death of his nephew, if I’m not mistaken. It demonstrates that the man clearly had a horrible temper when crossed. I wonder if he beat Minnie when he found out she was pregnant? I also wonder how Grover’s wife factored into all of this. I know she was mostly bed-ridden, but as a mother I’m sure she had to grieve for what took place. There are so many questions…but thankfully your article and the responses have helped answer a few of them for me. I am a high school teacher, and I tell this story to my classes every year. I want my students to understand the reality of lynching and how it personally affected people. I suppose I should be more careful when discussing the story, but I just can’t do it. As I said, it touches me deeply.

    • Hello Sarah.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. This wasn’t an easy topic to write about for a number of reasons. I aimed for balance, which I hope is conveyed. Although I appreciate that there will be those who won’t be satisfied with the balance that was struck. As with all of my posts, I aim to raise awareness. I aim for a general conscious-raising. It’s my belief that ignoring/suppressing/burying aspects of American history that are painful and/or inconvenient serves no one. It’s part of the reason why America is so polarized today – a stubborn refusal to tackle difficult and painful chapters in the country’s history. A refusal to address the past will only polarize people more…and we’ll never move forward and make progress collectively, as one nation.

      I had the pleasure of travelling to Wytheville last summer. The topic of Raymond came up during the course of meeting someone very much in the know about the town’s history. The entire conversation was in very hushed tones. And everyone involved was very aware of who might be listening, hence the conversation in very quiet tones – almost like we were naughty school kids discussing something that we shouldn’t be discussing. That’s nearly a century after Raymond’s death. It’s a weird kind of power. That’s the best way I have of describing it.

      It’s easy for me to say, but if a parent of one of your children were to complain about your teaching this as part of history, why they find it objectionable. It happened. There’s no taking it back. There’s no unringing that bell. It was national news at the time – and his death led to the first anti-lynching law. So kudos to you for teaching some unvarnished history. id’ love to know what your students make of it.

      • I haven’t had any negative responses thus far, but if I do I’m prepared to answer them. I completely agree with you about not glossing over the unsavory aspects of history. I teach it all, good and bad. Thankfully, something good did come out of Raymond’s tragedy. As I’m sure you can imagine, it is difficult to hold the attention of 17 year olds for very long, but when I tell this story the students are always very interested. They ask relevant questions, and I really believe the story makes an impact on them. I show them the pictures I took of Raymond’s grave, and now I can show them what he actually looked like! I actually drive by the Grubb farm sometimes on my way to my sister’s house (she lives where we grew up), and the old house is still there. It turns my stomach. I also frequently drive by St. Paul Church, and rarely do I not think about Raymond. It makes me angry that people in the area still feel the need to keep things “hush hush.” Perhaps if people would talk about it in the open, the wounds could heal.

        My interest in this story caused me to look for information about other lynchings in southwestern Virginia. I currently live in Washington County, about an hour from Wytheville. There were several lynchings here as well, but unfortunately, I have been unable to find any specific information. I am hopeful that in my work with the historical society here that I can uncover some information that I can also teach to my students about their own local history. Again, thank you for your posts and all the information you have provided.

      • Its odd that they still speak in hush tones. My wife traveled to Rural Retreat when she was 16 to see the wooden frame home her grandmother Hazel was born in and where her family worked, lived and died. She said the thing that stood out about her trip was the long piercing stares by whites wherever they went. They were all just stared at them. She was wondering, why are these folks looking at them like this? Then two older white me approached older male family members of her and asked, “We know you’re Byrd’s kin. How long y’all going to be around here?” She said the whole thing was uncomfortable. This was in the summer of 1990. I believed her grandmother Hazel died that October of the same year. I suspect that is what spurred the trip to Wythe County, the matriarch wanting to see her home one last time.

  3. Hello,
    I am doing some research for an article on the funerals and burial sites of lynching victims, and my work brought me to Raymond Byrd. In looking at his case, I did see the Find a Grave memorial in his honor, including the picture of his headstone that lists his military regiment. With that information, I checked the government records for requests for headstones for military members, and found that the stone was requested in 1936 by a Jennie Patterson of Rural Retreat, Virginia. Do you know anyone by that name who has a connection to Mr. Byrd or his family? Raymond’s daughter, Edith, did marry into a Patterson family, but I did not see any immediate relatives there by the name of Jennie. (There was one Jennie Patterson living in the area in the 1940 Census, who was listed as the daughter of a woman named Bertha Kelly. Still checking to see if there is any connection there.)

    Alternatively, has anyone here heard any stories about Mr. Byrd’s initial funeral, or the later attempt to mark his grave? So far, I have not seen any references to it in the press accounts.

    Thanks for your help, and keep up the great work!

    • Hi Thomas,

      Apologies for the delay. I believe Jennie Patterson is Raymond’s grand-daughter. Edith Byrd (Raymond’s daughter) married a Mr Henry Patterson.

      I can put you n touch with a cousin who is married to a direct descendant of Raymond’s. I’ll happily put the two of you in touch. He can fill you in far better than I can as he has first-hand knowledge. My email is briansheffey[at]gmail[dot]com.

    • Hello Thomas. I am now just seeing your comment. The name on that report was Tennie Patterson. Tennie remarried Mack Patterson and she requested the headstone for her first husband, Raymond. Her two daughters married sons of Mack. The other, Hazel, left soon after he death to escape that life and join the military.

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