The lynching of James Thomas occurred on July 3, 1897, in the Jefferson County mining town of Blossburg. The Birmingham News reported that his body was found “in Pickney branch, a mile or two above Blossburg, riddled with bullets and very much dead.” A group of white men lynched Mr. Thomas because he said he had information about a white woman who was assaulted in Blossburg.
Unlike most cases of racial violence, a trial ensued against these men. The black population of Blossburg raised a fund to prosecute four men: Sam Jones, Charles Clark, Joe Williams and Jack Hollins. The Birmingham News wrote, “The negroes held that the summary death of Thomas was an outrage … there was no extraneous evidence to tend to show that he was connected with it. They argued that if he was suspected, there ought to have been some examination into the facts.” They were granted this examination, albeit posthumously, and the hearing was covered in full detail in the papers. There was great local interest in the case, with 20 black folks and 40 white folks attending the public hearing, and 50 witnesses slated to be heard. The hearing took place over three days.
According to press reports of witness statements, a crowd of armed white men, including the defendants, had marched Mr. Thomas around the town. Shortly after, witnesses heard shots near Pickney Branch. Later, the body was reported to have six gunshot wounds. Reporting praised the testimony of one black man for its clarity and intelligence and his persistence in the face of questioning by the defense. Defense witnesses tried to introduce the theory that Mr. Thomas was killed by other black folks who were upset that he was helping the whites. All defendants claimed they were at home at the time of the murder.
The hearing ended with the judge discharging Sam Jones, who could not be connected to the other three men near the time of the murder. The prosecution did not protest this decision. The other three men made bonds of $1,000 each. No further coverage of the trial appears in white Alabama papers in 1897 or 1898, and there is not much available to search in black-owned press records.
“A Preliminary Trial,” The Montgomery Advertiser, July 9, 1897, page 1.
“Four White Men Jailed,” The Birmingham News, July 9, 1897, page 2.
“On Trial at Birmingham,” The Eufaula Daily Times, July 11, 1987, page 1.