Lewis Houston was born in Chilton County in 1863. He was the son of Ned and Lucy Houston and had three siblings, Anthony, Millie, and Maggie. In early 1883, when he was 20 years old, Mr. Houston moved to Birmingham to find work and was under the employment of foreman C.F. Giles at the Louisville and Nashville roundhouse as general help. He had previously worked as a car coupler and a porter.
On Friday, November 23, 1883, Mr. Houston was accused of assaulting a white woman. Police officers arrested him from his place of work and brought him to the jail on Fourth Avenue North. Rumors swirled about plans to lynch him. A mob of white men began to gather outside the jail. On Saturday evening, November 24, 1883, a mob of 150 men approached the jail to apprehend Lewis. The mob of men broke into the jail with pistols and took Mr. Houston from his cell. The mob dragged Mr. Houston from Fourth Avenue North to Capitol Park, now known as Linn Park.
The mob took Mr. Houston to a pine tree in the park and told him to confess to raping the woman. Lewis responded, “Gentleman, before God, I didn’t do it.” Following this, the mob adjusted the rope around his neck. His last words were “Jesus, take me home.”
The mob disbanded. They did not use firearms or other displays on Lewis’s body. The event was so widely known a reporter from The Birmingham Iron Age was on site. Yet, the Mayor did not call the militia until after the lynching occurred.
Mr. Houston was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham in the pauper’s field.
Following the lynching, a black lawyer, James A. Scott, tried to gather the black community to protest Mr. Houston’s lynching. Mayor Lane requested the help of Captain S.S Thompson and R.J. Love of the Birmingham Rifles and the Birmingham Artillery. The companies stayed in Birmingham all of Sunday night, patrolling on horse and on foot. A newspaper article notes that “not a dozen” black people were seen on the street after 10 p.m., nor were they congregating where they typically did on Sundays.
It’s important to note the intended effects of the mob choosing to drag Lewis Houston to this public space for his murder. Both by mob force and militia, the goal was to systematically repress the black community socially, politically, and economically. These events were not only an attack on Lewis Houston, but efforts to maintain white supremacy in Birmingham.
Madelyn Lisette Cantu
University of Alabama at Birmingham
1870 United States Federal Census, Autauga County, Alabama, Beat 7, Ned Houston and family, digital image, retrieved from Ancestry.com
“Rumors of Lawlessness,” Birmingham Iron Age, November 29, 1883, page 3.
“The Lynching of Lewis Houston,” The Atlanta Constitution, November 27, 1883, page 2.