Monroe Johnson was an African-American man who worked on the construction of the Columbus & Western Railway. He lived in Jefferson County at Dunnavant’s Camp, a workers’ camp near Leeds. State records show that he had previously served six months in a mining camp as a convict laborer under the Jim Crow convict-lease system.
There is not much information to offer in terms of his background. Details such as his age and family have been lost through the years due to the manner in which records and documents were kept.
In the summer of 1887, according to the Birmingham Age-Herald, the atmosphere in Dunnavant’s Camp became especially violent when a white man, Boyd Fleming, shot a black man. Mr. Fleming, another worker on the Columbus and Western Railroad, went into the camp with a loaded gun and threatened to shoot more black men. Many African Americans in the camp were enraged by Mr. Fleming’s act. Mr. Johnson supposedly made threats to kill Mr. Flemming.
On August 31, 1887, it was reported that Mrs. Jack Foster, Mr. Flemming’s sister, was shot and killed at her home. There were no witnesses to the events of that night, but authorities hunted for Mr. Johnson. Weeks later, he was found and arrested in Atlanta and sent by train back to Birmingham.
At 4 a.m.on September 19, 1887, A mob of over 70 white men stopped the the train carrying Monroe Johnson. The men boarded the train. Mr. Johnson was chained to a seat. “The mob did not wait to unchain him, but tore up the car seat to which he was fastened,” The Cullman Tribune reported. They carried him, still chained to his chair, to a nearby tree and hung him from it. They then returned to the train and shot at him through the windows, as if he were target practice.
The men were not charged for Mr. Johnson’s murder. There was scant evidence of any reprimand, or disapproval. Only The Eufaula Daily Times on September 20, 1887, in reporting on Mr. Johnson’s arrest and lynching, mentions that “The Birmingham Herald has a timely editorial condemning the work of the mob.” Records from the week The Birmingham Age-Herald would have published the article condemning the lynching have been lost or damaged, so there is no sure way to know.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
“Hung By a Mob,” The Montgomery Advertiser, September 20, 1887, page 1.
“In the Dark,” Birmingham Age-Herald, September 2, 1887.
“Untitled,” The Troy Messenger, Thursday, September 29, 1887, page 8.