On April 21, 1886, a tragic and familiar demonstration of the prevalence of race-based lynching in Jefferson County unfolded near Pratt Mines outside of Birmingham. An African-American man named Tom Collins was accused of assaulting the wife of William Gould, a farmer living in the area. Though Mr. Collins’s alleged attack of Mrs. Gould was not confirmed, a mob of 1,500 local whites quickly assembled as Mr. Collins fled into the woods. The mob was led into the forest by E.O. Crauswell of the Pratt Coal and Iron Company and the trained bloodhounds he used to track down and recapture escaped convict laborers who regularly fled the suffering and toil of the mining camp.
The mob searched for Mr. Collins into the night and the next morning but eventually returned without their targeted victim, refusing to offer details to interested onlookers. Many took the mob’s silence on the outcome as “conclusive evidence that [Mr. Collins] has been lynched.”
When the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in the spring of 2018, Mr. Collins’s name remained unrecovered. A review of April 1886 editions of the Birmingham Iron Age led to the discovery of Mr. Collins’s identity and further information about what appears to be the mob’s unsuccessful lynching of Mr. Collins. According to the Birmingham Iron Age, Mr. Collins “came near being mobbed at Pratt Mines,” but, “however, his neck was saved.”
Mr. Collins was found in the woods, denied attacking Mrs. Gould, and was taken before a judge and released on bond. He was then “quickly brought to the city by armed negroes,” a reminder of the consistent African-American resistance to terror lynching that existed in Jefferson County. Subsequent issues of the Birmingham Iron Age make no mention of Mr. Collins’s case, pointing to the likelihood that Mr. Collins escaped this attempted lynching.
Though this review of a contemporary newspaper does not verify Mr. Collins’s lynching, it nonetheless further validates the horrific consistency of lynching in late-nineteenth century Jefferson County, for these same April 1886 editions of the Birmingham Iron Age include an account of the lynching of a man named Otis Pettus near Five Mile Creek in northern Jefferson County.
JCMP Advisor and teacher at the Altamont School
“Mrs. Gould’s Assailant Arrested,” Birmingham Iron Age, April 23, 1886, page 4.
“On the Trail of the Negro Who Assaulted Mrs. Gould at Pratt Mines,” Birmingham Iron Age, April 21, 1886, page 4.
“Tracked Down by Bloodhounds,” The Richmond Item, April 22, 1886, page 2.