Unknown, May 11, 1901, Leeds

An unknown African-American man was 25 years old when a group of white men shot him to death. The man was one of several victims of a manhunt for a fugitive by the name of Jim Brown. The lawlessness and violence demonstrated in the manhunt illustrates how little worth white men and city and state governments gave to black lives. 

On May 7, 1901, Dell Garrett, a white female student at Spring Lake College, reported that Brown, a local African-American farmhand, had raped her. Her father immediately notified his neighbors and the sheriff. Authorities sent telegrams to surrounding towns and dispatched several groups of men to find Brown. 

Between May 7 and May 9, there was a massive manhunt to apprehend Brown. White men attacked, arrested, or murdered several black men across the state, under the premise that they thought the victims were Brown. An unnamed black man of St. Clair County, Alabama, was accused of killing Garrett, but successfully convinced the mob he was not Brown. Whites still beat him and threw him into the Cahaba River. A mob mistook another man for Brown and chased him. A railway employee opened fire on a man he believed to be Brown in Irondale. Irondale officers also suspected a man by the name of Jim Roberts of being Brown. Officer Marshal Hambright arrested Roberts and took him to Jefferson County jail. The St. Clair County Sheriff, James L. North, along with three residents of Springville, went to the jail and confirmed he was not Brown. He was held in jail on charges of vagrancy. 

Even with these murders and beatings, state and local governments increased the reward for capture of Jim Brown. On May 10, 1901, Alabama Governor William J. Samford announced a $200 reward for the capture of Jim Brown, with the city of Springville offering an additional $200. The day after the awards were set, two white men shot and killed this unknown man. His body was found on the Southern Railway train route on May 11, 1901, in Leeds. 

Two white men spotted this man catching a ride on a Southern Railway freight. The men yelled, “Yes, you — we have you,” and shot the man eight times. They appear to have intentionally laid him on the tracks to be run over by the next oncoming train. After both the coroner and the residents of Springville examined the body to find it was not Brown, he was buried on May 14 at an indigent graveyard in Birmingham. No legal action was taken against the men who killed this man. 

After his death, authorities found a letter in the victim’s pocket signed Charlie Winston. It is possible this is the name of this victim. Yet, further research needs to be done to be sure. 

Undré Phillips 

University of Alabama at Birmingham 


Selected Sources 

“Negro Commits a Horrible Crime,” The Birmingham News, May 8, 1901, page 1. 

Red Mountain Cemetery Record of Interments, May 14, 1901, Birmingham Public Library Archives, Birmingham, Alabama. 

“Rewards For Fugitives,” Montgomery Advertiser, May 11, 1901, page 1.