A mob lynched Manly McCauley in 1898 – Sunday, Carrboro memorializes him

COMMUNITY

By Fraser Sherman
Correspondent

In 1898, Black farmworker Manly McCauley paid with his life for his relationship with a white woman.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 18, Carrboro, the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition (OCCRC) and the Equal Justice Initiative will unveil a historical marker honoring McCauley, hanged by a lynch mob near the present-day intersection of Old Greensboro Road and Hatch Road. The ceremony will take place at Carrboro Town Hall, 301 W. Main Street.

Lynchings: An ugly American tradition

Between the end of the Civil War and the start of World War II, white Americans lynched thousands of black Americans as a form of terrorism. The Equal Justice Initiative has identified 4,084 lynchings that took place in 12 Southern states with 300 in other states, though other researchers have given different numbers.

“These murders were carried out with impunity,” the Initiative’s online report says, “sometimes because they generally took place in communities where there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African Americans. Terror lynchings were horrific acts of violence whose perpetrators were never held accountable. Indeed, some public spectacle lynchings were attended by the entire white community and conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination.” In broad daylight, often on the courthouse lawn. These lynchings were not ‘frontier justice.’”

In some cases, whites would pose for photos with the hanging bodies. Some communities in the late 1800s were so proud of their work that they turned lynching photos into postcards. In 1908, the Post Office banned mailing them, which put an end to that practice.

North Carolina saw its share of lynchings. The University of North Carolina is working to document lynchings in the state and throughout the South on its Red Record website: the location, the backstory, the details of the victim’s life. At time of writing, the site lists over 100 victims, though a number of them are currently unidentified.

“Publishing these names takes a small step toward recognizing their personhood in ways the public record does not,” the website says. “Their lynching was an act of attempted erasure, using them as a tool of subjugation even as they were tortured and murdered. Naming them recalls their lives before that moment. Their names also offer pathways to researchers interested in finding out more about them.”

Manly McCauley’s Story

In 1898, McCauley, a Black 18-year-old farmhand, was working for Milton and Maggie Lloyd Brewer on their farm west of Chapel Hill. Researching events for the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, Mike Ogle writes that the Brewer marriage was rocky; by late 1898, Maggie had already left her husband several times. On Oct. 26, Maggie and Manly McCauley eloped, a story shocking enough that The Chapel Hill News devoted a quarter of the front page to it. Ogle notes there’s no way to verify the details the paper offered about life on the farm or the Brewer’s relationship.

Black man/white woman was an incendiary combination for the white supremacists of that era. Racists often justified lynchings by lying that the victim had sexually assaulted a white woman. That Manly McCauley and Maggie Brewer had gone off together by choice didn’t make a difference. A posse hunted them down, returned Maggie to her husband’s farm and took McCauley into the woods 200 yards from the public road. They hanged him from a dogwood tree, bending the tree down so that when it was released, it would snap his body up into the air, hanging him with no further effort on their part.

A farmer, Thomas Myrick, found McCauley’s body there a week later. It would be several more days before the coroner arrived and his body was finally cut down. Police arrested four men for the crime. As in most lynchings that made it as far as a court trial, they were found not guilty of all charges.

Memorial and Ceremony

Diane Robertson of the OCCRC told The Local Reporter that any Orange County community with an identified racial lynching between the post-Civil War era and the mid-twentieth century can apply for a memorial marker: “All the markers created for this are identical.”

Robertson said there are several steps before OCCRC approves a marker:  historical research, engaging with the community and the victim’s family, and collecting soil from the lynching site. The Equal Justice Initiative says collecting soil is a way to make a tangible connection with the tragedy of the event. The soil holds the sweat and blood of the victims and also a chance to grow something better for the future.

Sunday’s salute to McCauley includes:

  • A welcome from Carrboro Mayor Barbara Foushee
  • Guest speaker Dr. Reginald Hildebrand
  • A spoken word performance by poet CJ Suitt
  • Remarks from NC State Representative Renée Price; Diane Robertson, past political action chair of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP; and former Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver
  • A musical performance by Brown Sugar Strings 

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.

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