African-American Luther Holbert and his wife Mary were both hanged and burned at the stakes for murdering James Eastland , a prominent white planter and John Carr, another black man on the Eastland plantation, two miles from oddsville, Mississippi.
According to an excerpt from an historian, Chris Myers Asch, in his book, “The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer” says that what exactly inspired which led to the lynching of the Holbert’s in February 1904 is not precisely clear but it had to do with love.
He posits that Luther Holbert, an employee on the James Eastland plantation in Sunflower County, Mississippi, had been living with Mary who was the ex-wife of another employee, Albert Carr. This caused a rift between Holbert and Carr, and eventually Eastland waded into the fray.
Armed with guns, Carr and Eastland went to the Holbert’s cabin but what exactly happened there is not known except that both Eastland and Carr ended up dead at the hands of Luther Holbert.
In the late 18th to early 19th century, manslaughter and murder of a white man attracted a death penalty. Aware of this, Luther and Mary Holbert went rogue. By the time the posse comitatus got to the scene at Eastland’s plantation, Holbert and his wife had escaped. Eastland’s brother, Woods Caperton Eastland began a chase of the two.
The alleged crime attracted the ire of the white population with over 200 white men running after the Holberts with two packs of bloodhounds chasing across four counties to find the accused.
Other posses comitatus were created at Greenville, Ittaben, Cleveland and other points, with horses and bloodhounds also employed in the pursuit.
Holbert and his wife were captured three days later, after the couple were exhausted from running over 100 miles on foot through canebrakes and swamps. They were found asleep in a heavy belt of timber three miles east of Shepherdstown. The two were arrested and taken back to Doddsville and burnt at a stake by a large mob in the shadow of a black church. However, there was never an indication that Holbert’s wife had any part in the crime.
The lynching of Holbert and Mary also led to the death of eight people.
According to the media who reported their lynching: “When the two Negroes were captured, they were tied to trees and while the funeral pyres were being prepared, they were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was amputated. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs. The ears of the murderers were also amputated. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was fractured and one of his eyes, plugged out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket.”
“The mob went further, using a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their legs, body and arms and then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of their flesh every time it was withdrawn.”
Lynching, the wanton killing of blacks for any perceived slight served a public purpose at the time. The pain being inflicted on the murderers was designed to instill a sense of fear in black populations and most effective lynchings were premeditated and whole communities were invited to observe the spectacle of Black Death.
Luther and Mary Holbert were not lynched immediately. It was moved to the next day, a Sunday afternoon after church so that a large crowd could witness and send a message to all black people in the area that no place was safe from white supremacy.
The Holberts, who despite amputation and loss of blood were still alive, were taken to a pyre. The white men threatened two black men to drag the Holberts to the fires. Mary was burnt first so Luther could feel the pain of his beloved dying, before he was burnt.
Woods Eastland, who cheered the mob, was prosecuted for the murder, but was acquitted by the mainly-white jury who found him innocent. Eastland hosted a party on his plantation to celebrate the “victory”.
Although there is no precise record on lynched black people as some were swept under carpet, nearly 4,000 lynchings took place in the period between 1880-1930.