How did it come to this?
She was dead and her family blamed me. All I did was work across the road but my sort are easy to blame. They beat me til I admitted killing her then locked me in jail. I wish I’d stayed there but these people want revenge, not justice.
First they cut it off, said I wasn’t allowed to use it on their sort. They forced it in my mouth and ordered me to eat it. I spat it out, unable to see through the tears streaming down my face. They force it into my mouth again and threaten worse unless I eat it. I chew my own flesh through the white hot fiery pain and swallow. They start to carve again and I scream.
“Tell ’em you like it!” he orders. His breath smells like blood, or is that me? He shoves a knife against my throat and digs it in. “Tell ’em!” I mumble it as clearly as I can. “Louder!” he orders and puts the knife lower, digging it into the wound. I scream and tell them over and over. He laughs.
I drop to the floor choking. Is this death? They hung me and it’s over now, right? The knife in my belly says otherwise. Maybe they’re right and I did it? I can’t remember anymore. Maybe I’m in hell now.
I drop again, my blood mixing with my stomach acid and causing so much more pain. Pain’s just a word now though and we’re beyond words. These animals slice into me again, burn me again. Why wont they let me die?
A third time they release the rope choking me and a third time I drop to the ground. They burn my chest this time and start cutting off my toes. I know the truth now, I know I’m dead. I was wrong and they were right, and now I’m in hell, forever being punished for my sins.
They raise me up on the lynching tree again. My name was Claude Neal when I was alive, but now I’m suffering in hell and I can barely hold onto that thought.
Yet again I drop to the ground choking, and these demons cheer, obviously enjoying themselves. Then out come the knives and they start carving me up again.
Sounds fantastical doesn’t it? The problem is that this story is absolutely true.
On the 19th of October 1934 twenty-three year old Claude Neal was arrested for the rape and murder of twenty year old Lola Cannidy and a confession was beaten out of him by the Sheriff’s department in Greenwood, Florida. Aware of the lynching spirit that was rising throughout the country, the Sheriff sent him to a jail in Alabama for safekeeping. In the early morning of the 26th around a hundred people descended on that jail and took Claude out with them. He was driven 200 miles back to Greenwood where his lynching had been advertised with posters around the region as well as newspaper reports and radio adverts.
The first thing the lynching party did was to cut off Claude’s penis and then force him to eat it. Then they cut off his testicles and forced him to eat those too. With a knife to his throat he was forced to say that he enjoyed the taste, with them making him repeat the sentence loud enough for most to hear. Then they put a rope round his neck and hung him as he flailed and choked to death. Deciding they hadn’t had enough fun, they let him down before he died and cut his sides and stomach open. He was hung again then let down while still alive again. This time they cut off a finger before hanging him again. This went on for several hours. Each time he was hung then let down for more torture. Iron pokers heated in a fire until they were red hot were used to burn his body all over and most of his fingers and toes were cut off. Finally, when he had nothing else left to take, they took Claude’s life, but they still weren’t finished with him.
As the lynching had been advertised in Greenwood a group estimated to be between 3,000 and 7,000 people had assembled to see his body. The lynching party tied Claude’s corpse to the back of a car and dragged it four miles to where the mob was gathered. Men, women and children waited and drove sharpened sticks into Claude’s flesh. One woman ran up and plunged a butcher’s knife into his body to make sure he was dead. Others spat on him and kicked his body, then several drove their cars over him. Eventually the body was dragged a further ten miles to Marianna where it was hung from a tree and photographed. Hundreds of these photographs were sold as mementos to the crowd for fifty cents each. Claude’s fingers and toes are still held by the families of the original lynch mob as souvenirs to this day, some as bones and some preserved in alcohol.
I asked it in the story and I’ll ask again: how did it come to this?