The Ballad Of Claude Neal

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?

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31 thoughts on “The Ballad Of Claude Neal

  1. After displaying the body for all to see, the mob turned against all the other blacks in the community, going door to door and beating them. By the time the national guard was called in, over 200 men, women and children had been badly beaten by the mob. One white store owner took as many as he could fit into his store and held the mob at bay with his gun, but that was the only defence offered to anyone. It's nice to see that, even with insanity all around, one guy will still stand up against all odds for what's right.

  2. That's one of the most disgusting things I've ever read.. I've heard plenty of horrifying things on racism but this.. *shakes head*

  3. The sheriff's department can't handle 7,000 people when they've got about ten deputies. Besides, the governor of the state refused to stop it, despite multiple people petitioning him, so what can the sheriffs do when they don't even have jurisdiction to stop it.

  4. 😦 Very unthinkable, sad, mad and infuriating. "Eventually the body was dragged a further ten miles to Marianna where it was hung from a used and photographed."Hung from a used what? Thank God for one decent person in that town. I feel bad for the kids that saw that. Wonders if they ever found the person that did it. What was wrong with the sheriff in that town? Why didn't he stop it? He sent him away to be safe. Surely he heard of it going to be happening. Was in under a fucking rock? Where the hell was all the people to help? 😦

  5. I'm so against taking law into one's own hands – everyone deserves a fair trial and all that.Having said that, I must admit that if someone did something bad to my closest, I might think differently. I'd rather not find out.

  6. Small mercy that one man stood up for what's right. Know his name by any chance sweetie? Carol, for "used" read tree. Predictive text error. 🙂

  7. The only evidence against this guy is that he worked across the road and was black. The confession he gave was beaten out of him. Of course, that's not to say it wasn't him. I wrote the story with no opinion on whether it was him or not for that reason. But there's a line between justice and premeditated murder. And when a hundred unrelated men torture a guy for hours on end, finally murder him then give his body to up to 7,000 people including young children so they can further mutilate it, and then the whole mob turns on everyone with the same skin colour… Well, lets just say the line is out of sight nevermind having been crossed.

  8. Of course they are. Good church-going family folk, who are considerate enough to beat the wife in places she can easily hide, and only molest the children in their own family. 🙄

  9. Let us say he did rape and kill the young girl. Let us say he was white. Let us say it was my daughter. I too would feel cheated that they did not allow me the first shot. I'm just saying… My heart goes out to that man along with the innocents that were harmed and terrorized.Take Rosewood. In that case, the white woman should have been taken out and lynched.

  10. I know your point, Mik and I didn't mean to diminish it. There is a courthouse not far from me that proudly lives in history as the place where over 1,000 Mexican teamsters were hanged from the tree in the yard.That makes me sick that they even let the tree stand.There is a tree within sight of me right now where not only legal hangings took place but where outlaws took vigilantes and strung them up because there was no law to stop them.Anarchy is a cruel and horrible thing.Rosewood was also made into a movie back in the late 90s.

  11. I'm all for justice, but you've gotta have proof and it shouldn't be handed out by strangers who just want some sick fun. My point with the Time article is that the father was given a sympathetic voice in the article while the "Negro buck" was basically described as if he was another species. :yuck: That's how the country felt.Added a link to your comment so people can tell what happened there. I'm not overly familiar with the case myself so it was an interesting read.

  12. animals kill for survival, humans kill for kicks! 😥 so sad! and ti think that no DNA testing existed back then, it was all into "she said" "hesaid" in this case not even "he said.." 😦

  13. You have hit upon the truth. Given any "mob" action there is no accountability for any one person. Much like gangs and congressmen.

  14. You didn't diminish my point. I just noticed it wasn't as clear in my comment as it could have been.Humans always blame anyone that's different for their problems. It's the easy way to do things. Different religions, different skin colours, different clothing style. Hell, they'd do it based on eye colour if that were the only apparent difference in humanity.I've never understood so called mob mentality, especially when people use it as an excuse like I'm sure these people did. Yeah, you get egged on by people, yeah you may feel embarrassed or scared to do the right thing. Boo fucking hoo. If you can't do what you know in your heart is right when it's hard, it wont make the slightest difference to do it when it's easy.It's about moral fibre. Who's got it and who hasn't. And, in this case, there's two people who stood up to the mob – the sheriff who took the body down, and the store owner who stood against the mob and risked his own life to protect people. That's my view anyway.

  15. I agree, to a point. But morality is a convention. Mobs have their own conventions. The nazis were regular folk. The majority of us, it seems, just go with the flow.

  16. 10% of the people will always do the right thing, no matter what. 10% of people will always do what is the most beneficial thing for them, all the time. The other 80% will do the easiest, what ever that may be.

  17. Given that some of the people originally involved may be alive today, I'd hope they've felt incredible guilt for their part in it as times changed and their life went on. Of course, given that some members of the families involved still have human body parts as 'souvenirs', it's obvious they don't. Despicable piles of shit.

  18. Anonymous writes:In another news paper article the father commented that his son saw Lola Cannidy…(the murder victim) right before her death and a man talking to her from about a quarter mile away and thought that the man was just a local boy (white). The father then comments on how it must have been Neal (the black accused). The father was later arrested early the next year for attempting to kill his niece. Rumor was that Claude and Lola (who new each other since childhood) had been having an affair and it was well known within the black community. After finding out she was sleeping with a black man, her own family had her killed and let Claude who was the black man she was sleeping with, be killed for her murder. The father apparently tried to kill the niece after finding out it was that side of his own family who was responsible LOla's death. Other rumors swirling around was that a white man went to Neals home (he lived with his mother) and asked his mother to wash a bloody shirt. She did so because during that time period to say no would have been dangerous. It is allegedly why they found that shirt at Claude Neals home. It was also reported that a white man confessed to the killing several times over the next several years. Interesting story. You cant tell me we haven't come a long way.

  19. Sadly only a few of us have evolved since then. There are still plenty of people who actually long for the "good old days" when horrors like this were not only possible, but common place.

  20. Anonymous writes:The name of one of the men who protected their workers (there were several) was Mr. Hinson, who owned the mule stable.

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