Johnson, great-great granddaughter of Anthony Crawford recounts his lynching
and the effect it had on the lives of his descendants.
I am the great-great granddaughter of Anthony and Tebby Crawford, the great granddaughter of George and Annabelle Crawford, the granddaughter of Joseph and Fannie Crawford Brooks, and the daughter of Dr. Charles and Helen Brooks Johnson. My story is about my great-great grandfathers lynching in 1916 in Abbeville, SC by a crowd estimated to be between 200 and 400 blood-thirsty white people. His ordeal lasted all day. His body was beaten and dragged through town to show other Negroes what would happen to them if they got “insolent.” Finally, he was taken to the county fair grounds and strung up to a tree and riddled with bullets. Although we have heard his body was thrown on someone’s lawn , we have yet to locate his grave. The family was ordered to vacate their land, wind up business and get out of town. They did just that. His crime you might ask: cursing a white man for offering him a low price for the cotton seed he was trying to sell and being too rich for a Negro.
Anthony P. Crawford was born in January, 1865 and owned by Ben and Rebecca Crawford in Abbeville, South Carolina. He walked 14 miles roundtrip to and from school each day and proved to be quite a scholar. When Anthony finished school he was a laborer for Ben Crawford until Thomas Crawford, Anthony’s father, died in 1893 and deeded some land to Anthony, who was the only one of nine siblings able to sign his own name.
Andy, as he was known, had 13 children, all of whom lived on his land with their spouses and children. He built a school on his land for the children of blacks in Abbeville and also held an office with the Masons of South Carolina. He was for 19 years secretary and chief financial prop of Chapel AME Church. In October of 1894, he was Assistant Marshall of a grand parade in which some 1,500 to 2,000 persons assembled by trades . The Honorable George W. Murray, the only black US Congressman , was the guest speaker . In August of 1888, the local newspaper reports that he sold 3 wagons of splendid melons and finds there is as much money in them as cotton. In December of 1904, the Abbeville Medium reports:
Anthony P. Crawford, colored, sold a load of splendid corn of his own raising in the city last week. His fat mules, good wagon and prosperous appearances led us to inquire particularly about his crop. He owns and farms the old Belcher place. He holds in his own right 500 acres of land in three tracts, paid for by his own labor. This year his corn crop was 1000 bushels, of which he sold 250. He made 200 gallons of syrup and 48 bales of cotton. November 26th he sold $662.08 worth of cotton and has made other sales. He has six horses, 12 head of cattle, 18 hogs , two good wagons, a McCormick rake, and a new top buggy. He also has a good bank account and a family of 13 children.
Andy Crawford was the wealthiest Negro farmer in and around Abbeville. His holdings were at least 10% of all land owned by Negroes in the county. He would loan whites money between harvests and had changed his crop from cotton to corn before the white farmers did because of the boll weevil. His estimated worth was $20,000 dollars, which calculates to $300,000 in 1998. He was a law-abiding citizen and proud. On the morning of October 21, 1916 Andy rode his horse and buggy into town to W.D. Barksdale’s store. Cotton seed was selling at 90 cents a bushel, but Barksdale offered Andy only 85 cents. Andy told Mr. Barksdale that he was already given a better offer and before he could gather his seed and leave, Barksdale called him a liar. Andy cursed him and told him he was trying to cheat him and would take his seed elsewhere. The two men argued out into the town square. A store clerk heard the commotion and came out with an ax handle. Andy backed off towards the square and was arrested by Sheriff Burts for cursing Mr. Barksdale. By the time Sheriff Burts and Andy reached the jail, word had gotten out that a Negro had cursed a white man and crowds started gathering in the square. Once the crowd dispersed, he paid his bail and the sheriff let him out of a side door to avoid any more commotion. He was headed for a gin a short distance away when he was spotted by the crowd.
When Andy heard the mob behind him, he hid in a boiler room of the gin. As McKinnley Cann led the crowd towards him, Andy picked up a four pound hammer and crushed the skull of Cann and would’ve killed him had someone not grabbed his arm. Sheriff Burts begged the crowd not to kill Andy, and agreed to keep him in jail until they were assured that Cann would survive his injuries. While in jail, Andy ordered a doctor and told a friend to get his coat from the gin and give his bankbook to his family. He remarked “I thought I was a good citizen.” The crowd soon took over the jail, beat Andy until he was unconscious then dragged him out onto the square where he regained consciousness, got on his feet and fought for 50 feet up the road before being hit with a rock in the back of his head. 200 white men kicked him, beat him, tied him to the back of a buggy, dragged him through the black neighborhoods then finally strung him to a tree and unloaded 200 rounds into what was left of his body. At the time of his death, Anthony Crawford owned 427 acres of the “prettiest cotton land in the county.”
The governor of South Carolina, Richard I. Manning, was said to be furious and summoned Sheriff Burts. This was a rich black man that was lynched this time and he needed some answers. The press was getting hold of the story of this brutal crime and editors of major newspapers were carrying editorials of the horrendous murder in Abbeville. He ordered an investigation and promised that the lynchers would be put on trial. He sent in Roy Nash, secretary of the NAACP, for the investigation. Nash had to act as if he were interested in buying land in Abbeville so he could get close to those involved. He discovered that those responsible had closed all black businesses, except one. Nash also learned about the order given by the lynchers that the Crawford family leave town immediatly or be killed. The night of the lynching, the Crawford boys waited in trees with guns for the lynchers to come to their homestead as promised. They never came, but the Crawfords did leave Abbeville. So did enough of Abbeville’s black folk to populate almost a whole town, Evanston, IL. Almost every African-American in Evanston has ties to Abbeville. There was a mass exodus right after the lynching, including Ralph Ellison, father of the famous author Ralph Ellison, and serious economic ramifications followed. The editorials of the day reflect the feeling that the South would pay dearly for making it uncomfortable for blacks to remain.
Some Crawfords later returned to Abbeville. Andy’s estate listed his heirs and the places where they resided in 1918 as follows:
Walter…35 Due West, SC Minnie…25 died in Abbeville, 1918
Charles..33 Abbeville , SC George..22 Evanston, IL
Wes…….31 Abbeville, SC Jessie…21 Philadelphia, PA
McGowan..30 Abbeville, SC Bessie..21 Philadelphia. PA
Julius……29 Abbeville, SC Anthony Jr. 19 Eustis, FL
Florence .27 Abbeville, SC Albert..16 Philadelphia, PA
Thomas…13 Abbeville, SC
I was told of the lynching by my maternal grandfather and obtained more information from historians, research of census records and word of mouth. My great aunt Annabelle has what I always thought was the biggest picture of him in her home and has been a wealth of knowledge. I always asked why we never go back to Abbeville to learn more about this great man and my family would always say it was too painful . My great uncle Anthony, the last surviving child of Anthony Crawford, died just a few years ago. I am told he said “I never want to see Abbeville again as long as I live and would not give Abbeville County a nickel.” Historians have told me that I am the first Crawford to speak of the lynching and the impact it had on our family. The more I learn, the more I understand the severity of taking away a family’s livelihood. A strong Black man who through hard work was becoming quite wealthy and was proud and rightfully so. The thought of being so brutally murdered for living an exemplary life in America is unconscionable. It took several generations, but our family is starting to find each other again. I don’t know whether all of his children kept in contact, but I do know my mother was sent to Philadelphia during her childhood summers to visit her great uncle Albert and my cousins in Washington, DC visited Abbeville often.
In 1990 I learned from an article written by Roy Nash that Anthony had been the secretary of a church, Chapel AME Church in Abbeville. I called directory assistance just to see if the church was still there—it was. I called the church phone number but repeatedly got no answers. Then I thought to call on a Sunday and to my surprise a young man answered the phone. I told him I was doing some research on my great great grandfather, Anthony Crawford, who belonged to a church by the same name and was lynched in 1916. The man on the phone got quiet and told me his name–Philip Crawford. He was also the great great grandson of Anthony Crawford. We agreed to talk later. Philip told me of an upcoming reunion of the Crawford family just a few months away in Abbeville. I called my cousin Sandra Crawford-Bailey and we decided to pack up the car and go. When we arrived, I met cousins from Washington, DC, New York, Atlanta and all over the United States, all descendants of Anthony and Tebby Crawford. Now we meet almost every year and exchange stories on our famous ancestor’s life and murder. We met in Virginia Beach this year and found out that his story is in countless books in museums and universities. His killers were never brought to trial, although they were brought before the grand jury who decided there was not enough evidence to indict. The lands were lost because the lynching took away Anthony’s children’s way of life. Through 2nd mortgages, back taxes, the stock market crash of 1929 and most of the family leaving the area, those who stayed couldn’t keep up with the payments.
Andy Crawford stood strong and proud, and believed in education and taking care of family. His legacy is something every Black American should be proud of. He once took out an ad in the paper which said :
…and it will be the highest endeavor of our lives, to strive to make as good citizens in the future as we have in the past and to those who opposed and differed with us, I have nothing but a friendly feeling. For individuals as well as nations sometimes differ. But it is mete and right to settle their differences, legally and amicably. A Citizen, Anthony P. Crawford.
My great great grandfather stated early in life, “The day a white man hits me is the day I die.” And he did. But he left an example of hardwork and determination. He still lives in all of us. Many of us still attend AME Churches and we have been told that we have “that arrogant Crawford way.” But we know that those murderers were NOT successful in breaking up the Crawfords. We still stand today proud and close and live our lives as he would’ve wanted us to. We will not stop looking for each other until the last Crawford is accounted for and we can stand on his land and look toward heaven and pray that he knows we are together again.
You may read more on Anthony Crawford in the following books:
100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzberg
From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin
Old Abbeville ; a history of the town by Dr. Lowry Ware
Bound for the Promised Land: African American Religion & The Great Migration by Milton Sernett
Copyright ©1998 Doria Dee Johnson