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1934 Riot, Part 1: The beginning

Posted Thursday, December 17, 2009, at 9:58 AM

First of a 7-part series

For the next seven days we'll be looking at the rioting 75 years ago this week in which Bedford County Courthouse was burned. Most accounts of the events seen locally in recent years were taken from The Bedford County Times' coverage as quoted in the 1969 Times-Gazette Sesquicentennial Edition. I've gained access (through www.newspaperarchive.com) to multiple wire service stories.

The next week of blogs will contain a mix of content from the original Times reporting and Associated Press, United Press International and International News Service stories. Reader additions and comments are welcome.

THE BEGINNING: MONDAY, NOV. 19, 1934

A 14-year-old girl from the Fall Creek area near Halls Mill, according to The Bedford County Times, is allegedly attacked by Ernest K. "E.K." Harris, 22, about 1:30 p.m. while excused from school for a few moments.

Harris has allegedly been hanging around the school all day, The Times reports, and has recently served jail time, working on the road crew. He is described by The Times as "mentally unbalanced."

Harris allegedly drags the girls into nearby woods where she fights off an attempted assault and makes it back to the school's doorway where she "falls prostrate," the Times reports.

Time magazine tells a somewhat different story in its Dec. 31, 1934 edition.

(W.J. Crowell, one of Harris' court-appointed defense attorneys, later wrote Time denying most of the article's contents.)

Her father, John Gibson, 58, and a "posse" of 300 men led by Sheriff Thomas E. "Tom" Gant scour nearby woods, catch Harris and accuse him of rape.

Harris is black. The alleged victim is white. In the 1930s South, that factor undoubtedly sparks already-strong emotions.

Three Shelbyville police officers charge Harris (odd, since the alleged attack happened in the county). Harris allegedly admits attempting to assault the girl but says the act was not consummated.

Harris is taken to Bedford County Jail (the old rock building still in use today) where the crowd is denied a demand that Harris be turned over to them. Sheriff Gant becomes their enemy.

At the advice of an unnamed "prominent" local attorney, according to The Times, Harris is moved to Rutherford County Jail in Murfreesboro. Within minutes after arrival, the Rutherford County sheriff is told the Bedford County crowd is headed to Murfreesboro to attack his jail. Harris is then moved to the more-secure Davidson County Jail in Nashville.

Meanwhile, the young girl is examined by Dr. E.E. Moody, a Shelbyville physician well-remembered by some older residents today.

According to Time, Gibson tells his neighbors that Moody says his daughter is pregnant. (Moody tells a reporter on Dec. 21 that he doesn't think she is pregnant or was actually raped, pointing out she is back in school. Crowell also denies the girl is pregnant.)

COMING FRIDAY: Talk becomes action


Comments
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[Show in chronological order instead]

Dang!.. that was my best post EVER... and it got deleted. Oh well

-- Posted by Double Exposure on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 7:24 PM

slingshot,

get a life.

-- Posted by gottago on Mon, Dec 21, 2009, at 4:21 PM

I've wondered the same thing, leeiii. I'd always heard the incident happened at Fall Creek school, and would lean toward that rather than the Stump Valley mentioned in the Time article. From what I've gathered apparently the school, whatever its name was, was somewhere around Halls Mill.

-- Posted by David Melson on Sat, Dec 19, 2009, at 11:20 PM

In the Time article it is mentioned that Lillian Gibson attended Stump Valley school. Can anyone tell me where Stump Valley school was located?

-- Posted by leeiii on Sat, Dec 19, 2009, at 6:55 PM

Slingshot--so going by your theory, I guess Sheriff Thomas E. "Tom" Gant was black too?

-- Posted by espoontoon on Sat, Dec 19, 2009, at 3:48 PM

oh i knew he was black when you posted that ridiculous nickname beside his name....your tellin me in 1936 you were aware of this black man's nickname....its a definite pattern here at the gazette, just like the other day you guys posted the nicknames "Tron" "BG" "G" now from the 1936 comes EK.. I look thru the gazette on line pretty much every day i see no nicknames for other people, whats the deal with posting a man so called Nickname from 1936. I think its something you made up. You show me proof that this guy was nicknamed EK and if it was what the hell difference does it make in the year 2009?

-- Posted by slingshot on Sat, Dec 19, 2009, at 2:01 PM

Typical of the Times magazine(NY) in their article used: wrathful posse, hillmen, hillbilly mob, mountain neighbors, back country folk, Shelbyville rabble, mobsters and coutry man. Like to see a southern maganzine publish and article about a killing in New York city, which used: tenement house white neck trash, bowery bums, mafia goons, Brooklyn boosers, Mayor Bloonberg billys and Harlem harlots.

I remember it took awhile for the happening to get down to the cotton mill and even out to the Musgraves area. Very few houses had a telephone.

Thanks David, sure enjoy these stories. Most bring back long ago memories that have faded and now are not very clear in my aging mind.

-- Posted by Grits on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 6:16 PM

David,

Looking forward to this, I remember this as on of the stories told by my grandmother and greatgrandmother, my grandmother was about 21 when this happened and she told of how they where let out of work early from Flys because of a possible lynch mob getting together, I remember her speaking of shooting in the streets and all where trying to get home before things got bad.

-- Posted by punkin1129 on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 2:59 PM

David, in one of my earlier posts I had erroneously stated that my Dad and Mom got their marriage license the day before the Courthouse was burned when in actuality they did not. I looked up their marriage license and discovered that they applied for it on December 13, 1934, and picked it up on December 15th, and then were married on December 23rd.

I am looking forward to all 7 parts of this series.

-- Posted by leeiii on Thu, Dec 17, 2009, at 1:01 PM


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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.