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Friday, Jan. 20, 2017

1934 Riot, Part 2: Uproar increases

Posted Friday, December 18, 2009, at 7:45 AM

Second of a 7-part series

This series goes into details of the December 1934 rioting in Shelbyville in which Bedford County Courthouse was burned after rape suspect E.K. Harris wasn't turned over to a mob. Information is taken from The Bedford County Times and national wire services of the time. Reader additions and comments are welcome.


Early in the month Circuit Court E.L. Coleman of Lewisburg, while seating Bedford County's grand jury, reminds spectators that the legal system, not mob violence, is the preferred way to handle criminal cases.

Wednesday, Dec. 19, 1934 is set as the Circuit Court date for E.K. Harris' trial on a rape charge. Harris is accused of raping a young girl outside a school in rural Bedford County. The suspect admits the attempt but denies a rape actually took place.

State Sen. Prentice Cooper, W.J. Crowell and Ben Kingree Jr. are appointed as Harris' defense attorneys. (Cooper, who was later elected governor, is the father of current U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper.)

Several days of threats precede the trial's beginning. (Some news accounts mentioned that the troublemakers were from rural areas of Bedford County, joined later by town residents.)

Coleman and Sheriff Tom Gant express concern about security. Gant visits Nashville on the night of Dec. 18, 1934 to request National Guard assistance. Gov. Hill McAlester grants Gant's request for National Guard troops to accompany Harris back for the trial.

COMING SATURDAY: The fateful day

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