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1934 Riot, Part 7: The aftermath

Posted Thursday, December 31, 2009, at 12:24 PM

Last 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.

SUNDAY, DEC. 23, 1934

No incidents occur as the Shelbyville police and Bedford County Sheriff's Department resume normal operations with help from the vigilante force. Many people, possibly from out-of-town, visit the square and photograph the courthouse ruins.


In January 1935 several citizens, including the Rev. Oliver Largen, a local Methodist Episcopal, South minister, form a committee to see who is at the bottom of the "mob."

All ministers preach on law enforcement.

Largen, a young widower with three small children, receives two anonymous letters telling him "to quit meddling in matters of protecting Negroes against white people."

The Rev. N.J. Warren of First Presbyterian Church and the Rev. J.T. Parsons, a Southern Methodist minister, also receive warning letters.

Largen's home is burned in late January. The minister has sent his children to stay with relatives in Lincoln County, having heard rumors of possible violence against him. He is awakened by flames and narrowly escapes with his life.

The courthouse is rebuilt, using the foundation and part of the outside walls of the burned structure. It remains in use today.

E.K. Harris is tried in Nashville, convicted of rape after a jury deliberates five minutes, and receives the death penalty. He continues to say no rape occurred. A prison warden, minutes before Harris' electrocution May 22, 1936, tells the press that Harris has allegedly admitted to the rape.

Sheriff Gant eventually moves to Georgia.

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

David, I have really enjoyed this series recounting a very tragic time in our county's history. I have learned some new things and been able to see some pictures that I had not previously seen before. You are weekly doing a very valuable service to the community of all of our childhoods. Keep up the good work.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 2:53 PM

Wonderful series. I had never knew of the events leading up to the fire until now. Thanks, David.

-- Posted by gottago on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 3:03 PM

I have looked forward to reading this account of the burning of the courthouse in 1934, and have learned more than I ever new about this part of our town's history. You have done a tremendous amount of research, and it has all been greatly appreciated by many. Keep up the good work.

-- Posted by cookie on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 3:51 PM

This story would make a pretty good movie. But we got enough of a reputation as it is. I'm wondering if this same sequence of events could happen today. I know our Law Enforcement is more advanced and well armed and trained but people are still people and the power of a mob is a awesome thing. I'm hoping the law and order folks would refuse to surrender the streets of Shelbyville to a mob. If the Vigilantes of 1934 had assaulted the mob with a hail of gunfire maybe the thing could have been put down. I guess since communications wern't as good in those days the good guys couldn't organize as well.

-- Posted by MyMrMarty on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 9:54 PM

Also I almost forgot. My Granny said that for some reason and she wouldn't say, a lot of people didn't really care for the Sheriff. Some of the resulting violence may have been just for the sake of getting back at the Sheriff and not just directed at E.K. Harris. We'll never know all the subtile details I guess.

-- Posted by MyMrMarty on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 9:59 PM

The nearest thing to a riot here in recent years was the year the Celebration's final class was canceled.

The police and sheriff's departments already had backups coming in from surrounding cities and counties when things calmed down.

-- Posted by David Melson on Thu, Dec 24, 2009, at 6:56 AM

Great series of articles David! I've enjoyed every one of them. My grandparents told me about some of these events related to the burning of the courthouse, but this series of articles has enlightened me a great deal. Thank you.

-- Posted by Tim Lokey on Fri, Dec 25, 2009, at 12:04 AM

This has been very interesting, can you tell me more about "bloody" 18th district," I have heard reference to this but have no clue as to what it was. Is it the the same as or related to the bloody 8 ? I have tried to look up the bloody 8, and think perhaps it i may have heard wrong.

-- Posted by wonderwhy on Mon, Dec 28, 2009, at 10:38 PM

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