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Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, June 15, 1930
On the evening of June 15, 1930, a young African American man named Dennis Hubert was at the playground of the segregated Crogman School for black children when a group of seven white men walked up to him, mistaking him for someone else who had been at the park earlier that afternoon. Within moments of accusing him of verbally insulting a white women, the men attacked Dennis and lynched him. Dennis was only eighteen years old at the time of his death.
During the era of racial terrorism, black people carried a heavy presumption of guilt and dangerousness and were the frequent targets of racial hostility from the white community. Social norms of this time period were deeply shaped and informed by the narrative of racial difference, which revolved around the mythology of white supremacy and black inferiority. Perceived violations to these norms could readily incite mob violence and lynching, even when such violations were as trivial as arguing with or insulting a white person.
At the time, Dennis Hubert was a Divinity School student in his sophomore year at Morehouse College. On the afternoon of June 15, Dennis had spent the day visiting his mother’s and his grandmother’s homes. Around 6:00 pm, he went to the Crogman School playground, and less than 15 minutes later, he was dead.
When the seven white men walked up to Dennis at the playground that evening, one of them grabbed him by his coat lapels and began attacking him. Dennis tried to dodge the blows, and eyewitnesses later described that the young black man asked his attackers, “What do you want of me? I have done nothing.” The white men insisted that a white woman had been insulted near the park earlier that day, and though Dennis told them he had no knowledge of what they were talking about, the men did not care. Without investigation, police involvement, or trial, one of the white men held a gun to the back of Dennis Hubert’s head and shot him at point blank range in front of at least two dozen witnesses.
Violence against black people by white people during this era was rarely subject to intervention or serious scrutiny by white local law enforcement or the white community. Although Dennis was in a public space and had not initiated contact with the white men who approached him, the white mob who killed him did so publicly with no apparent concern that they would face legal repercussions. The unprovoked, extrajudicial nature of Dennis Hubert’s lynching was also characteristic of this time period. More than just an act of retaliation against one individual, the white men who killed Dennis on a public playground in front of playing black children and many other witnesses meant to send a broader message to the entire black community, showing what lengths white men were willing to go to enforce racial hierarchy and social dominance.
Dennis Hubert’s “cold-blooded and wanton” killing sent shock waves throughout Fulton County, deeply grieving the black community and eliciting mixed responses from the white community. Unusual for the time, the seven men accused of killing Dennis were actually arrested and indicted for his lynching, and some prominent white residents of Fulton County publicly supported the effort to hold the men accountable.
Notably, some sources suggest that white condemnation of Dennis Hubert’s death was due in part to his family’s respectable reputation as having a “record of honorable service” approved by the white community. Tragically, investigation of Dennis’s murder was based on this particular social reputation rather than a community-wide commitment to the rule of law. For the vast majority of racial terror lynching victims, white communities and law enforcement officers did nothing to hold white mobs accountable, and allowed them to kill black men, women, and children with impunity.
Even with the Huberts’ reputation, many white people in Fulton County strongly opposed any effort to punish white men for killing a black man, reacting to the men's arrests with indignation and even violence. Two days after officials denied the white men bail, the home of Dennis’s father, Rev. G. J. Hubert, was burned to the ground in an arson. When the Wheat Street Negro Baptist Church held a meeting to raise money to rebuild the burned home and support prosecution of the accused white men, a white mob bombed the church with tear gas. A few days later Dennis’s cousin, Rev. Charles R. Hubert, narrowly escaped an attempted murder, and Sisters’ Chapel at Spelman College was attacked by night riders who threw stones and shattered the Chapel’s lamps.
In the midst of these terrorizing attacks, Benjamin F. Hubert, Dennis’s uncle and president of the Georgia State Industrial College, wrote a letter to the Director of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. Mr. Hubert’s letter expressed the urgency of holding the white men accountable for lynching Dennis, and implored:
“How can a negro honestly remain and advise others to remain here in the south unless we are to receive some semblance of justice? If the right-thinking white people will not see that the law is enforced and our law does not protect us, it would seem that the only thing for negroes to do is to find some place where protection is afforded, even if opportunities there are not quite so good. [...] I, for one, have wanted to feel that there is a future for negroes here in the south. I still want to think and feel that way, but unless we can bring pressure and influence to bear to the end that complete justice is rendered in this instance where there is absolutely no room for defense, I can see no reason why negroes should listen any longer to people who would like to have them remain in the south.”
Mr. Hubert’s words expressed the anguish, fear, anger, and desperation the black community felt while living under the constant terror of unpredictable, arbitrary white mob violence that regularly went unpunished. This reality drove more than 6 million black people to flee the American South as refugees of racial terrorism between 1916 and 1970 as part of the Great Migration.
In this case, the men accused of killing Dennis Hubert were tried, and in court they did not deny their involvement in killing the young black man. Instead, the defense brazenly argued that Dennis’s killing was “justifiable homicide” because of “how mortified” the white woman was at the alleged insult and that the “brave white men simply avenged the wrong [...] done to her.” Some of the accused white men testified that they had been trying to hold Dennis in custody until police arrived – but they had no legal authority to do so, and there was no evidence officers had been called or were coming to the school. The defense also tried to plead self-defense, claiming Dennis was reaching for a weapon, but multiple eyewitnesses testified that the young man was unarmed and did not fight back.
Despite this evidence, these seven white men who admitted to shooting and killing Dennis Hubert at point blank range in a public playground before many eyewitnesses were acquitted of murder and convicted of lesser offenses. One defendant received 12-15 years imprisonment for voluntary manslaughter, while the defendant who confessed to firing the fatal shot received a sentence of just two years.
To many, the trial’s outcome ruling reflected the strictly maintained racial caste system of the South, wherein white lives held heightened value while the lives of black people held little or none. As one newspaper stated, the minimal sentencing of the white man who shot Dennis Hubert showed “just how cheaply the life of a Negro is held, no matter what his station in life may be, when it is taken by a white man.”
Dennis Hubert is one of at least 36 victims of racial terror lynching killed in Fulton County between 1877 and 1950. During the same time period, nearly 600 African Americans were lynched in the state of Georgia, the second highest number of racial terror lynchings in any state.
October 2, 2021
Dennis Hubert was an 18-year-old sophomore Divinity School student at Morehouse College.
On June 15, 1930, while at the playground of the segregated Crogman School, a group of seven white men walked up to him, mistaking him for someone else. Within moments of accusing him of insulting a white woman, the men attacked Mr. Hubert, shot and lynched him.
Only two of the white men were held accountable in a court of law. The shooter received a two-year sentence.