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Fulton County, Georgia, September 12, 1936
In the early hours of September 12, 1936, Thomas Finch, a 27-year-old black hospital orderly, was lynched by a mob of white police officers in Atlanta, Georgia. According to reports, at approximately 3A.M., five white police officers arrested Mr. Finch at his home based on allegations that he had raped a white woman at Grady Hospital. He never made it to the jail. Instead, an hour later, Mr. Finch’s brutalized body was dumped in front of Grady Hospital. When he was found, his body was riddled with bullets, and he had been severely beaten with his right eye completely disfigured. Doctors rushed Mr. Finch into emergency surgery, where he spoke his final words, “O Lord, O Lord,” before falling into a coma. Mr. Finch never regained consciousness and died from his injuries.
During this era of racial terror, the deep racial hostility that permeated Southern society ensured that whites’ allegations against black people were rarely subject to serious scrutiny. White people’s fear of interracial sex stoked the pervasive presumption that black men were violent, sexually aggressive, and in pursuit of white womanhood. As a result, accusations of “assault” extended to any action that could be interpreted as a black man seeking contact with a white woman. Almost 25 percent of documented lynchings were sparked by charges of sexual assault, at a time when the mere accusation of sexual impropriety regularly aroused mob violence that ended in the death of the accused.
Following Mr. Finch’s death, the police officers believed to be responsible for his murder alleged that he resisted arrest and attempted to harm them, asserting that they shot Mr. Finch while he attempted to escape from their custody. However, medical reports indicated that Mr. Finch had been shot five times at close range in the chest, neck, and abdomen. Mr. Finch was survived by his wife, parents and at least three siblings. At the time, the Finch family publicly stated they would investigate the circumstances of Mr. Finch’s death, but it is unclear whether they were able to do so. Mr. Finch was laid to rest in Stephens, Georgia on September 20, 1936.
No one was ever prosecuted for the murder of Thomas Finch, one of at least 35 African American victims of racial terror lynchings killed in Fulton County between 1877 and 1950.
“Stories From The Soil” by Cleo Corinne
This original poem was read during the event.
stillness now consumes the space
where struggle and strength once stood.
as the soil sings of how
that begat sorrow
that begat silence…
as the soil screams
for the souls of sisters and sons,
as the stench of social sin
seeps slowly to the sky.
this soil-a stage for the sacrilegious
and the segregation sold to these
superficially united states.
stories from the soil
still striving to be shared.
racial injustice floats
along the the surface of
our nation’s fiber like
an unassuming iceberg-
just a piece, a fraction
of a larger ideological identity.
that iceberg, cold and slow-moving
like the progress of this nation.
592 reported lynchings,
592 lives deemed unworthy of
fairness, of a future…of their own flesh,
60 years of loved ones stolen before sunrise,
1 southern state supporting a
system of savagery and stereotypes.
and this is just the tip
of the iceberg.
Annie Laurie Shepard
William Henry Welch
and Zeb Long.
for the many who are
unnamed but not unknown-
the other side of the iceberg-
the stories from the soil.