Thomas Finch

History (Click to learn more)

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.

Soil Collection

May 18, 2019

Bryant O’Hara, a relative of Thomas Finch, described the jar of soil as a “time capsule as well as a memorial”.

Listen to Thomas Finch's story on WABE, reported by Stephannie Stokes.

“Stories From The Soil” by Cleo Corinne

This original poem was read during the event.

shhhhhhh

secrets

stories

sorrow

silence…

stillness now consumes the space

where struggle and strength once stood.

shhhhhhh

as the soil sings of how

secrets

begat stories

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.

and so…

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,

60 years,

1 state.

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.

shhhhhhh

secrets

stories

sorrow

silence…

a moment

for

Annie Laurie Shepard

Bud Cotton

Edward Brown

Henry Bingham

John Bigby

Tip Hutson

Clem Rhodes

Floyd Carmichael

Frank Fambro

Frank Smith

George Wilder

James Fletcher

Leola Maddox

Mack Brown

Milton Brown

Sam Magruder-McSaunders

Sam Robinson

Sterling Thompson

Thomas Finch

Warren Powell

Will Marion

Will Moreland

William Henry Welch

and Zeb Long.

a moment,

for the many who are

unnamed but not unknown-


the other side of the iceberg-

the stories from the soil.