Hanging Bridge examines three generations of racial violence and civil rights struggles in a rural Mississippi county. In each era, violence in this seemingly isolated community connected local people to some of the most important activists, public figures, and political movements of the twentieth century. The archival documents, illustrations, and photographs in this section reveal those links and bring that history to life.
Part I – 1918
Five weeks after Armistice Day, which halted the fighting on the Western Front, a mob, hanged four black victims from a river bridge near Shubuta, Mississippi. Local authorities had arrested the victims, two brothers, Major and Andrew Clark, and two sisters, Maggie and Alma Howze, after their white employer turned up dead. While local whites maintained that the lynching victims had plotted a cold-blooded murder, a daring undercover investigation by the NAACP’s Walter White—a light-skinned African American who posed as a white traveling salesman—turned up a much more sordid story. View historical documents and photos.
Part II -1942
Less than a year after Pearl Harbor, whites in Clarke County, Mississippi, lynched again at the bridge in Shubuta. Vigilantes hanged two adolescent boys, Charlie Lang and Ernest Green, nearly a week after local authorities arrested them for attempted rape of a fifteen-year-old white girl. The killings sparked a national outcry, the first federal lynching probe in Mississippi history, and investigations by civil rights sympathizers—a Jewish journalist from New York City, a black reporter from Chicago, and a Mississippi-born white woman working undercover for the NAACP. As the documents suggest, the 1942 Hanging Bridge lynchings also fueled wartime civil rights activism. None of this, however, could bring the boys’ killers to justice. View historical documents and photos.
Part III -1966
As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1950s and 1960s, the Hanging Bridge’s shadow still loomed over Clarke County. While local African Americans still spoke of past atrocities “with a trembling voice,” civil rights organizers and grassroots activists mobilized around several projects—voter registration, desegregation, and antipoverty programs. When local activists, most of them women and youth, organized a boycott of white merchants in Shubuta in August 1966, some whites responded with violence. Yet officials had other tactics at their disposal, and in their attempts to silence the area’s most vocal black activists, they revealed the links between the civil rights struggle, the War on Poverty, and Vietnam. View historical documents and photos.