(1925) On September 18, 1925, just over the county line in the sleepy Union County community of Rocky Ford, a seventeen year-old timber cutter named L.Q. Ivy was kidnapped by a mob and, two days later, burned alive on the metal stake to which he was bound. Some of the local African American community are old enough to have witnessed the gruesome scene, but it is only spoken about in hushed whispers among the white community. Sadly, the Union County histories published long after the Civil Rights Movement ignore the life and awful death of L.Q. Ivy.
Outlined below is what is known about the lynching, gleaned from a 1990 article published in the New Albany Gazette by Lareeca Rucker. Tellingly, the last line of the article reads: “If you have any information related to this story, please email Lareeca. All correspondence will be kept confidential.”
* Unwed 21-year old mother Bessie Gaines was reportedly raped as she picked peas in the field by her house. She returned home bloodied and bruised, and described her rapist as a black man.
* The sheriff formed a posse, and the posse came along a group of black males, including Ivy, cutting timber. Four men were taken into custody, but for reasons unknown the finger was pointed at Ivy.
* Fearing riots, officials transported Ivy to Aberdeen, several counties away. A mob demanded that he be brought back to Union County for identification by his victim.
* It is reported that four suspects were brought before the rape victim, who identified Ivy as her attacker. At the same time, reports circulated that she was in critical condition and might die. At any rate, she later wavered in her certainty and her father publicly expressed his uncertainty that Ivy was the attacker.
* The sheriff attempted to return Ivy to a safe place, this time Tupelo, but was stopped on the road by the mob, which then kidnapped Ivy.
* The lynching was gruesome, and a lot of what is known of that event comes from an unnamed University of Mississippi graduate student’s 1977 interviews with eyewitnesses. Rucker’s article notes that the student prefers anonymity because he received death threats after publishing his term paper on Ivy’s story.
A Memphis newspaper reporter who happened to be on the scene offered the following account:
“I watched a Negro burned at the stake at Rocky Ford, Miss., Sunday afternoon,” he wrote. “I watched an angry mob chain him to the iron stake. I watched them pile wood around his helpless body. I watched them pour gasoline on this wood. And I watched three men set this wood on fire.”
“I stood in a crowd of 600 people as the flames gradually crept nearer and nearer to the helpless Negro. I watched the blaze climb higher and higher encircling him without mercy. I heard his cry of agony as the flames reached him and set his clothing on fire. ‘Oh God, Oh God,’ He shouted. ‘I didn’t do it. Have mercy.’
“He kicked the chain loose from his ankles,” Roulhac wrote, “but it still held his waist and neck against the iron post that was becoming red with the intense heat. ‘Have mercy, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it,’ he shouted again. ‘You should have thought of that before,’ someone shouted from the crowd. There was an instant of silence. Then several voices rose in agreement.”
“Nowhere was there a sign of mercy among the members of the mob, nor did they seem to regret the horrible thing they had done. The Negro had supposedly sinned against their race, and he died a death of torture.”
Soon Ivy became quiet, Roulhac said, and “there was no doubt that he was dead. The flames jumped and leaped about his head. An odor of burning flesh reached my nostrils. I felt suddenly sickened. Through the blaze, I could see the Negro struggling and supported.”
Lareeca Rucker, The Lynching of L.Q. Ivy, NEW ALBANY GAZETTE, Oct. 18, 2000, at B1, available at http://lareecarucker.tripod.com/pages/lynching.htm (last visited Apr. 7, 2007).
J.L. Roulhac, Sees Negro burned at stake, Rocky Ford mob callous to victim’s suffering, eye witness says, NEWS SCIMITAR, Sept. 25, 1925, at 1.