Note: This story appears in the Friday, Sept. 6 newspaper on Page A1.
An event to commemorate an Athens County man who was lynched in 1881 is being planned for next week at the site of his death.
A number of area historical and social justice groups are organizing the ceremony to remember the death of Christopher Davis.
Davis, 24, was killed by a mob of white men at the South Bridge (it is now known as the Oxbow Bridge on Richland Avenue). Davis, who was biracial, awaited trial on allegations of having assaulted a woman in Albany. A mob broke into the jail and removed Davis, eventually hanging him at the bridge. None of the men involved faced any punishment for the lynching.
The ceremony is planned for Saturday, Sept. 14 at 11 a.m. at the hanging site — the parking lot of Baker Center’s lower level, off of Richland Avenue. Among the organizers are the Southeast Ohio History Center, the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, the Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project, the Multicultural Genealogical Center and the social group Showing Up for Racial Justice SE Ohio.
Several speakers are set to speak at the event, including Tom O’Grady, director of the Southeast Ohio History Center, and Ada Woodson Adams, a noted Athens County resident. An event listing states that soil from the site will be sent to The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The museum is a project of Equal Justice Initiative, which also conducted research about lynchings in the United States.
EJI has tracked one lynching in Athens County between 1877 and 1950 — that of Davis — and 15 in all of Ohio during that time period.
Messenger story offers contemporary reporting
Details of the Davis lynching were reported shortly after in The Athens Messenger on Nov. 24, 1881.
Davis was a farm-hand in the Albany area who had worked for a local widow, Lucinda Luckey. It is alleged that Davis broke into her home late one evening and violently attacked her. The Messenger described Luckey as having been kicked all over her body and having suffered a “deep and horrifying gash” on her head from an axe.
Luckey survived the attack and reached a neighbor’s house about one-half mile away. She was attended to by a local doctor and told those gathered what had happened.
Boot tracks led investigators to Davis’ home and a bloody shirt was allegedly located on his property.
Davis reportedly declared his innocence in Athens court. At one point, he was removed from the local jail and taken to Chillicothe “for safer keeping,” but was later transported back to Athens. The news story reported that public excitement regarding the case had subsided for a few weeks, but by late November developed into a fervor once again.
The Messenger then detailed the efforts taken by an angry mob to reach Davis.
Three men visited the sheriff’s home late at night, with two of them pretending to have apprehended a horse thief. When the sheriff answered the door, all three reportedly threw him to the ground while they searched for keys to the jail.
In the commotion, others from the “raiding party” entered the sheriff’s home and located a key to an outside wooden door leading to the jail.
The mob then used a sledgehammer to remove the iron door’s lock inside the jail.
It was reported that Davis confessed his guilt “under promise of being taken back to jail if he did.” Instead, though, the mob led him down to the bridge and was thrown nine feet to his death. The mob quickly dispersed and went home.
“So quietly had the whole affair been conducted that perhaps not a dozen local residents were made aware of the proceedings until it was all over,” The Messenger reported, “guards having been stationed at various points where an alarm could have been given by the ringing of the church and other bells.”
The county coroner took possession of Davis’ body about an hour later. An Athens doctor conducted an autopsy, and a formal inquest was held at the courthouse.
Davis’ remains were interred at the “old cemetery,” but shortly after were reported to have been exhumed by a Columbus medical college and taken there by a Hocking Valley train.
Elsewhere in the same newspaper edition (Nov. 24, 1881), The Messenger published an editorial condemning the lynching.
“Social order and the common good not only requires but dictates respect for and obedience to law, and that the courts alone, and not individuals, are the avenues through which justice and punishment should be administered,” the newspaper opined.
The Messenger believed the act would “leave a stain” on the city of Athens.
“The hanging of Davis by the friends of his outraged victim is to be deprecated by all good citizens,” the editorial concludes. “It leaves a blot upon the good name of Athens county, and is an assault upon the dignity of the State whose majesty is asserted in the bill of rights, which guarantees to every citizen indicted for an infamous crime a trial by a jury of his peers.”
Other newspapers in Ohio defended the mob’s actions, including The Columbus Dispatch.
The Dispatch wrote that Davis’ guilt was “so apparent that a natural impatience is bred to inflict speedy and well deserved punishment.”
“The average law court is so full of possibilities for a criminal’s escape from justice that the mob is, in a measure, justified in its rejection of law as the established punisher of the guilty,” the paper added.