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South Georgia Citizens Fight To Keep Mary Turner's Story Alive

By: Greg Gullberg Email
By: Greg Gullberg Email

- Brooks County, Ga. - May 22, 2012 -

Warning: Some of the following descriptions are graphic.

Many stories are passed from one generation to the next. But over time stories fade.

Now some local citizens are determined to keep one particular story alive. This is the nearly 100 year old tale of Mary Turner.

"The Mary Turner case is one of the darkest in the history of this country," said Reverend Floyd Rose of Serenity Church in Valdosta.

"Some people have forgotten it. Some don't even know about it," said community activist George Boston Rhynes.

"After 90 something years it's about time for something to be said," said Jeremy Henry, a relative of one of the victims.

It was 1918, in Brooks County, Georgia. A white plantation owner beat one of his black workers. The worker killed him. Historians say it set off a week long killing spree of at least 13 African-Americans.

96 years ago this month, Mary Turner was 21-years-old and 8 months pregnant.

Reverend Rose met with Eyewitness News reporter Greg Gullberg and described in graphic detail what happened to Mary Turner.

"They took her and they took her to a tree. They tied her ankles around a limb of that tree. And then they took a knife and cut open her stomach. And when the baby fell to the ground one of the men took the heel of his boot and crushed its head until it was dead," said Reverend Rose.

George Boston Rhynes told Gullberg what happened next.

"They soaked her body in gasoline and motor oil, burned her to a crisp then riddled her body with bullets. And they say the mob members marked her grave with a whiskey bottle," Rhynes said.

A historical marker telling the story is the only public display in Brooks County that memorializes the events of that week. It's called "Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage".

The marker stands at Folsom's Bridge over Little River between Barney and Hahira. Somewhere in the nearby woods is the tree where historians say Mary Turner was lynched.

You won't be able to find this story in any libraries or museums in South Georgia. Generally the story is only known through word of mouth.

"I can't understand that. If it happened it should be read about and it should be known about," James Turner told Gullberg.

James Turner is a relative of Mary. He knows the story from listening to his father who was born the same year she died.

Jeremy Henry is a relative of Will Head who was another man who that was killed in the week-long rampage. He has led his own journey to find out what happened.

"And a lot of them are just now really coming forth with it. But some of those older people that may have heard it hands-on from their parents have kind of died off," Henry told Gullberg.

At least 13 people were killed, including Mary Turner's husband Hayes Turner. Mary protested her husband's death to the Sheriff. But records show he didn't respond.

The newspaper headlines read "Her Talk Enraged Them: Mary Turner Taken To Folsom's Bridge and Hanged".

Sydney Johnson, the man who killed the plantation owner, was later found in Valdosta on South Troup Street where he was shot and killed. It's reported a crowd of 700 watched as a rope was tied around the neck of his dead body. He was then dragged 16 miles from Valdosta to Morven.

Nearly 100 years later these events are long over, but there are some people who are determined never to forget.

"And now they want us to forget that. They never ask the Jews to forget what happened to them. And the Jews won't let those who are responsible forget it," Reverend Rose told Gullberg.

It was reported that more than 500 people fled Brooks and Lowndes Counties shortly after the rampage week.


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