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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  • by Anonymous on Jun 2, 2012 at 11:47 PM
    Years ago I attended a conference at VSU to educate others about the Mary Turner tragedy. What stood out for me (in addition to the horrific nature of this crime...which I was previously unaware even took place) was a very disrespectful and hateful speech by one of the surviving relatives of Mary Turner. In it he practically attacked the person who arranged and lead the conference for no other reason than that she was white. Afterwards my friends and I (and that group included black, Asian, and white members) were all taken aback by his hatred and obvious racism. It's sad that this was Mary Turner's legacy for her own family.
  • by Mary Location: Georgia on May 23, 2012 at 07:20 PM
    It amazes me how quick a white person can tell a black person to "get over it". Whites have not history of major struggle. From what it history has shown me blacks put a lot of blood into building this country and really saw nothing in return. Hey, don't be so offended white folks. History speaks the truth, so why are you so defensive? lol
    • reply
      by AD on May 23, 2012 at 11:55 PM in reply to Mary
      Because black people now get more opportunities than anyone else but it's never good enough! Nobody is "holding anyone down". You know the old saying - you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink! And the blood being shed now is on their hands - Black people are still a minority, yet they are responsible for the majority of violent crime in this country. Is that something they should be proud of Mary? Sounds more like tearing the country down to me. And remember not to be defensive - history AND statistics speak the truth. lol
    • reply
      by Ann on Jun 2, 2012 at 11:43 PM in reply to Mary
      Mary, I'm a bit surprised at your comment. I don't see whites saying "get over it" so much as "it wasn't me." No one is saying to forget the past, but why is there such a clamor among the black community to have whites pay for it? Every race has been subjugated at some time or another. Jews, Asians, Hispanics, even other whites. Yet the black community seems to have moved away from its desire for equality and seems intent on currying favoritism instead. It's as if they won't be satisfied until they recompensed to whatever they seem fit or have turned the tables and become the "plantation owners" so-to-speak. That's what causes some of the so-called apathy of which you speak.
  • by Bubba again Location: Tallahassee on May 23, 2012 at 03:55 PM
    Blacks will never get ahead because they are to busy dredging up the past instead of working toward the future. They are more content to sit on the laurels than work to improve their lives and stature in the community. By the way is there any actual and true documentation that this happened because the story seems to be handed down and we all know what happened as a tale is passed along, It gets longer and wilder.
  • by Question on May 23, 2012 at 03:44 PM
    Is the beginning of civilization still defined as the date man had a written language. And anything before that defined as prehistoric?
  • by jj on May 23, 2012 at 02:10 PM
    This story is about Mr. Rose and the controversy that he loves to stir up. I believe he likes and needs media attention and digs out the history book when he gets bored. Mr. Rose likes to focus on negatives. I would bet that Mr. Rose is the biggest racist of all. He must enjoy dividing people with his hidden agenda. Watch out for evil reverends. I believe Mr. Rose was run out of Ohio or other state up north for trying to start race wars and create problems up there. Another troublemaker shaking the bushes. The State has a marker there and thats probably how Mr. Rose learned of this.
  • by anonymous on May 23, 2012 at 11:27 AM
    Floridians and Georgians are some of the most ignorant people on earth. I have never encountered such racism and hatred in any place in this country as I have in these areas. You all desperately need education. Stop hiding behind your hoods and Christianity and deal with truth. This is why you will never reached anywhere. You all are strange by any standard. What's with you people?
    • reply
      by Duhman on May 23, 2012 at 12:11 PM in reply to anonymous
      OH please anonymous (who will not even say what their location is) please tell us the truth we must deal with.
    • reply
      by Thom on May 23, 2012 at 12:12 PM in reply to anonymous
      Obviously, you have never been to Mississippi or Alabama. That does not excuse GA and FL's past (and present) issues, but MS and AL are still way worse. But, with de-funding education and transportation, I am sure we will soon catch-up.
    • reply
      by TWM on May 23, 2012 at 12:55 PM in reply to anonymous
      They don't know this trash can be read all over the world. www
    • reply
      by AD on May 23, 2012 at 01:00 PM in reply to anonymous
      I do hope you mean whites AND blacks. I am white and I certainly know there are plenty of racist white people, but when are black people going to admit that they are just as racist? Make no mistake, it is just as bad in both cases!!
    • reply
      by Dee on May 23, 2012 at 01:26 PM in reply to anonymous
      Whatever happened (or didn't happen) was ONE HUNDRED years ago. This is not news, just someone trying to start trouble.
    • reply
      by LFH on May 23, 2012 at 01:55 PM in reply to anonymous
      Strange is in the eye of the beholder. You have conveniently thrown all Floridians and Georgians into one pile. Are you not somewhat prejudiced yourself? I am not a racist. I don't hate anybody and I have an education that has served me (and any employers I have ever had) well. I don't wear a hood but I am a Christian. And I am certainly not strange but you sound a little strange. My assumption is you are from the North where so many people really believe they are superior to Southerners. I will say this though: I am living just where I want to live. It sounds like you, on the other hand, are an extremely unhappy 'Northern racist' and would be much happier moving back up there. I would be happy to help you.
    • reply
      by J in Tally on May 23, 2012 at 04:21 PM in reply to anonymous
      "This is why you will never reached anywhere."? Where the hell did you learn your English skills? Just go back home Yankee trash.
    • reply
      by The Truth on May 23, 2012 at 11:56 PM in reply to anonymous
      Hate to burst your bubble but the most racist and segregated places I've lived in during my lifetime were Long Island, NY and Boston Mass.
  • by Lisa Location: South GA on May 23, 2012 at 08:56 AM
    Just the Reverend Rose, stirring another pot.
  • by Bubba on May 23, 2012 at 06:59 AM
    We reap what we sow, and we wonder why some things never change.
  • by Duhman Location: Tallahassee on May 23, 2012 at 06:37 AM
    WCTV, why must you air stories like this. Yes it is sad and I believe it could be true. Maybe or maybe not exactly the way it has been described. It really has not been documented, just passed down from generation to generation. The way America was back then was cruel and wrong for most colored people(I say colored people because all my black friends say "We are not from Africa so do not call us African Americans" some of my friends are from Trinidad, Haiti, and other areas of the world.) But I must ask why WCTV airs this story, is it to spark more hatred between the races in the wake of the Travon case. Are we trying to mend the fence or tear it open even more? WCTV, please think about what you are doing. I am very saddened for the history of my country when it comes to some of the things we as a nation have done. However, I know I am raising my children to try and be better people and to do things that are right and fair. So far my sons have hearts of gold and do not understand why people would want to hurt others. I hope to keep them thinking that way. Sparking more hatred will not help the cause!!!! GOOD JOB WCTV!!!
    • reply
      by Sherry on May 23, 2012 at 09:39 AM in reply to Duhman
      I AGREE!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 23, 2012 at 06:45 PM in reply to Duhman
      I completely agree!
  • by minority Location: earth on May 23, 2012 at 06:30 AM
    You don't have to make a stand people but you do have to stand up. Do the research yourself. Look through the past week of arrest reports and see the numbers of black/white and then look at the violent crime percent’s. That old saying “The meek shall inherit the earth" is a lie. The Strong will survive.
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