published on:
December 19, 2023

The Lynching of George Reed: January 3, 1901, Rome, Georgia.

Woken before dawn, Dead before midnight

On the night of Thursday, January 3, 1901, George Reed, a twenty-eight year old, African American man from Rome, GA, was brutally hunted and lynched by a posse of about 150 of his fellow citizens, all white, their identities unknown.

In the hours before he was killed, Reed had been woken from sleep in his own bed, arrested, taken to jail, removed from there by a mob, paraded through the streets in front of a crowd of some 2,000, hauled before his supposed victim, publicly exonerated by her, taken back to jail unharmed, and released again. Despite then hiding for his life, this band of men hunted him and killed him without trial or any known evidence against him.


It began with the arrests of George Reed and another African American man named Joe Wilson for "the attempted assault on Mrs. J.M. Locklear Wednesday evening," January 2nd. Details about Mrs. Locklear’s assault are unclear, with The Rome Tribune stating, "Mrs. Locklear’s condition made it impossible for her to furnish any evidence to go upon, but such facts as could be pieced together were used” to arrest the men.<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

Early on the morning of the 3rd, around 4:00 am, Reed was awoken at his home in North Rome, disoriented from the commotion, and was told about the charges against him. He immediately protested his innocence but was taken into custody, nonetheless. Wilson, likewise, was arrested in East Rome. He, too, was held until late Thursday afternoon, despite having been able "to prove that he was with Marshall Lindsay of East Rome at the time the crime occurred."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

At the jailhouse, around 11:00 am, a reporter from The Rome Tribune interviewed both men. To the reporter's mind, Wilson clearly had "no part in the affair," but Reed is given greater scrutiny. The "nephew of Tol Reed," "who has not lived here long," is described as "a tall, loosely built negro, but has a rather good face." Reed's unequivocal innocence and alibi are then recorded,

“Before God cap’n. I’m innocent of what they accuse me. I worked at Rome Brick Yards all day yesterday and got home at about 5 o’clock. I did not go away from the house at all and went to bed at about 9 o’clock. When they [came] after me, I did not know what it was for until they told me. If they kill me, I’ll swear I’m innocent to the last.” <a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a>

There is no evidence that anyone checked Reed's alibi with his employer, or even had a chance to do so.


News of the arrest quickly spread and with it came rumors of a lynching. Indeed, "cool, determined men were at work who were resolved to see that justice should not miscarry, and that George Reed, the suspect, should have a chance for his life.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a> By 12:45 pm, a "crowd of men" gathered outside the Rome jailhouse, armed with hammers and other tools to force their way in, if met with resistance. When they entered the jailhouse, they were met by only one man, "young Lemasters, the turnkey." Faced with the advancing force and their demand for the keys to the jail, Lemasters’s , “Gentlemen, I see I cannot prevent you from going in, so I can do nothing but give them up.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a> Calling him by name, the men shouted, “Where is George Reed?” and George Reed replied, “Here I am,” from within his second story cell.<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a>

Though clearly committing illegal acts, none of the crowd was masked as they marched down Jail street, fearing no repercussions for their actions. A judge at the time stopped the men as they hauled the unbound Reed away from the jail, saying, “Gentlemen, what does this mean? You must not take this man.” “We’ve got him anyway” was their only reply.<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a> The procession continued with Reed at the center, "his face was grave, but his walk displayed no weakness, and he was silent.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a>

After proceeding down a side, they seized the buggy of Dr. C. Hamilton and, forcing Reed into the cart next to the doctor, turned onto Broad street. Soon, throngs of people began to take notice and follow them down the main thoroughfare of the city, some stopping their work to join, until an estimated 2,000 people were in procession down Second avenue and across the Etowah river to the home of J.M. Locklear (who, according to The Atlanta Constitution, 4 January 1901, p.2, was an "ex-bailiff living in East Rome"). They wanted to see if the victim would identify the suspect so that street justice could immediately be meted out. Many of Rome’s “most prominent and popular citizens were within the group,” as well as some "two hundred negroes were present," looking on and wondering at what was to come.<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a> With Reed captive in the buggy at the front, the mass parade stretched for blocks, all the way back to Broad street, though considerably thinner north of East Fourth.

By the time they reached the Locklears', and especially after seeing the "very haggard and worn" Mr. Locklear under "terrible mental strain," the crowd grew silent. After coming face to face with Reed, Mr. Locklear would not say "whether he was the right man or nor not [sic]" but that "Mrs. Locklear would know." Someone from the crowd announced, "'If she says he is not the right negro we will not hurt him' ... and all around this sentiment was approved." They watched, "the silence [growing] more intense," as Reed was "carried inside" to "the suffering woman in the house."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a>


Inside, law enforcement officers, Deputy Sheriffs Dunehoo and Broach, had been searching for clues about the crime. Before allowing the mob leaders to enter with George Reed, Mr. Dunehoo himself had cleared the idea with Mrs. Locklear and encouraged her to be sure about making any identification. She assured him "she did not want an innocent man killed."

Once Reed was inside, Mrs. Locklear, "conscious and capable of passing upon her assailant," studied him "long and intently" before announcing,

“He is not the man.”

Immediately, George Reed "staggered as if under a blow, then grew hysterical with joy," exclaiming,

“Thank God! Thank God! I told you gentlemen I was innocent, and now it is proved.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a>

With this, "the big crowd dispersed without further demonstration, and Reed was carried back to the jail." With an air of self-congratulation, The Rome Tribune noted, "Cool heads had prevented his lynching without efforts at identification."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a> Late that afternoon, partly from lack of evidence and partly from fear of "trouble ... if they were kept over night in the jail," both Reed and Wilson were released,<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a> by order of Judge Henry.<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

Still, the fervor of the day continued, "a terrible storm was brewing."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a> Members of the agitated public kept arriving at the jail and demanding to see that the accused weren't there. It was 8:00 pm before Deputy Sheriff Dunehoo satisfied the last of them by showing them the empty cells of the jail.<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-2"><sup>2</sup></a>


Around 8:00 pm, after dispersing from the jail, an estimated 150-200 men, unsatisfied with the turn of the day's events, gathered at "the old waterworks" and "marched up the railroad to North Rome" to the home of George Reed. As the mob forced their way into Reed’s house, the women within exclaimed that Reed was not there, and Reed’s wife insisted she did not know where her husband was. However, after "a little force, she was made to tell where he could be found.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

With this information, this group continued to "hunt Reed to his doom." They proceeded to the North Rome home of Lila Glover where Reed had taken refuge. Upon entry, Reed exclaimed,

“Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

Only under this extreme duress is Reed allegedly to have "confessed that he was Mrs. Locklear's assailant," but at the same time, he is also reported to have “contradicted himself many times.”<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

These inconsistencies gave the men no pause. A rope was put around George Reed's "trembling" neck, and he was forcefully led—or, when he refused to walk, was carried—"half a mile from [Lila Glover’s] house," "a mile up the Rome railroad."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a> (Later, the site was described as "200 to 300 yards from the little whitewashed tenement house from which the negro was taken.... a mile beyond the colored public school house.... near a barbed wire fence in a field owned by the Widow Dowdle," The Rome Tribune, 5 January 1901, p. 1.)

When they reached a walnut tree, the rope around Reed’s neck was thrown over one of the branches.

"Without ceremony, ... the half dead devil was soon dangling."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a>

After a moment, gunshots filled the air as George Reed was "literally riddled with bullets."<a style="text-decoration: none;" href="#footnote-1"><sup>1</sup></a> The


The body of George Reed was left in the walnut tree until 10:00 am, Friday, January 5th, when Deputy T.B. Broach cut him down for Coroner Sudduth, who had come in West's ambulance to perform the inquest (The Rome Tribune, 6 January, 1901, p. 1).

Later that afternoon, upon hearing what happened the night before, Mrs. Locklear quickly recanted her statement of Reed’s innocence. When a Rome Tribune reporter asked if the right man was lynched last night, Mrs. Locklear stated,

“There is no doubt about it. I am sure that George Reed was the negro who attacked me.”

She stated that she did not identify him the day before because she was afraid the men might kill Reed in her presence. The Rome Tribune stated that Mrs. Locklear seemed gratified now that Reed had been lynched and even wished to see a photograph of the scene (The Rome Tribune, 5 January, 1901, p. 1).

Photographer C.W. Orr is mentioned in The Rome Tribune as taking "two excellent photographs of the ghastly scene" (The Rome Tribune, 5 January 1901, p.5). According to the paper, C.W. Orr sold hundreds of these photos as “gruesome souvenirs" (The Rome Tribune, 6 January 1901, p. 12).

As the Reed's body was cut down, people crowded around him, asking if they could take pieces of the rope, but he refused their request. The coroner’s inquest ruled that unknown parties caused George Reed’s death by strangulation or gunshot wounds. After the inquest, all could view his body if they wished. At the inquest, Reed’s wife swore on the stand that Reed did not return home until 12:00 the night of Mrs. Locklear’s assault (The Rome Tribune, 5 January 1901, p. 5).

The Hon. Seaborn Wright immediately spoke out against the lynching (The Rome Tribune, 5 January 1901, p.5 and 6 January 1901, p. 5). Wright had been the opponent of Gov. William Y. Atkinson, famous for his anti-lynching position, in the gubernatorial election of 1896. Notably, it was Wright's own great-niece, whose accusations resulted in the lynching of Walter Allen in downtown Rome just 15 months later in April 1902. After that lynching, Wright stayed silent.

The local coroner and undertaker buried George Reed "in the potter’s field" as his relatives refused to handle the body. Despite the fact that Gov. Candler offered "$100 reward or the arrest and conviction of any of the parties engaged in the lynching," Reed's killers were never identified (The Rome Tribune, 6 January 1901, pg. 12).

This record contains graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.
View Image
Related posts
No items found. Check back soon for more.