‘No Time for Such Frivolities’

Published:May 12, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

This jaw-dropper of a story about a lynching in Houston, Texas, ran in the Los Angeles Times on June 21, 1928, and is notable for its wry and cynical tone. “In ordinary circumstances, it would have been just one of those things,” Harry Carr reported, but the city was hosting the Democratic National Convention at the time. So a little more tact was called for. “This was no time for such frivolities.”

Here’s the portion of the story dealing with the lynching:

An old-fashioned lynching on the outskirts of Houston has put the Democrats in what is technically known as a “hot spot.”

Even the southern colonels from the black belt agree that the boys should have shown more judgment and tact.

On the eve of the Democratic convention and in view of the antilynching plank of the Kansas City platform, it creates political embarrassment.

In ordinary circumstance, it would have been just one of those things. A young negro tough, named Robert Powell, shot a popular Houston policeman and was wounded himself. Last night some armed, but unmasked, men forced a way into a hospital where he lay and left him dangling from the girders of a railroad bridge in the outskirts of Houston.

The Houston press hastened this morning to assure the convention visitors that it was most unusual and “not typical of Houston, or Houston spirit.”

Mob Rebuked

Jesse H. Jones, the oil baron king and real-estate proprietor of Houston, comes forth in an interview in his own newspaper, the Chronicle. He rebukes the mob as being “too self-indulgent.”

The Mayor deplores; the City Council offers a reward and the State troopers come at a handy gallop, but the Sheriff’s guard, the only white eye-witness, remarks with discretion that he doesn’t hardly think he would be able to recognize the lynchers if he saw them again—they being his fellow-townsmen and not wearing masks. The two negro nurses at the hospital also know the better part of valor.

The negro vote of Texas isn’t what’s worrying them. Yesterday the Texas Democrats at the State capital at Austin, with airy disregard of the Constitution of the United States, passed a resolution flatly barring negroes from voting in the July primaries. But there is a large negro vote in the North which may not view these midnight soirees with such complacency.

Many of the ardent Southern Democrats now pouring into Houston deplore the whole affair as lacking in tact. This was no time for such frivolities.

IMAGE: From left to right: Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1928; The Washington Post, June 22, 1928; The Washington Post, June 23, 1928