The Charlotte News

Thursday, July 17, 1941


Site Ed. Note: "Right of Review" misunderstands the operative provisions of the Costigan-Wagner anti-lynching bill. The fine of $10,000 to the county was to be applicable under the bill only if a law enforcement officer in whose charge a prisoner was "fails, neglects, or refuses to make all reasonable efforts to prevent such person from being so put to death" by a mob, or who failed to take all reasonable and diligent steps to apprehend or prosecute participants in a mob seeking such a prisoner. The law enforcement officer would have been guilty of a felony and subject to a fine of up to $5,000 and five years in prison. These provisions were patterned after a bill introduced in 1922 by Representative Dyer of Missouri, passing the House but stalling in filibuster in the Senate. The Costigan-Wagner Bill added that if the law enforcement officer confederated with the mob to injure or put to death a person, then the resulting felony would be punishable by five to twenty-five years in prison. (For a brief history of these anti-lynching bills, see the note accompanying "Compromise", January 27, 1940.)

There was no evidence in the Gaston County incident of law enforcement turning over anyone to the mob or participating in the mob activity. Thus, it would not have subjected the county to a $10,000 fine.

The practices sought to be deterred by the bill, however, were plentiful in the South at the time and contributed greatly to the practice of lynching. (See, e.g., "North Carolina Faces the Facts" by Cash, Baltimore Evening Sun, August 29, 1935) It was this very pattern, for instance, which led to the deaths of the three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi as late as June, 1964. Deputy Cecil Price, in that latter instance, not only tipped the Klansmen involved in the murders of Mr. Goodman, Mr. Chaney, and Mr. Schwerner as to the time of their release from jail, around 10:00 p.m. on a Sunday, but actively participated in the murders, murders which of course were, by any definition, lynchings. Sheriff Lawrence Rainey was never convicted in connection with the slayings, but was widely believed to have been involved in the plan as well. (We cannot help but note also at this juncture a coincidence of names, though by no means do we mention this coincidence except as possible reflection on the further stupidity of Deputy Price and Sheriff Rainey. Such people were fond of their dark little jokes and simple ironies. Homer Price Rainey was the president of the University of Texas who extended the invitation to Cash to deliver the June 2, 1941 commencement address. Dr. Rainey was a progressive voice at the time in Texas, so much so that he ran into trouble with the University Board of Trustees, who fired him in 1944 over his controversial stands. And, as we have noted before, in August, 1966, Charles Whitman fired his deadly rifle rounds from the parapet at the top of the tower of the Main Building overlooking the ground where the students sat listening to Cash's speech delivered from the steps of that same Main Building 25 years earlier. Mere bizarre coincidences? We leave it to the reader to fathom.)

The Gaston County episode, while not involving law enforcement, was certainly a lynching. Efforts at the time, in order to protect the good name of North Carolina, to resist Tuskegee's classification of it as such, missed the point--that the object of such classification, the object of such intended legislation, was to call attention to and stop racially-motivated random murder, as the Gaston County murder was--men out on a joyride shouting taunts at African-Americans, entering the private property of the victim's family, returning after being fired upon without injury with a shotgun fired by the father, returning with guns and firing upon the young son when he exited the house with a gun but without firing. The original motivation for the crime was racial; it was undertaken by mob action involving three or more persons. It was therefore clearly classified properly as a lynching, not just an ordinary murder, insofar as statistical classifications were concerned at Tuskegee. Efforts to the contrary comprised the classic masking rationalization to dodge the reality of the base problem, racism.

Of course, the fact of the controversy itself on the proper classification also called attention to the issue? But in taking the wrong side of the issue, did it not also dilute the deterrence aspect, in the minds of most fair-minded people in the South, garnered from labeling the thing what it was. Would it not have been far better openly to declare it a lynching and talk of what might be done to ameliorate the underlying disease than to attempt by parsing words to color the matter as simple murder, that is a murder unaccompanied by racial motives? Would matters have been served better on both sides by having an additional category, apart from lynching, that is racially motivated murder?

"Exchange Rate" regarding the exchange of three Nazi propagandists, Reith, Zapp and Tonn, for two American journalists, Allen and Hottelet (the latter of whom, under the by-line Richard C. Hottelet, became a network broadcast reporter for CBS radio in 1944, covering the war in Europe, continuing in television broadcast journalsm through 1985), points immediately to the notion that, in order to gain the release of their own spies, the Nazis were not beyond kidnapping journalists on trumped-up charges of spying.

So again we ask whether it wasn't the case that Cash was sought as just such a ransom for the spies arrested in New York, or to enable the spies in Mexico to effect their escape back to Germany with impunity, or by Cash's murder, to punish the U.S. for the arrests in New York--just as with the plan in place from mid-1940 to arrest a Mexican journalist in Berlin should the spy operation in Mexico ever be compromised. Was the death of Cash at the hands of Nazi agents therefore served up as dramatic warning which in fact led to the prisoner exchange effected just a week later on July 8? Would this not have been an additional reason for keeping the matter covered up as a suicide at the time, to avoid the notion of such an implication, thus potentially endangering the lives of others similarly situated?

Installment 40 of Out of the Night now has Jan released from prison after a well-publicized false escape, to provide a cover story to allay suspicion among the Communists that he had turned. After initial transfer to a small jail, he is allowed a short time with Firelie, their first meeting in 40 months. He cannot yet tell her that he is now working for the Gestapo, as the microphone nearby intrudes. His tasks, he learns from Inspector Kraus, would be to organize Nazi propaganda among the longshoremen, as he had done with the Communists, recommending Gestapo agents to political schools in Russia, putting Nazi agents in the International Brigade in Spain to infiltrate the Communist movement there, and other such activities. His first assignment would be to infiltrate a Communist passport counterfeiting ring in Copenhagen, enabling enemies of the Reich to enter Germany undetected. For every spy who was captured by his efforts, he would receive a substantial bonus equivalent to a third of his monthly salary. After release from jail, he is constantly monitored by a Gestapo agent. Before going to Copenhagen, he is brought to a small fishing village on the North Sea Coast, Burhave, where again he is allowed to meet with Firelei, as well as with his young son who does not know his father. They are free from the confines of jail, but are anything but free from the watchful eyes of their jailers. The worst is yet to come.

"Ruder sounds shall none be near,
Guards nor warders challenge here,
Here's no war-steed's neigh and champing,
Shouting clans, or squadrons stamping."

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