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Will Warren (Lynching of)

Will Warren, an African-American man, was murdered in rural Garland County on January 15, 1916, as the result of an apparent quarrel with some young white boys. After murdering Warren, a white mob burned down his house and a local black church.

Warren is described in newspaper reports as being one of the leading figures in a black settlement located between Buckville (Garland County) and Cedar Glades (Garland County). Determining the exact identity of Warren is difficult, as no report on his murder includes his age, occupation, or other identifiers. However, there was a Willie Warren, then nineteen years old, listed on the 1910 census in neighboring Montgomery County working as a farm laborer. Willie Warren lived in Fir Township, which abuts Buckville Township in Garland County, and as he does not appear on the 1920 census, this may well be the same individual.

The reports on the lynching are vague as to the motivation underlying the violence. According to the Hot Springs New Era, Warren “became engaged in a quarrel with some white boys,” and this quarrel was subsequently taken up by the boys’ parents, who pursued Warren and killed him in his own house, where he had taken refuge. The article stated that, after Warren’s murder, “the negro church in that section was burned.” The Arkansas Gazette offered some subtle differences in its report on the violence, stating that Warren “attacked some white boys.” When the white posse sought him at his home, it reported, Warren “undertook, it is said, to defend himself.” The white men of the mob then burned down Warren’s home before also targeting the church for destruction.

A subsequent Gazette article reported on the events with a slightly different tone, dubbing Warren “an inoffensive negro” and speculating that “the perpetrators of the riot had been drinking.” The later report also specified that Warren had slapped the children and that a schoolhouse had been among the buildings torched.

As was typical with most lynchings, the coroner’s jury at Buckville fixed no blame on Warren’s death. Gibson Witt, the local prosecuting attorney, announced that he had been requested to investigate the affair and was intending to travel to Buckville as soon as the roads were passable. However, there is no record as to whether he actually made the journey nor what conclusions he reached if he did.

The lynching was poorly covered at the national level. The South Bend News-Times of Indiana gave the event only one paragraph with minimal detail. The Denver Star, a black-owned newspaper based in Colorado, reported on the event the following month, though it got some of the facts wrong, dating the murder to January 18, 1916. The rest of the article linked law enforcement’s “indifference to the mob” as a main factor in emboldening the Ku Klux Klan and contrasted the scant interest in lynchings with the obsessive reporting of the “barbarity” occurring in Europe, then embroiled in World War I.

For additional information:
“Kill Negro, Burn House and Church.” Arkansas Gazette, January 17, 1916, p. 8.

“One Negro Is Killed.” South Bend News-Times (Indiana), January 18, 1916, p. 1.

“Prosecutor May Go to Buckville.” Hot Springs New Era, January 18, 1916, p. 1.

“Put the Mob Down.” Denver Star, February 12, 1916, p. 1.

“Will Investigate Garland Race Riot.” Arkansas Gazette, January 18, 1916, p. 9.

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 3/2/2018

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