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Robert Donnelly (Lynching of)

Robert Donnelly, an African-American man, was lynched in Lee County on June 29, 1892, by a mob of more than 200 other African Americans. His alleged crime was the repeated assault of a twelve-year-old black girl. While black-on-black lynchings were rare, historian Karlos Hill asserts that many of those that occurred shared a number of similarities. Most of the victims were young, married males who worked as farm laborers. Many of the victims were also connected with plantation societies, communities where everyone knew each other and which were inclined to punish their own criminals. Many of the thinly populated areas in the Arkansas Delta were similar to frontier areas, where violence was rampant and white officials were unresponsive, especially to crimes within the black community. Of the cases Hill studied, about one third of the crimes were alleged rapes, of which approximately eighty percent of the victims were children.

There is no information available about Robert Donnelly’s background. According to the Arkansas Gazette, on Tuesday morning, June 28, Donnelly went to a home on the Sampson place near Haynes (Lee County), pointed a pistol at the head of a twelve-year-old African-American girl, and forced her to go with him to the nearby woods. He kept her in the woods and raped her repeatedly until 9:00 p.m. that night. He then released her, and she went home and told her parents what had happened. They told the authorities, and city marshal Mart Hill captured Donnelly on the morning of June 29.

Hill took Donnelly to Haynes, where he was found guilty at a preliminary trial. He was put in the city jail pending transfer to nearby Marianna (Lee County). During the afternoon, a crowd of black citizens gathered around the jail, eventually numbering over 200. They were soon threatening to lynch Donnelly. According to the Gazette, “The cowering wretch begged piteously for protection,” but the large crowd overpowered the officers. They took Donnelly and hanged him from a nearby tree, breaking his neck. The paper’s informant declared him the “deadest nigger” in Arkansas. According to the informant, “All people deplore mob law, yet it was conceded by whites and blacks alike that Donnelly deserved the fate which befell him.”

For additional information:
Hill, Karlos. “Resisting Lynching: Black Grassroots Responses to Lynching in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, 1882–1938.” PhD diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.

“His Black Neck Broken by a Mob Composed Entirely of Three Hundred Negroes.” Arkansas Gazette, July 1, 1892, p. 1.

Nancy Snell Griffith
Clinton, South Carolina

Last Updated 12/16/2014

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