- Historic Sites
Coatesville, Pennsylvania, dozed fitfully in the oppressive heat of August. Then two shots rang out, and set off an ugly train of racial violence
June 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 4
Someone yelled, “To hell with the keys. Cut his leg off.” Instead, feet smashed against the bedstead. The men picked up Walker, chain, and foot of the bedstead, and carried, pulled, and dragged them pellmell. They brought the Negro out on the porch a bleeding, flailing, shrieking mass of flesh.
At the sight of Walker a tremendous noise went up from the crowd. Now and again a chant broke through the bedlam: “Lynch him! Lynch him! Lynch him!” The sounds rolled down the hospital hill, all through the sultry air of the valley.
Some fifteen to twenty men, as many as could lay hands on Walker, half carried, half dragged him down the hospital lawn and along the cinder path leading to Strode Avenue and to central Coatesville. The mob kept closing in on the Negro, then making way, torn between its zest to get Walker done with and its urge to curse and to jab at him. A female voice screeched above the din: “Niggers, you have been good but you are done for now.” A man broke to the head of the crowd, held a lantern high, led a response: “Right, right, right. Niggers you have been good but you are done for now.”
At the intersection of Strode Avenue, three arc lights overhead cut through the night with a purplish haze. Everything paused. Walker was dumped on the ground, a rope was looped around his feet, and he writhed and begged at the end of the rope while the leaders argued. Some said he ought to be weighted down and thrown in the Brandy wine Creek. Others wanted to take him the few hundred yards to the Ashley-Bailey Silk Mill and hang him from the electric pole there. One man cried out: “Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!”
The cry produced an instant decision. Hands reached forward to get Walker, chain, and foot of the bedstead moving again, the opposite way from Coatesville, up the extension of Strode Avenue known as Ercildoun Road and leading to farms and woods. The decision went out to the crowd in the special, sure language of a mob. Most received it with a roar of approval. Little groups drew back, milling about uncertainly.
One person with no hesitancy at all was a woman who came running down Strode Avenue still adjusting her hood. The wispish, mild-mannered Mrs. Edgar Rice was now a tigress, fighting her way into the crowd. Men grabbed her and pulled her aside, insisting she could not go along.
Her laughter was shrill. Not going? she screamed. I’m going and I’m going to light the fire.
Four men seized her tightly by the arms and pulled her, struggling and weeping, toward her house on West Main Street. “I pleaded, I begged, I implored … [I] begged them on my knees … ,” Anna Rice remembered the next day. “Why would they stop me from avenging Ed? They took me back to the house and thrust me inside and slammed the door. Two of the men stayed there for a few minutes to see that I did not get away. But when I saw the men depart I sort of lost my nerve and fell into a chair. I was all unstrung and could only pray that he died in terrible agony.”
Further up Main Street a messenger from the Stephenson Hotel ran across the street to Chief Umsted and told him that there was an emergency call. Umsted went to the phone and a frantic voice sobbed that Walker was about to be taken out of the hospital. He rejoined Dr. Carmichael and Officer Allison and the three went in the Doctor’s car to the hospital.
When they arrived, the mob taking the Negro up Ercildoun Road could be plainly seen and heard. The chief of police made his decision. He ordered Allison to tell the people still on the hospital grounds that they were trespassing and to go home. He went inside the hospital, elaborately interviewed Stanley Howe and others, painstakingly examined the lock on the hospital door and the room in which Walker had been. Then Chief of Police Umsted emerged from the hospital—and went home.
The mob continued its way along the muddy ruts of Ercildoun Road, shouting, subsiding, shouting still more loudly. A heavy gray fog was moving in from the Brandywine Creek; the hundreds of lanterns came through with a dim, yellowish light. Shifting groups of men, some with masks, carried Walker by his arms and legs, swung between them like a bag of potatoes, the chain and the foot of the bedstead dragging along crazily. The leaders had their own rules of restraint. In the words of a local reporter who was with the crowd, “men in every walk of life, staid citizens and the town loafers, joined in heaping blows and execrations upon [Walker]. … though every precaution was taken by those having him in charge to prevent him from receiving a wound which would make him insensible to the flames. …”
Most of the route was uphill. Often the Negro was dumped in the road and men and boys forced him to crawl by kicks and the jabs of shotguns, pitchforks, and poles. When he collapsed, more kicks and jabs brought him to his hands and knees again. Walker resisted little now. Most of the time he moaned and begged to be shot. Occasionally, when being carried, he lay quietly, his lips moving in what seemed to be a prayer.