Monthly Archives: March 2012

Mythology of the Allen Clan

Photo of Claude Allen from the Times-Dispatch Dec. 12, 1912

As the date of execution of Floyd and Claude Allen approached, public support for the doomed men grew. Many people believed Floyd and Claude were no guiltier than the other Allens involved in the courthouse shooting and thought execution an unfair punishment.  It was also brought to light that other people in the courtroom, like Dexter Goad, were probably just as responsible for the five deaths as any of the Allen men. Petitions pleading for executive clemency were submitted to the governor with tens of thousands of signatures. Richard Byrd, Reverend George W. McDaniel and US Senator Claude A. Swanson joined the fight to stop the executions, but Governor Mann, a steadfast supporter of capital punishment, was unsympathetic to the condemned men.

The date of execution was set for March 28, 1913; however on March 27, 1913 a strange turn of events occurred that almost prevented it. While Governor Mann was traveling to New Jersey, the Allen defense team asked Lieutenant Governor J. Ellyson to act as chief executive in Mann’s absence to commute the sentences. Ellyson conferred with Attorney General Samuel Williams and postponed the execution in order to settle the question on the constitutionality of commutation in Mann’s absence. When Mann heard the news of what was going on back in Virginia, he headed back on the first train and ordered the execution be carried out that afternoon. On March 28, 1913 at around 1:30 p.m. Floyd was executed in Virginia’s electric chair. According to the Rice Belt Journal, Floyd Allen “still limping from the wounds he received in the Hillsville court house battle, said the last tearful farewell to his boy and went with the prison guards to the death chamber. A groan escaped him while … read more »

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John Mitchell, Jr. Remembered

The grave markers of John Mitchell, Jr. and his mother, Rebecca

Evergreen Cemetery is located a few miles from downtown Richmond and even farther from Monument Avenue. Much of the cemetery is overgrown by junk trees, ivy, brambles and kudzu. In a small clearing is a tallish grave stone in the form of a cross and this is where Maggie Walker is buried.

And nearby is the newly placed gravestone to John Mitchell, Jr., one of the towering figures in Virginia’s African American history.

Until recently the cemetery had been overrun by creeping nature and the inexorable effects of time and human neglect.

But if you read any one issue of the Richmond Planet, it becomes clear that John Mitchell, Jr. should not be neglected or forgotten. As editor and publisher of the Planet from 1885 to 1925, Mitchell carried out a life story that is the stuff of fiction. As one colleague put it, if you summarized his life in a couple of pages, one would swear it was mostly made up.

And so, on a blustery Saturday, February 25, 2012,  a few family members and interested onlookers attended a simple, yet heartfelt ceremony to commemorate the unveiling of a new grave marker for John Mitchell, Jr., a ceremony that serves in a humble way to give the “fighting editor” his due, 83 years after his death in 1929.

To browse through hundreds of issues of the Richmond Planet and other historical newspapers, visit Chronicling America, a searchable online database with nearly 5 million pages and  more than 725 titles from around the country. And visit the Library of Virginia’s web exhibit about Mitchell, “Born in the Wake of Freedom.“… read more »

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“Hillsville Massacre” in the News

The New York World March 14, 1912

The dramatic courtroom incident, coined variously the “Hillsville Massacre” and the “Courthouse Tragedy,” immediately became a huge news story and newspapers nationwide covered it in colorful, and often inaccurate, detail. For several weeks after the courthouse shooting, front pages in Virginia dailies like the Times Dispatch and the Rockingham Daily Record obsessively covered events surrounding the Allen clan with large photos and in depth articles on their front pages.

Allen Gang photo from the Day Book April 29, 1912

A story like the “Hillsville Massacre” was perfect fodder for contemporary newspapers, as the early twentieth century papers were undergoing a dramatic transformation from their staid precursors. As the nineteenth century came to a close, advanced industrialization and better public education created an exponentially growing audience of newspaper readers. Publishers realized newspapers could be a lucrative medium not only to inform, but also to entertain. At this time two important newspaper men, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, catered to this ever growing audience through new journalistic techniques still used in newspapers today. The fierce competition between Pulitzer’s World and Hearst‘s New York Journal led to innovations to attract readers such as the heavy use of photographs and illustrations, bold headlines and dramatic coverage of often gruesome and spectacular events. In many cases, facts were altered to make stories more sensational.

The Floyd Allen story was perfectly suited for the newspapers of 1912, both for how it read and for its abundant visual offerings so it is no surprise that the court room shoot out was heavily publicized in newspapers across the nation.  The nature of the crime, the story’s setting, its aftermath and the men involved offered a tantalizing ongoing saga to curious newspaper readers.  Undeniably, it was attention-grabbing that such a … read more »

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Jezebel Goad: Heroine of Hillsville

Illustration of Jezebel Goad used in many newspapers after the courtroom shooting

While the events of March 14, 1912 produced many villains, a notable heroine stands out. Jezebel Goad, the daughter of Deputy Dexter Goad, was in her father’s office the day of the Allen hearing. When she heard gunshots, she ran to the courtroom to see what was going on. Without a thought, she fought her way through the gunfire to help her father and aid the wounded.

Goad’s heroics were covered extensively in newspapers. The Lexington Gazette‘s account of August 7, 1912 read:

Photograph of Jezebel Goad from the Washington Times Aug. 9, 1912

“Instead of fainting or leaving the scene when the firing began, Miss Goad sought to enter the courtroom to go to her father. To gain entrance she was obliged to pull from the doorway a man who barred the way. Then she reached her father, and seeing that he was not badly hurt, she helped the wounded and dying.”

According to Jerry Leonard’s Travesty of Justice, the Mount Airy News ran the following account of Jezebel Goad: “Of all the heroes you have read about in story and song none will measure up with Miss Jezebel Goad, the beautiful daughter who stood bravely by her father last Thursday. Talk about your women melting up pewter plates and carrying water from springs, when the men dared not go, all such stories took little by the side of what the Hillsville beauty did last Thursday when she saw her father in danger. She was in the clerk’s office when the fight started and she rushed into the bullet ridden room as if she had not one thought for her own safety. . .of all the heroes who were that day brought to light none … read more »

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100 Years Ago — Law and Disorder

This month marks the 100th anniversary of events surrounding the Allen family and the infamous “Hillsville Massacre.” The sensational coverage and gripping photos of the characters and events surrounding the courtroom shooting captured America’s imagination in 1912 and until the sinking of the Titanic a month later, the “Hillsville Massacre” took up a good deal of front page copy in newspapers across the country.  In the coming days, to mark the anniversary, the Virginia Newspaper Project will feature entries on the events and people involved accompanied by front pages, articles and photos from newspapers in the collection of the Library of Virginia and from the digital newspaper resource, Chronicling America.

To find out more about the “Hillsville Massacre,” please visit Out of the Box, the official blog of the  Archives Division at the Library of Virginia.

The front pages shown below represent only a small sample of the newspapers that covered the story across the nation, many of them reporting on the massacre the same day it happened. These pages can be found at Chronicling America.


Carroll County Virginia

In 1912, Carroll County, Virginia was a sparsely populated Appalachian farming region with few modern conveniences. Located in the southwestern part of the state and bordering North Carolina, it had no paved roads and only a single phone line connecting Hillsville, its county seat, to nearby Galax, Virginia. Its remote location and lack of modern convenience made it a world unto itself.  On March 14, 1912, however, tragedy propelled this small farming community into the national spotlight when Carroll County native Floyd Allen, a prominent businessman and large land owner, became the central character in a controversial courtroom shooting that left five dead and seven wounded.

Events leading up to the courtroom shooting had taken place more … read more »

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