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Tag Archives: Richmond Planet

- The Legacy of John Henry James


A flag announcing a lynching is flown from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Ave., New York City in 1938. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On 12 July 1898, an Albemarle County grand jury met to hear evidence against an African American man named John Henry James accused of assaulting a young white woman named Julia Hotopp the previous day.  In an all-too-common response, the local white citizenry became enraged, gathering to exact vigilante justice.  The fact that the young woman was the daughter of a prominent county citizen likely fueled their anger further. Hotopp’s father, William Hotopp, was founder and owner of Monticello Wine Company, the largest wine making company in the county.

Fearing a lynching, local authorities placed James on a train for Staunton the night before the convening of the grand jury. When the train reached Wood’s Crossing near Charlottesville, it was met by an angry mob. The size of the mob varied from 20 to 200 people depending on which newspaper account one reads. Armed men stormed James’s car, placed a rope around his neck, and dragged him to a nearby tree. They demanded that James confess to the crime, gave him a few minutes to pray, and hanged him. James’s death did not quench the mob’s thirst for revenge. They fired dozens of bullets into James’s hanging body. As the mob dispersed, people began taking pieces of the tree and James’s clothing as souvenirs. With his bullet-riddled body still hanging from a tree, the grand … read more »

- Chris Baker: “Cheerful Among Corpses”

Chris Baker (left) with anatomy students at MCV circa 1899. Image courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Tompkins-McCaw Library, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Anatomical dissection is a matter of course for today’s medical student. Those who selflessly donate their bodies to science are treated with utmost respect for the critical service that they provide to burgeoning doctors and surgeons. Medical schools in the 19th century had a more difficult time with this aspect of education and often had to turn to “anatomical men” or “resurrectionists” to procure cadavers for study by their students. Virginia schools had no legal means of acquiring bodies until 1884 when legislation established the state anatomical board and made the bodies of prisoners and the indigent available for study. An August article in Style Weekly piqued the interest of some Library of Virginia (LVA) archivists, which turned up some interesting archival records about Richmond’s own “anatomical man,” Chris Baker.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) professor Shawn Utsey has endeavored to uncover the thus-far unknown history of Baker’s work for the Medical College of Virginia (MCV). In that effort, he has combed the archives of MCV and the LVA as well as other sources. So far revealed is that from sometime after the Civil War until just after World War I, Baker worked as a janitor in MCV’s Egyptian Building. However, his duties went far beyond the tidying of the dissection room. With the tacit approval of the college, Baker and his cohorts (often including young medical … read more »