‘At the hand of persons unknown’ — once again

On this day in 1933: Dock Rogers, a black man accused of shooting and wounding two white people, is lynched in Pender County. The incident began when Rogers supposedly insisted on eating breakfast with a white farm family.

A sheriff’s posse surrounded Rogers’ house, shot inside it for several hours, then set it afire. When Rogers came out, he was struck down in a fusillade. Still alive, he was captured and driven toward the jail in Burgaw. The truck stopped en route, however, and Rogers was dragged into the road and shot 150 times. In Burgaw the posse dragged his lifeless body around the courthouse square before delivering it to an undertaker.

A coroner’s jury rules that Rogers died “at the hand of a person or persons unknown,” a common verdict in Southern lynchings. The inquest was conducted by A.C. Blake, justice of the peace, acting coroner and one of the leaders of the posse.


Lynch mob of two dozen goes unidentified, unpunished

On this day in 1935: Just days after Sen. Josiah Bailey of North Carolina helped filibuster to death a federal anti-lynching bill, a black man is lynched in Franklin County.

The lynch mob — unmasked and in full daylight — takes Govan “Sweat” Ward from the custody of Sheriff John Moore and two deputies and hangs him from a scrub oak with a cotton plow line. Ward, 25 years old, was accused of decapitating a white farmer with an axe.

The sheriff will claim later that he recognized none of the two dozen lynchers and failed to note the license number of the car that carried away his prisoner (“I wish we had,” he says).

In spite of Gov. J.C. Ehringhaus’s calls for action, Ward’s murderers will remain anonymous. About 100 lynching deaths occurred in North Carolina after 1882; Ward’s will be the last in which the killers go unpunished.