This historical study examines a “legal lynching” in 1902 Texas, shedding light on race relations, political culture, and economic conditions of the time.
On October 17, 1902, in Nacogdoches, Texas, a black man named James Buchanan was tried without representation, condemned, and executed for the murder of a white family—all within three hours. Two white men played pivotal roles in these events: the editor of the Nacogdoches Sentinel, Bill Haltom, a prominent Democrat who condemned lynching but defended lynch mobs; and A. J. Spradley, a Populist sheriff who managed to keep the mob from burning Buchanan alive, only to escort him to the gallows. Each man’s story illuminates part of the path toward the terrible parody of justice at the heart of A Hanging in Nacogdoches.
The turn of the twentieth century was a time of dramatic change for the people of East Texas. Frightened by the Populist Party's attempts to unite poor blacks and whites in a struggle for economic justice, white Democrats defended their power base by exploiting racial tensions in a battle that ultimately resulted in complete disenfranchisement for the black population. In telling the story of a single lynching, Gary Borders dramatically illustrates the way politics and race combined to bring horrific violence to small southern towns like Nacogdoches.