Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

Lynchings Of Emmett Till’s Father and Tuskeegee Airman Would Forever Be Silenced Under Florida Governor

Phil Garber
10 min readAug 24


Florida’s reactionary governor would have a hard time homogenizing the horrific story of Luther and Mary Holbert so that the school children don’t get upset.
And the story about Louis Till
And the story about Walter P. Manning.
And the list of violence toward African Americans goes on and on and on.
Students in Florida may never learn the about the Holberts as long as it remains against the law to teach anything about African American history that might make students uncomfortable or that touches on the nation’s long, enduring, violent history of racism.
The gruesome reality is that the African American couple was arrested in 1904, in Doddsville, Miss., where they were dismembered, lynched and burned by a mob organized by Woods Eastland, the father of longtime, notorious racist, segregationist, U.S. Sen. James Eastland. The couple was horribly murdered before a cheering crowd of more than 1,000 residents, many who clamored to be given some of the severed fingers as mementos.
Luther Holbert was accused of killing Wood Eastland’s brother, James Eastland, a prominent white plantation owner and John Carr, an African American who worked on the Eastland plantation, in Sunflower County, Miss. Historian, Chris Myers Asch, wrote about the incident in his 2008 book, “The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer.”
According to Asch, Luther Holbert worked on the James Eastland plantation in Sunflower County, Miss., and had been living with Mary who was apparently the ex-wife of another worker, Albert Carr. At one point, Holbert and Carr argued over the romance leading Carr and Eastland to get their guns and settle the argument at the Holberts’ cabin. A gunfight followed and Eastland and Carr were killed.
The Holberts knew the penalty for killing a white man was death so they fled for their lives. Eastland’s brother, Woods Eastland, led the chase along with more than 200 white residents who pursued with bloodhounds chasing across four counties to find the accused.
The chase started on Wednesday morning and Holbert and his wife were captured three days later. They had traveled more than 100 miles on foot through thickets of canebrakes and swamps and were captured while sleeping in a heavy belt of timber three miles east of Sheppardstown. There was no indication that Holbert’s wife had any part in the crime but the couple was still taken back to Doddsville and burned at the stake by a large mob in the shadow of a black church.
“When the two Negroes were captured, they were tied to trees and while the funeral pyres were being prepared, they were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs,” said a report in the local newspaper. “The ears of the murderers were cut off. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was fractured and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket.”
“Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their arms, legs and body, then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn,” the paper reported.
The Holberts somehow survived the torture and two African American men were ordered to drag them to the fires. Mary was burned first so Luther could see his wife killed and then they burned him.
Lynchings were not about enforcing the law but were solely about enforcing the southern way. They were designed to instill a sense of fear in African Americans and most lynchings were planned so that the whole community could observe the spectacle.
According to the news story, the lynchings were planned for the Sunday after the capture so that a large crowd could gather, enjoy the day and send a clear and deadly message to all African American residents about the power of white supremacy.
The leader of the mob, Woods Eastland, was charged with murder but an all-white jury found him innocent. After the verdict, Eastland hosted a party on his plantation to celebrate.
The Holberts were two of nearly 4,000 lynchings took place in southern states between 1880–1930.
Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta, where the lynchings were carried out, remains one of the poorest in Mississippi and in the nation. In December 2011, Sunflower County’s unemployment rate was 16.2 percent. The Mississippi statewide rate was 9.9 percent, higher than the U.S. overall unemployment rate of 8.3 percent.
As of the 2020 census, the population of the entire county was just 25,971. The county is home to the Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as the Parchman Farm. The county has had more than its share of notable people, including soul singer Jerry Butler, food editor Craig Claiborne, civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, bluesman B.B.King and many others.
The names of Luther and Mary Holbert have largely been scrubbed clean of Sunflower County.
Sen. James O. Eastland was a senator from 1941 through 1978. The lawmaker who flaunted his hatred of African Americans, eventually rose to the be chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
Eastland was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1927, and quickly rose to prominence as a floor leader. In 1941 he began a U. S. Senate career that would span four decades, as he developed a national reputation as an implacable opponent of racial integration and international Communism, which he linked together, according to a report from the Mississippi Historical Society.
He ran for reelection without opposition in 1948 and in 1953, he was elected chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. His new post gave him the opportunity to persecute suspected domestic subversives, especially those involved in civil rights activities and the labor movement.
One historian wrote that for Eastman, “the fight against Communism was a fight for white supremacy — much of his hatred for Communism grew from his concerns about its potential effect on black Americans.”
Eastland’s great-grandfather, Hiram Eastland, settled in Scott County in the 1830s and later bequeathed his significant estate of more than 2,000 acres of Delta land in Doddsville to his son, Oliver. Oliver’s son, Woods, later used African American labor to clear the land to create a 2,300 acres plantation.
James Eastland was born on Nov. 28, 1904, only months after his father had orchestrated the lynchings of the Holberts.
In 1956, Sen. Eastland, the committed segregationist, became chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, through which passed more than half of all legislation in the Senate, including civil rights bills which were invariably and ruthlessly killed by the senator.
As a member of the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Eastland was a champion for the interests of southern farmers, especially in his native Delta. The farmers collected millions of dollars in annual federal subsidies because of Eastland. He also took very good care of himself as his plantation eventually grew to nearly 6,000 acres, and he consistently received more than $100,000 a year in price supports until Congress capped the payments at $50,000.
During World War II, Eastland said African Americans soldiers should not be fighting in the war. On the floor of the Senate in July 1945, he said the African American soldier was physically, morally, and mentally incapable of serving in combat.
“I have no prejudice in my heart, but the white race is the superior race and the Negro race an inferior race and the races must be kept separate by law,” Eastland said in 1944.
Eastland claimed that the “boys from the South were fighting to maintain white supremacy.”
He defended racial segregation as the “correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period.”
Eastland claimed that “separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination … Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself.”
In the 1960s, Eastland was a member of the Genetics Committee of the Pioneer Fund, which was established in 1937 “to advance the scientific study of heredity and human differences.” The organization has been classified as a hate group and described as racist and white supremacist. One of its the Pioneer Fund’s first projects was to fund the distribution in churches and schools of Erbkrank, a Nazi propaganda film about eugenics which means hereditary disease in English,
In 1964, Eastland tried to convince President Lyndon Johnson that the June 21, 1964 murders in Mississippi of civil rights workers, Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, was a hoax and that there was no Ku Klux Klan in the state.
In 1969, Eastland visited Rhodesia and praised the White minority regime for the “racial harmony.”
In 1972, Eastland’s colleagues chose him as president pro tempore of the Senate, behind only the vice president and the speaker of the house in the line of presidential succession. With House Speaker Carl Albert ill, Eastland nearly was vaunted to vice president when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973 and when Vice President Gerald Ford moved up upon the resignation of President Richard Nixon the following year.
Irony followed his death in 1986 when the board of trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History elected him and murdered civil rights leader Medgar Evers into the Mississippi Hall of Fame on the same day in 1991.
Luther and Mary Holbert were just two of many African Americans who fell to the brutality of southern racism in the U.S. and abroad.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old African American who was abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman. The accused killers, two white men, were found not-guilty by an all white jury on Sept. 23, 1955.
Till’s father, Louis, also died a violent death. Ten years before his son’s murder, Louis Till was a soldier who was court-martialed for rape and murder in Italy and was executed by hanging on July 2, 1945. The circumstances of the murders, the arrest, trial and execution have since been called into question by John Edgar Wideman, a notable African-American novelist and essayist. Wideman examined Till’s death in his 2016 hybrid work of fiction and nonfiction, “Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File.”
Till was serving in the Italian Campaign, when he was arrested by Military Police, who suspected him and soldier Fred A. McMurray of the murder of Anna Zanchi, an Italian woman, and the rape of two others in Civitavecchia. A third soldier, James Thomas, was granted immunity in exchange for testimony against McMurray and Till.
The circumstances of Till’s death were not revealed to his family until after the young Emmett was killed. Mamie Till was told only that her husband’s death was due to “willful misconduct” and the Army blocked her attempts to learn more about the incident.
Louis Till’s execution came at a time when the Army and U.S. laws dished out disproportionate punishment of African-American soldiers and all sexual encounters between African-American men and white women were considered to be rape.
Wideman’s analysis alleged that a witness insisted that the killer was a white person but later recanted the statement. In Till’s rape trial, both victims said that they were assaulted in darkness and could not identify their attackers, declining to label Till or his co-defendant as suspects.
Sen. James Eastland and another rabid segregationist and white supremacist, Sen. John C. Stennis, D-Miss., willingly released details about the soldier’s alleged crimes to news reporters, hoping to influence press coverage. The southern media quickly reported on the murder and execution and several other Southern editorials implied that Emmett Till may have attempted rape like his father, and that it justified Emmett’s killing.
Lynching also claimed the life of Walter P. Manning, a fighter pilot with the historic, African American Tuskegee Airmen. He flew 50 missions, and was awarded the Air Medal for heroism six times. After being shot down in 1945, the 25-year-old airman was captured in Austria and subsequently lynched by a mob, the only known black man to have been lynched in Austria during World War II. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 along with all other Tuskegee Airmen.
In 1942 Manning was rejected for military service because of a hammer toe. He used his savings to pay for surgery to repair his toe so that he could enlist in 1943 with the Army Air Force. In 1944, after graduating from the Tuskegee Institute he was assigned to the 301st Fighter Squadron, 332nd fighter Group with the rank of 2nd lieutenant. He served as a pilot from Ramitelli Air Base, Italy.
Manning was involved in a dogfight with German planes on Easter morning, April 1, 1945, over the Danube River in Austria. There were seven Tuskegee Airmen flying the mission that day who engaged the German planes. The American pilots shot down 12 Nazi planes in the dogfight. Three of the Tuskegee Airmen’s planes were shot down, including Manning’s.

He parachuted to a waiting mob but was pulled away by a police.
Manning was jailed at a Luftwaffe Air Force base and on April 3, 1945, a mob of civilians, agitated by SS troops and helped by Luftwaffe officers, broke into the jailhouse and tied up Manning and dragged him outside as they beat him badly. They hung a wooden tablet around his neck that read “We help ourselves! The Werwolf” and hanged Manning him from a lamppost. The Werwolf was a German guerilla group. Captured white airmen were shot or beaten to death but not hung.
A native of Baltimore, Md., Manning was engaged to Dicey Thomas before leaving for the war.



Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer