This article contains direct quotes from newspapers in 1895. We have chosen to leave the original language for historical accuracy. Some of it is difficult to read to modern sensibilities, which makes it all the more important to leave as-is. History should never be glossed-over or edited. [–Ed]
“The Drop Fell at 12:50 am”
On the morning of July 16, 1895, the citizens of Winchester were greeted with gruesome news. The bullet-riddled body of 19-year-old African American Bob Haggard hung from the Kentucky Central Railroad Bridge from midnight until 4 a.m. when it was cut down, examined by the coroner, and buried in a nearby field.
Mr. Haggard’s crime was an alleged assault on a young white woman in Ford, Clark County. He had worked for her family, was “a bright mulatto, and up until this time considered to be a good Negro.” On a Saturday night, the woman and her aunt were alone on the property, with Haggard supposedly “as a protection to the two women.” While gathering vegetables in the garden, the aunt “heard screams from the girl in the house,” ran back inside, and “found the burly Negro grappling with” her niece. The story reports Haggard begged them not to tell, offered a horse and part of his crop, and held them hostage during the weekend. Eventually, the aunt escaped and alerted the woman’s father who formed a small posse.
Haggard was initially shot in the arm by the father, then spared from a hanging attempt through the intercession of the Ford Marshall. On Monday morning, Sheriff Hodgkin lodged Haggard in the Winchester jail. Interestingly, at this time, the Leader reported, “While there is much excitement, there is no prospect of a lynching unless the shock to (the young woman) who is very delicate, should prove fatal.”
Lexington Leader, Monday, July 15, 1895, p.1
“The Rope, half inch Sea Weed”
However, as Monday drew to a close, the tide had turned. The Sheriff sought to have his prisoner removed to Paris, but his request was refused.
The County Judge received a telegram from Ford that a mob was en route and the “Winchester division of the Kentucky State Guards prepared for attack.”
Just before midnight “electric lights were turned off and the city was in darkness.” An organized mob of 200 — including prominent citizens — marched into every street leading to the jail “like a squad of trained soldiers.” They listened to the Judge’s speech to stop, then passed him and the Sheriff to take Haggard from the Jailor. Once overpowered, the “Sheriff’s posse, State Guards and hundreds of citizens joined the procession and followed the Negro brute to point of execution, about four hundred yards from the courthouse.” Haggard “never murmured on the march” and denied he had committed the crime.
Lexington Leader, July 16, 1895, p. 8.
“Haggard’s protection, Farce & Disgrace”
Within a week, new information from interviews by a Louisville Commercial correspondent “with reliable people from the neighborhood of the supposed crime warrant(ed) a severe and complete denunciation of the mob’s vengeance.” Apparently, Mr. Haggard did not hold the ladies hostage nor guard the house Saturday evening through Sunday noon as accused.
The article reveals there were visitors to the house on Saturday and Sunday, including relatives, and the women were present at Sunday church. Adopting a strong tone, the article scolds the mob as “rather than being friends of the wronged girl, was largely made up of hot heads from (Winchester) who simply wanted to hang a Negro.” Talk in Winchester called for a Grand Jury investigation, but no documentation found that ever materialized.
Lexington Leader, Thursday, July 25, 1895, p.5
In Lexington, reference to this case appeared in an editorial battle between Howard Gratz of Kentucky Gazette and W.D. Johnson of Lexington Standard. Gratz asserted that white women should be armed for protection against black men whose passions had become out of control since obtaining freedom. Calling Gratz, an “unmitigated liar,” Johnson retorted that “all the papers said that Negro Haggard was wrongly hanged!”
This vigorous debate between white Gratz and African American Johnson was reported by newspapers in Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati, giving voice to the exploited and misrepresented who were vigilante-executed without due process of justice.
Kentucky Gazette, July 27, 1895. Lexington Standard, August 2, 1895.