Dan Pippen, Jr. and A.T. Harden (and the attempted lynching of Elmore “Honey” Clark

The Lynchings of Dan Pippen, Jr. and A.T. Harden, and the Attempted Lynching of Elmore (Honey) Clark

On Saturday, August 12, 1933 at  approximately 9:30 pm, Dan Pippen, Jr., A.T. Harden, and Elmore (Honey) Clark were taken from the Tuscaloosa county jail by Deputies R. M. Pate, N. W. Holman, and W. I. Huff. The next morning at 10:00 am, the bullet-riddled bodies of Pippen and Harden were found near Woodstock, just over the Bibb County line. At the time, there was no sign of Clark, who was later discovered alive but wounded the day after.

Arrests of Pippen, Harden, and Clark, and the First Mob

The lynchings of Pippen and Harden, and the attempted lynching of Clark was the culmination of weeks of growing unrest and violence in Tuscaloosa, which began with the murder of Vaudine Maddox on June 12, 1933. Vaudine Maddox was a twenty-one year old white woman who lived in the Big Sandy section of Tuscaloosa. Her body was discovered by her younger sisters two days after she had been allegedly raped and killed. The gruesome nature of the crime and the crime scene itself, coupled with the tragic story of Maddox, made the case front-page news in the local newspaper, The Tuscaloosa News, from the start. Within two days, the theory that a friend had murdered Maddox was thrown out and the first of three black men, Dan Pippen, Jr., were arrested.

Pippen was eighteen-years-old, and like Maddox also lived in the Big Sandy section. Pippen was arrested after a white man, who happened to owe Pippen money, said that he saw Pippen crossing a field near the scene of the crime and pick up a rock with a murderous look. Pippen maintained his innocence throughout the investigation, and even established two alibis to corroborate his story. These alibis, his father and his employer, were both arrested and only released after the lynchings, at which point they left town.

Two days after Pippen was arrested, on June 18, the sheriff’s office arrested fifteen-year-old A.T. Harden, also from the Big Sandy section. It is unknown what evidence the sheriff’s office had to arrest Harden. After extensive questioning, Harden told investigators that he saw Pippen rape and murder Maddox but Harden denied that he was involved. This story was retracted the next day, then was reaffirmed the day after, and was the first of multiple confessions attributed to Harden.

One week after Maddox’s body was found, on June 21, officials transferred Pippen and Harden to the Birmingham jail because they had heard rumors of a mob coming to the jail. At approximately midnight, a mob of several hundred people gathered at the Tuscaloosa County jail and demanded to see Pippen and Harden. Judge Henry B. Foster and Sheriff R. L. Shamblin met the mob on the jail steps and informed the mob that Pippen and Harden had been moved. To prove that Pippen and Harden were not in the jail, Sheriff Shamblin allowed two members of the mob, Bernard Marler and George Davis, to search the jail. The mob then went to the city jail, where they were again stopped by the sheriff’s office and Judge Foster. The incident was minimized by the Tuscaloosa officials and the community, however, Marler, Davis and a third man, Walton (Red) Morris were later indicted by a grand jury for conspiracy to commit a felony, and unlawful assembly and rout.

On June 23, the third and final arrest was made in connection with the Maddox murder. Twenty-eight year old Elmore (Honey) Clark, also from the Big Sandy section, was arrested. Clark, like Pippen, had an alibi for the time that Maddox was killed. Pippen, Harden, and Clark were all indicted for first-degree murder and during the grand jury investigation Harden gave yet another version of events, this time including Clark as a perpetrator. A few days later, Pippen, Harden, and Clark were arraigned, and Pippen’s and Clark’s trial date was set for August 1. Pippen, Harden, and Clark all secured lawyers, and Judge Foster also appointed three well-respected Tuscaloosa lawyers to assist in Pippen’s and Clark’s defense. Harden, being only fifteen-years old, was under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction and was not scheduled to be tried.

ILD Comes to Tuscaloosa and the Second Mob

On August 1, Pippen’s case was called and three lawyers from the International Labor Defense claimed that they were employed to represent both Pippen and Clark. Pippen, and both of his parents, got on the stand and denied employing the ILD. Because of the Pippen family’s denial, Judge Foster refused to acknowledge the ILD as Pippen’s defense counsel and indicated that the court would not acknowledge them as Clark’s defense counsel either. Judge Foster then granted a continuance for the trial, because the jury had witnessed the argument between the ILD and Pippen’s attorneys.

The ILD lawyers’ presence in town created hysteria, and there was a second mob of 2,000 people waiting for the lawyers outside of the court. Judge Foster called the National Guard to protect the ILD lawyers, and the guardsmen worked to prevent the mob from gaining momentum while other guardsmen escorted the ILD lawyers out of town. There was significant fear that the ILD would become involved in the case and there would be another Scottsboro situation in Tuscaloosa. Rumors spread that the ILD was encouraging blacks to harm whites and that the ILD would ensure the blacks would get no jail time for it, and therefore every black gathering was seen as dangerous for weeks.

In early August, the defense filed a motion to seek a change of venue. However, the defense team was unable to secure affidavits from people in Tuscaloosa to support their motion and therefore Judge Foster denied the motion. The next day, as some of the ILD inspired panic was winding down, Judge Foster announced that the Maddox murder trials would take place on August 22. When the new trial date was announced, it was reported that the ILD would come back to Tuscaloosa.

Third Mob and the Lynchings

On the day that Pippen, Harden, and Clark were kidnapped from deputies, there had been rumors around town that a mob was going to lynch them. In response to these rumors, Judge Foster, Sheriff Shamblin and various deputies agreed to move them. Judge Foster kept checking in with the sheriff’s office to ensure that Pippen, Harden, and Clark were moved, however it wasn’t until two and a half hours later that they finally were. By then, the mob outside of the jail had grown.

According to the official story, deputies took a circuitous route around town in an attempt to stay off main roads to avoid trouble on their way to the Birmingham jail. A little past the halfway mark on their trip to Birmingham, which took deputies significantly more time than it normally would have, the kidnapping occurred. When the deputies pulled onto the main highway, they were met by a mob of two cars and ten or twelve armed people and demanded Pippen, Harden, and Clark.

The mob put Pippen, Harden, and Clark in their cars, and then drove them a few miles away. At the new location, the mob demanded Pippen, Harden, and Clark get out of the car, and then began shooting them. Pippen, Harden, and Clark had been handcuffed to each other by deputies earlier, so when the men fell, it was on top of each other. Clark fell first and lost consciousness, and Pippen and Harden fell on top of him, which shielded Clark from more bullets and likely saved his life. With the belief that all three were dead, the mob left. Clark regained consciousness later, broke away from the handcuffs, and walked until he found a black family to help him. Clark was taken into custody and kept at a jail in Montgomery for safekeeping.

Grand Jury Investigation and Aftermath

Judge Foster immediately ordered a grand jury investigation, which met for five days. During that time, the deputies that were in the car with Pippen, Harden, and Clark when they were kidnapped were never put on the stand, despite Deputy Pate’s reputation for violence against black men. On October 2, 1933, the grand jury reported a no true bill and stated that they did not have enough evidence to indict anyone.

No one was ever tried for the murder of Vaudine Maddox, the lynchings of Dan Pippen, Jr. and A.T. Harden, and the attempted lynching of Elmore (Honey) Clark. Clark was released from prison, on May 23, 1934 after the Tuscaloosa circuit court dismissed the indictment against Clark, noting that the only direct evidence they had against Clark were Pippen and Harden and they were dead. It was believed that Clark fled the state and there is no known record of him after.