Claude Banks

Background

On July 21, 1938, 23-year old Claude Banks, the youngest son of an honored and respected citizen of Canton, Mississippi, was murdered by a mob on the hunt for a black man who had supposedly assaulted a white man earlier that evening. It was well-established that young Banks himself had nothing to do with the assault.

On the night of the incident, a crowd had gathered in downtown Canton to search for a black man who had allegedly assaulted O.B. McAdams, a white man visiting Canton, earlier that evening. Law enforcement officers and other local citizens soon gathered and commenced a search for McAdams’ assailant, cordoning off the section of Downtown Canton that surrounded the scene of the crime.

Banks was driving home from a gathering at the home of his girlfriend, Betsy Love. Banks’ friend, Willie Jones, accompanied him. As they approached the crowd, Banks and Jones could hear voices and see some flashlights, but did not think much else of the crowd.

When Banks and Jones approached this “blockade,” they did not recognize it as such, nor were they in any way alerted to the fact that members of the crowd wanted them to stop. Once the car neared, however, Banks and Jones noticed that members of the crowd were carrying pistols and shotguns. As soon as they passed through the cordon, the men in the crowd began to fire at the car. One bullet struck Banks in the head, killing him instantly and causing the car to careen off the road. The car overturned into a ditch and knocked Jones unconscious.

When Jones came to, he was immediately seized by members of the crowd, thrown into an awaiting automobile, and taken directly to the local jail. Jones later reported that he heard one passenger in the car say, “Well, we’ve done killed one, we might as well kill another one.” At the jail, Jones was interrogated for two hours, and warned to keep quiet about the whole affair, or else he would be lynched.

Following the shooting, Banks’ father, Miller Banks, who was the director of a local funeral home, sent his older son, E.W. Banks, who had recently graduated from Morehouse College, to secure Claude’s body.

When news of McAdams’ alleged robbery reached Brandon, where he lived, it was genuinely doubted. “It was believed there and also in Canton that McAdams had lost the money in a gambling house or had been ‘frisked’ out of it at a dive and that he invented the story of the attack upon him by a Negro in order to cover up the loss of the money…McAdams was shortly thereafter discharged by his employer in Brandon.”

Legal Status

No one was ever prosecuted for the murder of Claude Banks, and the City of Canton denied all responsibility for Banks’ death. When Claude Banks’ father approached city officials and other local politicians to see what could be done, they were instructed to forget the matter and move on.