Claude Neal

Background

Claude Neal was a 23 year-old farmer who lived in Greenwood, Florida, about 9 miles away from the town of Marianna with his wife, mother, and aunt. In October of 1934, 20 year-old Lola Cannady, a white woman and neighbor of Neal, was raped and murdered with a hammer used to mend nearby fences. Within 2 hours, Neal was pegged as the perpetrator and arrested by the local Sheriff.

For about a week, the Sheriff moved Neal from jail to jail throughout Florida, eventually moving him 150 miles across state lines into Alabama. A particularly focused lynch mob found out his location, broke Neal out of the jail in Brewton, Alabama, and brought him back to Marianna. Once back, a group of six men (called ‘the committee of six’) tortured Neal for several hours and eventually shot him. His body was then further mutilated by various members of a riot mob that had formed to watch the lynching. His corpse was hung on a tree next to the courthouse in Marianna. Several hours after he was lynched, many of the townspeople of Marianna began rioting downtown, allegedly causing substantial property and personal damage to the black residents of town.

Legal Status

Sheriff Chambliss’s deputy arrested Neal about two hours after finding Lola Cannady’s body in a field near her family farm. Neal’s bloody clothes were found at his aunt’s home, and a piece of fabric appearing to match the clothes were found near Cannady’s body. The sheriff would not have time to call for a grand jury, by the next day local newspapers were already printing stories about Neal. Sheriff Chambliss only had two deputies available to assist him, and decided to move Neal through a series of local jails in order to keep the growing mob away from him.

On October 21, Neal was moved across state lines to the Escambia County jail in Brewton, Alabama, under a false name of “John Smith” on a vagrancy charge. On Monday, October 22, a coroner’s jury in Marianna determined that Neal had raped and murdered Lola Cannady, and that his mother and aunt were feloniously present as accessories. This was the last legal process Neal would experience. Neal’s presence in the Brewton jail was secretly leaked to the press. On October 23rd, lynch caravans began moving to Brewton to remove Neal. On Friday morning, October 26th, the mob reached arrived at Brewton ready to break Neal out of the jail and took him back to Greenwood, Florida.

Neal was never formally indicted, nor was he arraigned. After his lynching, Governor Sholtz called for a grand jury investigation to review the crime. The jury met in Marianna for an undetermined amount of time, with Sheriff Chambliss providing testimony and his report of the lynching. Despite several news articles providing possible leads as to the identities of the lynchers, and the report of Howard “Buck” Kester, an investigator sent to Marianna for the NAACP, the Florida grand jury determined that the lynching was perpetrated by “persons unknown.” No further criminal investigations were undertaken in Florida to find the Committee of Six. The governor absolved Sheriff Chambliss of any personal responsibility for the lynching.

The governor of Alabama also called a grand jury investigation to determine how Neal was removed from the Brewton jail and transported across state lines back to Florida. Sheriff Chambliss also testified at this grand jury. No arrests or indictments resulted from the Alabama grand jury.

Neal’s lynching became a major component of the NAACP’s renewed lobbying for a federal anti-lynching bill, as well as a lobbying effort to pressure the Department of Justice to enforce the recently passed Lindbergh Kidnapping law. Neither attempt was ultimately successful.