Ernest Green and Charles Lang

Background

On October 6, 1942, fourteen year old African American teenagers Ernest Green and Charles Lang crossed paths with thirteen year old white girl Dorothy Martin on the side of Highway 45, just south of Shubuta, a small town in Clarke County, Mississippi.  A few hours after the encounter Charles Lang and Ernest Green were arrested for the attempted rape of Dorothy Martin.  Less than a week later, Green and Lang were abducted from the Clarke County Jail and brutally lynched.  Their bodies were hung from the notorious “Hanging Bridge” in Shubuta.

Authorities in Quitman and Shubuta alleged that they had arrested the boys after receiving a complaint of attempted rape from Dorothy Martin.  They asserted that Green and Lang had confessed that they had ‘waylaid’ Dorothy Martin and that Martin had escaped and fled to her home.  While most northern newspapers ran stories recounting these allegations, African American newspapers ran stories that expressed doubt about the authenticity and veracity of the charges against the boys. Publications such as The Chicago Defender soon printed follow up articles reporting that Green and Lang had startled or frightened Dorothy Martin, who then fled home to vengeful parents.

A substantially different story was uncovered when, in the weeks and months following the lynching, investigators working for the NAACP and African American newspapers travelled to Clarke County.  On the day in question, Dorothy Martin was walking home from school and came upon Ernest Green and Charles Lang scrounging scrap rubber and scrap metal near a bridge on Highway 45.  She had stopped to talk or perhaps to play with Green and Lang who she knew because they were neighbors.  A passing motorist saw the three young people together and either drove into town and told the sheriff that he saw Green and Lang attempting to rape Dorothy Martin, or told Dorothy’s father that Green and Lang were harassing or chasing his daughter.  A few hours later, either at the behest of Mr. Martin, or acting upon the story of the motorist, Deputy Sheriff Ed McClendon arrested Green and Lang at their homes.

At some point after their arrest, the boys were turned over to County Sheriff Lloyd McNeal.  Either before or after being handed over to McNeal, the boys found themselves before a justice of the peace, W.E. Eddins.  Although Sheriff McNeal would later proclaim to reporter Victor Bernstein that Green and Lang “got a fair-and-square hearing,” the proceeding may have been an informal arraignment held in the judge’s home.  At the hearing, Green and Lang allegedly confessed to the attempted rape of Dorothy Martin.  There is a report that as even as these events transpired, Dorothy Martin was lobbying her father to set the record straight and exonerate the boys. By Saturday October 10, Green and Lang were incarcerated at the Clarke County jail, in the rear of the courthouse in Quitman.

In the early morning hours of Monday, October 12, several men forcibly removed  Green and Lang from their cells.  The jailer that night, Quitman town Marshall G.F. Dabbs, alleged that he was tricked into admitting some men who overwhelmed him and took his keys.  However, there are reports that Dabbs simply tossed the keys to Green and Langs’ cell to their abductors.

Later that day, local authorities found the bodies of Green and Lang hanging from the “Hanging Bridge” in Shubuta.  The Hanging Bridge, still extant, was a railroad bridge in Shubuta where at least four other African Americans – including two women who were reportedly pregnant – had been lynched, two in 1918. The bodies of the boys had been mutilated.  As Madison Jones, Youth Secretary of the NAACP, explained to Walter White in a November 7, 1942 letter: “Their reproductive organs were cut off.  Pieces of flesh had been jerked away from their bodies with pliers and one boy had a screw driver rammed down his throat so that it protruded from his neck.” The bodies were cut down, and eventually brought to the boys’ families.  When the families refused to take their children’s bodies, the boys’ bodies were buried just outside the white cemetery by a County Prison work gang.

Legal Status

Despite the efforts of the NAACP, several reporters, and the FBI no one was ever implicated or prosecuted in the murders of Ernest Lang and Charles Green.  The bodies of Green and Lang remain where they were buried by the prison work gang, just outside the white cemetery and in close proximity to the grave of Sheriff Ed McClendon who, on his deathbed, allegedly confessed remorse for his role in their murders.