Austin Callaway

Local Minister and the NAACP Investigate Lynching, Not Police

Austin Callaway was just sixteen years old when he was shot and killed by a lynch-mob in LaGrange, Georgia in 1940. Though state or local officials never investigated the killing of Callaway, Reverend L.W. Strickland of the Warren Temple Methodist Church in LaGrange refused to let the case be swept under the rug and forgotten. Strickland, a minister and Chair of the Executive Committee of the LaGrange Branch of the NAACP, wrote to the NAACP national office to enlist their help in investigating Callaway’s case. The NAACP was quick to respond, and its investigation of Callaway’s case was part of a national debate on how to end lynching in which the NAACP was deeply involved. Thus, helping to prevent future lynchings would be Callaway’s legacy.

Murder of Austin Callaway

Callaway, a sixteen-year-old African American man living in LaGrange, Georgia, was killed by a band of six masked white men on September 8, 1940.

Just one day prior, Callaway had been accused of attempted assault on a white woman. Callaway was arrested and taken to the local jail, though he would never have the opportunity to stand trial and assert his innocence.

Later that night, six white men wearing masks and armed with at least one gun reportedly forced the jailer, S. J. Willis, to open Callaway’s cell. The six masked men then took Callaway from the jail, forced him into a car, and drove him eight miles from the center of town, where he was shot in the head and arms and left for dead. Hours later, Callaway was found on the side of Liberty Hill Road barely alive and unconscious. Callaway was taken to a nearby hospital and died in the afternoon on September 8, 1940.

The Sheriff, E. V. Hillyer, and the Chief of Police, J. E. Matthews, were in charge of the investigation of Callaway’s death, though no report of any official investigation has ever been made public.

Thanks to Reverend L. W. Strickland and the NAACP, Callaway’s case wasn’t forgotten. While the identities of the perpetrators were never discovered, the NAACP used Callaway’s case to make significant progress in the debate on how to end lynching in the United States.