Averted Lynching of Thomas Mattox

Northern Judge Refuses to Extradite Youth Back to Georgia: Lynching Averted

In extradition cases, courts are allowed a very limited area of inquiry and cannot consider evidence of what might happen to the accused in the demanding state. However, the extreme circumstances of racial violence against the Mattox family in Elbert County, GA in 1942 led to a landmark decision where a Pennsylvania court denied the State of Georgia’s extradition request for Thomas Mattox.

Averted Lynching of Thomas Mattox

Around 7pm on the evening of Saturday, July 11, 1942, 16 year old Thomas Mattox drove with his sisters, 19 year old Emmie and 22 year old Gussie, from their home in Bowman, GA to go to a show in Elberton, about 12 miles away. On the highway, Thomas passed a white motorist, 19 year old Wilbur Cornell, who also lived in Bowman. Enraged that he was passed by a black driver, Cornell overtook the Mattox car, blocked the road and got out of his car yelling. When Gussie stepped out of the car and asked Cornell to let them pass, he retrieved his automobile jack and beat her and Emmie to the ground with it. Thomas tried to stop him, but after Cornell hit him with the jack, Thomas reached into his pocket and cut Cornell with his pocket knife. Cornell fled in his car and later received stitches at the hospital and was immediately released. Fearing mob violence, Thomas fled to Philadelphia. In order to seize the youth, Elbert county law enforcement officers arrested Gussie and Emmie, holding them as hostages in jail for three months. The deputy sheriff and county jailor also arrested Thomas’ brother, John, who was not involved in the altercation, and threatened him with mob violence if he did not reveal where Thomas was. Four white residents brutally beat Thomas’ mother, Sallie, in order to find out where her son fled. With a chain around her neck, she finally told them Thomas went to Philadelphia. No steps were taken to apprehend or punish those responsible for these criminal acts. In a groundbreaking decision on October 14, 1942, Judge Clare G. Fenerty refused the State of Georgia’s request to extradite Thomas back to Georgia to be tried on charges of assault and battery and attempted murder. The Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Judge Fenerty’s decision on April 16, 1943 finding that “he will not receive a fair and impartial trail and is in grave danger of being lynched or abused by mob action.”