Wilder McGowan

Background

On November 21, 1938, Wilder McGowan, 29 years old was lynched by a mob of 200 white men for an alleged sexual assault on a 74 year old white woman in Wiggins, MS. According to news accounts, Mrs. Murray, the mother of a local physician and member of the local socially prominent family reported on Sunday night to Sheriff S.C. Hinton that she had been attacked and robbed by a “light-colored” Negro with slick hair at around 8:00 P.M. A mob comprised of 200 men collected in Wiggins with bloodhounds and targeted McGowan. The mob found McGowan inside his truck as he prepared to leave for Gulfport, where he worked at a fertilizer plant, and to drop his fiancé off at the school where she taught. McGowan was dragged out of his truck and hung from a nearby tree.

Thurgood Marshall wrote to Attorney General Frank Murphy about the McGowan lynching. He reported to Murphy that an NAACP investigator – likely Howard Kester – found there was no merit to the charge against McGowan. The investigator reported that McGowan was not close to the crime scene, and had retired early on the night in question, and was shocked when confronted the next morning by a mob that ordered him from his truck. The investigator reported, “it is generally known that McGowan was completely innocent of the crime for which he was put to death and that the alleged crime was merely used as an excuse to lynch McGowan because he was a Negro who ‘did not know his place.’ McGowan was manly and refused to be intimidated by the ruffianly whites of Wiggins and had on several occasions been engaged in altercations when they sought to abuse and mistreat him. [On one occasion} McGowan was one of several young colored men who repelled an attempt of a group of white men to invade a Negro dance hall ‘looking for some good looking n..r women.’ McGowan was suspected of having cut one of the white men.”

McGowan’s death certificate identified “strangulation” by a “rope party” as the cause of death.

After the hanging of McGowan the black section of town was shut down and at least two residents were severely beaten. Marshall advised the Attorney General that the Association had collected the names of 17 men who “either participated in or were present at the lynching.”

Legal Status

The Department of Justice opened a file in the case but took no prosecutorial action.