The Marshall Project Features CRRJ

Getting Away With Murder

Researching lynching cold cases, law students restore history

The document is more than 85 years old, handwritten and hard to read. Many death certificates from this period are ambiguous or euphemistic: the victim died from a “broken neck.” Not this one. The cause of death, recorded in loopy cursive, is “hanged by mob.”

Robert Appleberry, 22 and known as Hollie, was murdered in 1930 in the tiny Mississippi town of Wahalak, in a time and place where lynchings were so common the county was called “Bloody Kemper.” Appleberry was one of three black men lynched in Kemper County that day. When law student Kellie Ware-Seabron got her hands on his death certificate this fall, it was “equal parts gratifying and horrifying,” she said. She had set out to research the other two victims — dragged from sheriffs’ cars and hung after being accused of robbing a white couple — and inadvertently discovered a third.

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