Little Rock, AR (1927) – On April 12, 1927, an 11-year-old white girl named Floella McDonald disappeared on her way home from the library. Family, friends, and police search for her for weeks. On April 30, a Black janitor in the First Presbyterian Church found her body in the church’s bell tower. The janitor’s name was Frank Dixon, his 15-year-old son, Lonnie Dixon was accused of the rape and murder of Floella. They both were arrested.
Although Lonnie never wrote or signed a written confession, police claimed he confessed verbally after they questioned the teenager for 24 hours, without food, or sleep. According to police Chief Burl Rotenberry, after confessing Lonnie led him to a garage where he had hidden Floella’s hat and book.
Upon hearing of Lonnie’s arrest and confession, several thousand white people went to the jail and demanded that the police turn Lonnie over to them. Instead, Chief Rotenberry sent Lonnie to an out-of-town jail to keep him safe.
Although mob activity in the city dissipated over the next few days, tensions over the murder of Floella remained high.
That tension would boil over on May 4, when a 38-year-old Black man named John Carter, was accused of assaulting a white woman and her daughter near downtown Little Rock. John was a local man who some said was mentally disabled. That morning Mrs. B.E. Stewart, age 45, and her daughter Glennie, age 17, were driving on a rural road, headed towards Little Rock when they said a Black man approached them. Some accounts said their horses were out of control and John grabbed the reins to help the women. Others said he jumped in the wagon, demanded whiskey, knocked them to the ground, and ran into the woods.
When the women’s family heard that a Black man had jumped on their wagon, Sheriff Mike Haynie organized a posse. Hundreds of people came from Little Rock to help in an all-day search for John.
Later that day, two officers spotted John and the posse grabbed him. Glennie arrived and identified him as the man who had attacked her and her mother.
The mob took John to a telephone pole and beat him with a revolver, demanding that he confess. Peace officers later said they tried to intervene but armed men threatened them. They put a rope around his neck, threw it over the telephone pole and told him to climb on top of a car. Men then pulled John off the car by his neck with the rope, then someone drove the car out from under him, leaving him swinging in the air. A line of fifty men fired guns at John, striking him more than two hundred times.
Even though someone took a picture of John’s hanging body that showed the mob members, none of them admitted they were there. The sheriff brought a coroner to write a report saying John had been killed by “parties unknown in a mob.”
The mob tied John’s body to the bumper of a car and dragged it through Little Rock for an hour. Finally, at around 7pm, the mob stopped at 9th Street and Broadway, the center of the Black business district, and set John’s body on fire. The mob, which had grown to thousands by this time, was shouting, firing guns into the air, cursing, yelling, and dancing.
For the next several hours thousands of white people rioted in the intersection and surrounding Black neighborhood. Three hours after the rioting began, Governor John Martineau deployed the Arkansas National Guard to the scene. Upon arrival, they found a member of the mob directing traffic with a charred arm that had been broken off of John’s body. Soon thereafter, the crowd was dispersed.
No one was ever charged or prosecuted for lynching John Carter. A grand jury was convened to investigate the incident, but it deadlocked and was dismissed without issuing indictments.
A jury deliberated for only twelve minutes before convicting Lonnie Dixon of killing Floella McDonald. He was executed in the electric chair on June 24, 1927, his sixteenth birthday.