Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Foreman witnessed a lynching while attending college in Georgia

Clark Foreman witnessed a lynching while he attended University of Georgia. The event seemed horrific and barbaric to him and to his family members.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clark Foreman, November 16, 1974. Interview B-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CLARK FOREMAN:
Yeah. I graduated when I was 19 in 1921. See, I was born in 1902.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What was your experience at the University of Georgia like?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, I guess it was a pretty ordinary experience at college. I took a regular liberal arts course, so to speak. Latin, Greek and so forth. Very little science. No economics. But the most important thing that happened to me at the University of Georgia was that in my second year there one morning at the Chi Phi chapter house where I was living-Chi Phi fraternity-I came down for breakfast. There was a lot of talk about a rape that occurred outside of the town of Athens. Where they said that some Negro man had raped a pregnant white girl and then killed her. Well, all day long on the campus there was talk about this going on. And that afternoon I went up to the court house, which was supposed to be a mobproof court house. Athens was very proud of having a mob-proof court house. Which in itself is an indication of the spirit of the times. But when I got there a mob was all around the court house and very soon after I got there the cry went up "Well, we've got him, we've got him." Cars started out in kind of a motorcade. I jumped on the running board of one of the cars to see what was going on. They drove out to the country. I suppose it was about five or ten miles outside of Athens. And there all the people lined up single file and went through this country house where inside, in a coffin, was this dead woman. They all passed by this bier and then crossed this road to what was a kind of a natural amphitheater. People were sitting all around on the side of the bank [back?] and below, in the middle, tied to a small pine tree was this Negro man. They built a fire around his feet and slowly burned him to death. Everytime the fire would spring up, catch his clothes on fire, they'd beat them down so he was slowly burned to death. Well, naturally, this had a very traumatic effect on me. My correspondence with my family for the next year or so was filled back and forth about this event. The papers, of course, in Athens were very much against it, of course, and my Greek professor I remember denounced it in class as barbarism. But it had, nevertheless, a very profound effect on me.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of things did you say about it in your letters to your family? How did they respond to your concern?
CLARK FOREMAN:
Well, I just said what a terrible, barbaric thing it was. And they wrote back, very sympathetically. My family was broadminded. Both my mother and my father were very broadminded, liberal minded people. Strictly bourgeois people. But they believed very strongly in free speech and the right of the individual.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How did the Atlanta Constitution treat lynchings?
CLARK FOREMAN:
I don't remember what the Atlanta Constitution did, but I suppose they were pretty good about it. The Athens Banner, which was the local paper in Athens, was very good on the subject and denounced the lynching. I didn't do anything about it then. I went on to Harvard. The next year, after graduating at the University of Georgia I went on to Harvard. I went to Harvard for a year.