New York Herald
One chilly April night time in 1919, at round 2 a.m., a mob of 60 rowdy white college students on the College of Maine surrounded the dorm room of Samuel and Roger Courtney in Hannibal Hamlin Corridor. The mob deliberate to assault the 2 Black brothers from Boston in retaliation for what a newspaper article described on the time as their “domineering method and ailing mood.” The brothers have been simply two amongst what yearbooks present couldn’t have been greater than a dozen Black College of Maine college students on the time.
Whereas no first-person accounts or college data of the incident are identified to stay, newspaper clippings and pictures from a former scholar’s scrapbook assist fill within the particulars.
Though outnumbered, the Courtney brothers escaped. They knocked three freshmen attackers out chilly within the course of. Quickly a mob of tons of of scholars and neighborhood members fashioned to complete what the freshmen had began. The mob captured the brothers and led them about 4 miles again to campus with horse halters round their necks.
Earlier than a rising crowd on the livestock-viewing pavilion, members of the mob held down Samuel and Roger as their heads have been shaved and their our bodies stripped bare within the near-freezing climate. They have been compelled to slop one another with sizzling molasses. The mob then coated them with feathers from their dorm room pillows. The victims and bystanders cried out for the mob to cease however to no avail. Native police, alerted hours earlier, arrived solely after the incident ended. No arrests have been made.
Incidents of tarring and feathering as a type of public torture may be discovered all through American historical past, from colonial occasions onward. In close by Ellsworth, Maine, a Know Nothing mob, seen by some as a forerunner to the KKK, tarred and feathered Jesuit priest Father John Bapst in 1851. Particularly main into World Battle I, this methodology of vigilantism continued for use by the KKK and different teams towards Black Individuals, immigrants and labor organizers, particularly within the South and West. As with the Courtney brothers incident, substitutions like molasses or milkweed have been made based mostly on what was available. Though not often deadly, victims of tarring and feathering assaults weren’t solely humiliated by being held down, shaved, stripped bare and coated in a boiled sticky substance and feathers, however their pores and skin usually turned burned and blistered or peeled off when solvents have been used to take away the remnants.
Discovering the assault
After I first found the Courtney brothers incident in the summertime of 2020 – as Black Lives Matter protests passed off worldwide following the Could loss of life of George Floyd – it felt monumental to me. Not solely am I a historian on the college the place this shameful occasion occurred, however I’ve additionally devoted the previous 5 years to monitoring down details about the Pink Summer season of 1919, the title given to the nationwide wave of violence towards Black Individuals that 12 months.
College alumni data and yearbooks point out the Courtney brothers by no means completed their research. One article mentions doable authorized motion towards the college, though I couldn’t discover proof of it.
Seth Pinkham papers, Fogler Library, College of Maine
Native media like The Bangor Every day Information and the campus newspaper reported nothing on the occasion. A search of databases populated with tens of millions of pages of historic newspapers yielded simply six information accounts of the Courtney brothers incident. Most have been revealed within the larger Boston space the place the household was outstanding, or within the Black press. Whereas most of white America was unaware of the assault, many Black Individuals probably examine it in The Chicago Defender, probably the most outstanding and extensively distributed Black paper within the nation on the time.
Anybody with firsthand reminiscence of the incident is lengthy gone. Samuel handed away in 1929 with no descendants. Roger, who labored in actual property funding, died a 12 months later, leaving a pregnant spouse and toddler behind. Obituaries for each males are transient and supply no particulars about their deaths. My efforts to talk with Courtney relations are ongoing.
Yale Beinecke Library
The tarring and feathering can also be lacking from official College of Maine histories. A quick assertion from the college’s then-president, Robert J. Aley, claimed the occasion was nothing greater than infantile hazing that was “prone to occur any time, at any school, the gravity relying a lot upon the susceptibilities of the sufferer and the notoriety given it.” Slightly than condemn the mob’s violence, his assertion highlighted the truth that one of many brothers had beforehand violated unspecified campus guidelines, as if that justified the remedy the boys acquired.
A cross-country search
After I started my analysis on the Pink Summer season in 2015, virtually no paperwork in regards to the occasions have been digitized, and sources have been unfold out throughout the nation at dozens of various establishments.
I spent a lot of 2015 on a 7,500-mile cross-country journey, scouring materials at over 20 archives, libraries and historic societies nationwide. On that journey, I collected digital copies of over 700 paperwork about this harrowing spike in anti-Black violence, together with images of our bodies on hearth, studies of Black church buildings burned, courtroom paperwork and coroners’ studies, telegrams documenting native authorities reactions and incendiary editorials that fueled the fireplace.
I constructed a database of riot dates and places, variety of individuals killed, sizes of mobs, variety of arrests, supposed instigating components and associated archival materials to piece collectively how these occasions have been all related. This knowledge allowed me to create maps, timelines and different strategies of inspecting that second in historical past. Whereas every occasion was completely different, many traits emerged, such because the position of labor and housing stress spurred by the primary wave of the Nice Migration or the prevalence of assaults towards Black troopers that 12 months.
The tip consequence, Visualizing the Pink Summer season, is now utilized in school rooms across the nation. It has been featured or cited by Educating Human Rights, the Nationwide Archives, Historical past.com and the American Historic Affiliation, amongst others.
But most Individuals have nonetheless by no means heard in regards to the Black sharecroppers killed within the Elaine Bloodbath in Arkansas that 12 months for organizing their labor or the deadly stoning of Black Chicago teenager Eugene Williams for floating into “white waters” in Lake Michigan. They weren’t taught in regards to the Black World Battle I troopers attacked in Charleston, South Carolina, and Bisbee, Arizona, throughout the Pink Summer season.
There’s nonetheless work to do, however the latest anniversaries of occasions just like the Tulsa Bloodbath or the Pink Summer season, which coincided with modern-day Black Lives Matter protests and the killings of Individuals like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, have sparked a renewed curiosity prior to now.
This new discovery brings my analysis again residence to campus. It has afforded me a possibility to interact college students with the occasions of the Pink Summer season in new methods.
Because the humanities specialist on the McGillicuddy Humanities Heart, I labored with college students in a public historical past class within the fall of 2020 to design a digital exhibit and strolling tour of hidden histories on the College of Maine. This tour contains the assault on the Courtney brothers. Deliberately forgotten tales, or these buried out of disgrace or trauma, exist all over the place. By uncovering these native tales, it’ll develop into extra clear how acts of violence towards individuals of coloration will not be restricted to a specific time or place, however are fairly a part of collective American historical past.
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Karen Sieber doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.