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Would justice be possible?

31 men arrested and put on trial in Earle’s death

By Dr. Thomas Cloer, Jr.

Special to The Courier

Last week, we began a review of William B. Gravely’s book “They Stole Him Out of Jail: Willie Earle, South Carolina’s Last Lynching Victim.” The just-released book from the South Carolina Press (uscpress.com or axland@sc.edu) is the most thoroughly researched book ever on the 1947 lynching of Willie Earle, a black prisoner taken from the old Pickens jail and brutally killed and left on the side of a road across the Greenville County line outside Easley.

The Brutal Murder of Willie Earle

Greenville taxi drivers Roosevelt Hurd, Marvin “Red” Fleming, Griggs, Woodrow Clardy and Hendrix Rector went to Willie Earle’s cell at the old Pickens jail and grabbed him out. Driver Rector grabbed Earle by the collar. Griggs jerked him down steps, and Earle was shoved violently into different drivers. Drivers Hurd, Clardy and Fleming, with help from another driver, threw the prisoner into the lead taxi cab. Hurd was in the front car holding one of the shotguns. He was still partaking of whiskey and was becoming more inebriated as the long night unfolded.

The official drivers’ statements gave different versions of who questioned Earle about knifing cab driver Thomas Brown. Fourteen of the statements from those arrested said that Earle confessed before dying; other statements contradicted. Of course, a confession under such circumstances means little. After passing into Greenville County, the seven remaining taxis stopped to question Earle further. Hurd pointed the shotgun at Willie Earle’s head and Clardy called out not to kill that “negro” in his cab. “That’s where I make my living,” he said, according to statements. Clardy then led the mob to a more secluded spot near the property of the judge who would later conduct the trial.

Gravely writes in a sobering manner, “Arriving at the spot … the central actors gathered around Earle for the last time.” Driver Red Fleming “tried to talk nice to the n—–,” according to driver Charlie Covington’s statement to law officials. Fleming reminded Earle that he didn’t have long to live and coaxed Earle not to “die with a lie in his heart.” Someone shouted that they should take Earle to the hospital and let Thomas Brown identify him. Remember, driver Thomas Brown died after Willie Earle. At this time, Brown was still alive at St. Francis Hospital. The drivers pushed hard to get Earle to identify the other attacker of Brown. Wanting his breath of life for any extended minutes he might get, Earle begged the men to take him where he could identify a person.

Gravely writes, “Suddenly, the talking ceased.” Driver Griggs hit Earle hard in the face. Driver Rector took the shotgun that Clardy

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