By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on September 24, 2022
In the age when MAGA right-wing conservatives constantly try to recast the documented history of racism against African-Americans as “critical race theory,” it is important that we re-establish the undisputed truth about our nation's ugly past.
The documented account of Frank Embree’s flaying and lynching in Fayette, Missouri on July 22, 1899 has been told in modern times by the acclaimed Equal Justice Initiative, Face2Face Africa, and Patreon. I am telling this story again today so we, as a nation, are not lulled into a state of blissful ignorance about our true history.
The Unvarnished Truth About Frank Embree's Lynching
On June 17, 1899, Miss Willie Dougherty, the 14-year-old daughter of Wood Dougherty, was dragged from the horse she was riding to Burton to visit a friend and was assaulted by a black man who, in the various reports of the rape, was originally called “the fiend,” “the black brute,” “the negro ravisher,” etc.
The attacker was riding a horse owned by John Collins and the “brute” was assumed to be Collins’ nephew, Frank Emory, as he was called in the June 22, 1899, Democrat-Leader. The nephew’s real name was “Embree” and he was from Garnett, Kansas.
A huge advertisement offered a $300 reward for “Emory’s” capture -- $150 from Sheriff G.D. Gibson and $150 from Governor Lon Stephens. Miss Dougherty’s dad led the posse to capture Embree, but failed.
Embree made it back to Garnett before being taken by Kansas authorities, who then had an internal struggle over who got the $300 reward, the sheriff or the city marshal.
The July 6, 1899, Democrat-Leader had a lengthy story about the capture and removal of Embree (first to Huntsville, then to Mexico), Embree’s plea of innocence, his statement of why he fled the area, and the route Embree took to Kansas when he realized he was the target of mob action led by Dougherty.
The July 13, 1899, Democrat-Leader used a story from the Mexico Intelligencer regarding the formation of a mob of up to 1,000 that had plans to bypass the law and a trial, causing Embree to request a transfer to Kansas City for his safety.
The Intelligencer called for law and order and closed with the following: “He (Embree) might be the wrong negro and the law should be allowed to take its own course.” Instead, a decision was made to transfer Embree to Howard County on a railroad car to Steinmetz, then by wagon to Fayette, via Burton.
On the morning of July 22, 1899, a white mob abducted Frank Embree from officers transporting him to stand trial and lynched him in front of a crowd of over 1,000 onlookers in Fayette, Missouri. About one month earlier, Frank Embree had been arrested and accused of assaulting a white girl. Though his trial was scheduled for July 22, the town’s residents grew impatient and, rather than allow Mr. Embree to stand trial, took matters into their own hands by lynching Mr. Embree. According to newspaper accounts, the mob attacked officers transporting Mr. Embree, seized him, and loaded him into a wagon, then drove him to the site of the alleged assault. Once there, Mr. Embree’s captors immediately tried to extract a confession by stripping him naked and whipping him in front of the assembled crowd, but he steadfastly maintained his innocence despite this abuse.
After withstanding more than 100 lashes to his body, Mr. Embree began screaming and told the men that he would confess. Rather than plead for his life, Mr. Embree begged his attackers to stop the torture and kill him swiftly.
Covered in blood from the whipping, with no courtroom or legal system in sight, Mr. Embree offered a confession to the waiting lynch mob and was immediately hanged from a tree. Though published photographs of Mr. Embree’s lynching clearly depict the faces of many of his assailants, no one was ever arrested or tried for his death.
The July 27, 1899, Democrat-Leader story ran under a banner headline: “Whipped and Hanged,” which began “Frank Embree, the black fiend who so brutally ravished Miss Willie Dougherty on Saturday, June 17, has paid for his hellish crime."
The story then went into great length to describe how the mob of hundreds of men intercepted the officials and Embree two miles southwest of Steinmetz, hauling Embree to the site of the rape, a mile east of Burton, and demanded a confession. Embree refused to admit guilt and was then stripped naked, while handcuffed, and was lashed 103 times by a bullwhip, tearing the skin and leaving him a bloody, stoic mess.
One report stated that Embree had been castrated, but the Democrat-Leader did not mention it. When Enbree still refused to confess during a break in the whipping, he was again made to stand and the lashing resumed. Almost immediately, Embree cried out to stop and he then confessed to everything, asking that he be shot or hanged and not beaten anymore.
He was allowed to pray and that prayer was recorded, word for word, in the Democrat-Leader. He asked that his parents be told of his death and that his body not be burned. Wood Dougherty assured him that his body would be buried, not burned.
A rope was tightened around Embree’s neck, thrown over a limb and his body jerked into the air. After a few convulsions, he was dead. A coroner’s jury ruled that the deceased came to his death “by parties unknown to cause his death by parties unknown to us.”
Embree’s body was buried in the Nebo Church cemetery.
The Democrat-Leader’s editorial comment: “His fate is a fair warning to all others who would commit such hellish crimes. The citizens of Howard County will not tolerate such. The negro was given no more than he deserved. Let others beware.”
Images of Frank Embree's lynching and hanging were made into postcards for the white community to celebrate his death and his story, which was told over and over again in the white community. The photos of Embree's flayed body and his lynching accompany this article.
After the lynching, the rape of white girls in the local area that were blamed on an unidentified black man continued. This crime pattern tends to prove Frank Embree’s innocence.
Frank Embree's lynching is NOT a "critical race theory." This event actually happened, and it was fully documented in newspapers of the nadir and in commemorative postcards.
There were more than four thousands lynching of blacks in the United States between 1877 and 1950.
Until white America embraces the truth about this nation's long, ugly, and well-documented mistreatment of its African-American citizens, we will never be able to reach our full potential as a nation.
Spinning history for political purposes is NOT truth-telling. Banning critically-acclaimed history books in public schools is NOT truth-telling. Passing so-called "memory laws" that prohibit teachers in public schools from telling Frank Embree's story is NOT truth-telling.
There can be no reconciliation for the wrongs that have been visited upon African-Americans and Native-Americans by today's so-called "white Christian nationalists" until they are ready to accept the unvarnished truth about our nation's historical mistreatment of these ethnic minority groups.
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