Say His Name… By Mae Catherine Godhigh

Travel with me. It was only 86 years ago- a black man was burned at the stake in America. He was the son of a preacher man.

On December 3, 1933, near Kountze, Texas, a 30-year-old white woman was found shot and her body partially burnt. Afterwards, a so-called witness came forth and stated a black man with a shotgun was seen running into the woods.

A few days after the homicide, a “secret witness” identified a young black man as David Gregory. Not only was he a black man but he was a black man with a criminal record. After hearing talk in the community about his impending arrest, David fled to a nearby church.

Approximately five days later, Sheriff Miles D. Jordan and various law enforcement officers arrived at the church. They ordered David to surrender. David was located in the belfry and continued to state his innocence. A shot was fired, and David was seriously wounded. He fell unconscious and was placed in the rear of the Sheriff’s vehicle. It is important to note the police report stated David brandished a pistol (not a shotgun) at the scene of the shooting.

The Sheriff and some of his officers transported David to a Beaumont hospital because a portion of his face and neck was blown away. The hospital personnel expressed their concerns about aiding an accused black murder suspect. They informed the Sheriff that David probably wouldn’t last much longer. He was snuck down a back elevator and placed in a police vehicle. Aware that mobs were being formed back in Orange Country, the sheriff and his officers devised a plan to take separate routes to avoid the mobs. He planned to take David to another hospital in Port Arthur. There he hoped David could be revived so he could obtain his confession, but it was not to be; Sheriff Jordan’s vehicle was intercepted by a mob with approximately 400 people.

The angry mob took David’s corpse from the police vehicle. A 50 car parade formed and tied David’s corpse to the rear of a car and drove him through the black community; while screaming “n*##*r for breakfast!” Meanwhile, white citizens prepared a bonfire. The mob was not satisfied with his death. They continued to mutilate his body; removing his heart and attaching it to a vehicle. Afterwards, they burned his body and drove his smoldering remains to his parents’ house. It was reported David’s mother came outside and saw her son’s remains in the front yard. Her response was “You’ve done it right, white folks” and went back inside. In that moment, she denied the cruel mob their expected hysterical response.

Afterwards, the same dumbfounded crowd collected his remains and took him to a second bonfire. While his remains burned, mob members drank coffee and ate sandwiches. The next day a photograph was printed in the Sweetwater newspaper depicting David’s burning remains.

Several years later a local white man submitted his deathbed confession. He confessed he had murdered Nellie Williams Brockman. Like many of our ancestors who were victims of lynch mobs and white privilege systems, David is known to be the last black man burned at the stake in Texas.

David Gregory, we say your name.