Claude Neal Lynching
On Thursday, October 18, 1934. Lola Cannidy left her home about noon to water the family livestock. The young white woman never returned. Her mutilated body was found the next morning on a wooded hillside near her home.
Two hours later, Claude Neal, a farmhand who lived across the road from the Cannidy home, was arrested and charged with her rape and murder.
After his arrest, Neal was immediately moved to the neighboring town of Chipley. But when an angry crowd began to gather the sheriff to moved Neal to Panama City. Neal was moved several more times before ending up over 200 miles away in Brewton, Alabama. But it wasn’t far enough.
On the morning of October 26, a mob of more than 100 people showed up at the Brewton jail and hauled Neal back to Marianna. They announced their intention to lynch Neal between 8 and 9 p.m. Friday night – an advance notice of 12 hours.
News of the upcoming lynching spread quickly. Newspapers and radio stations not only in Florida, but across the nation, reported that the lynching was going to take place. And despite the flood of telegrams requesting him to step in, Florida governor Dave Sholtz declined to do so, stating that local authorities had the situation under control.
The Lynch Mob
By the time Friday evening came around, a large crowd of several thousand people had gathered outside the Cannidy farm to observe and participate in the lynching. But the size of the mob began to make the men holding Neal nervous. So the “Lynch Committee of Six,” as the group called itself, decided to take him to another location where they would have better control over how the lynching was carried out.
According to eyewitness accounts and newspaper reports, it was a drawn out and torturous process. Soon after arriving at the chosen spot, Neal was castrated. His torso was cut and stabbed with knives and sticks. His fingers and toes were cut off and the remainder of his body burned with hot irons. One newspaper account states there were 18 bullet holes in Neal’s chest, head and abdomen.
Neal’s body was then tied to the rear of an automobile and dragged to the Cannidy farm, where women and children participated in the final acts of mutilation. The body was then hung from an oak tree on the courthouse lawn. Photos were taken and later sold for 50 cents a piece. Neal’s fingers and toes were reportedly exhibited as souvenirs.
The local sheriff cut the body down the following morning. A mob soon formed demanding that it be hung up again. The sheriff refused, the mob descended upon the courthouse. The mob then dispersed into the city streets and began attacking the remaining blacks in town.
Resident Dick Hinson was eight at the time of the lynching. His father ran a livery stable in downtown Marianna. He was one of many of the white employers of blacks who took action to protect them from the mob.
The blacks sought refuge at my father’s place of business, some in various other stores. He hid as many as he could in the hay. When that filled up he told the remainder to come into his office. The leader of the gang said, “we’re coming to get those blacks,” and my father said you’re not going to harm them. I know everyone of them and they’re good people.” And the mob leader said, “stand aside we’re coming through, we’re coming in over you.” My father reached in his belt and produced an ancient .38 caliber pistol that had reposed in a desk drawer gathering dust for 10 years. My father was not a violent man. He leveled that pistol through a screen door at the leader of the mob, and seeing it, the leader said, “you can’t shoot all of us.” He said “you’re right I can only shoot the first man who comes through the door.” That drew a very important line. Not one of the men was willing to come through.
At this point, the National Guard was finally called in. Eventually, peace was restored to Marianna, but the after affects of the Neal lynching would be felt for a long time to come. African-American and lifelong Marianna resident Maggie Atwater was 22 at the time of the lynching.
After the incident happened, a lot of black people who were working for white people became very fearful-fearful of their jobs, fearful of what white people might do. Anything might happen. After a while things died down. I think everybody tried to forget it.
While the Neal lynching may have been the last “spectacle” lynching in the nation, many other lynchings of a less publicized nature would follow. In fact, Marianna would be the site of another lynching less than 10 years later.