Friday, August 12, 2011

Historical: Brucetown Day

Tomorrow the Brucetown neighborhood is having a block party Since I can’t be there in person, I am writing this blog to share a little of the history of Brucetown.

Brucetown was founded in 1865. It was one of several communities that were formed to accommodate the influx of former slaves into Lexington. Let me make it clear that these communities were not generally founded out of the goodness of Lexingtonian’s hearts. Most of these communities were in low lying areas, near railroad tracks, cemeteries, or factories where property was less valuable. Developing African American communities on these properties served the dual purposes of profiting from otherwise useless land and keeping African Americans as hidden from view as they had been in their former slave quarters.

W. W. Bruce was one of the men that took advantage of the opportunity to profit from these new citizens. He decided to subdivide the land next to his hemp factory and built homes for the African Americans he employed as factory workers, allowing them to pay for the houses from their earnings. Homes were available for sale to non employees, but most were sold through interest free loans from the company. The factory owned the mortgage. It took years to pay for a home in Brucetown. If the factory worker left his employment before the house was paid for, his home reverted back to the factory. Becoming disabled in Brucetown could leave your family homeless.

Despite the disadvantages I have pointed out to these loans, getting a job at the hemp factory and buying a home through the company was a better deal than most poor people of any race could get in the nineteenth century. Owning their homes was a source of pride and whole families worked to pay off the mortgage early. The little community might have disappeared into the city like Lees Row (which exists only as Leestown Road) had it not been for the ability of homeowners to sell the small cabins Mr. Bruce built and build larger homes on the outskirts of Brucetown.

Tomorrow’s block party isn’t about the success of Brucetown or its much deserved neighborhood pride. It is dedicated to the memory of three African American men murdered by a white mob in 1878. The murdered men were Tom Turner, who was shot, Edward Claxton, and John Davis, both of whom were lynched. The murdered men were not criminals. They were ordinary working men who were merely suspected of having knowing something about of the murder of a white man killed two weeks prior. A man named Stivers had been hanged for the murder. Killing one man wasn’t enough to satisfy the thirst for blood.

Tom Turner refused to be blindfolded and taken from his home by the five men who broke into his house in the middle of the night. Mustering as much dignity as a man could while facing a mob in his nightshirt, Turner pushed his wife aside and told the invaders that they might as well shoot him where he stood because he wasn’t going with him. Four of the men obliged and fired. Any one of the shots would have been fatal.

The other two victims were Edward Claxton and John Davis: both agreed to be blindfolded and taken away by the mob. The next morning they were found hanged in the woods on the Northeast side of Lexington.

None of the men involved in the murders of Turner, Claxton and Davis were ever identified. Arrests were made, but Mrs. Turner was unable or too frightened to identify any of the suspects as the men who shot her husband. No other witnesses came forward.

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