Tennessee in 1924 was Governed by Democrat Austin Peay and, while mob violence had greatly decreased since 1892, racism, notions of racial purity and Jim Crow laws ruled the land. In the period spanning 1913-1938, 84% of executions using the electric chair were of black men, beginning a tradition of state sanctioned violence against communities of color.
On December 5th, 1924, an article published in the Nashville Banner reports on the findings of the Commission on Church and Race at the 5th Quadrennial Meeting of the Federal Council of Churches in Atlanta Georgia. Episcopal Bishop Frederick F. Reese addressed the convention declaring a 50% drop in lynchings over the prior year and the goal of elimination of all lynchings by the year 1926. In his plea to end discriminatory practices, the article quotes Bishop Reese as taking the position “that inter-racial co-operation and harmony between the white and Negro races can be brought about only when the churches realize the sense of Christian brotherhood towards every man. Such realization is a slow process, an iridescent dream, perhaps, but it is the business of the church to preach counsels of perfection, to hold up and work for the realization of what the world regards as an iridescent dream”.
An article published in the Nashville Banner on December 13, 1924 entitled “Negro Accused of Shooting Caught: Ike Eastwood, rural merchant victim, is in critical condition” reported on a series of events that would lead up to they lynching of Samuel Smith. The Banner reports that around 1am that day, 45 year old Ike Eastwood was aroused from bed by sounds outside of his window. Mr. Eastwood reported that he found Eugene Smith raiding spark plugs from Mr. Eastwood’s car, claiming that Mr. Smith’s car had broken down. Mr. Eastwood lived off of Nolensville Pike on Frank Hill Rd., about 12 miles outside of Nashville near the Davidson/Williamson county line.
The paper reports that Mr. Eastwood apprehended Eugene Smith at gunpoint before being accosted and shot in the abdomen by a second intruder. A wounded Mr. Eastwood allegedly shot at the second intruder who managed to run away. Neighbors who had awoken to the noise tended to Mr. Eastwood and handed over Eugene Smith to Sheriff Bob Briley upon his arrival. Mr. Eastwood was taken to St. Thomas hospital in Nashville in critical condition and later survived his wound.
When interrogated about the identity of the second intruder, Eugene Smith implicated a man by the name of Robert Owen. In the an article published in the Nashville Banner on December 16th, 1924, Sheriff Briley was quoted as saying that he “considered that Eastwood’s wound was not serious and that the Negro’s would probably prove fatal” and said that he saw not necessity for further action at that time.
But sometime later, Eugene’s brother Sam, age 15, reportedly arrived at the home of Burt Cochran, a neighbor of Mr. Eastwood, asking if Mr. Cochran would help to get to Nashville. Mr. Cochran called the sheriff who arrested Mr. Smith and took him to the jail holding Eugene. Samuel was charged with assault with a pistol with intent to commit murder and carrying a pistol and Eugene was charged with robbery.
On December 16th, the Banner published another article entitled “Mob Lynches Young Negro: masked men take Sam Smith from Metro General Hospital and hang him, fire shots into body” on the front page of the morning paper. The article reports that Samuel Smith was abducted from Nashville General Hospital by a large mob of masked men just before midnight the night before. Witnesses to the scene included the General Hospital custodian, Larry Hardeman, Nurse Amy Weagle (who lied to the mob to try to prevent the abduction) and Ed Lee Derrick who was a patient in the adjacent bed to young Mr. Smith.
The mob of men reportedly covered Mr. Hardeman with guns, pushed their way into the patient unit past Nurse Weagle and proceeded to cut chains holding Samuel Smith to his hospital bed then forcing Mr. Smith to walk (though he was compromised by injury) to a waiting vehicle in which he was transported back to Frank Hill. There, Mr. Smith was stripped, hung from a tree, and shot at repeatedly. About 30 parked vehicles were reported to be at the site at that time.
After some delay, law enforcement arrived on the scene including Sheriff Bob Briley, Chief Deputy Joe Dixon, Deputy Harrison Pugh, Sergt. J.W. Hurt, Sergt. J.T. Jennett, officers Robert Malone, Charles Beardon and A.A. Foster. The first civilian on the scene was a farmer by the name of W. F. Fly who lived ~12 miles from the lynching site and had been awoken by the commotion.
In an accompanying front page article in that same day’s paper, prominent local citizens published a full throated condemnation of the lynching addressed to then Governor Austin Peay and Sheriff Robert Briley demanding that the perpetrators be identified and punished for their actions. The letter is signed by B. Kirk Rankin, W. R. Cole, Leslie Cheek, Eustice A. Hall, Luke Lea, Paul M. Davis, P.D. Houston, J.H. Ambrose, G.P. Rose, Walther Keith, J.S. McHenry, D.F.C. Reeves, H. L. Williamson among others.
The following day, two more front page articles entitled “State Moves Against Mob: criminal judge charge grand jury to investigate conspiracy, Sheriff makes petition” and “Big Audience Condemns Mob” appear in the Nashville Banner. The first article describes the initiation of Grand Jury and Coroner investigations in pursuit of any charges to be brought upon the lynch mob of December 15th. The second article describes an evening gathering of >7,000 people at the Haymarket Tabernacle in which 3 resolutions condemning the mob action and approving the collection of legal funds by the Chamber of Commerce and reward money for the arrest and conviction of any perpetrators were passed. Dr. H. B. Trimble, pastor of McKendree Methodist Church, and Dr. John L. Hill of the Baptist Sunday School Board presided over the gathering at Haymarket Tabernacle.
On December 18th, 1924, a front page article in the Nashville Banner entitled “Lawyers Employed to Prosecute Mob” reported that the firm of Thomas & Cummings was retained by the Chamber of Commerce to prosecute any findings from the grand jury investigation and noted that $5,000 had been raised to go toward legal expenses and cash rewards to informants.
Not a single conviction was ever obtained in the lynching of Samuel Smith.