The Assaults

In early September 1912, a pair of assaults reported against white women inflamed the white community in Forsyth County. The first allegedly took place against Ellen Grice on September 5; she reported that a Black man appeared in her bed overnight. By Saturday morning, September 7, Sheriff William Reid had arrested a young Black man, Toney Howell, and four “accomplices.”

That afternoon, a lynch mob formed outside of the jail in Cumming, demanding that Reid hand Howell over. Black preacher Grant Smith tried to intervene, but the mob whipped and beat him in the town square. Sheriff Reid and his deputy, Gay Lummus, then dragged Smith into the courthouse vault, saving his life. The mob later besieged the courthouse until the state militia, dispatched by Governor Joseph M. Brown, arrived and escorted Smith and Howell to safety that evening.

Then on September 9, local whites found eighteen-year-old Mae Crow mortally injured from an assault in the woods a few miles east of Cumming. The white community, still enraged by the weekend’s events, immediately concluded Black people were to blame. Reid, the sheriff, rounded up four men and a woman. The accused mastermind, Ernest Knox, was whisked away to Atlanta, but the other four remained in the Cumming jail.