Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Henry Burney knew the way out of town. Any way would do. The shorter the better. Burney didn't take too long to take his badly beaten bruised body out of Dublin to meet the 48-hour vigilante-imposed deadline and avoid being beaten, stabbed, shot, hung, or a combination of any or all of the above by a violent mob of lynchers.

Henry Burney's nightmare began on the night before Christmas in 1887. Santa Claus had abandoned his sleigh for a boat as cold winter rains transformed the city's sandy sidewalks into a boggy branch.

The Christmas rush was over. It was time for J.M. Reinhart, Jr. to close up the Red Barn and settle down for a cold winter's night. There was no safe in the place. So, the young merchant stuffed $2100.00 in cash in a large wallet and then slid it inside his overcoat. As the clock struck ten, Reinhart turned out the light and set out along a once bustling street toward his home, only some two hundred yards away.

As he approached his house, Reinhart was struck from behind. The heavy blow, softened somewhat by the cushion of his umbrella, was nevertheless, a severe one. He collapsed. In a few moments, Reihart was able to rise from the ground. In the dim light emanating from his front hallway, the victim was able to catch a glimpse of his attacker as he disappeared into the darkness, but not before Reinart managed to fire several pistol rounds in his direction.

Reinhart unequivocally identified his assailant as one Henry Burney, a Negro already suspected of violating the laws of the state. City police officers immediately sought out and quickly apprehended the suspect, whom they promptly threw into a cold damp cell.

While Henry languished in his jail cell on Christmas morning, J.M. Reinhart returned to open his bar. Later in the day, Reinhart felt bad. He went home and straight to bed.

Henry's day in court was delayed long enough for Reinhart to appear as the state's main witness on the following day. David Ware, a Dublin attorney, prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Georgia against the defendant Burney, who was ably represented by attorneys Hightower and Roach. Ware tendered a ten-foot pole the size of a grown man's arm as the weapon used by Burney. The prosecutor maintained publicly that Burney had an accomplice, but never produced evidence to prove his theory.

The defense attorneys pointed out the fact that Reinhart's back and head bore no sign of blunt force trauma which they claimed proved that the purported victim was not struck as alleged. Some doubted that a robbery took place at all. Despite the exculpatory evidence in the day long trial, Justice of the Peace W.H. Walker ruled there was enough evidence to bind Henry Burney over for a trial on the charge of attempted murder and armed robbery, committed him back to jail and set a bond of $1,000. In his main trial, Burney was convicted and sentenced to four years based on the jury's recommendation for mercy.

That's when the most intriguing part of the case began. Burney was worried that he would be lynched. Jailer Arnau assured him that if he would holler when anyone was trying to get to him, he would be protected. Just before midnight on the morning of January 13, 1888, Burney heard voices outside of his cell. He yelled. Some forty-two masked men swarmed into the jail. Burney picked up a board and threatened to take a few of them out if they tried to take him away.

The masked men began to sing in an understandable dialect which appeared to be some sort of Negro spiritual. Henry put his board down and moved toward a corner. Just then, a rope, fit for lynching, was thrown around his neck. As Henry struggled, the avengers threatened to kill him. One tried to do just that by striking Henry with the butt of his gun.

Jailer Arnau, visibly shaken, could not tell the race of the alleged emancipators, first saying that they were all white and later stating that it was a mixed crowd. While Arnau stated that only five masked men entered his jail, other witnesses put the number of liberators anywhere from twenty-five to forty-two.

The mob carried Burney up the Irwinton Road toward Hunger and Hardship Creek and Blackshear's Ferry. There he was hacked and beaten some more. Not a hide nor hare of Burney could be found the next morning, so almost everyone assumed that he had met with Judge Lynch and dumped in the nearby swamp.

Burney escaped to Oconee, Georgia, where he carried a double-barreled shotgun in anticipation of his capture by the law. Capt. G.W. Shackleford, of the Georgia Central Agency, enlisted the aid of J.J. Dunn to receive the $100.00 reward for the fugitive. On the morning of February 2, 1888, the men found Burney peacefully working at the home place of Judge G.J. Elkins. Dunn offered Burney a drink while the Captain drew a bead on Burney's torso and commanded him to raise his arms. Dunn slapped a pair of handcuffs on Burney, who then drank his dram. The officers took Burney to a Macon jail to await his testimony before the next session of the Laurens County Grand Jury.

Burney told his captors that masked marauders had beaten him repeatedly with fence rails and stabbed him numerous times. "They asked me if I knew the way out of town to which I said, 'yes,' " Burney said. He added, "They told me, 'Well then, we'll give you two days to get out of and never come back again.' " Henry showed the officers a piece of rope which was strung around his neck as he was led out of town. He also pointed out a severe gash on his cheek which came at the hands of his so-called liberators.

After being granted a new trial, Burney testified before the jurors that he was innocent and that Reinhart was never robbed. He alleged that the entire matter was a convoluted scheme between Reinhart and his partner, Capt. Louis C. Perry. Arnau and Perry, along with messers Waters, McGowan and Webb, were indicted by Grand Jury for unlawfully releasing Burney from jail.

Don't get me wrong, Henry Burney was a bad man. And, being bad was probably the reason he was convicted. Captain Perry and jailor Arnau were outstanding citizens of the community and no one would believe that they could be involved in such an elaborate scheme. The defendants were never tried, although many others believed Burney was innocent. As for Burney, he seemed to have disappeared from sight, at least from the headlines which told the whole world of his nightmare in winter.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


A Troubled Woman

Izola Ware Curry led a troubled life. Born into a meager existence in Adrian, Georgia in 1916, Izola’s life was a series of troubles. Her marriage was troubled. Her life was troubled. Her mind was troubled. Her mind in turmoil, her reasoning gone, she took a letter opener and plunged it into to the breast of Dr. Martin Luther King. She almost changed the face of America forever.

Izola Ware married James Curry. The couple lived in Savannah until the late thirties when they separated. Izola moved to New York City. She lived on the top floor of a tenement house at 121 W. 122nd Street in Harlem. She worked as a domestic, but in the fall of 1958, she was unemployed.

Izola’s mind, clouded with thoughts of fear, fear of a false enemy, began fail her. For five years, Izola feared the N.A.A.C.P.. She believed that the members of the organization were all Communists. She believed that they were conspiring to keep her from getting and keeping a job. “ They were making scurrilous remarks
about me,” she confessed. She couldn’t point to any specific person, but she was sure that they were after her. Izola moved from place to place to avoid what she saw as persecution. She believe that the N.A.A.C.P. and Dr. King were watching her every move. When the fear became unbearable, she bought a gun.

Izola left her apartment on Friday night to go to the movies. As she approached the intersection of 125th Street and 7th Avenue, Izola noticed a large crowd, which she described as a mob. She walked around them. She heard a band playing music. Someone in the crowd told her it was “this King man.” She didn’t  even know his first name: “Arthur or Lucer or something like that.” Izola continued on to the theater. She saw a Tarzan movie that night. Before returning home, Izola stopped by to see a friend she called “Smittie.” Despite telling police officers that she had known him for twenty years, Izola couldn’t remember his last name or very little about him.

Just before three o’clock on Saturday afternoon, September 20, 1958, Izola left her home. She went out to do some shopping. She wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just window shopping. She went inside Blumstein’s Department Store in Harlem, about four blocks from her home. She looked around for a while. Then she saw a crowd gathered around Dr. King, who was doing a book signing at Blumstein’s. His book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” was his account of the boycott he led of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system. Dr. King had been arrested seventeen days before the book signing for failing to obey a police officer. He was released a day later, when his fine was paid by the police commissioner.

Izola told District Attorney Howard Jones, “ I walked up to him and I said to him, you have been annoying me a long time trying to get this children. I have no objection of you getting them in the schools at all, but why torture me? Why torture me? I’m no help to him by killing me. Don’t mean after all Congress is signing
anything. By torturing me, don’t mean Congress is going to sign. I can still get a blood clot from this aggravation today. After that day, Congress isn’t going to sign anything, and I’m just dead.” Her remarks reveal the irrational thoughts running through her mind. When the D.A. asked Izola what Dr. King’s response was, she responded, “ I was drunk in my head, and I don’t know what he said.”

Dr. King remembered Izola asking “Are you Martin Luther King?” “ I answered yes. I was looking down writing and the next minute I felt something sharp forcefully into my chest,” he recalled. Izola reached in her bag, took out a letter opener, closed her eyes, and plunged the opener into Dr. King’s chest. When  asked why, she told the D.A. “because after all if it wasn’t him, it would have been me. He was going to kill me,” Izola maintained.

Police officers grabbed Izola. Her bag and its contents fell out into the floor. Besides the usual contents of her purse, Izola also had a white bone handle automatic Italian pistol. She bought the gun in Daytona a year before for twenty-six dollars. She bought it, loaded it, and never took the gun out of her home until that
day. When asked why she took it out that day, Izola told the investigators, “I haven’t got a job and what in world I’m going to do for a living, with their pulling me off the job every day and I’m trying to work and they’re trying to force me to make me drop my head to drink either become a prostitute, and I’m not either one. I was going to protect myself if some of these members attack me. Because I know his members
are you know, following him.” She figured there would be trouble that day, that King or his followers would bother her as they had done before. Mrs. Curry told investigators that she had been to the police precinct on six occasions and had reported her concerns to the F.B.I. and President Eisenhower. She sought restraining orders against people whom she thought were out to get her.

Dr. Theodore Weiss and Dr. John H. Cassity, both qualified psychiatrists, examined Izola. They found her to be a paranoid schizophrenic and consequently incapable of understanding the charges pending against her. Most disturbing to the doctors were signs of confusion, giving irrelevant answers to direct questions. The
doctors reported that the patient fluctuated between occasional fairly logical thinking and very confused illogical thinking.

Dr. King was rushed to Harlem Hospital. From his hospital room three days after he was stabbed, Dr. King issued a statement which harbored no ill will against Mrs. Curry. He hoped that she would get help. He thanked government officials, church leaders, and the thousands of people who sent flowers, cards, and letters.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recovering in a hospital after an attack on his life.

King saw the event not as an attack on one man, but as an attack of hatred. Before doctors could remove the letter opener could be removed, surgeons studied their options. The dagger had stopped on the surface of King’s aorta. Doctor’s decided to open King’s chest to remove the weapon. Any sneeze may have caused a cut in the aorta and endangered his life. The operation was successful.

Dr. King recovered and went on the lead the Civil Rights Movement for nearly a decade. Invariably the question arises: “What if?” What if Izola had used her loaded pistol? What if Izola had thrust her dagger a little harder? What if Dr. King had died? There would have no March on Washington, no “I Have a Dream” speech, no Selma to Montgomery march. The speculations can be mind boggling. Even Dr. King reflected back on the events of the day and wondered what might have not happened. Izola Curry was committed to the Mattewaan Hospital for the criminally insane for the rest of her life.

To this day few people, if any, know of the whereabouts of Izola Curry, of even if she is alive.   Surprisingly, the entire event never happened in the eyes of curious journalists who would have ordinarily cover the case in great detail.  Few, if any, photographs of Izola Ware Curry exist.

Photos @ Jet Magazine