Commemorating Elwood Higginbottom

On October 27, 2018, CRRJ Visiting Scholar Diane Harriford and Kyleen Burke (NUSL ’18) participated in a commemoration honoring Elwood Higginbottom in Oxford, Mississippi. Elwood Higginbottom was the seventh and last known lynching victim in Lafayette County, Mississippi. 

Held at the Second Baptist Church, the audience included the Higginbottom family, Lafayette County public officials and community members, and representatives of CRRJ, Equal Justice Initiative, and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation. In her address, Dr. Harriford highlighted the heroism and character of Elwood Higginbottom. A University of Mississippi Gospel Choir performed and the Higginbottom family sang during the ceremony.

Diane Harriford honors Elwood Higginbottom

When the service concluded, Kyleen Burke, a CRRJ clinic student who uncovered the Higginbottom case in 2016, and Dr. Harriford gathered with the family, including Higginbottom’s 87-year-old son, E.W. Higginbottom, to install a marker.

Diane Harriford, E. W. Higginbottom and Kyleen Burke.
Diane Harriford with E. W. Higginbottom and his grandson.

Elwood Higginbottom was kidnapped from the Lafayette County jail and lynched in Oxford, MS, on September 17, 1935. A tenant farmer and perhaps a union organizer, Higginbottom had become embroiled in a feud with a neighboring white farmer, Glen Roberts because Roberts insisted on driving his cattle across Higginbottom’s land. Local press offer differing accounts of how the feud culminated on May 21. Some claim that Roberts, armed and accompanied by other men, broke into Higginbottom’s house at night while others assert that Roberts approached the Higginbottom residence to “have a talk.”  Higginbottom shot Roberts and fled the county. After a three-day man-hunt Higginbottom was captured. A jury was impaneled to try him but after it deliberated for three hours over its verdict, a mob broke the accused man out of jail and lynched him. Apparently two of the jurors may have been holding out for acquittal. Higginbottom’s attorney argued he acted in self-defense.

The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching , the Commission on Interracial Cooperation and the NAACP protested the lynching and used it to pursue the federal anti-lynching bill.  No one was ever prosecuted for Elwood Higginbotham’s murder. 

Elwood Higginbottom’s story was featured in a New York Times article, A Lynching’s Long Shadow, in April 2018.