Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 30

The Lynching of John Allison

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 3:50 PM by Iredell County Public Library

Tuskegee University recorded 4,730 lynchings in the United States between 1880 and 1951. In North Carolina between 1865 and 1941 there were 168 people lynched. That is, there were 168 that were documented. Tradition has it that there were a lot more that were never officially reported. The publication of these statistics in newspapers around the world each year by the Department of Records at Tuskegee was an embarrassment for the United States and helped bring about the end of lynching. The compiler of these statistics was Monroe Nathan Work, head of the Department of Records and Research for Tuskegee University for thirty years. Work was born the son of slaves in Iredell County on August 15, 1866.

In chapter 15, of the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird” a lynch mob comes to the jail after Tom Robinson, a black man accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The mob is turned back after they are confronted by Tom’s attorney Atticus and his young children.  A mob’s power comes from their numbers and their belief that they will remain faceless and nameless.  When Atticus’s six-year-old daughter Scout recognizes one of the lynch mob and engages him in pleasant conversation he suddenly feels exposed and embarrassed by his presence. The anger and determination of the men disappear and they leave. Some people have criticized this scene in the novel as being unrealistic. Mobs often consisted of liquored up men in the middle of the night too worked up with anger and hate to be reasoned with. In fact, mobs were most often led by the criminal and poorer members of society.

Judge Benjamin Franklin Long of Statesville met a large lynch mob outside the Salisbury jail in 1906. They had come to lynch Jack Dillingham, Nease Gillespie, and John Gillespie who were accused of murdering the Isaac Lyerly family on July 13, 1906. At first, Long and the other officials were able to turn the mob back, but later that night they returned more intoxicated and angry. A mob of between two to three thousand stormed the jail lynching all three. It should be noted that George Hall, one of the leaders of the mob, was himself a well-known criminal and trouble maker who was later sentenced to six years in prison by Judge Long for leading the lynching. A recent book titled, “A Game Called Salisbury”by Susan Barringer Wells, herself a descendant of the Lyerly victims, offers evidence that the lynching victims were innocent.

Lynching in the south is usually associated with African Americans, but there were many white victims as well. Of the 4,730 lynched in the United States between 1880 and 1951, 3,437 were African Americans and 1,293 whites.  A program at the museum in Surry County a couple of years ago discussed the lynching of a white man named Tom Allison from Iredell County in 1892. The lynching occurred on Sept. 13, 1892 when a group of about twenty men took Allison from the Surry County jail in Dobson and hung him from a white oak tree.  The Allison lynching is something of a legend in Surry County and there is even a song about it. The story was retold in a book by Dean W. Brown called, “Grandma’s Stories, Cures, & Fixings from the Blue Ridge.” The oak tree Allison was hung from was referred to as “The Allison Tree” and stood as sort of a landmark for many years in the area. The tree was cut down in 1960, but a brick garage building on old U.S. 601 near where the tree stood is called the “Allison Tree Service” and even has a small image of an oak on the front. Thomas H. Allison was the son of Capt. R.M. Allison and the brother of W.H. Allison all of Statesville. He had been accused of shooting and killing a Mt. Airy man by the name of T.H. Brown on August 20, 1892.

Feb. 17, 2009