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Prior to 1876, Nothing in Bob Sims’s Life Suggested he would become the central figure in Alabama’s most lethal lynching bee.1 Before the Civil War, Sims labored quietly as a yeoman farmer in Choctaw County’s Womack Hill community. During the war, he enlisted in the Twenty-Second Alabama Infantry. He was captured by federal troops during the early days of the Atlanta Campaign and imprisoned at Camp Morton, Indiana until Appomattox.2 Once released, he returned to Choctaw County, resumed farming, and was by all accounts a law-abiding citizen. At one point, he even served as a county road surveyor.3

During the summer of 1876 Sims became embroiled in a family dispute that ended in court. His brother-in-law, Thomas J. Moseley, told the grand jury that Sims had come to his door, threatened him and ordered him to deed over his property. For good measure, Sims told Moseley’s daughter that if she stayed on the property, he would throw her out, too.4 The following spring, the Choctaw County circuit [End Page 278]

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Sketch of Bob Sims, from the New Orleans Times–Democrat, December 25, 1891. This and subsequent digital reproductions courtesy of the author.

[End Page 279]

court convicted Sims of using insulting language in public and fined him twenty dollars for his unseemly demonstration.5

Early the next year, Sims began attending the Womack Hill Methodist Church until he resolved that the church’s doctrines were unacceptable. His antagony for the tenets of Methodism (and every other mainline denomination, as it turned out) sparked a decade–long conflict between Bob Sims and the people of Choctaw County. The trouble that began in the summer of 1877 erupted spectacularly when Sims interrupted Womack Hill’s Sunday services by loudly proclaiming the Gospel “abused.” Sims left the service upon request, but he remained in the church yard, vulgarly denouncing the pastor and congregation at such a pitch that he forced the early cancellation of services. Disturbing the peace of Sunday worship in Alabama, however, was a crime, and in March 1878, the circuit court convicted Sims of disturbing a church service and issued him a seventy-five dollar fine.6

According to Neal Sims, his brother’s broader contempt for civil authority began during these 1870s trials when the courts forced him to swear oaths. Though he complied at the time, he became convinced later that swearing oaths “violated the law of God.” Since, in his telling, Jesus was his lone master, such oaths amounted to idolatry and made the judge’s command of the courtroom “heathenous,” he argued. In fact, in a newspaper he published between 1889 and 1891, Sims referred to the judge in those early cases, Luther Smith, as Satan, and his initials the mark of the beast.7

Despite his newfound religious convictions, Sims lived in relative peace with his neighbors until the summer of 1889, when he began publishing a monthly manifesto entitled The Veil is Rent (TVIR), which he claimed would expose the “‘Truth of God as it is written,’ and its perversion by the Devil’s Iscariots.” The organ outlined Sims’s [End Page 280]

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January 1890 edition of The Veil is Rent, where in his lead article (see inset) Sims declares civil authority “of the devil” and announces that it must be destroyed before Christ’s return.

millennial and Adventist philosophy, preached civil disobedience and the illegitimacy of civil and ecclesiastical authority, and featured spiteful rants targeting local officials by name.8 TVIR’s first edition denounced the community’s mainline churches, calling them “Satan’s shrines,” unmarried “harlots,” and their ministers demons.9 [End Page 281] In ensuing issues, Sims attacked the local elite, condemning them as “haughty” hypocrites with fancily-dressed pastors paid in proportion to how far they could lead their flocks away from Christ.10 Blacks, Sims opined, were easy prey for “bawdy mongers” like pimps, whiskey peddlers, and their own “crude, sable profligate” ministers.11

Sims’s white supremacist musings were not unusual for his time and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-9961
Print ISSN
0002-4341
Pages
pp. 278-300
Launched on MUSE
2013-11-01
Open Access
N
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