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What Virtue There Is in Fire

Cultural Memory and the Lynching of Sam Hose

Edwin T. Arnold

Publication Year: 2009

The 1899 lynching of Sam Hose in Newnan, Georgia, was one of the earliest and most gruesome events in a tragic chapter of U.S. history. Hose was a black laborer accused of killing Alfred Cranford, a white farmer, and raping his wife. The national media closely followed the manhunt and Hose's capture. An armed mob intercepted Hose's Atlanta-bound train and took the prisoner back to Newnan. There, in front of a large gathering on a Sunday afternoon, Hose was mutilated and set on fire. His body was dismembered and pieces of it were kept by souvenir hunters.

Born and raised twenty miles from Newnan, Edwin T. Arnold was troubled and fascinated by the fact that this horrific chain of events had been largely shut out of local public memory. In "What Virtue There Is in Fire," Arnold offers the first in-depth examination of the lynching of Sam Hose.

Arnold analyzes newspapers, letters, and speeches to understand reactions to this brutal incident, without trying to resolve the still-disputed facts of the crime. Firsthand accounts were often contradictory, and portrayals of Hose differed starkly--from "black beast" to innocent martyr. Arnold traces how different groups interpreted and co-opted the story for their own purposes through the years. Reflecting on recent efforts to remember the lynching of Sam Hose, Arnold offers the portrait of a place still trying to reconcile itself, a century later, to its painful past.

Published by: University of Georgia Press


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p. vii

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pp. 1-11

On the night of April 12, 1899, Mattie Cranford, the young wife of a Coweta County, Georgia, farmer, stumbled through the dark to the nearby home of her father- in-law, her four children in tow. At the gate to the yard, she cried for help and then collapsed. When she was revived, she told Grippia Cranford a horrifying tale: his...

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CHAPTER ONE: War Fantasies

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pp. 12-29

Within a twenty-four-hour period covering April 12 and 13, 1899, two unrelated killings took place within twenty-five miles of each other in the state of Georgia. On the evening of Wednesday, April 12, just outside the small community of Palmetto, Sam Hose slew his white employer Alfred Cranford by striking him on the head with...

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CHPTER TWO: Lynch Sunday

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pp. 30-46

In the May 5 edition of the Newnan Herald and Advertiser, which appeared almost two weeks after Sam Hose's death, "Ripples," the pseudonym of Coweta County squire J. P. Reese, who regularly commented on local events, proclaimed,...

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CHAPTER THREE: The Palmetto Massacre [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 47-66

The town of Palmetto, Georgia, located twenty-five miles southwest of Atlanta, got its start in the land lottery of 1827. As described in Palmetto: A Town and Its People, the first building in the settlement was John H. Johnson's general store, built in 1833. In the 1840s, Maj. Willis P. Menefee moved to the area and established...

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CHAPTER FOUR: A Carnival of Blood and Lust

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pp. 67-88

Although the Palmetto killings held the front pages for a short period, the story was rather quickly lost to other events, both local and national. One of these was the visit of U.S. president William McKinley to Georgia for a restful vacation in Thomasville, located in the extreme southern part of the state near the Florida border....

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pp. 89-97

According to later reports, Sam Hose had quickly fled from Cranford's Mill after killing Alfred Cranford and by Friday, the fourteenth, had arrived at the home of his mother near the Jones plantation outside Marshallville, Georgia, located some one hundred...

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CHAPTER SIX: A Holocaust of Human Flesh

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pp. 98-121

While the quasi-legalistic proceedings were taking place inside the jail, the crowd surrounding the building, now composed of people from Newnan, Griffin, and the surrounding countryside, continued to grow, both in size and impatience. "There were all kinds...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: Beware, All Darkies!

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pp. 122-150

Sam Hose's death on that Sabbath afternoon in April set loose a frenzy in this part of west Georgia, and it is unclear how many others became collateral victims. There were immediate rumors of other killings in Coweta and Campbell counties, men supposedly implicated by Hose as connected to the black gang that...

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Lynch Law in Georgia

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pp. 151-169

Shortly after Sam Hose's death, a curious story circulated that his wife and nineteen-year-old son were spotted at the Atlanta depot, preparing to board a train for Washington, D.C., for their own safety. This was the first mention that Hose or Holt had a family, under any name. According to reports, as they waited on...

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CHAPTER NINE: Sex, Fingers, Toes

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pp. 170-183

In its May 12 edition, the Newnan Herald and Advertiser proudly published a poem titled "Sam Holt." Holt was, the poem declared, "The monster fiend of all the fiends / That ever cursed the earth." It further proclaimed,...

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CHAPTER TEN: Across the Road from the Barbecue House

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pp. 184-202

In all of the United States, I can find only one town called Newnan. Named after Gen. Daniel Newnan (1780--1851), who led volunteers during the Creek Indian War, it was established in 1828 as the county seat of Coweta County, which had been formed two years earlier. Newnan today is known...

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pp. 203-208

After it was over and the people of Newnan agreed to forget, Mattie Cranford lived a secluded life in the town raising her children. She died in 1922 of pneumonia, only fifty years old. Her brief, circumspect obituary made no reference to her role in Coweta County...


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pp. 209-234


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pp. 235-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780820336169
E-ISBN-10: 0820336165
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820328911
Print-ISBN-10: 082032891X

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 615629329
MUSE Marc Record: Download for What Virtue There Is in Fire

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Subject Headings

  • Racism -- Georgia -- Coweta County -- History.
  • Hose, Sam, d. 1899 -- Influence.
  • Murder -- Georgia -- Coweta County -- History -- 19th century.
  • African Americans -- Crimes against -- Georgia -- Coweta County -- History.
  • Lynching -- Georgia -- Coweta County -- History -- 19th century.
  • Coweta County (Ga.) -- Race relations -- History.
  • Hose, Sam, d. 1899.
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