* Editor’s note: This column contains descriptions of a lynching. It also includes quotes from the time that use language, including a racial slur, that were common at the time.
Now that a long-overdue memorial to honor the victims of lynching has opened in Montgomery, Alabama, it’s time that our city dealt with its own day of infamy – the lynching of Rubin Stacy – in some public way.
The July 19, 1935 murder of Rubin Stacy – whose name appears in some accounts as Reuben Stacey – was captured on film for all to see. His shot-up body hung from a tree near what is now Davie Boulevard and SW 31st Avenue. A celebratory crowd, which included children, milled around afterwards.
This photo circulated around the nation, published in an NAACP journal and then Life magazine. It was part of a campaign that went all the way to President Franklin Roosevelt’s desk. The NAACP hoped that Roosevelt’s election in 1932 would bring an end to lynching. However, asked to support an anti-lynching bill introduced into Congress, the new president demurred.
It was in 1935 during the crime-riddled reign of infamous Broward Sheriff Walter Clark that Stacy, a field hand described by friends as affable and well liked, was arrested after a white woman reported that he attacked her with a knife. But locals later testified that he simply came asking for a glass of water, and she panicked.
Stacy had lived on “Short Third,” an area located on NW Third Street between NW Seventh and Ninth Avenues in Fort Lauderdale. He was 37.
Sheriff Clark claimed that he tried to transfer the prisoner to a more secure jail in Miami. But the six officers transporting Stacy on the journey said they were overpowered by a spontaneous mob. The mob apparently knew their backroad route. Stacy was strung up with his accuser’s own clothesline, and his body discovered later to have 17 bullet wounds.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Broward County historian Cooper Kirk, then a child, was at a baseball game in an Andrews Avenue park. He witnessed a truck pulling up. “A man leaned out of the truck and yelled, ‘They’re gonna lynch a *n…..!’ With that, the game broke up and half the teams piled onto the truck and left. Three hours later the truck returned to the park.”
Kirk, who did not go, said: “Some of the people from the park had cut off pieces of the black man’s pants for souvenirs.”
A woman came forth in 1994 saying that she participated in the lynching. She said it was Deputy Bob Clark, the sheriff’s brother, who strung Stacy up, and then ordered everyone around to participate in the murder by each firing a shot into the body.
A grand jury was convened two days after the lynching. No one was charged.
As inhumanly cruel as this was, it was happening in “good” Christian communities all over the South. Thus the need for the new Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
The Equal Justice Initiative did a study of 3,959 “racial terror lynchings” in the Southern states between 1877 to 1950. Florida mobs lynched 331 black people during that time.
At the new memorial in Montgomery, there is a six-acre park with a field of identical monuments. One account described them as “laid out like so many bronze coffins.” They are waiting to be claimed by the communities – like ours – “where the racial terror happened.” According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “over time this area will serve as a ‘report card’ on which parts of the country have confronted the truth of their history.”
Lynchings come in many forms, as the son of Fort Lauderdale’s first black funeral home owner explains in My Soul is a Witness, a book by former Sun-Sentinel journalist Deborah Work.
“The disfigured bodies of murdered black men, dragged in from the creeks and woods around Fort Lauderdale, always wound up at the Benton Funeral Home.
“‘Usually my father and his crew would go get them,’ Louis Benton recalled. ‘Sometimes the bodies would arrive in a police car. You didn’t have to hang a man to lynch him. You could get him in the back of the car and tell him to run for his life. And bang, bang. That was it. They’d say he was escaping, you see. This happened all the time throughout the South.’”
There are so many great stories about “Old Lauderdale.” This is not one of them.