Academic journal article Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

The Lynching of James Scales: How the FBI, the DOJ, and State Authorities "Whitewashed" Racial Violence in Bledsoe County, Tennessee

Academic journal article Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights

The Lynching of James Scales: How the FBI, the DOJ, and State Authorities "Whitewashed" Racial Violence in Bledsoe County, Tennessee

Article excerpt

I. Introduction..................................................................................286

II. A "Vicious Triangle": Defining Direct, Structural and Cultural Violence.................................................................288

A. Direct Violence.....................................................................288

B. Structural Violence...............................................................288

C. Cultural Violence..................................................................289

D. Direct, Structural, and Cultural Violence and the Loss of Identity.................................................................................289

III. Who Was James Scales?.............................................................290

A. James Scales's Childhood....................................................290

B. James Scales's Navy Career.................................................291

IV. Institutional Violence: A Reformatory for Black Boys in a Dangerous White County.....................................................295

A. "Bloody Bledsoe".................................................................295

B. Tennessee State Training and Agricultural School for Colored Boys........................................................................297

C. Attention on the Reformatory After Scales's Lynching.......301

1. Public Response..........................................................301

2. Government Response................................................304

V. Lynching: Two White Women Murdered, a Young Black Man Accused.....................................................................................307

A. A Double Murder.................................................................307

B. Motive...................................................................................309

C. Accusing and Capturing Scales............................................310

D. A Lynching on Reformatory Grounds..................................313

IV. Supporting Racial Violence: Public Uproar, Investigations, and Cover-up by State and Federal Authorities............315

A. Initial Uproar and Swift Action by State Authorities..........316

B. Initial Federal Response.......................................................317

C. NAACP and the Looby Report.............................................318

D. State Leaders Shift Focus.....................................................319

E. Federal Response Comes up Short.......................................321

/. DOJ and the Enforcement of Federal Law.................321

2. FBI Investigation Stalls..............................................323

3. DOJ Cedes Control to Local Authorities....................326

4. Local Opposition to Prosecution................................327

5. "No True Bill"............................................................329

VII. Conclusion..................................................................................331

I. Introduction

Midday on November 23, 1944, a crowd gathered to lynch an African-American teenager named James Scales. Earlier that morning, guards at the Tennessee state reformatory where Scales was imprisoned had accused the sixteen-year-old of brutally killing the wife and daughter of the institution's superintendent. The mob began to hang its victim under a large tree, but the lynching came to an abrupt end when one member of the mob shot Scales in the head multiple times.

The murder of two white women and the lynching of a black teenager instantly became national news. Tennessee Governor Prentice Cooper pledged a full investigation and offered a $500 reward for information leading to capture and conviction of Scales's killers. Local clergy and the International Labor Defense raised the total reward to more than $1,800. …

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