The Library of Virginia
 

Isaac Jenkins

 


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Perhaps no other story highlights the crusading character of John Mitchell, Jr., and his work with the Richmond Planet than the yearlong saga of the "Isaac Jenkins Case".

Jenkins, a black man with a wife and three children, was arrested in July 1893 on charges of selling whiskey without a license. However, before he could be brought to the jail he was taken by a lynch mob, beaten, hung, and shot twice. With an abraded neck, nine wounds on his head, and the two bullets, he staggered thirteen miles into Norfolk. He was discovered there and put in jail on the trumped-up charges of arson, poisoning someone's horses, as well as the original charge of selling whiskey without a license.

It was at this point that John Mitchell, Jr., interceded on Jenkins' behalf. Mitchell visited him in jail, and found him legal support. Jenkins' defense team, including the former Judge, R.H. Rawles (a white man), Merritt Briggs, Esq., and W.H. Arrington, Esq., (a black man) shot holes in the testimony of the eyewitnesses (one of whom was arrested for perjury after contradicting the other witnesses), and after their examination the case was submitted without further argument. The end result was Jenkins' prompt acquittal by the jury, his only penalty being a $300 fine by the court. Jenkins' attorney fees were paid off by Mitchell and Planet readers, who sent in money for this purpose. Yet he was to languish in jail for many more months when the Judge in the case ruled that, despite his acquittal, he would still have to pay the fine.




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More than a year after his ordeal began, Isaac Jenkins finally found himself a free man. Although he was acquitted in February 1894, it took more fighting by Mitchell, and a Governor's pardon, before Jenkins was released from jail on May 24, 1894. Within two weeks, and not withstanding his "pitiable condition," he travelled to Richmond to meet with Mitchell, and speak to church groups. There, "in a thrilling recital," he told the audiences:

of the attack by the mob, how they beat him about the head and body, the feeling when they hanged him and how they fired two bullets into his neck. He told of his escape from death, how the rope slipped, and bathed in his own blood he went from neighbor to neighbor seeking help...of the coroner's jury coming to hold an inquest over his dead body and finding nothing but his hat and blood for their pains. (June 9, 1894)

He was to stay in Richmond for a time (where he lived in the house of City Councilman Benjamin Jackson), receiving donations of both money and hospitality, as well as a new suit from Mitchell. While there he also toured the penitentiary. His attackers were never brought to justice.


All information taken from the Richmond Planet, August 1893-June 1894



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