In 1916, just over half a century after the abolition of slavery, a wealthy black peasant who drew the wrath of his jealous and bigoted white business colleagues in Abbeville was murdered by a lynch mob.
This man, Anthony Crawford, owned a 427 acre cotton farm in Abbeville. He was at the time one of many successful black farmers in the south who had turned the trade that their families once had to take on for the benefit of the white plantation owners into a viable business from which they could profit personally.
He was also one of 4,743 people lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968, whose stories may not be well known. That story is now being told in a new documentary available for streaming.
It’s just a story that comes to light amid a southern reckoning that has finally begun to acknowledge its dark history of black lynchings and murders. Confederate monuments were overthrown in the second half of the decade as citizens of all races sought redress for a one-sided historical account.
And when the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery, Alabama in 2018, it was the first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people and addressing contemporary suspicions of guilt and police violence as the effects of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow’s separation .
Crawford: The Man the South Forgot is the latest in a series of related cross-platform content produced by Hobo Films that forms part of an ongoing narrative of this southern reckoning.
This documentary follows one of Anthony Crawford’s descendants, Doria Dee Johnson, in her quest to uncover and spread the true story and legacy of her great-great-grandfather. Johnson, who passed away in 2018, is the main character in the footage of the documentary, which dates back to the early 2000s when the Illinois resident’s trip took her to Abbeville.
There she searched the historical archives, met family members she never knew she had, and discovered a story that had both a deep pride in what her ancestor achieved and anger in what he and his Lost offspring. It was not just his life, but his family’s legacy for generations to come.
“Racist violence is ubiquitous and well documented in America,” said Hobo founder Howard Bowler. “Still, the importance of land as a motive has not yet been fully explored or uncovered. If you want to understand the history of land stolen by black Americans, follow the lynch trail. They are unstoppable and tragically linked.”
In Crawford’s case, his family was ordered to vacate the 427 acre cotton farm they owned, cease their profitable business, and flee the town after he was murdered by a crowd of bloodthirsty whites jealous of his success as a competing black business owner .
His “crime”, for which he was dragged through the streets, lynched and then shot while he was already hanging dead on a tree, was to curse a white man who had offered him a low price for the cottonseed he was giving tried to sell.
Although Crawford’s children legally inherited the land, they feared living on the property and later lost it when they were unable to repay a small bank loan.
Many current economic differences between the rich and the colored in America go back to the events of the early 20th century, suggested the documentary editor Tiffany Jackman.
“The point is that wealth is stolen from people and that wealth cannot seep down through the generations,” said Jackman. “And that has to do with a lot of what’s happening today. You can still see the difference between predominantly white neighborhoods and black neighborhoods in terms of education and resources.”
Caroline DeVoe, director of the film, worked hand in hand with Jackman to tell not only the overarching story of the land loss and a detailed account of Anthony Crawford’s life, but Johnson’s quest to tell the story of their ancestors in the city of Abbeville and beyond to make known.
Jackman came on board later and had the task of piecing together years of footage into a comprehensive but concise film. She could have gone in many different directions for the documentary, but chose a story with a black woman at the center, a story of tragic losses, but also a determination to make amends and tell the story from all angles.
“I felt it was necessary to shed some light on this injustice that was happening, but also to instill a sense of pride in black people that not everything is terrible at this time,” said Jackman. “There were blacks who were successful, there were wealthy blacks back then.”
DeVoe worked with Johnson for more than a decade to search the archives of the NAACP and the South Carolina Historical Society and record the traces and memories of descendants of eyewitnesses and others connected with the story.
Among them is Phillip Crawford, the great grandson of Anthony Crawford. He has lived in Abbeville all his life since 1968 and has himself witnessed racial conflicts and riots. He believes Johnson’s quest and this documentary have already helped connect the community.
Johnson not only got the city erecting a historic landmark in Crawford’s honor, but also got the SC Senate formally apologizing for all lynching on US soil in 2005, including that of her great-great-grandfather. The documentary describes these historic moments and those in Abbeville that helped make them happen.
“It may be a little story, but you never know what can become of a little story, what can become of it,” said Crawford.
Even so, there is still a Confederate memorial in the center of Abbeville, a much larger statue than the plaque given to Anthony Crawford.
“As beautiful as everyone is in Abbeville, it’s still a little disgusting to have a large Confederate memorial in the center of town,” said Jackman.
Phillip Crawford said, “If it were my choice, it wouldn’t be there. In the end, it still reflects the views of this city.”