Local filmmaker sheds light on brutal Duck Hill lynchings of Bootjack and Red

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A historical marker commemorating the tragic lynching and torture deaths of Robert “Bootjack” McDaniels and Roosevelt “Red” Townes will be unveiled in Duck Hill, Mississippi on April 13, 2023.

The April 13 date for the unveiling of the marker was purposefully chosen by Talamieka Brice, the organizer of the project, because it is the date that Bootjack and Red, two young Negroes, were executed by a mob of white vigilantes in 1937. These mobsters took it upon themselves to rid the small town of Duck Hill of two alleged murderers of George Windham, a white grocery storekeeper. 

The story of the murders of Bootjack and Red is among the unsung history of Blacks living in Mississippi. Many are not aware of this tragic event. Brice, a famed award-winning filmmaker and native of Duck Hill, was told the tale by her grandmother, Mrs. Jimmie Lee McNeil. McNeil remembers hearing the tortured cries of Bootjack as he was beaten, set on fire, and burned alive with the flame from a blowtorch when she was a child. 

Back in the day, Negroes kept the stories of evildoing white folks alive by passing them down from one generation to another as an oral history record of diverse events to protect their children. They understood that one misstep in a Jim Crow or sundown town ruled by whites could prove deadly. Today, African Americans call this “Having the Talk” with young Black boys and girls in hopes of keeping them alive to fight another day.

Talamieka Brice

Brice reports that with her grandmother’s recollections and her own personal research, she is in the process of writing a documentary film to illuminate the masses about the torture of Robert “Bootjack” McDaniels (age 26) and the assassination of Roosevelt “Red” Townes (age 27). Their alleged crimes were committed shortly after a trial by jury date was set, but the trial never took place because a white mob rendered its own brand of commonplace justice for the two Negroes who made a living doing odd jobs. Brice states, “Negroes in the community repeated verbal rumors of a car having sped away from the crime scene. But, in 1937, Negroes in the South having a car would have been more than a rumor used in the get-away after the robbery of the grocery store.” 

Brice says the local story goes, “After Bootjack’s and Red’s trial by jury date was set, they were handcuffed and led down the back stairs of the Montgomery County courthouse and led out of a side door where a bloodthirsty mob met them. The two were served up as target practice with Red being shot in the back after being let loose from the tree he was tied to in the rural pinewoods. Bootjack was tortured because he said he was innocent during the mob’s relentless interrogations. Then, they burned him alive after he made a coerced confession while tied to a tree. He implicated Red as the shooter of George Windham.”

The killing of Bootjack and Red made fodder for nationally acclaimed Time Magazine and Life Magazine articles both dating April 26, 1937. Photographs prior to Townes being lit on fire were the first lynching pictures published by national press. An excerpt from a Time Magazine article, “Races: Lynch & Anti-Lynch,” reads in part, “In Washington, before a gallery crowded with Negroes, the U.S. House of Representatives was beginning to debate a drastic anti-lynching bill introduced by Congressman Gavagan from New York’s black Harlem. In Jackson, Miss., before delegates to a farm conference, Governor Hugh Lawson White was boasting that Mississippi had not had a lynching in 15 months. In Winona, Miss., in a jampacked courtroom in Montgomery County’s white brick courthouse, Roosevelt Townes and Bootjack McDaniels, 26-year-old Negroes, were pleading not guilty to a charge of murdering a crossroads country grocer during a robbery last December at nearby Duck Hill. One day last week these simultaneous events were the prologue of a bloody melodrama, peculiarly Southern… 

“Followed by 40 automobiles, the bus sped down the highway toward Duck Hill. Two miles from the scene of last December’s murder, 500 country folk, including women and children, waited expectantly in a patch of pinewood. When the motorcade from Winona arrived, the mob closed in to watch as the terrified Negroes were dragged from the bus. People in the back rows could hear heavy chains clink as the two blackamoors were made fast to trees.” 

Lynching and other violent atrocities against Black people in Mississippi and across the country – that preceded the deaths of Bootjack’s and Red’s lynching – also were printed internationally in German newspapers. The atrocities against Blacks served as evidence for the Nazi Party to create its Nuremburg Laws, contrasting the violence of lynching to the inhumane treatment of Jews. 

The unveiling of the historical marker ceremony will be held April 13, 2023, at 11:00 a.m. in the Duck Hill gymnasium, located at 312 Main St. The marker itself is being sponsored by New York Times best-selling author and MacArthur Fellow, Kiese Laymon, and a memorial will be accompanied by bottle tree flowers crafted by acclaimed metal artist, Stephanie Dwyer. The documentary is being sponsored by the magazine Mississippi2 and funded in part by renowned actress and Mississippian Aunjanue Ellis.

Talamieka Brice says, “The unveiling of the historical marker and the accompanying documentary will serve as a reminder of the dark history of racial violence in the United States and the importance of recognizing and commemorating these events to move towards a more just and equitable future.” 

Brice is the producer, director, and project organizer for the film. She notes, “The documentary will shed light on the events leading up to the lynching and its aftermath, exploring the impact of the incident on the local Duck Hill community, the nation, and the world.”

For additional information regarding the unveiling of the marker and to make contributions to the upcoming documentary, visit www.bootjackred.com and/or contact Mississippi2 at 601-749-6729. Additional secured sponsors include Shero Mississippi, MS Reproductive Freedom Fund, Patrick O’Conner, and Margaret McMullin.

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Local filmmaker sheds light on brutal Duck Hill lynchings of Bootjack and Red

By Brinda Fuller Willis
March 16, 2023