Statement from Frank Hamer, May 13, 1930
The Sherman riot of 1930 was one of the major outbreaks of racial violence in the United States at the beginning of the Great Depression, and one that brought international notoriety to Texas race relations.
Like so many lynchings of the period, the trouble at Sherman began with an accusation of rape. George Hughes, an African American farm hand described by his acquaintances as "crazy," admitted to raping a white woman, the wife of a man who owed him back wages. Hughes was arrested and scheduled for trial within a week of the incident, a common timeframe for the era. Meanwhile, a mob began to gather each night outside the jail.
On May 9, 1930, Captain Frank Hamer, a legendary Texas Ranger, two other rangers and a police sergeant escorted Hughes to trial at the county courthouse. A huge crowd packed the entire courthouse building and surrounding grounds and began to stone the courthouse. District Judge R.M. Carter attempted to get the proceedings underway, but the crowd forced the doors to the courtroom corridor and attempted to storm the courtroom. The rangers fired warning shots and tear gas to break up the crowd, and locked Hughes in the district court vault for safety. When the trial was unable to proceed due to the continuing agitation of the mob, Judge Carter ordered the trial suspended. He and Hamer agreed that the case could not be tried in Sherman without bloodshed, and the judge planned to order a change of venue.
About 2:30 p.m., an open can of gasoline was thrown in a broken window and the courthouse caught fire. Fearful for his life, Hughes wanted to remain locked in the vault. The rangers attempted to rescue him but were cut off by the spreading flames. Meanwhile, the mob held back firemen and cut their hoses. By 4:00 p.m. the building was gutted, with only the walls and the vault remaining. The mob tried to break open the vault and engaged in a pitched battle with National Guardsmen sent into Sherman by Governor Moody, emboldened by a false rumor that Moody had ordered Hamer not to shoot anyone. Just before midnight, they succeeded in breaking open the vault and removing Hughes' body. Hughes had perished in the fire, but the crazed crowd, now numbering over 5000, dragged his body behind a car, hanged it from a tree, and set it on fire. The mob then burned down black businesses and again prevented the fire department from putting out the flames.
Governor Moody dispatched more National Guard units and when violence continued, declared martial law in Sherman late on May 10. Sherman remained under martial law until May 24. Fourteen men would be indicted for crimes connected to the riot, but only two would eventually be convicted and sentenced to two-year terms. The outbreak of violence was followed by two more lynchings in Texas, one in Oklahoma, and several lynching attempts. The riot attracted international publicity and condemnation.
Statement from Frank Hamer, May 13, 1930. Texas Governor Dan Moody records, Box 2007/170-53. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.