MY GEORGIA ROOTS: The Story of Pearl Griffin Summerlin, Murder Was The case That Case That They Gave Her.

By Raymont Hawkins – Jones

On the morning of Monday, January 13, 1969, at 5:45 a.m., Putnam County, Georgia, Sheriff, Willie G. Jones received a call that there had been a shooting at the Sumerlin home. He and Deputy Sheriff, Ray Blizzard responded to the call.

When the sheriff and his deputy arrived in the area, they saw Pearl Sumerlin walking up and down in front of Shelton Daniels’ home. Sherriff Jones asked her where the shooting had occurred and Pearl responded, “down the street at 212 Pond Street”. Pearl stated that she shot her husband, Frank Sumerlin.

212 Pond Street, Eatonton, GA

Peal Summerlin was born Pearl/Pearla Griffin to my 2 times great grandfather’s brother, John Wesley Griffin and his wife Hettie Jane Green Griffin on 30 Aug 1921 in Morgan County, Georgia where her parents were recorded on the 1920 census residing. Pearl was recorded as their 10th and youngest child together. Her father had 3 older children from his first marriage, which was with his late older brother’s widow. Pearl, called “Dolly” by her family, was raised in Putnam County, specifically in the Tompkins area near Eatonton. In 1930, she was recorded as 9 years old on the census living in her parents’ household in Tompkins living on the “Road from Eatonton to Reids Cross Road”. In 1940, she was recorded as 19 years old on the federal census living in Tompkins, Putnam County in her brother’s household with their widowed mother, their sister Essie Bell, and Essie’s 3 children. She and her mother worked as “wash woman” and between 24 Mar 1940 and 30 Mar 1940, Pearl worked 20 hours. The year before in 1939, she earned $50 for the 52 weeks she worked that year. ‘

On 15 March 1941, at age 19 Pearl married 22-year-old, George Washington Johnson in Putnam County. He was the son of John L Johnson and Josephine Eubanks Johnson and was also from Putnam County.

Putnam County , GA – Marriages, vol. M, page 442

When George Johnson registered for the draft of World War II in Fort Valley, Peach County, Georgia, less than one month before his marriage to Pearl on 18 February 1941, he was described as 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 157 pounds, black hair and black eye color and dark brown complexion. He listed his father as his next of kin and was employed at Fort Valley Oil Company. [, “U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1898-1929”]

Pearl’s marriage to George W. Johnson lasted for less than 8 years. According to a U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, in Apr 1947 Pearl name was listed as Pearl Griffin Johnson. By 1949, she married a man named Steve H. Thomas, likely by common law as she may not have legally divorced her first husband, George Johnson who eventually moved to Menands, Albany County, New York and apparently had at least 3 children. [, “Menands, New York, Albany Rural Cemetery Burial Cards, 1791-2011”] She was 28 at the time and he was about 26 years old. Steve Thomas was the son of single mother, Winnie Thomas. He was born in Lumpkin, Stewart County, Georgia where his mother was recorded with her childhood family on every census between 1900 and 1920 and in 1930 and 1940 with her own family including Steve who was called William H. Thomas on the 1930 federal census. His mother Winnie and his sister Ethel moved to Bozeman and Columbus, Muscogee County, Georgia where his mother passed away in 1951.

In 1950, Steve Thomas and Pearl were recorded on the federal census as husband and wife. She was a housewife and he worked in the Logging Industry as a log cutter and worked 40 hours the week before the census was recorded. In Dec 1953, Pearl’s name was listed as Pearl Griffin T[h]omas in U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. Pearl marriage to Steve Thomas lasted for about 16 years until he died on 6 Apr 1965 at Baldwin County Hospital in Milledgeville, Baldwin County, Georgia. His funeral was held in Columbus, Georgia on 11 April 1965. [, “Georgia Deaths, 1919-98”;, “Social Security Death Index”; Page 8 of Eatonton Messenger,published in Eatonton, Georgia on Thursday, April 15th, 1965]

Page 8 of Eatonton Messenger,published in Eatonton, Georgia on Thursday, April 15th, 1965

Later that year or early the following year, Pearl would begin a common law marriage in Putnam County with Eddie Frank Sumerlin.

Eddie “Frank” Sumerlin also known as “Skeete” was from Coweta County, Georgia. Born in 1929, to Josiah Sumerlin and to Leola Orr Summerlin, he was several years younger than Pearl. He had at least one child, a daughter who was born around 1950. On 11 Sep 1961, Eddie Frank Sumerlin was convicted in Coweta County, Georgia on 3 counts of misdemeanor forgery. He was set to serve 3 to 5 years in the Georgia State Prison and on 28 July 1965, at age 32, he was released on conditions. He eventually moved to Putnam County, probably immediately after he was released from state prison where he would meet and began a common law marriage with Pearl who was a widow at the time and who within 4 years would end his life with her pistol.

At the time of his death, Frank Summerlin was employed by Mr. J. D. Hallman, and he rented 212 Pond Street from Mr. H. B. Hearn [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]. Frank Sumerlin, age 39, was married to Pearl Sumerlin, age 46, by common law. They lived together for over three years [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.].

212 Pond Street, Eatonton, GA (Google Maps)

On January 13, 1969, when the sheriff and his deputy arrived at 212 Pond Street, responding to a call, and directed there by Pearl Summerlin, they saw Frank Sumerlin lying on the front porch with his head partly hanging off. Frank Sumerlin never moved. His body was close to a stack of firewood and was lifeless. Sheriff Jones, realizing that Summerlin was dead, immediately told everyone not to move the body and called Robert Lee Reid at the Funeral Home to carry Frank’s body to the hospital. The sheriff did a light examination of the scene and noticed that the bullet had entered Summerlin’s head above his left ear. He also noticed a gun and immediately connected it to the murder. The gun used was a .22 caliber revolver that belonged to Pearl Sumerlin. Pearl told the sheriff that she did not mean to shoot him, and she only meant to scare him. [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Frank Summerlin’s body was taken to Putnam General Hospital and Dr. Levya pronounced him dead on arrival with the cause of death presumed by gun shot. X rays showed bullet inside right skull disintegrated almost directly opposite or a little above point of entry. [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

State Warrant – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

On 13 Jan 1969, state warrant 3-69 was issued for Pearl Summerlin’s arrest for the “murder of one Frank Sumerlin, gun shot wound to the head at 212 Pond Street…” [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Affiadavit and State Warrant – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]
Library of Congress, 1933, “Putnam County Courthouse, Town Square, Eatonton, Putnam County, GA”

A grand jury, consisting of 23 people decided that there is adequate basis for bringing a criminal charge of murder against Pearl Summerlin. Grand jury proceedings are usually held in private so Pearl was not likely present at the proceeding. The grand jury typically acts as an investigative body, acting independently of either prosecuting attorney or judge. The criminal prosecutors who were likely the sherriff and his deputy, presented the case to the grand jury. Their goal was to establish probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been committed by Pearl. [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Indictment Sheet – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

On 14 Jan 1969, testimonies were given in a commitment trial (seems to be a hearing) which included testimonies from, Pearl herself, Sherriff Willie G. Jones, Deputy Sheriff Ray Blizzard, a woman named Mrs. Josephine Bullock who employed Pearl as a maid and Frank Summerlin’s 19-year-old daughter.

The testimonies of the arresting officer, Willie G. Jones described the details of the gruesome crime scene outside the front door of Pearl’s home and identified the murder weapon as a .22 caliber. He noted the date and time of the call which was 13 January 1969 at 5:45am. He testified that he saw Pearl walking up and down in front of Shelton Daniels’ home that morning and that she directed him to 212 Pond Street, where she said she shot her husband, trying to scare him but not trying to hurt him. He described how Frank was transported to the hospital and what Frank’s medical X-rays revealed. The Deputy Sheriff Ray Blizzard testimony was noted to “substantiated the sheriff’s statements adding no facts”. [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Pearl Sumerlin, after being appraised of her civil rights, made the following sworn state­ment at her trial: “Frank and I had no children of our own, but he had one child and three grandchildren. The grandchildren, Lawanda, Maurice, and Casandra Sumerlin lived with Frank and me. I stayed home and looked after the children. Frank came up on the front porch on the morning of January 13, 1969, and I came to the door and asked him why had he stayed out all night. Frank looked as if he was mad. He looked at the stack of firewood on the front porch. Frank never said anything to me. I got my pistol from under the bed mattress and tried to scare him away. As I was going after the gun Frank had put his hands in his pockets. I knew if he got me in the house, he would have hurt me. I am scared of him. Frank did drink some, but he only had a can of beer in his hand and I don’t know whether he was drunk or not. Frank always carried a knife but never had threatened me with it. I bought the gun at Bishop Bay Station, in Eatonton, Georgia just for protection not to shoot Frank. I have had the gun for about two years.” [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Frank Summerlin daughter, Beneta Sumerlin, was 19 at the time of her father’s death and lived at 108 Pine Lane, in Eatonton and worked for H.C. Welch as a maid. By this time, she had lived in Putnam County for two years after living in Chattanooga Tennessee. Beneta Sumerlin made the following sworn statement on 14 Janauary 1969 at her stepmother’s trial: “I wasn’t at the murder, but I know my father. I was scared of him. He threatened me several times. My father and Pearl fought before I came here to live but they have not fought since. Pearl has been like a mother to me and my children.and my father. Pearl never was in any trouble. I have no ill will against her.” [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Mrs. Josephine Bullock made the following statement on 14 January 1969 in court after being sworn in: “Pearl Sumerlin has worked for me for three to four years and I find that she is honest and a good hard worker and minds her own business. I think she is a person you can believe everything she says is the truth. I never say any family quarrels as Frank was never at home when I picked Pearl up or took her home. Frank never helped with the children.” [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

After hearing the evidence on the case, Judge William A. Rice, J.P. made the following statement: “I find that there is no evidence of malice aforethought. However, I do find sufficient facts to warrant a finding of negligence homicide and I reduced the charge to manslaughter and set the bond at One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00). This 14th day of January 1969.” [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Pearl’s bond of $1,000 was paid by Mrs. Josephine Bullock on 14 Jan 1969. Her trial and sentencing in Superior Court for the reduced charge of manslaughter was to be held in March 1969. [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Bond Information – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1969-01-16

Domestic violence was a common throughout history.  During the 1960s, the issue of domestic violence was brought to national attention through civil rights protests.

Woman’s Movement in UK

Before the 1960’s violence between family members was believed to be rare and only committed by the mentally ill or by disturbed and defective individuals. In the 1960s, wife-beatings were an accepted part of marriage in many cultures.  There was a battered women movement during the 1960’s which helped provide shelters for women who were getting abused. Like most women Pearl who worked as maid may have relied on Frank’s income to help support her.

[Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Pearl Summerlin’s trial in the Putnam County Superior Court began on Monday, 17 March 1969.  Sherriff Willie G. Jones, Deputy Ray Blizzard, neighbor Shelton Daniels and a person called of C.A. Johnson were witnesses for the state.  [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.] During her trial, it is possible that she may have feared that she would receive the same fate as her brother Eli “Bo” Griffin who in 1952, was executed by the state of Georgia by electrocution.  See story here:

On 20 Mar 1969, Pearl was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 2 years in the state penitentiary at the Georgia Rehabilitation Center for Women in Hardwick, Baldwin County, Georgia. [Source: Georgia Central Register of Convicts, 1968-1970; Felonies], [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District.].  

Judgement – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]
Georgia Central Register of Convicts, 1968-1970; Felonies
Sentencing Documentation – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

After serving 11 months of her 2-year sentence at the Georgia Rehabilitation Center for Women in Hardwick, Baldwin County, Georgia, Pearl Summerlin was released and paroled on 23 February 1970. [Source: Georgia Central Register of Convicts, 1968-1970; Felonies]

Georgia Central Register of Convicts, 1968-1970; Felonies

In her “Convict’s Personal History Sheet” Pearl Summerlin was described as 47 years old, 5 feet 4 inches, 150 pounds brown eyes, black hair, with a scar on right arm and listed her brother Emmitt Griffin of Eatonton, Putnam County as her next of kin. [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

Convict’s Personal History Sheet – [Putnam County J.P. Court, 368th District, G.M.]

According to family members, Pearl maintained her relationship with Frank Summerlin’s daughter and grandchildren as if they were her own.  She remained in Putnam County until about 1995 until she moved to Macon, Bibb County to live with Frank’s daughter. 

She was living in Chattooga County, Georgia or Chattanooga, Tennessee, when she died on 26 Feb 1998 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia. She was called Pearl G. Thomas when she passed away and was buried at East Eatonton Cemetery in Eatonton.

According to family, a running joke developed from this story within her immediate family.  “….tip your hat in the door before entering..”  Or something like that.

Pearla Griffin (Sumerlin) Thomas

For more information about Pearl Griffin Thomas’s family, see

MY GEORGIA ROOTS: The Story of Eli “Bo” Griffin, Sentenced to Death By Electrocution for the Stabbing Death of A White Man

Photo of Eli “Bo” Griffin

While researching the details of my Griffin family that originated from Putnam County, Georgia during the years of slavery and where many of them remain to this day, I came across my great grandfather, Richard Griffin’s first cousin, Eli “Bo” Griffin who had great nieces and nephews that I knew since childhood growing up in Newark, New Jersey.  My cousins in New Jersey, never heard of their uncle, but some of my cousins who still reside in Putnam County has heard of him, referring to him as Bo, but they didn’t know much about him accept for how he died.  I even recently met his grandson who read an article I wrote in which his grandfather, Eli “Bo” Griffin was briefly mentioned in it.  Eli’s grandson has never met or heard much about his own grandfather except for an over-the-top causal mention of how his grandfather met his end, which he really didn’t believe until it was confirmed for him after reading my article.   

Eli “Bo” Griffin was born on 20 August 1909 in Eatonton, Putnam County, Georgia, where he was recorded on the federal census in his father’s household in 1910 when he was 6 months old.  He was the son of John “Wesley” Griffin, a brother of my 2 times great grandfather, Warren Griffin and Hettie Jane Green Griffin whose family married into both my Griffin and my Maddox families and who’s family can be traced back to the same plantations as my Griffin’s and Maddox’s ancestors during the years of slavery.

As a child, Eli grew up on his family’s farms in Eatonton and in Thompkins, Putnam County and in adjacent, Morgan County, Georgia in a town called Durdin.  Like my great grandfather, Eli more than likely had to leave school to work as a laborer on his family’s farm.

On 13 Dec 1930, he married Eva Julia Butts in Putnam County, Georgia, but in 1934, he apparently had a child with a woman named Patience Cole, the 17-year-old daughter of Sam Cole (1879–1968) and Hattie Walker Cole (1893–).  In 1936, Eli and Patience apparently had another son together. The cousin who reached out to me recently was his son.

Marriage Certificate of Eli Griffin and Eva Julia Butts [Putnam County Marriages, Vol M, page 215]

Eli left Putnam County before 1940 and was recorded in his older brother, William Henry Griffin’s household in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the 1940 federal census. William Henry Griffin was the father of Eli’s nephew who had moved to Newark from Putnam County to live with his mother and who would eventually have a family there. Eli was unemployed and looking for work as a laborer in construction. He reported that he didn’t work in 1939. He earned no income that year and that he was unemployed for 104 weeks prior to 30 Mar 1940.  Meanwhile, Patience Cole had began a common law relationship with Wille Jeff Greene, who’s father Major Greene was a brother of Eli’s mother Hettie, making Willie Jeff Greene and Eli Bo Griffin, first cousins.  Willie Jeff Greene was actually Eli’s “little cousin” as Eli was a decade older than Willie. Eli’s two sons with Patience Cole were recorded as Willie Jeff Greene’s sons and they were recorded on the 1940 census with his “Green/Greene” surname but in 1950, Patience and her 2 sons with Eli would be recorded on the federal census in Eatonton, without Willie J. Greene and with the 3 of them using the “Griffin” surname.

First page of Eli Griffin’s 1940 WWII Draft Card [U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947]
Second page of Eli Griffin’s 1940 WWII Draft Card [U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947]

Six months after being recorded on the 1940 federal census in his brother’s house, on 16 October 1940, Eli was residing in Hammonton, Atlantic County, New Jersey when he registered for the WWII draft there.  He was 31 years old, and his birth date and birthplace were respectively recorded as 20 Aug 1909 and Eatonton, Georgia. His height was recorded as 5’ 8”; his weight, recorded as 160lbs, his complexion, hair and eye color all recorded as “black”, and it was noted that he had a scar on his left hand, 3rd knuckle. He worked for Angelo Jacobs on First Road in Hammonton.  His listed his next of kin as Mrs Katie Griffin, his wife.

Alabama, U.S., Convict Records, 1941 (Showing Eli Griffin)

The following year, Eli was in Calhoun County, Alabama when he was arrested for assault and battery with a weapon on 19 April 1941. He had a paternal aunt, Mariah Griffin Williams who moved there when he was a child and died there in 1927. She had a husband, his uncle, and she had offspring his age and older, still residing in the area in 1941.  Most of their surnames were Peters and Goodman. Additionally, a couple of first cousins from his paternal uncle also named Eli Griffin had moved there in the 1920s. One of them had married his maternal first cousin who was a Green. Even though some family members had left the area and moved to Detroit prior to his arrival, he had plenty of family still residing in Calhoun County at that time.  But something happened and it resulted in an episode of violence.  As of now, I have not learned any of the pertinent details, specifically who the violence was acted upon but I wonder if was against one or more of his family members?  Eli was sentenced to 60 days on 19 April 1941 for his “assault and battery with a weapon” charge and had to pay a fine of $50 or serve an additional 20 days pushing a release date out to 8 July 1941. There was also $21.80 in court charges to be paid or serve an additional 43 days. He apparently could not pay the fine or the court fees, nor did any of his family members pay them for him because instead of him being released in June, he was released on 20 Aug 1941 but into the custody of Montgomery County Sheriff. [Calhoun County Alabama Convict Records Volume 10: 1940-1941].

Georgia, Central Register of Convicts, 1946 (Showing Bo Griffin’s case)

I speculate that he, after having exhausted the patience and good graces of his family in first Pennsylvania, New Jersey and now Alabama, Eli probably contemplated moving to Detroit, where he had other cousins who left Calhoun County between 1935 and 1940 but they may have gotten word about the trouble that came with Eli and not encourage his travel.   He eventually returned to his place of origins, Putnam County, Georgia which I imagined did not make him happy. When he left Putnam, he may have felt that he “escaped” and moved on from there like several of his family members did, but instead, he was back in Putnam where the bulk of his family still resided, including his mother and where in 1946, he was arrested. Although his arrest was considered a misdemeanor, this time, his violence appears to have escalated. He was called “Bo Griffin” and was sentenced on 18 September 1946 to serve 9 months for “assault with intent to murder”. [Georgia, Central Register of Convicts, 1946].

Georgia, U.S., Central Register of Convicts, 1949 (showing Eli Griffin’s case)

In 1949, Eli Griffin’s escalation of violence episodes appear to have continued.   That year, he was arrested in Putnam County for a felony and on 22 Sep 1949 he was sentence to serve time in jail for 2 counts of “assault to murder” charges. The 1st charge was to be served between 1 and 4 years and the other was for 6 months to be served after the 1st. [Georgia, Central Register of Convicts, 1949].

Book Cover for the Reported Cases of the Supreme Court of Georgia (April & Sep 1851 & Jan 1852)

Sadly in 1951, Eli Griffin’s violent pattern escalated for the worse.  This time a man was killed and even worse for Eli Griffin, this man was white.   WD Elder was a white man in Walton County of good standing in both Putnam County and in his home community of Walton County, Georgia. [Walton Tribune, Page13, 1951-10-03] According to Atlanta Journal published on 21 August 1951, Eli was on parole in 1951 for shooting an Eatonton police officer which likely occured in 1949.

Based on the newspaper articles and the testimonies of the witnesses and of Eli himself documented in the Reported Cases of the Supreme Court of Georgia (April & Sep 1851 & Jan 1852), on 21 Aug 1951, Eli and another black man named Eddy Monday arrived at the Ingrams Planning Mill to pick up lumber for their employer. They had a difficult time loading the lumber into their truck so the deceased, WD Elder who worked at the mill tried to assist them with the help of another white man who also worked at the mill name J. C. Dorster. Apparently while struggling to hold the gate of the truck open, Dorster “snapped” at Eli who was either sitting in the truck or standing next to it, asking Eli to help open the gate. Apparently, Eli felt that he was cursed at by Dorster and now Eli was offended. Eli looked as if he was going to help but walked away instead, saying that he “don’t get spoken to that way”. According to another witness who heard Eli tell WD Elder, the victim that Mr. Dorster “cursed” him. The deceased replied saying that Dorster didn’t curse him, and Eli responded, “He ain’t got no business cursing me. What business he got cursing me? I ain’t scared of nobody here.” The witness walked away but turned around moments later when he heard the “tussling”. Eli and Elder were down on the floor rolling on it in the tussle and when Dorster hit Eli with a plank of wood to stop him, Eli chased him with the blooded knife he had in his hand. With Eli out of the vacinity, other workers who had come to help had a chance to notice that Elder had a stab womb on his jaw exposing his bone. Just minutes later, they arrived at the hospital with Elder who was unconscious by then. It was at that time that they saw that Elder was also “sliced” in his right thigh. Minutes after arriving at the hospital, the men were informed by the hospital that Elder died on the way there due to him bleeding to death. [Reported Cases of the Supreme Court of Georgia (April & Sep 1951 & Jan 1952), Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1951-09-20, ] Eli had fled the scene and hid in a home where he found by the sherrif. That night, Eli was whisked away by police for his own safe keeping as a crowd of at least 100 people gathered in front of the jail. [Marietta Journal, Wednesday August 22, 1951, page 1]

Order Granting New Trial

On 19 Sep 1951, Eli was indicted for murder and plead not guilty. His lawyer argued that the trial was set less than 30 days after the incident, and he had no time to prepare having only met Eli twice within 6 days prior to the day of the trial. The judge offered no mercy and sentenced Eli to die on 30 Oct 1951.[Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1951-09-20] Meanwhile another murder trial was occurring in Putnam County during the same time, also involving another black man who’s named was Clifford McDaniel and who was accused of murdering C. G. Dennis also black but on Friday, 21 Sep 1951, only 2 days after Eli were sentenced to death, McDaniels was acquitted. [Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1951-09-27] Although Eli’s fate at this time seemed certain, news of the McDaniels case may have given Eli, his mother Hettie and anyone who loved him some hope to hold on to as his attorney worked to change the status of his case by plotting new and promising strategies.  Apparently their hope paid off.  On 20 October 1951, just 10 days before Eli was set to die by electrocution, Eli’s case was stayed and a new trial was granted based on the new medical evidence submitted. In this new trial, new and expert testimony was to be provided in hopes to explain Eli’s behavior and to change the original outcome of the case and the sentencing.

In a January 1952 hearing, testimony was given by Eli and by his doctor over the years who stated that he has been treating him with drugs for epilepsy since 1939.  A psychiatrist testified that the disease called “epilepsy” was known to lead to burst of rage and eventually into total insanity.  

This medical issue may have been an unknown factor for the “recorded” violent events attributed to him which seems to have started in 1941, two years after his diagnosis, plus the charges and severity of each arrest, subsequent to the last one, seems to have escalated. Also, his medical illness may have been factors in him leaving his relationships in Putnam County, in him leaving Pennsylvania where his older brother lived and in him leaving New Jersey where he had a relationship just month before being arrested in Alabama.

Eli’s lawyer introduced similar cases to the courts that happened prior to Eli’s case.  Those cases were thought to have set a precedent and were used in Eli’s defense. I can imagine that the fact that he had a new trial granted to him just in a “nick of time” in October, and weeks after McDaniels was acquitted gave him and his mother Hettie hope that he might also be spared and now these expert testimonies probably offered them both even more it.  

Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1952-02-28

On 13 Feb 1952, the Superior Court decided to uphold the September 1951 verdict and death sentence which was now rescheduled to happen in March 1952.  It appeared in that moment that Eli now had about a month to live.

Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1952-03-20

In March 1952, just in a “nick of time”, the Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended to the governor that his case be heard before them, and he was given a 15 day stay.  This was more hope for Eli and his family.  They likely thought this might be the end of this drama for them.  There were probably a lot of prayers and a lot of bible reading.  However, at the beginning of April 1952, the board denied his request and Eli was scheduled to die on 17 April 1952 at Reidsville, Georgia State Prison, in Reidsville, Tattnall County, Georgia.

Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1952-04-17

It’s understandable how Eli might still hold on to hope even after hearing his recent fate from the courts and after hearing that his request to have his sentence commuted to life was denied by the board.  Twice, he was scheduled to have died by way of electrocution but both times, he was given news at the last minute that he had been spared from death and given more time.  I am sure that he hoped that this time would be no different.   

Eatonton Messenger, Page1, 1952-04-24

Eli’s grasp for hope lasted until the night before his execution, when he asked his warden to call his attorney to see if there was any “hope” left for him which the warden did but only for them both to learn that all legal steps had been exhausted. The warden advised Eli to “prepare to die the following morning”.   The next morning, the prison’s chaplain spoke with Eli but could not get him to say much.  “I told my story”, he said, “but the 12 men in Eatonton wouldn’t believe me.  I don’t see any reason to tell it to a preacher.”  Later on that morning, one hour before he was scheduled to die, Eli’s family came to visit him one last time in his prison cell.  The warden, who wouldn’t witness any of the electrocutions witnessed all of the families last goodbyes.  He described the last visits of condemned men as one of the most touching features of executions.  Eli was said to have remained his “usual silent self” while he was being prepared for “the chair” and while he was being escorted to it from his cell through a short corridor that was nicknamed “the last mile” where condemned men were able to look through a large window for one last view of “the great outdoors”.  Even while being strapped to the chair, Eli remained silent and at 11:10 am, that Thursday morning, on 17 April 1952, lethel charges of electricity was shot through his body killing him. His death left a sadness in the death ward as the remaining condemn fated men counted the few days they themselves had left to live.  [Eatonton Messenger, Page1 & 5, 1952-04-24]

Eli Griffin was one of 218 executed by the state of Georgia between 1941 and 1964. Each of them electrocuted. One of them was a 44 year old Black woman. The rest were 46 white men between 18 and 54 years old and 171 Black males between the ages 16 and 72. [DeathPenaltyUSA, Index by State – GEORGIA – 1941-1964]

Eli Bo Griffin’s 2 teenage sons with Patience Cole, were left to deal with the grief of their father’s death and how and why his death occured. Just a few short years later, his sons who were then adults left Putnam County. According to Eli’s grandson, one son moved to Detroit where he started a family and had a sucessfull career working at Ford Motors, while the other son had a sucessfull military career and started his family while living abroad.

For more historic information about Eli “Bo” Griffin’s family see:

MY GEORGIA ROOTS: The Story of Rev. Benjamin Lundy of Mitchell and Dougherty Counties Georgia

Photograph of Rev. Ben Lundy

I was about 8 years old when I first heard about my 2 times great grandfather, the Rev. Benjamin Lundy. His name was written in the bible of my maternal grandmother, Roxie Griffin Hawkins’s, who married Lundy’s grandson Rufus C. Hawkins on Dec 7, 1957, in Newark. In 1957, Ben Lundy’s son, Uncle George Lundy moved to Newark, New Jersey where his apartment would be one of two on the 2nd floor in a small tenement building on Morton Street in the Central Ward of Newark. Across the hall from them, was my 19-year-old grandmother’s childhood home where she lived all her life with her parents, until her father passed away in July of 1955. When my 21-year-old grandfather who was born in Baconton, Mitchell County, Georgia arrived in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey in late summer 1957 from Perry, Taylor County, Florida to live there with his uncle, he met my grandmother.

From what I was told as a child by my grandmother, Ben Lundy was a minister and was sort of a civil rights activist. He led protest against the police who wrongly jailed black people. I did find in my research that he was a minister of a church in Albany, Georgia, but I wasn’t able to find any information printed about the protests they he led. However, in my research, I did find events in his life that may have been the sparks to his call of duty to work on behalf of those he felt couldn’t. This is a short summary of his story.

Partial County Map of Georgia showing locations where Ben Lundy and or his parents resided

Benjamin Lundy was born about 1849 and according to his death certificate he was born in Forsyth, Monroe County, Georgia. His parents, Washington and Matilda Jones were born in neighboring Bibb County, Georgia. According to oral family history, he was the son of an Indian, but he was likely one of the 40 slaves reported on the 1860 federal slave schedule of Robert Lundy in Dougherty County, Georgia. He spent the first 15/16 years of his life as someone else’s property. By 1865, he was one of the more than 460,000 enslaved people freed in Georgia during and after the Civil War.

He married Nancy Beal on 09 Dec 1867 in Dougherty County, Georgia and lived in nearby Lee County Georgia in his mulatto father’s Washington “Wash” Jones’s household in 1870 with his wife and child. Like most people of color during that time, recently freed or otherwise, this family more than likely saw political tensions in the new south and may have experience racial violence and or threats of it. Both the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Ku Klux Klan played as prominent a role in Georgia as in any former Confederate state.

Ku Klux Klan Cartoon, Harper’s Weekly

In 1866, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) began first in Tennessee and then in other states like Georgia, amidst the political, economic, and social upheaval that was the aftermath of the American Civil War. This movement targeted the most primal fears of Southern white populations, claiming to seek justice for crimes against whites, reiterating antiquated social status quos, and ensuring white supremacy were top priorities for the Klan. [Southern Poverty Law Center – Jordan Adams, “A History of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia from 1868-1944”] African Americans had been given the right to vote, and in the months that followed that decision, whites across the state used violence to combat Blacks new potential political strength, often through the newly founded Ku Klux Klan. Georgia agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau recorded 336 cases of murder or assault with intent to kill against freedmen from January 1 through November, 15 of 1868.

On September 19, 1868, between 150 and 300 blacks, as well as a few whites, marched from Albany, Mitchell County, Georgia, to Camilla, the Mitchell County seat, to attend a Republican political rally on the courthouse square. The local sheriff and “citizens committee” in the majority-white town warned the black and white activists that they would be met with violence, and demanded that they surrender their guns, even though carrying weapons was legal and customary at the time. The marchers refused to give up their guns and continued to the courthouse square, where a group of local whites, quickly deputized by the sheriff, fired upon them. This assault forced the Republicans and freedmen to retreat into the swamps as locals gave chase, killing an estimated nine to fifteen of the black rally participants while wounding forty others. “Whites proceeded through the countryside over the next two weeks, beating and warning Negroes that they would be killed if they tried to vote in the coming election.” [Johnson, Nicholas (2014). Negroes and The Gun: the black tradition of arms.] This horrible event was called the “Camilla Massacre” and Ben Lundy was a victim of it. As of now, I have no records indicating that Lundy was part of the march that prompted the attention of the white citizens of Camilla but he was injured from the massacre that followed it. On 19 September 1868, Benjamin Lundy was shot with a buckshot, causing wounds to his right shoulder and elbow and to his head. [ Evidence Before the Committee on Reconstruction Relative to the Condition of Affairs in Georgia By United States. Congress. House. Committee on Reconstruction · 1869] According to The Freedmen’s Bureau’s “Report of assaults with intent to murder, committed upon freed people in the division of Albany from January 1st to October 31st 1868“, Ben Lundy recieved gunshot wound of the left thigh and left foot, two buck shot passing through the thigh, one good sized ball through the foot (not fatal)) [Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Georgia, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865 – 1869]. He survived the attack and after he recovered from it, he and his family may have felt the need to leave the area and move to nearby Lee County from Dougherty and Mitchell Counties perhaps thinking that it might be safer, but race relations there would not be any better.

Thomas Nast Cartoon, The Camilla Massacre, 1868
Illustration by Thomas Nast, Public domain

By 1871, the KKK had died down and Ben Lundy moved his growing family to Baconton, a town in neighboring Mitchell County, Georgia where he worked as a farmer for a white man named Robert James “RJ” Bacon while his father relocated back to Dougherty County and worked as an omnibus driver. RJ Bacon who was born around 1830 was reported on the 1870 census having personal assets valuing $5,000 and real estate valuing $20,000. Ten years prior in 1860, the GA agriculture digest in Mitchell reported 1000 acres of improved land and 1000 aces of unimproved land valued at $20,000 for Bacon. On the 1880 Census RJ Bacon was recorded in Dougherty County and his occupation was recorded as a “warehouseman”. Ben Lundy consistently worked for RJ Bacon, and he apparently developed a good reputation in the community but then one day things changed. During the holiday season in December 1882, he was accused a breaking into a store and robbing it and he would face years of hard labor in a segregation Georgia state prison if he were to be found guilty.

Bill of Indictment 12/30/1883

On the Friday before the Christmas of 1882, the small store front of a black or mulatto man, Squire Walton was burglarized. Walton’s business dealt in general merchandise and in liquor and 3 days after his store was burglarized, Ben Lundy was accused of robbing it. Having stolen property on his person that was identified by a clerk who worked for Squire Walton, made Ben Lundy the only suspect in the robbery as far as the local law was concern and on 30 Dec 1882, he was indicted for the burglary by a grand jury of 22 white men. On 22 March 1883 the courts began prosecution hearings for Lundy who had been in the Mitchell County jail since around Christmas of 1882. According to the court documents that I’ve read, Ben Lundy was accused of the crime he was indicted for because of a coin he had in his possession. The coin was a silver quarter which was only one of the “several” items Squire Walton claimed to have been missing. The coin had certain “notches” on it and the date of 1854 which Walton claimed to have recognized. When asked how he came into possession of the coin, Lundy apparently wasn’t consistence with his claim of who he received it from. He named both Bill and John Glozier who were father and son as the source of his receipt of the stolen coin. They were both white men who testified in court that Ben Lundy didn’t receive the coin from either one of them. The Gloziers, were also merchants themselves and Squire Walton’s business may have been in competition with theirs. The courts believed them and convicted Lundy on 29 Mar 1883 in Mitchell County. The courts sentenced him to 2 years hard labor in the Georgia State Penitentiary.

Ben Lundy apparently had a lot of support within the community. According to the Atlanta Constitution, which was a Georgia newspaper, Lundy’s major support was led by a black man named Ira Wright. Wright worked to have the court’s decision appealed and on 5 Apr 1883 the decision to rehear his case was granted. This victory must have sent hope not only to Lundy for his freedom but to blacks in and outside of Georgia who may have been following this case. After several months having gone by and after character testimony given by people in the community, the Georgia Court of Appeals made their decision. On 18 Sep 1883, the judge in the matter upheld the original decision even after hearing character testimony. The judge’s decision was based on the coin being in Lundy’s possession and stated that “the new evidence, [mostly character testimony], was immaterial”. On 1 Apr 1884, Lundy was placed into the custody of the Georgia State Penitentiary and sentenced to 2 years hard labor. He was described as 5’8″, age 39, black complexion with black hair and brown eyes.

The_Atlanta_Constitution_Tue__Apr_3__1883_ (Ben Lundy)

Ben Lundy may have been involved in a system called “Convict leasing” which was a system of forced penal labor historically practiced in the Southern United States and overwhelmingly involved African American men. In Georgia convict leasing began in April 1868, when newly appointed provisional governor Thomas H. Ruger issued a convict lease for prisoners to William Fort for work on the Georgia and Alabama Railroad and as their state prison in Milledgeville, Georgia became dilapidated after the Civil War, this system was a welcome substitute.

Convict Labor
Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

Within five years, convict leasing was a major source of revenue for the state. Over a span of eighteen months in 1872 and 1873, the hiring out of prison labor brought Georgia more than $35,000. With this success, the state legislature passed a law in 1876 that endorsed the leasing of the state’s prisoners to one or more companies for at least twenty years. Three companies took on these convicts at the price of $500,000 to be paid at intervals over the twenty-year span of the lease. During this period, there were attempts to reform the system of convict labor in Georgia, although such efforts were never successful, in part because of the sheer profitability of the convict lease system. In 1881, expressing intentions to improve the prisoners’ quality of life, the state legislature passed a law requiring that only one person in each work camp be authorized to administer punishment. Rather than ease the difficulties of leased convicts, however, this legislation enabled the harsh treatment of prisoners by men known as “whipping bosses.” [Todd, William. “Convict Lease System.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Jul 17, 2020. Lease System”] Georgia ended the convict lease system in 1908.

By the spring of 1886, Lundy was released from the state prison. He found a job working for a white man whose last name was Montgomery. It may have been there where he met his future father-in-law and future grandfather in law, Stephen Downer and Anthony Downer, respectively. Both Stephen and Anthony worked as farmers for Montgomery as well. His first wife Nancy had apparently died or left him.

On Christmas day in 1890, Ben Lundy married a young Leah Williams, who was either divorced or widowed with a young daughter of her own. Leah who was born in 1863 was the daughter of Stephen Downer born 1836 and Mary “Polly” Flanagan Downer born 1841 and was the granddaughter of Anthony and Mimi Downer, my four times great grandparents who were born in 1815 and 1800, respectively. They had a family together of their own which was as large as his family with Nancy Beall. By 1891, Ben Lundy as well as his Downer in laws were living in Dougherty County and were probably there for a year or two. Lundy remained there until the late 1890s only to return to Mitchell County where he continued working as farmer.

Marriage Certificate of Ben Lundy and Leah [Downer] Williams

Beginning in the 1890s, Georgia and other southern states passed a wide variety of Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation or separation in public facilities and effectively codified the region’s tradition of white supremacy. Under Jim Crow, Black Georgians suffered from a system of discrimination that pervaded nearly every aspect of life; they were denied their constitutional right to vote, encountered discrimination in housing and employment, and were refused access to public spaces and facilities. [Hatfield, Edward. “Segregation.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Jul 20, 2020.

Lynching Of A Black Man Accused Of Rape In Royston, Georgia Around 1935-1940

During the introduction of Jim Crow, suppression of Black citizens took a far more violent turn. More lynchings took place in Georgia between 1889 and 1918 than anywhere else in the United States. [Tolnay, Stewart and E. Beck. “Lynching.” New Georgia Encyclopedia, last modified Aug 12, 2020.

During the late 1890s and early 1900s, there were hundreds penitentiary convictions of black men within the Mitchell/Dougherty area; one of them being, Israel Lundy, Ben Lundy’s son from his first marriage to Nancy Beale. Anyone of these men, especially his son may have been among the black people whose imprisonment Lundy protested. On 30 Apr 1895, 22-year-old Israel Lundy was sentenced in Dougherty County, Georgia to 5 ½ years prison for 3 counts of simple larceny. He served his 5 ½ year prison sentence in the state prison and was released from it on 30 Oct 1900.

By 1910, Lundy relocated his family back to Dougherty County, Georgia and resided in Militia District 1097. Lundy was a farmer in this area of Georgia and he was probably a member of different churches, likely a preacher during this time. In 1920, he was recorded on the census for the first time as a preacher while his wife and his children worked on a farm where he had his own account.

He relocated one last time back to Mitchell County sometime in the 1920s, maybe when he began serving at 1st Bethesda Baptist Church in Dougherty, County, becoming the church’s 3rd minister in 1926. The “Rev. Ben Lundy assumed his new role while at the same time running a farm in Baconton, Mitchell County. He may have attended that same church as early as 1865, when the church was donated to its newly freed black members, and when the first African-American deacons were ordained. He ministered at Bethesda for 6 years until on 30 Aug 1932, at 8pm, he passed away in Putney in Baconton, Mitchell County, Georgia from stomach cancer.

The Rev. Lundy and Nancy Beale were the parents of Martha Lundy born 1869, Sarah Steele, born 1871, Israel Lundy, 1873–1948, Benjimen J Lundy Jr born 1874, James Lundy, born 1876, and Washington”Wash” Lundy (1878–1879).

The Rev. Lundy and Leah Downer were the parents of Benzola Riley (1891–1958), George A. Lundy (1892–1970), Leonza Means (1896–1988), Arrilla “Mercy” Tensley (1898–1966), Ruth Lundy (1898–1992), Eugene James H Lundy (1902–1956), Mary Anne Hawkins (1903–1963) and Marie Lundy born 1906.

Leah Downer Williams was the mother of Kattie Laura Bell Williams born (1885) before she married Ben Lundy.