Lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson - Original Lynching Postcard
Lynching of Laura and L.D. Nelson
Laura and L.D. Nelson (born 1878 and 1897) were an African-American mother and son who were lynched on May 25, 1911, near Okemah, the county seat of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma.
Laura, her husband Austin, their teenage son L.D., and possibly their child had been taken into custody after George Loney, Okemah's deputy sheriff, and three others arrived at the Nelsons' home on May 2, 1911, to investigate the theft of a cow. The son shot Loney, who was hit in the leg and bled to death; Laura was reportedly the first to grab the gun and was charged with murder, along with her son. Her husband pleaded guilty to larceny, and was sent to the relative safety of the state prison in McAlester. The son L.D. Nelson was held in the county jail in Okemah and the mother Laura in a cell in the nearby courthouse to await trial.
At around midnight on May 24, Laura and L.D. Nelson were both kidnapped from their cells by a group of between a dozen and 40 men; the group included Charley Guthrie (1879–1956), the father of folk singer Woody Guthrie (1912–1967), according to a statement given in 1977 by the former's brother. The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in July 1911 that Laura was raped, then she and L.D. were hanged from a bridge over the North Canadian River. According to some sources, Laura had a baby with her at the time, who one witness said survived the attack.
Sightseers gathered on the bridge the following morning and photographs of the hanging bodies were sold as postcards; the one of Laura is the only known surviving photograph of a female lynching victim. No one was ever charged with the murders; the district judge convened a grand jury, but the killers were never identified. Although Woody Guthrie was not born until 14 months after the lynching, the photographs and his father's reported involvement had a lasting effect on him, and he wrote several songs about the killings.
The Nelsons were among at least 4,743 people lynched in the United States between 1888 and 1968, 3,446 (72.7 percent) of them black, 73 percent of them in the South, around 150 of them women.