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In 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama, for referring to a white police officer by his name without the title of “mister.”

  • This is the death certificate for Jesse Thornton.

On June 21, 1940, Jesse Thornton became a victim of racial violence when he was lynched by a mob in Luverne, Alabama, Crenshaw County. As Thornton was preparing to visit a local black barbershop, he had a brutal encounter with a police officer. Thornton along with a few of his acquaintances were standing in front of the barbershop socializing when an officer by the name of Doris Rhodes approached them in a rage. The officer accused Thornton of  referring to him by his first name—an act that was  prohibited during this era. Infuriated, the officer attacked Thornton and walked him to the local jail.

Once the officer and Thornton arrived to the jail cell, events quickly took a turn for the worse. While officer Rhodes was preparing to unlock the cell, Thornton hastily broke away and fled out of the building. However, he was soon met by a vicious mob awaiting him outside the jail. Thornton attempted to escape the mob by running but he was shot five times. After shooting him, the mob threw his body in the back of a pick up truck and drove him to a near-by location. His body was later found in the Patsaliga River near Tuskegee Institute. Forensic clues led the investigators to believe that Thornton was lynched. 

Following the completion of the investigatory report by Dr. Charles J. McPherson, secretary of the NAACP's Birmingham branch, Thurgood Marshall strongly urged the US Justice Department to launch an official investigation of the lynching. They in turn forwarded a request to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to launch an investigation. However, to date, it is uncertain whether either agency proceeded with the steps required for prosecution in the case.