Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Excerpt #1 - New Book on the Claude Neal Lynching

Cannady House in 1980s, before it was demolished.
My new book on the 1934 murder of Lola Cannady and lynching of Claude Neal in Jackson County is now available.

It can be ordered at the upper right of this page or purchased at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.

Claude Neal was accused of raping and murdering 19-year-old Lola Cannady near Greenwood and had confessed to the crime when he was taken from a jail in Brewton, Alabama, by a group of men armed with guns and dynamite. Brought back to Jackson County, he was tortured and killed in a remote wooded area near the Parramore community in eastern Jackson County.

The FBI has opened a new investigation into the Claude Neal lynching (although apparently not into the murder of Lola Cannady) and a family member of Neal told a Tallahassee newspaper this week that his family wants $77 million dollars in compensation from either the state or federal government.

That equals out to $1 million for each year that has passed since Neal's death on October 26, 1934.

My new book is titled: The Claude Neal Lynching: The 1934 Murders of Claude Neal and Lola Cannady. It will be released in both e-book and print editions over the next two weeks.

The book is written without an agenda, political or otherwise, and offers a chronological history of the events that took place in October of 1934, giving equal attention to the deaths of both Lola Cannady and Claude Neal. Previous writings on the topic have given only scant attention to Cannady's death.

The following excerpt is from Chapter One of the new book. Please do not reprint without permission:

In the summer and fall of 2011, the United States Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into the 1934 lynching of Claude Neal. It was, so far as is known, the first time that agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into the crime and was part of a wider investigation of as many as 100 historical crimes opened during the administration of President George W. Bush.. While funding for such efforts was reduced under President Barack Obama, the investigations have continued.
“(H)ate-crimes enforcement, and cold-case investigations in particular, remain a priority to this administration,” Justice Department Spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told reporters in July of 2011, “and the Civil Rights Division will devote the resources necessary to fully investigate all significant matters.” While the department would not confirm details, one of those "significant matters" was the Claude Neal lynching. FBI agents came to Jackson County where they interviewed current and former public officials and conducted records research at the Jackson County Courthouse in Marianna. Their investigation was launched seventy-seven years after the horrible events of 1934.
It was not, of course, the first time that the shadows of that fateful year lingered over Jackson County, nor will it likely be the last. The story of the Claude Neal lynching, however, is not just a story of extralegal justice in the years of the Great Depression, it is a story of violence and murder. It began when the life of a young woman named Lola Cannady was brutally taken in the farm country near Greenwood, Florida, on a clear and cool October afternoon.

Lola Cannady, ca. 1934
Lola Cannady was, by all accounts, a bright and cheerful young woman. Friendly with a kind word for all she met, she was small in stature and skinny as a rail, as were far too many of the people who lived on farms during those hard times. She was part of a large family, but pitched in and did her share of the work by feeding and watering the family hogs to take labor from the shoulders of her father and brothers while they worked in the fields. She also helped care for the house, do the family washing and cooking and look out for her youngest brother who was still too small to do heavy farm work.
Like most young people of that day and this, she enjoyed socializing with friends and is remembered even today as a pretty young woman who drew the attention of potential suitors. Her cousins Dora King, Bessie King and Clara Bell Stanley lived nearby and they often visited each other. While the girls were cousin, they were so close that they often called each other “sister.”
Much of their conversation during the late summer of 1934 was likely about Lola’s engagement to a young man in the community. She was, according to one acquaintance, “really excited and chattered about getting married like all young girls do.” The Great Depression was then in its darkest days, but despite the hard times and hunger that stalked the land, the wedding was an exciting and anticipated event for the whole extended family.
Like Acadamy Award winning actress Faye Dunaway, who was born nearby seven years after Lola’s death, the young woman dreamed of escaping the hard life of the farm. She enjoyed visiting her sister and other relatives in Tallahassee where she saw in such now routine conveniences as electric light, running water and well-stocked store shelves the promise of a better life away from the sandy peanut and cotton fields of Jackson County. She hoped one day to live in Tallahassee, possibly even find a real job there and enjoy simple luxuries that must have seemed extravagant to a young woman from the farm.
The Cannady family, like most of the other farm families of Jackson County, ate simple food and there was never enough of it. A cousin remembered meals of sweet potatoes and cornbread on visits to the weathered farmhouse. Protein was in short supply and pork chops, bacon and fried chicken were delicacies not often enjoyed. When flour could be afforded, especially after the crop came in or the season’s hogs were sold, there were biscuits and red-eye gravy. Summer brought peaches and plums, while in the fall there were scuppernongs, ripe persimmons, and green boiled peanuts, along with sugar cane and cane syrup. All of these were delicacies anticipated the year round.

I will post additional excerpts over coming days. To read more about the Neal lynching until the next post, please visit

Saturday, October 22, 2011

FBI Opens New Investigation of 1934 Jackson County Lynching

Old Jackson County Courthouse
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the 77 year old lynching of Claude Neal, a black farm laborer accused of murdering a young woman near Greenwood.
Agents have been in Jackson County over recent weeks looking into the nearly eight decade old lynching as part of a new U.S. Department of Justice focus on approximately 100 unsolved crimes of the Civil Rights era. The FBI does not confirm active investigations, but local leaders have confirmed the presence of investigators in the county on a condition of anonymity.

Although the Claude Neal lynching is often called the "Marianna lynching," the man was actually killed in a remote wooded area near today's Parramore Landing Park in eastern Jackson County. His body was hanged from a tree at the Jackson County Courthouse.

Lola Cannady was attacked near the trees in the distance.
Neal was accused of murdering 19-year-old Lola Cannady on the afternoon of October 19, 1934. The young woman was reported missing after she left her home along what is now Dozier Road north of Greenwood to water hogs but failed to return. As concern grew over her whereabouts, family and neighbors began to search the vicinity for any traces of her. They found evidence of a fight near the hog pen, blood stains and a man's tracks leading to the scene from the nearby home of Sallie Smith.

Following the tracks to the house, the searchers found Sallie Smith and her niece Annie Smith washing a man's bloody clothes. A bloodstained hammer was also found. Annie Smith's 23-year-old son, Claude Neal, was not at home and did not return home that night. Suspicion immediately centered on him and the women later confirmed they had seen him near the hog pen with Lola Cannady and then heard her scream. They also confirmed that the bloodstained clothes belonged to him.

Lola's mother kneels over her daughter's body in 1934.
Lola's body was found early the next morning, dumped in a nearby wooded area and covered with logs and brush. She had been raped and beaten to death with a hammer.

Near the young woman's body, searchers found a piece of bloodstained cloth and the stem and loop of a man's pocket watch. The items turned out to be crucial pieces of evidence. The piece of cloth was matched to a ripped part of Neal's shirt and when taken into custody on the morning of October 19, 1934, it was discovered that his pocket watch was missing its loop and stem. The broken watch pieces found near Lola Cannady's body fit perfectly with Neal's damaged watch.

Claude Neal was arrested in Malone on suspicion of murder, but almost immediately Sheriff W.F. "Flake" Chambliss heard rumors that a mob was planning to seize him. The mob planned, according to the sheriff's reports, to take Neal back to the scene of the murder and allow Lola's father to kill him.

Deputy Dave Hamm
In order to protect the life of his prisoner, Chambliss transferred him first to the Washington County Jail in Chipley and from there to the Bay County Jail in Panama City. On the very night of Neal's arrest (October 19), however, Jackson County Deputy Dave Hamm observed a long line of cars passing through Cottondale en route to Chipley and Panama City. The Bay County sheriff was warned that a possible attack on his jail was being mounted and urged to move Neal immediately. The suspect was placed aboard a boat and carried to what is now Fort Walton Beach (then Camp Walton) and from there by car to Pensacola.

From Pensacola, Neal was moved again to the county jail in Brewton, Alabama. There, on October 22nd, he made a complete confession to the murder of Lola Cannady, but also implicated a second man named Herbert Smith.

Deputies in Jackson County took Herbert Smith into custody that same afternoon and quickly spirited him to the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee for his own protection. From there he was taken around through Georgia and Alabama to Brewton so he could confront Neal for implicating him in the crime. When Neal saw Smith in the Brewton jail, he admitted that the second man had not been involved and amended his confession to say that he had acted alone in attacking and murdering Lola Cannady.

Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on October 26, 1934, a group of men from Jackson County stormed the jail in Brewton and demanded that Claude Neal be turned over to them. They were armed with pistols, shotguns and dynamite. Taking the suspect by force from the jail, they drove back to Jackson County on secondary roads to avoid being spotted by law enforcement officers along the way.

Claude Neal at Courthouse
Neal was taken to a remote wooded area near today's Parramore Landing Park. There he was tortured for several hours and finally killed. His body was then carried to the Cannady farm near Greenwood, where additional bullets were fired into the lifeless corpse. From the farm the body was taken to Marianna and hanged from a tree on the courthouse grounds.

Sheriff Chambliss found the body at around 6 a.m. on October 27th and cut it down. Neal was buried at Nubbin Ridge Cemetery near Greenwood at 10 a.m. People from throughout the region continued to arrive in Marianna throughout the morning, however, and at 12 noon rioting broke out around courthouse square.

A man was saved from rioters by Jackson County deputies, who held the mob at bay from the doors of the courthouse by claiming they had machine guns and were prepared to use them. Governor Dave Sholtz ordered National Guard companies to Marianna from Tallahassee and Panama City to quell the rioting. They arrived late in the afternoon and the situation immediately calmed.

The Claude Neal case was featured prominently in the effort by the NAACP and other organizations to secure the passage of a national anti-lynching law. That effort ultimately failed when the bill bogged was filibustered in the U.S. Senate, but the nationwide outrage over the lynching played a significant role in bringing the long history of American lynchings to an end.

No one was ever arrested in connection with the Neal lynching, although both a coroner's inquest and the Jackson County Grand Jury returned reports blaming Neal for the murder of Lola Cannady. The grand jury did attempt to investigate the lynching, but was unable to obtain the name of any of the men involved.

I recently completed work on my new book on the 1934 outbreaks. The Claude Neal Lynching: The 1934 Murders of Lola Cannady and Claude Neal is now available in both print and Amazon Kindle formats. It can be ordered at the upper right of this page and also is available from Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.

The book is the first on the topic in nearly 30 years and includes never before published details about both the murder of Lola Cannady and subsequent lynching of Claude Neal. Included are the only interviews ever given by some of the men involved in the lynching, original crime scene photos from 1934 and a detailed analysis of the evidence linking Neal to Lola's murder and a history of the lynching that differs significantly from previous accounts due to the inclusion of a large amount of new source material.

To learn more about the Claude Neal lynching, please visit

The St. Petersburg Times also released a story on the investigation today. You can read it here:

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Old Parramore marks 50th Annual Oak Grove Homecoming

Rev. Cap Pooser leads the Veterans Memorial Dedication
One of Jackson County's most unique events marked its 50th anniversary today as a crowd gathered in the ghost town of Old Parramore to celebrate the annual Oak Grove Homecoming.
Each year on the first Sunday of October, the old town comes back to life as former residents and their families gather to share memories, friendship and dinner on the grounds in what was once the heart of a thriving Chattahoochee River trading community. This year's event was the 50th such gathering and featured cannon firings, music from the Sheila Smith Trio and the dedication of a memorial to local veterans.

Memorial and Flag
Parramore grew as a significant community during the years after the Civil War due to a surge in the value of timber and turpentine products from the vast longleaf pine forests that once covered eastern Jackson County. Paddlewheel riverboats nudged up to landings at the community, providing a means of transportation for its products and commerce. The steamboat traffic sparked the growth of a thriving business community.

By the end of the 19th century, Parramore had become a signficant commercial, industrial and population center. The main business district boasted five stores, a cotton gin, sawmill, gristmill, blacksmith shop, mule lot and other businesses. Turpentine stills operated at locations surrounding the community and rafts of pine timber were floated down the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers to the shipyards at Apalachicola.

The Sheila Smith Trio
The introduction of paved highways and truck traffic in the first half of the 20th century, however, spelled the end of Parramore's days as a business center. Trucks replaced riverboats as the primary means of moving forest products and steamboat traffic on the Chattahoochee River faded away during the 1930s and 1940s. The town of Old Parramore faded away with the boats.

In 1961, however, current and former residents of the area began a tradition that continues to this day. The annual Oak Grove Homecoming at Old Parramore was initiated as a way to preserve the memory of the town and its former residents. Some of those present for today's 50th anniversary celebration were on hand for that original gathering.

Rev. Cap Pooser, Alfred Cox and James Harrell with Cannon
The annual event spurred the preservation of Oak Grove Cemetery and the adjoining site of the original Oak Grove Freewill Baptist Church as a grounds for the homecoming. A modern brick church, which opens its doors only once each year, was built at the site as a memorial to the pioneer families of the area.

So far as is known, the annual Oak Grove Homecoming is the only annual gathering at a Florida ghost town that has continued for five decades. It is a unique part of Florida culture.

To learn more about the history of the community, please consider my book: Old Parramore: The History of a Florida Ghost Town. It can be ordered on the right side of this page or as an instant download for Amazon Kindle at It is also available at Chipola River Book & Tea in Downtown Marianna.