THE RED SUMMER - The Dying Continues
Part 2 of 4
Cleveland Butler was sleeping in his own bed after a long day of toiling in the chalk mines in Twiggs County. Butler, described by some as "a strange Negro," was spotted earlier in the day by a quartet of men who decided he resembled Cummings. They skulked around the mines long enough to discover that Butler went home to sleep. Messers Tharpe, Griffin, Myers and an unknown fourth assailant went to Butler's shack and found him asleep in the bed. After calling out to Butler twice, the men decided that their man must be preparing to shoot them first. They peered through the coverings of the house, found Butler, and launched a massive volley of buckshot into the sleeping quarters. The mortal wound tore away portions of Butler's jaw, chin, teeth and tongue.
The bounty hunters took their prized catch to Sheriff Griffin at the jail in Jeffersonville. The sheriff refused to take the badly bleeding man, insisting that they take him to a hospital immediately. Griffin told them if he was indeed the man they were looking for and that he should be taken to the jail in Macon, which they did. Again, the Bibb County sheriff turned them away and instructed them to take their victim to the hospital in Macon, where he died within a few minutes of his arrival.
Sheriff Griffin immediately notified Laurens County Deputy Sheriff Watson, who gathered a party of men who knew Hubert Cummings. They rode by train to Macon to examine the corpse of the man who was said to have been the killer of Raymond Cannon. For ten minutes, the squad examined the body and found that Butler did indeed bear a strong resemblance to Cummings, but that he was much lighter in color and had a scar on his face, which the suspect did not have. When officials examined Butler's pockets, they found that he was a twenty four years old, who was recently discharged from the Army. Inside his coat pocket was his last pay envelope from his employer, the American Clay Company. His father, J.D. Butler of Eastman, Georgia, was summoned to confirm the identity of the deceased, who was taken by train for interment in Eastman.
Like all of the other events in this remarkable story, law enforcement officials were subjected to an disturbing dilemma. The posse which attempted the citizen's arrest was illegally organized and was totally without authority to apprehend Butler or anyone else for that matter. The Macon News carried a story which stated that Butler was shot while attempting to resist a presumed lawful arrest. Apparently, the white killers were never indicted for their actions in the murder of the innocent man in another in the series of unfortunate events.
That summer was called the " Red Summer." Though times in Laurens County were relatively quiet, race riots across the South and across the nation were escalating. Lynching and antiblack violent attacks were as numerous as they had been since the infancy of the Ku Klux Klan. Though a wave of fear spread throughout the Bailey and Burgamy Districts where the descendants of former slaves lived in abundance, tempers appeared to have cooled, or at least for a little while
After three weeks, tempers were still running high in Burgamy's District. The July sun seared the Sunday (July 6, 1919) afternoon air. After the boiling sun set, temperatures fell just as the tempers of the local began to boil. Six angry white men went to the home of Bob Ashley. George and Clyde Green, sons of Luther Green and Mary Jane Payne Green, joined John Payne, Jr., Landers Cannon, Cleve Bright and Robert Rozier. The Greens were still enraged after the death of their first cousin, Raymond Cannon. In their minds, they knew that Hubert Cummings was hiding inside the home of Bob Ashley, not too far from the home of Raymond Cannon.
George Green went to the front door and called out to Ashley. According to those on the outside, Bob Ashley fired at Green, striking him with a fatal shot. It was only then that the remaining men began firing at the Ashley house. Ashley's wife told a contrasting story. Mrs. Ashley maintained that Green bammed on the door demanding that her husband open his store and serve the men some cold soda water. Ashley told the men it was too late in the evening, but the men insisted, threatening to come in after him. Ashley pleaded with the men not to come in his house, insisting that his wife was sick. According to Mrs. Ashley, the sextette began relentlessly firing, riddling the house with bullets. Ashley attempted to shoot back. He crawled to the table where he kept his pistol, crawled back to the door, fired twice and struck George Green, who died within a half hour. Sometime during the ruckus, Clyde Green was shot, possibly by the unintended fire of his fellow assailants. The Greens were taken to the former home of Raymond Cannon, which seemed to become the headquarters of the movement to capture Hubert Cummings. Ashley, known to be a good man without any fear, was struck in the head and fell into unconsciousness.
The next morning investigators found many bullets inside the house and only two outside the house, a finding which tended to substantiate Ashley's story. They also found Ashley's shotgun, with cobwebs in its muzzle, in its usual place in the corner of his bedroom.
No warrants were issued. The situation was quiet. Sheriff Watson was cautiously optimistic since there was no evidence of any race riots. Nearly every adult black male in the area spent that night in the swamp, fearing that the white men were going to clear out the entire lot of them.
Deputy Sheriff Ashley traveled out to the scene of the shooting with physicians to determine Ashley's condition, one which was thought to have been grave. Before Ashley and the doctors could see Ashley, Ashley's friends took him, with a bullet hole in his head, into the swamp. Just before they reached the cover of the tree line, they panicked and dumped a nude Ashley into a fence corner to face all alone the scavenging and biting varmints of the darkness after the waxing gibbous moon set just after midnight.
Although Ashley had laid out all night, his head bleeding profusely, he was surprisingly able to speak the next morning when found by physicians, who immediately moved him to Dublin for better treatment in the Laurens County jail.
Sheriff Watson praised the people of the county for being a better class of people than others, but prepared for the worse by asking the Dublin Guards, under the command of Captain Lewis Cleveland Pope, to stand guard around the courthouse square to protect Ashley from vengeful lynchers. Rumors were flying that the blacks of the county had met and were about to launch an insurrection. Those rumors proved to be unfounded. After four days, the Guards were withdrawn and no attempt was ever made to lynch Ashley, whom doctors found through x-rays had several broken bones in his skull and was too ill to be moved.
Luther Green went to the office of Solicitor EL Stephens, Sr. and asked him to seek an indictment against Bob Ashley for the murder of his son George. Stephens presented testimony from Sam Rozier, R.H. Rozier, Emmet Rozier, E.E. Clark along with the testimony of Deputy Sheriff L.F. Watson and Dr. H.L. Montford, who examined Green's corpse. Based on the testimony of Sheriff Watson that more bullets were found inside of the Ashley house and only two outside, grand jury foreman W.T. Dupree announced that the no bill of indictment would be issued for the murder of George J. Green by Bob Ashley.