On this day in 1929, Louis Isaac Jaffé, the editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and a longtime advocate of antilynching legislation, won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. The committee cited, in particular, his editorial “An Unspeakable Act of Savagery,” which ran on June 22, 1928. In the editorial, Jaffé responded to the lynching of 24-year-old Robert Powell, a black man charged with killing a Houston police detective in a shootout. When the mob found him, Powell was lying, perhaps mortally wounded, in a hospital bed. (The hospital was named for Jefferson Davis.) An Associated Press article noted that “the negro was not killed when he was first dropped from a bridge with a rope about his neck. Powell was put back on the bridge, the rope shortened, and he was thrown off a second time, the fall dislocating his neck.”
It’s a gruesome enough story, but it made national headlines in part because Houston was busy hosting the Democratic National Convention. “Even the southern colonels from the black belt agree that the boys should have shown more judgment and tact,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “On the eve of the Democratic convention and in view of the antilynching plank of the Kansas City platform, it creates political embarrassment.”
Jaffé’s treatment of the crime was quite a bit less wry: “In the event of [Powell’s] recovery, he was headed for the courts. But to this Texas mob neither Death nor Justice was an acceptable arbiter. Nothing would satisfy them but a loathsome act of murder carried out against a human being while he lay in agony with a bullet in his entrails.”
PREVIOUSLY: How to pronounce Jaffé.
IMAGE: Lawrenceville Lynching (1911). Lawrenceville, Georgia, April 7, 1911. Lynching of Charlie Hale, a black man, on the courthouse square at the corner of Perry and Pike Streets. I’ve cropped the photo; to see the full image, click here.