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TESTIMONY OF GEORGE W. COLBURN
(The witness was duly sworn by Senator Van Nuys.)
Senator Van Nuys. Will you state to the committee your name and place of business?
Mr. COLBURN. My name is George W. Colburn; resident Princess Anne; place of business, Salisbury.
Senator Van Nuys. You heard Mr. Thompson and Mrs. Thompson testify here this morning?
Mr. COLBURN. Yes, sir.
Senator Van Nuys. Have you any statement to make of your own knowledge about that testimony or the facts in issue? If so, you may proceed.
Mr. COLBURN. I know nothing about what happened in Princess Anne. I was not present; I was not in the town until 12:30 that night. The only thing I can testify in Mr. Thompson's behalf is the fact that I saw him in my place of business about 9:20 or 9:25 on that night, and spoke to him from a distance of about 30 feet.
Senator Van Nuys. Your business place is where?
Senator Van Nuys. How do you identify the night of the lynching as the night you saw Mr. Thompson?
Mr. Colburn. For the simple reason that it was common knowledge that this man was being brought back from Baltimore and that there was apt to be trouble in Princess Anne.
Senator Van Nuys. That is the way you identify that particular night?
Mr. COLBURN. I do.
Senator Van Nuys. Did you and Mr. Thompson talk about the rumor that there was going to be trouble there?
Mr. COLBURN. We did not. I spoke to Mr. Thompson from a distance of 30 feet.
Senator VAN Nuys. You had no conversation?
Mr. COLBURN. Yes, sir. I was behind our prescription case filling a prescription for a customer, and, as is customary with us, when there is only one pharmacist in the store, you look around the end of the counter occasionally to see who is out front. Coming to the corner of our counter from the left I looked out on the side on which the soda fountain is situated and saw Mr. and Mrs. Thompson standing at the soda-water fountain drinking a coca cola. I threw up my hand this way [indicating] and said “Hello”, and went back to my prescription.
Senator Van Nuys. How long have you lived in Salisbury !
Senator Van Nuys. Do you know anything about the facts as to whether there was a percent of your citizenship over at Princess Anne that night!
Mr. COLBURN. I do not because I do not know the people at Salisbury well enough to tell you.
Senator Van Nuys. Was your community depopulated that night or was the usual number of people on the streets?
Mr. COLBURN. I would say it was depopulated from a certain class; yes, sir.
Senator Van Nuys. What class?
Senator Van Nuys. Nearly all the youngsters were out of town, that evening?
Mr. COLBURN. They were not visible in our place of business; no, sir.
Senator Van Nuys. Did you ever hear any of those youngsters talk about this lynching?
Mr. COLBURN. Not before it; no, sir.
Mr. COLBURN. Naturally I have heard it discussed like thousands and millions of other people in the country discussed it.
Senator Van Nuys. Did any of them pretend to have any firsthand knowledge about the mob and who led it or anything along that line ?
Mr. COLBURN. Not that I could identify by name; no, sir.
Senator Van Nuys. Did some of them pretend to know who were leaders of the mob?
Mr. COLBURN. Not in my hearing.
Senator Van Nuys. Did some of them say that they were present at the mob?
Mr. COLBURN. I have heard some of them say they were present in Princess Anne, but I could not give any names now because it did not impress itself on my mind at that time.
Senator Van Nuys. Some of them said they saw the lynching, did they?
Mr. COLBURN. No, sir.
Mr. COLBURN. I have heard them say-you must understand, sir, that in a place of business such as mine, when there is a crowd around the soda-water fountain, you hear a general conversation. You do not know who is carrying it on. It is just like you go into a big group of people and overhear scraps of conversation, and do not know who to identify with it. I have been in the town only 7 months and naturally I do not know the people by name the way I would if I had been there for years.
Senator Van Nuys. Where was this other lynching that was testified to? Was that in Salisbury?
Mr. COLBURN. Yes, sir.
Senator Van Nuys. Did you ever hear that particular lynching discussed?
Mr. COLBURN. Oh, yes.
Senator Van Nuys. Did anyone pretend to know anything about the facts of that lynching, as to who led it or who was a member of the mob?
Mr. COLBURN. No, sir.
Senator Van Nuys. What effort has been made to prosecute the offenders in that instance?
Mr. COLBURN. From what I have heard discussed by the officers of the law in that community, they are still undercover working on the thing. That is all I can tell you. I happen to be in close contact with the officers of the law and the State police, and they are still on the lookout for evidence.
Senator Van Nuys. Did they ever impanel a grand jury to investigate that lynching at Salisbury?
Mr. COLBURN. I do not know. It seems to me I read it or heard it, but I am not positive. Senator Van Nuys. You have no personal knowledge?
Mr. COLBURN. No; no personal knowledge whatever. I was not present so I do not know.
Senator Van Nuys. You were a business man. What would you say as to the attitude of your community on a bill of the kind and character this committee has under consideration?
Mr. COLBURN. I do not know what prompts your question, whether you want an opinion of a business man and what he thinks, or what he thinks his community thinks.
Senator Van Nuys. I want your opinion and the opinion of your community as you gather it from contact with your citizenship.
Mr. COLBURN. Naturally the better thinking people deplore lynching. They deplore anything that is outside of the law, because that is what we have legislation for and that is what we have law officers for, to protect citizens from that class of people who have no consideration for others, property or bodily. To me it seems the veneer of civilization is so thin that all the antilynching laws in the world will not stop lynching. When you work on a man's emotions to the point where he loses reason and is unable to weigh and analyze and think clearly on any subject, whether it be the violation of a woman or not, he is apt to do things under the stress of the moment that on more sober and serious consideration he would not think of doing. You cannot legislate morals into any man. It may put the fear of the law into him more, but at the same time it does not cover up his emotional side.
Senator Van Nuys. We have had homicides since the beginning of time. Do you not think the presence of statutes making homicides an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment has prevented many homicides in the past?
Mr. COLBURN. Possibly so, but they still continue.
Senator Van Nuys. Would you not think the presence of this sort of a statute would be preventive in character!
Mr. COLBURN. It might under certain conditions of living between two races or creeds.
Senator Van Nuys. Will you explain that answer a little more fully? I confess that I do not understand it.
Mr. COLBURN. There has always been an antagonism between the races of the world, white or black, red or yellow. It is not confined to America. It is confined to the whole world. When the day comes that a man of color and the white man can live in amity and peace, then there will be no necessity for laws and we will truly have reached the millennium. That has been so since Bible times and I suppose it will continue.
Senator Van Nuys. If the time should ever arise when all our citizenship would live together in amity and peace we would not need any laws of any kind or character, would we?
Mr. COLBURN. We certainly would not.
Senator Van Nuys. Do you not think these statutes have been helpful in bringing about that ideal condition?
Nr. COLBURN. I hope so, Mr. Chairman, and I hope whatever is passed will be helpful.
Senator Van Nuys. It is quite palpable, is it not, that the local authorities have so far failed to apprehend and punish the leaders in these two mobs in Maryland? Is not that true?
Mr. COLBURN. I suppose it is at the present time. What the future will bring forth I do not know.
Senator Van Nuys. Do you attribute that to the feeling of the community or the inefficiency of the local officers?
Mr. COLBURN. I think it is some of both. We have too much politics, if you will permit the term, to get efficiency of law. The law machinery is too slow to satisfy a lot of people, and they take it into their own hands where there is a particularly aggravating crime committed.
Senator Van Nuys. Do you think public sentiment would sustain a public official in the vigorous prosecution of his sworn duty to apprehend and punish these leaders?
Mr. COLBURN. I could not say.
Senator Van Nuys. I am just asking for your opinion as a business man and layman. That is the only way the committee has to get the viewpoint of the people.
Mr. COLBURN. I could not say whether they would. I think they should.
Senator Van Nuys. Do you think a jury could be impaneled in those communities that would convict by that same measure of evidence which obtains in other criminal prosecutions?
Mr. COLBURN. Yes, sir; if it were irrefutable evidence and not such evidence as has been collected by our State so far.
Senator Van Nuys. Will you state that again?
Mr. COLBURN. If it were irrefutable evidence I think they would, but not with such evidence as has been collected by the State authorities so far.
If you will allow me a moment for explanation, though probably Mr. Lane has already given you this, but speaking of that particular community, geographically it is situated between three States, which, I think, Mr. Thompson perhaps mentioned. Inside of 35 or 40 minutes you can bring people there from all three of the States into a group. I have lived for 25 years in Somerset County and, with the usual number of exceptions, they are very good people and lawabiding people. Minor crimes are no more rampant there than in any other community. I think it is safe to say that the people of that community themselves neither condone nor had anything to do with that lynching. I think most of it was from outside people that were brought in there either through sheer curiosity or whatnot. When a mob collects and the usual talk and the usual agitators are there to drive them on, anything can happen. That is the way I view it. That is my opinion of this thing .
It is hard to tell who is responsible for what happened. Certainly nobody to my knowledge, or that I ever heard say, that if I were on a jury I would even like to consider as a leader of that mob.
Senator Van Nuys. Does it not appear to you somewhat peculiar? If you have an automobile accident, it is not difficult to get witnesses to testify to what they honestly believe to be the facts. If you have a burglary or if you have other types or classes of felonies, the grand jurors and prosecutors can collect the evidence readily and there is no refusal to testify. Is it not peculiar that in lynching a different condition exists and no one seems to want to identify the leaders or to prosecute the leaders?
Mr. Colburx. It certainly is true. It is a kink in human nature, but at the same time it has been the history of all lynchings.
Senator Van Nuys. You recognize that condition as true?
Senator CostiGAN. Mr. Colburn, you have referred to racial animosity. You are aware, of course, that there have been many white men and women lynched in the United States?
Mr. COLBURN. Yes, sir.
Senator COSTIGAN. To what do you attribute the action of mobs in such cases?
Mr. COLBURN. The action of mobs in different countries and different sections of a certain country have established within their minds certain crimes that are beyond the pale of what they condone. For that reason it is a local condition.
Senator COSTIGAN. Are you aware that certain individuals have been lynched for the most trivial reasons?
Mr. COLBURN. Absolutely.
Senator Costigax. Which are not beyond the pale of public approval?
Mr. COLBURN. Absolutely. I think the fact is, as I said, that when mobs collect together with anything in mind, they are in a mental condition when their emotions can be played upon.
Senator Costigan. It was not your intention to leave the impression that racial hostility is a basis for all lynchings!
Mr. COLBURN. No, sir; absolutely not. I am sorry if that is the impression you got from what I said, because nothing was farther from my mind.
Senator Van Nuys. We appreciate your frank expressions here, Mr. Colburn. Do you or do you not think that a statute similar to the bill under consideration, which would penalize in a way the county and the taxpayers thereof for permitting a mob to lynch a prisoner, would have a tendency during the course of the years to