This Day in History

July 30, 1920: Lynching of Sergeant Edgar Caldwell

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
Themes: African American, Democracy & Citizenship, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity

On Friday, Dec. 13, 1918, Sergeant Edgar Caldwell boarded an Anniston streetcar. The white conductor became angry when the Black soldier sat in the white section of the car, and accused Sergeant Caldwell of not paying his fare. Sergeant Caldwell insisted he had paid and the two men argued.

Sergeant Edgar Caldwell | Zinn Education Project

The 24th Infantry at drill, Camp Walker, Philippine Islands, 1902.

The conductor tried to throw Sergeant Caldwell off the car, but he resisted and they struggled. The conductor called the motorman to help him, and both white men punched Sergeant Caldwell and threw him to the ground, then continued beating and kicking him. Sergeant Caldwell drew his revolver and fired, killing one of the white men and seriously wounding the other.

Sergeant Caldwell was tried, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death by hanging just five days after the shooting. Every juror was white.

Anniston’s Black community successfully urged the national NAACP to appeal the case, but the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed Sergeant Caldwell’s conviction and death sentence in July 1919.

The United States Supreme Court heard the case, and a national publicity campaign about the proceedings attracted support and donations from Black servicemen across the country. The Court ultimately rejected the appeal. Sergeant Caldwell was hanged before a crowd of 2,500 spectators on July 30, 1920, in the yard of the Calhoun County jail.

Description from the Equal Justice Initiative.

Read more stories of Black Veterans Killed in Fight for Democracy and Human Rights in the U.S.