Thursday, May 24, 1917 (all day)

Mob Burns Negro Who Killed Girl

Memphis, May 23. – While more than 10,000 persons looked on, Ell Persons, negro, confessed murderer of pretty 16-year-old Antoinette Rappal, was burned to death by a mob of unmasked men Tuesday.

The lynching took place in a steel cage specially constructed for the burning of the negro on the exact spot where the murder was committed.

Several hundred women and girls stood by and watched the death agony of the negro who had confessed chopping off the head of the young school girl and then assaulting her dead body.

The burning of the negro was delayed for several hours pending the arrival from Mississippi of a crowd of citizens who had sent word ahead that they desired to witness the ceremony. The city of Memphis was agog with excitement. Many business houses failed to open their doors and the newspapers closed their editions early so that employes [sic] could go to the scene of the lynching.

Persons had been captured from a sheriff's party Monday night near Holly Springs, Miss. His arrival in Memphis was delayed by the storm which made the roads nearly impassable.

Standing up in the tonneau of a large automobile with a huge rope fastened about his waist, the slayer accepted calmly the statement from a leader of the mob that he had only a few minutes to live, and that he had better tell the truth. After his confession, in which he implicated two other negroes, Armstrong and Ford, a mute, Mrs. Minnie Wood, mother of the negro's victim, stood in a machine and addressed the mob.

"Don't shoot him, please," she begged. "I want him to suffer 10,000 times more than did my little girl. Burn him, burn him!"

Persons was led away to the gasoline-filled pit. The huge rope was thrown over the limb of a tree 30 feet above the pit and the negro was hauled by the armpits off the ground, dangling in the strong wind a few feet over the liquid pyre. Before he was fairly off the ground several hundred men set out in search of Armstrong and Ford, both of whom had been released from custody by Sheriff Tate when Persans [sic] was arrested and subsequently confessed.

Changing its mind the mob then released Persons from the rope and chained him to a huge log lying on the ground near the pit of gasoline. Ten gallons of gasoline was then poured over his clothing and a match applied. While the fire, starting at his feet, crept slowly toward his face a 10-year-old negro boy was placed at the other end of the log.

"Take a good look, boy," someone told him. "We want you to remember this the longest day you live. This is what happens to niggers who molest white women."


The Columbus commercial. (Columbus, Miss.), 24 May 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Columbus Commercial, 5/24/1917
Columbus Commercial, 5/24/1917