The Lynching of George Bush and James T. Scott


Historic Market Lynching at Stewart Road Bridge

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Montgomery, Alabama, two black men were lynched in Columbia, Missouri. They were 19-year-old George Bush (or Burke) and James T. Scott. 

In September 1889, Bush was accused of molesting a five-year-old girl on the farm where he worked as a hired hand. Shortly after his arrest, more than twenty masked men arrived at the Boone County Jail at one o’clock in the morning. After overpowering the sheriff and retrieving the keys to the jail, the mob removed Bush from his cell and hung him from a front window of the county courthouse. The mob then pinned a sign to Bush’s body that read “Don’t cut this down until 7 a.m. This is what we intend to do with all who commit this crime.” The note was signed by the “White Caps,” a secret vigilante society that also appeared in other towns in Missouri and across the country around the turn of the twentieth century. Ironically, Bush’s lifeless body hung just above an inscription carved in limestone over the courthouse door that read “Oh Justice, when expelled from other habitation, make this thy dwelling place.” 

James T. Scott, a black man who worked as a janitor at the University of Missouri, was lynched just two blocks for the school in 1923. Scott had been accused of attacking fourteen-year-old Regina Almstead, the white daughter of a university German professor, although his guilt was never established. As had been the case when Bush was lynched thirty-four years earlier, a mob forcibly removed Scott from his jail cell late at night. While the group of men who lynched Bush had been small and secretive, the audience that gathered on the courthouse lawn and marched Scott to Stewart’s Bridge, at the intersection of Stewart Road and Providence Road, was huge. Newspaper stories estimated that two thousand men, women, and even children watched as men—despite protests by the victim’s father—hung Scott by pushing him over the side of the bridge.

Though George Barkwell, the white man accused of putting the rope around Scott’s neck, stood trial for the lynching, a white jury acquitted him of all charges after just eleven minutes of deliberation. 

(This is adapted from the article “A Place and a Time: The Missouri of Blind Boone and John Lange Jr.,” by Greg Olson and Gary R. Kremer, which is from the book Merit, Not sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone. Edited by Mary Collins Barile and Christine Montgomery and published by Truman State University Press in 2012.)