Filmmaker explores forgotten lynching in ‘Crawford: The Man The South Forgot’

EXCLUSIVE: The documentary shines a light on the long-forgotten history of a tragic lynching in a small South Carolina town

Credit: Crawford: The Man The South Forgot/

Crawford: The Man The South Forgot is a documentary that followed Doria Dee Johnson to Abbeville, South Carolina, as she sought to commemorate her great-great-grandfather Anthony Crawford’s contribution to the town, as well as remember his horrendous death.

According to the Abbeville’s website, the city played a pivotal role in the Civil War — it is known as the “Birthplace and Deathbed of the Confederacy.” There is also a well-known hill in the town named Succession Hill, where the Confederate Army generals met to launch the state’s succession from the Union on Nov. 22, 1860. The community takes pride in being a historical location, however Abbeville never acknowledged Crawford’s story until Johnson made the pilgrimage to South Carolina to fight for his recognition. 

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“They have all of these colonial houses and confederate monuments [because] they’re a tourist destination for history, yet, he was such a big contributor to the town and there was nothing about [him] in the museums back in 2002,” says Tiffany Jackman, producer and editor of the film. Growing up, Johnson always heard various stories about Crawford and would question who he was every time she visited her Aunt Anabelle’s home, where his portrait was prominently displayed. 

According to the 1880 census, 15 years after slavery ended, records show that Crawford’s father owned 50 acres of land that he passed down as an inheritance to his son. Eventually, Crawford obtained 427 acres of prime cotton land for farming, growing food and supporting livestock. He also constructed a school and a church. He was an educated Black man who could read and write, which was rare at that time recalls Doria’s second cousin, Philip Crawford.  

There are no documents detailing how he was able to become educated. His father most likely was educated by his former master, which was illegal. Jackman presumes that his father and Crawford had white allies.

Credit: Crawford: The Man The South Forgot/

“He must’ve had good relations with the white people around him,” Jackman says. “The fact that his family was able to have that land in the first place, the fact that he could read, there must’ve been white people on his side.” 

The land Crawford’s father owned is believed to be gifted to him by his former masters. “Even back then, there were decent white folks,” Jackman adds. While most slave narratives will chronicle whites’ brutality during slavery as a means to uphold and preserve white supremacy, the recognition of those who did not subscribe to this insidious ideology is often forgotten.

Undoubtedly, Crawford had a deep sense of self-worth and pride and operated from a stance of dignity and respect that he also demanded from others. “He was proud enough to say, ‘the day a white man hits me is the day I die.’ You don’t say those things when you’re working for other people. When you own everything, you don’t have to answer to anybody, you’re not afraid of anybody,” says Jackman. 

Crawford was highly regarded in the community and the local newspaper used him as an example of how Black people can thrive after slavery. Some lauded his self-assuredness, but many other whites resented him and his family was under constant threats. The boiling resentment towards Crawford would eventually spill over on that fateful day of Oct. 21, 1916, when he and two of his sons came into town to sell their cotton to W. D. Barksdale, a local store. 

When the store owner offered a lower price to Crawford, a quarrel followed, causing him to call Barksdale a cheat. The local sheriff was notified and arrested Crawford. However, a racist mob overtook the jail, hauled him out to beat and stab him, and ultimately he was lynched. Afterward, the crowd went on a rampage, closing all the Black business and even threatened his family. Some of the white citizens gave his children guns to defend themselves. One story not included in the documentary is of a white woman who stood on her lawn with her shotgun, telling the mob they could not pass her house.

Crawford’s family was chased out of town and forced to forfeit their business and property in time. His death was so impactful, as Doria highlights in the film that it initiated the great migration of African-Americans from the south to the north. Today, Crawford’s family are scattered across the United States. Only a few family members live in Abbeville currently.  

Based on research conducted by the Tuskegee Institute, 4,743 recorded lynchings transpired in the United States from 1882 to 1968. Of that total number, 3,446 lynching victims were Black and 1,297 were white. Most likely, the whites were killed for either helping Black people, having an anti-lynching stance, or for miscellaneous crimes. Crawford’s murder not only affected the family on a personal level, but it drastically impacted their current economic standings.  

As of 1910, African-Americans owned 16 to 19 million acres of land, according to a Rural America report. In another study performed by the USDA Census Bureau, Black farmers declined 98% between 1920 through 1997 as white farmers increased in land ownership in the same time period. In a 1998 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture attributes the decline to a “history of discrimination against black farmers, ranging from New Deal and USDA discriminatory practices dating from the 1930s to 1950s-era exclusion from legal, title and loan resources.” 

Based on the amount of land Crawford owned, the Crawford family today would have the wealth equivalent of the Rockefellers, a wealthy American family that amassed a great fortune in finance, if he were allowed to pass it down through the generations. His descendants are undoubtedly due reparations, and some family members were trying to start the process, but nothing has materialized. 

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The family may have lost the chance to acquire significant wealth, however, they are an educated and accomplished unit that consists of lawyers, doctors, and entrepreneurs. Johnson was a Ph.D. Candidate in history, gender, and race studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and spoke at various events. Due to her tenacity, she was able to receive a formal apology from the U.S. Senate for all the recorded lynchings in American history before she passed on Feb. 14, 2018. Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act on Feb. 26. However, the bill has not been passed or signed in the Senate due to pushback from lone Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. 

Today, Abbeville portrays itself as having the typical Southern charm and hospitality, however, Jackman would only trust them to a certain extent. If race relations have truly evolved, it is marred by how revered a glaring Confederate monument, proudly displayed in the Town’s Square, continues to be. “There’s something not right about that, it’s in the center of your town, [a monument] that wanted people like me to be slaves,” says Jackman. 

She ends with the thought that stories like Crawford, as well as others, need to be told. “It’s important for kids out there to know what your legacy could be and that you have it in you to be that successful, but things were taken from your legacy.”

Crawford: The Man The South Forgot is now streaming on kweliTV

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