Leander Shaw

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Leander Shaw
Shaw's body after he was lynched
Died July 29, 1908
Occupation Laborer

Leander A. Shaw (d. July 29, 1908) was a black man accused of the robbery, rape and murder of a white woman, Lillie Brewton Davis.

After the crime, Shaw was allegedly found rinsing his bloody shirt in Pensacola Bay, arrested and taken to the hospital where Davis, whose throat had been cut, positively identified him before dying. Headlines from the Pensacola Journal announced the "Brutal Assault by Burly Negro Upon White Lady."

A mob of 1,000 or more was formed on July 29 and demanded entry to the County Jail, where Shaw was being held. The sheriff, James C. Van Pelt, at first attempted to reason with the crowd, and when that failed, Sheriff Van Pelt reportedly deputized the entire crowd, apparently thinking that the mob would have to obey the law and disperse if its members were sheriff's deputies. The tactic failed; instead the members of the crowd stipulated that as deputies they should be given guns and access to the jail. According to the Pensacola News, Van Pelt told the crowd, "Gentlemen, here I am. You can kill me if you want to, but if you get my prisoner, it will be over my dead body. I have sworn to do my duty, and I am going to do it if I die for it!"

The mob stormed the jail twice. The gate was broken in the first attempt, around 9 o'clock, and Van Pelt and his deputies fired a volley that dropped three men, forcing the others to retreat. A second attempt around midnight resulted in a melee, injuring Van Pelt and his brother, John A. Van Pelt, and the prisoner was taken. The mob members killed in the raid were streetcar operator Henry C. Kellum and planter Bud Nichols.

Shaw was dragged from his cell, through the street, to Plaza Ferdinand VII. He was hanged without a trial from an electric pole in the plaza, and his body was riddled with 2,000 bullets from the angry crowd.

The crime and hanging are explored in the 2007 documentary Lillie & Leander: A Legacy of Violence by Davis's great-great-niece, filmmaker Alice Brewton Hurwitz.

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  • "Two Lynchers Killed: Pensacola Sheriff Stuck to His Oath, but Couldn't Save Negro." New York Times, July 31, 1908.
  • Scott Satterwhite and Duwayne Escobedo. "Lillie & Leander: A Legacy of Violence" - Independent News, April 19, 2007.
  • John Appleyard. The Peacekeepers: the Story of Escambia County, Florida's 43 Sheriffs. 2007.
  • Sandy Hollow Productions - documentary production company website