Black History Month and Texarkana

Warning – the essay below contains situations and history that may not be appropriate for all readers.

As we come to a close in February, most of the Black History Month events in Texarkana will be winding down.  Celebrations of great African-American contributions to our nation, state, county and to the city of Texarkana will come to a close.  Many people will have learned about names like Scott Joplin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Little Rock Nine, William Still, and others.  The list of African-Americans making an impact is long, but there is also some names you will not hear mentioned.  Maybe you will not hear them mentioned but they are names like John Carter, Edward Coy, and Bud Hayden.  These names may be left out of Black History Month Celebrations, at least publicly, because as politically correct goes, their names can and often do make people feel uncomfortable.  See, the names John Carter, Edward Coy, and Bud Hayden are three of the famous African American names from Arkansas because they are three of the most famous cases of lynching in the state.  In fact, two of them, Edward Coy and Bud Hayden, were lynched right here in Texarkana, Arkansas. 

The two men were lynched in Texarkana, Arkansas a little over six years apart.  Edward Coy was lynched in February 1892, in a moment of history that shocked people across the nation and headlined newspapers from Little Rock to New York.  Perhaps even more shocking is that Mr. Coy’s lynching was elevated to being burned alive at a stake.    Mr. Coy was accused of assaulting a white woman in town.  Once Coy was captured, a mob decided he was guilty, tied him to a tree, cut his skin, poured coal oil on him and then had his alleged victim light him on fire.  Mr. Coy’s lynching, with no trial, no judge, no jury, is perhaps one of the most brutal lynching’s in this despicable part of our history.  By any standards, today’s or those of 1892, Mr. Coy was outright murdered.  Roughly 1,000 people stood by and watched.  It was rumored that Mr. Coy and his alleged victim had been seeing each other.  It was further reported that before the woman set him on fire, Mr. Coy pleaded with her asking how she could burn him when they had been “sweethearting.”   Mr. Coy died near Iron Mountain Roadhouse by some accounts.  Other accounts place the murder on Broad Street in Texarkana, Arkansas. 

In June of 1898, downtown Texarkana, Arkansas again became the site of a lynching.  This time Bud Hayden was accused of assaulting a twelve year old girl.  The girl identified Mr. Hayden as the man who assaulted her, and this would result in his death.  There was no trial, no jury, no judge again in this case.  Articles from the time period do point out that Mr. Hayden did have the benefit of several citizens speaking about the event.  Naturally, their speeches were made while Mr. Hayden had a rope around his neck and was being prepared to hang, and most were made in favor of lynching Mr. Hayden.   Statements from the time said they “adjusted the rope so it would not choke him and ran to a tree near Iron Mountain Railroad crossing.”  Once again, the incident is nothing short of murder.  Mr. Hayden was hung and shot several times.   

It should be noted that both of these lynching’s occurred with what newspaper articles of the time called “Over 1,000 people” in attendance.  Since the 1890 census placed the population of Texarkana at 3,528 and the 1900 census placed the population at 4,914, it would be safe to guess that the likely population at the time of the their deaths was around 4,000.  If over 1,000 people attended the lynching’s, then this meant that roughly a quarter of the population stood by, contributed or condoned, and watched as two men were murdered without a judge, jury, or trial.  Even the laws on the books at the time would not have supported hanging or a death sentence for assault of an adult or a child, but yet the people of the Texarkana area stood by and watched. 

The lynching of Edward Coy and Bud Hayden is a shameful, horrible, and pathetic moment in the history of Texarkana, Arkansas.  Maybe that shame and horror is the reason few people hear the names today of Edward Coy and Bud Hayden.  Maybe it’s easier for us as the current residents of Texarkana, Arkansas to look the other way and praise the African American contributions to society by the greats like Scott Joplin and Dr. King.  Maybe, praising men and women for their great contributions makes us feel a little better, eases our minds and allows us to forget men like Edward Coy and Bud Hayden. 

I have traveled up and down Broad street.  I have looked around the railroad areas and I have found no mention, no plaque, no sign, no statue…nothing at all to indicate that Edward Coy and Bud Hayden were lynched in those areas.  I have to stop and wonder what if Mr. Coy or Mr. Hayden had been the next Scott Joplin, or the next Dr. King, or the next William Still?  What if they were destined to make an impact, make a difference, or become “somebody”?  Well, we will never know that answer, and the reason we will not know the answer is because they were lynched right here in Texarkana, Arkansas.  Yes, maybe a plaque, or a statue or a memorial of some sort would be uncomfortable for our community, but you know what?  I bet that Mr. Coy and Mr. Hayden were far more uncomfortable and terrified as they faced the last few minutes of their lives in the hands of an angry mob that operated freely outside the law.  A statue, plaque or memorial would certainly be uncomfortable for our little town, but maybe we need to be reminded not only of the great African Americans, but also of the African Americans who were so horribly wronged during this period of our history here in Texarkana.

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