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Black landowner's 1919 acquittal in white man's killing shed a 'different light' on the South

January 11, 2008
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A boundary dispute between two wealthy farmers turns deadly when a surveyor is called in to resolve the issue.

The front-page headline in a 1919 edition of The Commercial Appeal told of what was believed to be a first in the South: "Negro Kills White Man; Is Acquitted."

It was a verdict delivered by an all-male, all-white jury that made headlines as far away as Chicago in an era when white vigilantes were staging 50 to 100 lynchings a year in the South.

When black planter Ben Ingram killed white neighbor Green Brumley, 500 friends, black and white, built a bonfire on Ingram's land and stayed the night to protect him and his family in Byhalia, Miss. The trial was held three months later in nearby Holly Springs, Miss., with Ingram freed as a rare symbol of tolerance and justice in a part of the world where "justice" often came without a trial in the form of a noose.

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