100 Years Later: The murder that spurred a mob riot in Lexington

In 1920, ten-year-old Geneva Hardman was murdered on her way to school, just outside Lexington. Both civil authorities and a growing lynch mob sought Will Lockett, a black army veteran, as the suspect. The vigilantes remained one step behind the lawmen, and a grieving family erred on the side of justice versus vengeance. During the short trial, tensions spilled over and shots were fired outside the courthouse, leading to a declaration of martial law. Six people died in what civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois described as the “Second Battle of Lexington.”

The following article is adapted from chapters of The Murder of Geneva Hardman and Lexington’s Mob Riot of 1920 by Peter Brackney

The Crime

 “I am going to school” were a few of the words written by Geneva Hardman to her sister just eleven days earlier. And so she did.

About 7:30 a.m. on the morning of February 4, 1920, Geneva departed for the schoolhouse. The distance was about four-tenths of a mile from her home. On most mornings, a neighbor boy about Geneva’s age joined her for the almost half-mile walk to school. But on February 4, he was kept at home to help on his family’s farm. Severe weather, as observed in Geneva’s letter to her sister, continued in late January and the first days of February; it is likely that Geneva’s young walking companion was needed on the farm to help clean up from the most recent rounds of bad weather. And, so, Geneva walked alone.

Read the full story at our sister site dedicated to True Crime, Crime Capsule.