July 25, 1903
In Danville, there was heightened concern about the increasing number of blacks in the community, attracted there by construction work on the interurban railroad line being built from Urbana. Two incidents had exacerbated the situation - the death of an elderly white man, allegedly by a black man, and the assault of a white woman, also supposedly by a black.
John Metcalf had come to Danville from Evansville, Ind., after race riots there. He got a job with the interurban construction crew. On the night of July 25, Metcalf was outside Shermayer's saloon on East Main Street, when he ran into Henry Gatterman, a local butcher, and another man. The men got into an argument over whether Gatterman had called Metcalf a racial epithet, a row ensued, Metcalf drew a revolver and twice shot Henry Gatterman. Gatterman died a short time later and Metcalf was arrested and taken to the Danville City Building.
Within minutes a mob estimated at between 3000 and 4000 people had gathered outside the building, some crying "Get a rope" and "Burn him at the stake." Police, armed with guns and clubs, stood guard at the building but apparently made little effort to stop the horde. Danville Mayor John Beard was at the building and later said, "With all the officiers of the law in the city the lynching could not have been prevented. It was useless to shoot into the mob."
The crowd jammed the city building. Metcalf was found in a cell, "thrown to the floor, kicked almost to death and was then thrown through a window into the heart of the howling mob in the street," according to a story in The Champaign Daily Gazette. He was dragged through the streets and apparently died as he was being kicked and beaten. A rope was strung over a telephone pole and Metcalf's corpse was hoisted above the crowd. Shot were fired into it. One shot sliced through the rope, and the body fell to the pavement. It was again dragged through, then set afire in front of the county jail. "Hundreds of women and children watched the sickening site," said the Gazette.
The mob then turned its attention on the jail, where two other black men were being held. Sheriff Hardy Whitlock stepped outside and begged the crowd to leave. "You are doing wrong," said Whitlock, who had been a constable in Danville in 1895 when Halls and Royce had been lynched. "You will regret what you have already done tomorrow and you should go home and allow the law to takes its course."
After a long siege in which the crowd tried to break down the jail's doors with a battering ram and Whitlock and his deputies fired shots into the crowd, it finally dispersed. For days afterward, Whitlock was congratulated by everyone from President Theodore Roosevelt to Danville's banking community as well as in editorials in many of the nation's newspapers.
The Danville Daily Democrat condemned the mob but also blamed Metcalf. "The men who participated in the mob Saturday night can offer no excuse for the lynching of the negro, nor the scenes of violence which will make the night one long to be remembered by the citizens of Danville. There can be no doubt but that the negro Metcalf deserved the punishment of death, but it would have been inflicted by the court of Vermilion County had the negro been given a trial. A legal execution would have satisfied every desire for vengeance and would have been ample warning to the criminal, both black and white."
No one was ever charged for the murder of John Metcalf. (46-47)
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