After the 67-year-old widow Sefton was raped by John Green, city officials, businessmen and a representative from a newspaper agreed not to publish anything about the crime for fear there would be acts of vengeance.
A list was made of 15 African Americans who had been a source of trouble since they came to the city and they would be asked to leave the city by train with passage paid. They hoped to avoid trouble, but after news of the crime spread the newspaper ran the story in the afternoon edition.
In less than an hour of the news story publishing, one of the white men got drunk and decided this was the time to get even with a man who had reportedly been hired for a job he wanted. (The job was at the Strasburger “tonsorial parlor.” Tonsorial parlor was just a fancy name for a barber shop.)
The man was an African American. Both men had come to Greensburg as laborers to work on the many improvements in progress. The white man was soon joined by another man and the two spent a couple of hours trying to pick a fight with anyone willing to fight. Because they were drunk, city officials got much of the blame for having allowed the 22 saloons and the brothels all the leeway they wanted.
By 8 p.m. several more whites joined the original two in front of the DeArmond Hotel. More “heavily drinking riffraff” joined in. There was no dealing with the drunks. One report stated that the mob totaled about 100.
The news source that had got the word out so quickly about the rape stated there were 300. Judging by the population at the time, the merchants that were staying out of sight and those who went home when the trouble started, I don’t believe there were more than 50 to 75 drunks, African American and white, in the whole fray.