By Pat Smith
---- — 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.
At 8 p.m. police issued an order to every saloon keeper in the city to close their doors for the night. The order was obeyed, but the mob decided to go after one of the brothels on South Franklin Street hoping to find John Green in the brothel where he lived. That didn’t happen. Officers got to the leaders of the mob and, while heated discussions took place, they finally listened to the police. When the leaders left the rest of the mob didn’t stick around for long.
Guns and knives had not been used, so the injuries were much less severe than if that hadn’t been the case. Rocks were thrown through the windows of many of the buildings on the square, especially south of the square where so many saloons and brothels were located. Five African Americans were slightly injured.
The Mayor and officers went to rooms of several African Americans who had been in the fight and asked them to leave town. No proof of this, but I was told that the city officials paid their train fare to get out of town. They did the same to leaders of the white gang who were considered “a menace by the good citizens.” Four of the whites refused to leave and affidavits for assault and battery and additional charges for creating a riot were filed against them. All but two of them left town within the next two days.
The crime by John Green had not been forgotten by the public or by city officials. After the blood hounds that Sheriff Jacob Biddinger had requested had tracked Green from the Sefton home on East Street to the passenger depot on South Franklin, it was discovered that Green had purchased a ticket to Shelbyville. He paid 70 cents for the round trip. (He had taken 71 cents from Mrs. Sefton.) It was odd that he bought a round trip knowing what he had done, but in those days a woman who had been raped almost never reported it. Likely he thought he could return without incident.
When the sheriff got to Shelbyville he found that Green hadn’t even left the train station. He just waited there to board a train back to Greensburg. The Sheriff telephoned Mayor Thomson who sent officers Dickey and Robbins to meet the incoming train. When the train from Shelbyville pulled in the station they boarded, found Green and arrested him. He has one cent in his pocket. When Green was questioned he denied the accusation and said he had tried to buy 10 cents of cocaine from a drug store.
Possible last in the series next week.