Lynching of Martin Bradley

August 17, 1883

City: Terrell, Texas 

County: Kaufman County

Race or Ethnicity of Victim: Black 

Gender of Victim: Male

Age of Victim: Unknown 

Alleged Crime: Attempted Rape

Manner of Death: Hanged

Source of Information: Chicago Tribune

Narrative Account

On August 14, 1883, Cora Bickham, a white waitress in Terrell, Texas, awoke in the early morning hours to find a man in her bedroom. As the intruder attempted to force himself upon her, Bickham resisted his efforts and screamed. Her mother, awakened by the conflict, ran in from an adjoining room, while the man escaped through an open window. Bickham and her mother later identified Martin Bradley, a local African American laborer, as the assailant in the case. [1]

Newspapers at the time reported various facts about Bradley. Some noted that he was a forty-three-year-old former Union solider, while others pointed out that he worked as a porter for J. Tom Wilson at a local saloon. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette also described Bradley as a married man who was a “leader … among his race,” a fact that seemed to be confirmed by the African American community’s response to his horrific treatment and eventual murder. [2]

Once local officials arrested Bradley, he was summoned to court to answer for his alleged crime. Judge T.L. Frank oversaw the preliminary hearing, during which Bradley presented an alibi. Nevertheless, an all-white panel found that sufficient evidence existed to charge Bradley with a crime. As a result, Judge Frank set Bradley’s bond at $700 and ordered him to appear before district court during its next term. Bradley could not afford to pay the high bond, however, and he was taken to the local calaboose or jail house. [3]

At two o’clock the following morning, two unidentified men approached the calaboose and demanded that officers turn Bradley over to them. When the officers resisted, the men raised a mob that numbered between fifty and two-hundred members. Working as a single unit, the mob “broke down the [jail’s] iron door with a hammer, secured the prisoner and left with the rope around his neck.” The leaders of the mob then warned officers not to follow them and took Bradley to a creek bottom roughly half a mile from town. [4]

What happened next is open to debate. The Fort Worth Daily Gazette reported that the mob gave Bradley fifteen minutes to reflect on his alleged crime and to pray. During this time, he reportedly confessed to his attack on Cora Bickham and begged for forgiveness. The mob members were not moved, however, and they hung him to a large oak tree “in the presence of his wife, who behaved frantically.” An alternate account of Bradley’s lynching appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to that paper, Bradley “begged to be permitted to talk” after he was seized from jail, but the mob refused his request. No mention is made of a confession or request for forgiveness. [5]

Bradley’s body remained tied to the hanging tree until nine o’clock in the morning, when law enforcement officials cut him down. His remains were then brought to Terrell and turned over to the undertaker. According to the Fort Worth Daily Gazette, local African Americans “refused to bury him or have anything … whatever to do with him.”  The paper offered no explanation for this refusal, but it may have resulted from the jury of inquest’s decision that Bradley had died at the hands of parties unknown. [6]

Members of the African American community expressed their outrage when they learned that no one would be held responsible for Bradley’s murder. “Negroes congregated on the streets, and threats were made that they would either kill some white man or burn up the town for revenge.” In response, local white residents established guards throughout the city and beat at least one black man for his alleged arrogance. Yet, the Kaufman Sun portrayed African Americans as the problem. “There is bad blood among certain negroes both in Kaufman and Terrell,” the paper said, “and the white citizens should be very watchful over their lives and property.” All of this, despite the fact that a white mob had violated Martin Bradley's human rights and lynched him. [7]