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The 1903 Lynching of Thomas Gilyard remains a stain on Joplin’s history. After the shooting death of a white officer named Theodore Leslie many in the area were on high alert for armed African American men. Thomas Gilyard, a Black man traveling through the area was eventually picked up and questioned the next day. He confessed to being at the scene but reported that he had not been involved in the killing and officers were inclined to kill him. This, however, did little to deter a mob of unruly white residents out for blood. After being assured by Mayor, John Trigg, incoming mayor Tom Cunningham, and Attorney Perl Decker that Mr. Gilyard was merely a suspect. While some of the crowd listened to the authorities and dispersed, things soon escalated again. Soon others joined the mob and broke into Gilyard's cell, forcing him to follow them to Second Street and Wall Avenue. While a crowd attempted to stop the mob from hanging Mr. Gilyard, Mayor-Elect Cunningham notably jumped on a wagon and pleaded with the crowd to return Gilyard to jail. In the end all efforts failed and Gilyard was hung from the telephone pole and shot. Violence ensued and a drunken mob roamed the streets accosting the city’s Black population, burning homes, and committing acts of violence against those unable to escape fast enough. Injuries were reported and it is disputed if the mob committed further murders. Some of Joplin’s Black community fled and never returned. Others returned only for their belongings. The murderers of Mr. Gilyard never saw justice and Theodore Leslie’s case remains unsolved.

202 S Wall Ave and City Jail

The Terror Lynching of Thomas Gilyard

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