Today@Sam Article

Professor, Students To Publish Research On Walker County Crime

April 10, 2018
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney

Jeffrey Littlejohn, professor of history at Sam Houston State University, received a special award for research and writing on Texas in World War I with graduate student collaborators, Briana Weaver and Jami Horne. The award was given by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), the premier source of scholarly information about the history of Texas and the Southwest. Their research project, “The Cabiness Family Lynching: Race, War and Memory in Walker County, Texas,” will be published in the July 2018 issue of the Southwest Historical Quarterly.   littlejohn

“This award is a testament to Littlejohn’s commitment to undergraduate and graduate research and community work. The research draws on historical records from the greater Huntsville region and is a major contribution to the history of lynchings in our state,” Ervin Malakaj assistant professor of German said.

In their essay, Littlejohn, Weaver and Horne, offer an analysis on the particular lynching of an entire seven-member, African American family who lived in Walker County, Texas in 1918. Their main findings include a personal eye-witness account from Bessie Cabiness, the only surviving member of the family. 

“In the Fall of 2016 we started looking at the Cabiness lynching. When you are studying lynching, it is very odd to find a firsthand account of a survivor because most of the victims are killed,” Littlejohn said.  “The official story stated that the family had six shotguns and fired over 200 rounds of ammunition at the police. Bessie Cabiness’ account said they were unarmed and could not defend themselves. This essay is an attempt to deal with that conflict.”

The local nature of the documents made it easier for the graduate students to participate and determine the location of the original Cabiness home, but they also discovered that the story had international implications.

“We had some help from a former professor, Lila Rakoczy. She was able to provide us with an article from Germany that talked about the incident from the viewpoint of the German press during WWI. They were using this incident to point out the hypocrisy in America regarding democracy as an idea,” Horne said. “This was not an isolated incident. It created another element to the story and something that we were not expecting to come across.”

The graduate student researchers had the opportunity to contribute their own findings. Horne focused on studying the newspaper coverage more in-depth, while Weaver narrowed her research to focusing on Bessie Cabiness. 

“In the academic field, it is rare for graduate students to have an article of this substance published in a journal so revered. It is something I can say I’ve worked on where the outcome is not only a printed publication, but an award of great significance,” Weaver said. 

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences provides ample opportunities for student and faculty collaborations. Horne and Weaver were recruited for the project the summer after completing their undergraduate degrees. 

“The fact that we were starting on this project even before officially beginning our master’s program was great because we were already gaining very valuable experience for our field. We are very grateful for the whole experience,” Horne said.

Littlejohn said he was thrilled to receive the award.

“I told my family that I have more pride in this essay than anything I have ever written because it got to be so personal. The story is so horrific and the people who perpetuated this crime were so evil that I really felt like explaining the victim’s side was crucial to Walker County,” Littlejohn said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this is to make people aware that the victims of lynching were people, they had families, they had hopes and dreams, owned property and pursued education.  They were just like you and me except they were African Americans in a time of great racial discrimination and violence. They were victimized by people in power.”

Though there are a lot of challenges in this type of research, they assert that this story is still worth telling.

“As historians we have to come to grips with the fact that there were aspects of our nation’s past that we are not proud of, but we should not overlook it because we are ashamed,” Weaver said. 

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