Frazier B. and Julia Baker were father and daughter African American who were lynched on February 22, 1898 in Lake City, Florence County, South Carolina.
Frazier B. Baker was an 40-year-old schoolteacher and member of the Colored Farmers Alliance. Frazier was married to Lavinia Russell-Baker, and together they had six children Rosa, Cora, Lincoln, Sarah, Millie, and Julia Baker.
President William McKinley administration appointed hundreds of blacks to postmaster across the Black Belt.
In 1897 Frazier was appointed postmaster of Lake City, South Carolina and immediately encountered fierce opposition from local whites. The whites feared that the increased political power that accompanied them would embolden black men to proposition white women. A boycott of the Lake City post office was initiated, and petitions calling for Baker’s dismissal were circulated. One complaint was that Baker, had cut mail delivery from three times a day to just one. A postal inspector investigated the complaints and recommended that the post office be closed due to the treats on Baker’s life. The whites burned down the post office, but Baker remained postmaster and the government obtained space on the outskirts of town. In February of 1898 Baker relocated his family to the new post office. Again threats on Baker’s life were made. Baker communicated these threats to his superiors in Washington.
Lynching of Baker and his Daughter
Shortly before one o’clock on the morning of February 22, 1898 Frazier awoke to discover a raging fire deliberately set in the back of the small wooden structure that housed both his family and the town’s post office. Frazier attempted to put out the fire without success. Frazier call to his son Lincoln to quickly go get some help. As soon as Lincoln opened the door he was met with gunfire. Lincoln was shot in the abdomen, he dodged to the floor breaking his arm and quickly slamming the door shut. As the fire grew, the heat intensified and Frazier turned to his wife Lavinia saying “might as will die running as standing still”. As they prepared to flee Frazier say a quick pray, before he could open the door a bullet struck one year old Julia in the head, while Lavinia was holding her, killing her. The bullet went through Julia head into Lavinia arm. Noticing that the mob just killed his daughter and wounding his wife Frazier opened the door so that the remaining family could attempt to escape. Once the door open Frazier body was riddled down with a hail of bullets killing him. After seeing Frazier body collapsed to the ground the mob dispersed. Rosa Baker was shot in the arm, Cora Baker was shot in the right hand, Sarah and Millie Baker was unharmed. The fire consumed the wooden structure. The survivors Lavinia, Rosa 18, Cora 14, Lincoln 11, Sarah, and Millie Baker remained in Lake City for three days with local African Americans, but wounded did not received no medical treatment.
Local and non-locals sent letters to the South Carolina Senator Benjamin Tillman’s Office but was said Tillman refused to receive “mail from a nigger”
Investigation and Trial
A grand jury was convened in Williamsburg County, but failed to return any indictments. President McKinley administration conducted a robust investigation of the murder, initially offering a $1,500 ($42,522 today) reward for the arrest and conviction of the mob. Despite resistance to testifying, prosecutors indicted 7 men on the charge of murdering Baker on 1 July 1898. Ultimately, thirteen men were indicted in U.S. Circuit Court charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, assault, and destruction of mail on 7 April 1899, after two men, Joseph P. Newham and Early P. Lee, turning state evidence in exchange for their cases being dropped.
The trial was held in federal court from 10–22 April 1899, and the list of accused was as follows
- Alonza Rogers
- Charles D. Joyner
- Edwin Rogers
- Ezra McKnight
- Henry Goodwin
- Henry Stokes
- Marion Clark
- Martin Ward
- Moultrie Epps
- Oscar Kelly
- W. A. Webster
Lavinia Baker’s testimony at trial
I was in the building, with the baby in my arms. [Frazier] saw that I could not move, and he grabbed me, saying, “Come on, we might as well die running as standing.” At the door, the baby was shot: the baby was shot out of my arms. I said, “See, the baby’s dead.” Baker stepped back and saw his dead child; then he opened the door and was shot. I followed. Baker fell over and died, leaning against my lap.
The all-white jury was composed of businessmen from across the state. Newham, the prosecution’s star witness, admitted to starting the fire and identified eight of the defendants as having participated in the murders. He expressed no remorse for the death of Baker and his daughter. Another witness, M. B. Springs, identified Henry Stokes as the ringleader; Springs was ostracized in Lake City and was ultimately placed under protection. An African-American witness, Henderson Williams, testified that he had seen armed white men at the post office on the night of the lynching; he was also retaliated against and fled to Florence after a white business partner threatened to “do [him] like they did Baker.”
The jury deliberated for around 24 hours before declaring a mistrial because the jury deadlocked five to five. The case was never retried.
Following the mistrial, Lake City whites asked that the post office be reopened and mail service restored, an act that many African Americans derided as hypocritical.
The Lavinia Baker and her surviving child remained in South Carolina for several months after the verdict, but ending up moving to Boston and out of the public light. Four of Lavinia surviving children died in the tuberculosis epidemic.
William Baker died first in January 1,1908 he was 15 years old, then Sarah Baker died in December 3, 1909 her age unknown, Lincoln Baker died next in November 20, 1916 he was 27 years old, last was Cora Baker died March 09, 1920 she was 25 years old. Lavinia remaining child Rosa died not from Tuberculosis, but from old age in 1942 she was 63 years old.
After losing her surviving children Lavinia Baker returned to Florence County, South Carolina where she lived until he death in 1947 she was 86 years old.