Historic Markers Across Tennessee

The Lynching of Ell Persons

Marker ID:  
Location: 5404 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN
County: Shelby
Coordinates: N 35° 9.616    W 089° 52.852
  35.16026666    -89.88086666
Style: Free Standing **
Waymark: None


The Lynching of Ell Persons

(Side 1)
Near this spot on May 22, 1917, a lynching party chained Ell Persons to a log, doused him in gasoline, and burned him alive. An estimated 5,000 spectators witnessed his death or viewed his remains soon afterward. Persons, a black woodcutter who lived nearby, was facing charges of raping and decapitating Antoinette Rappel, 15, a white school girl last seen on her bicycle crossing the Wolf River over the Macon Road bridge. In building a case against Persons, authorities relied primarily on a coerced confession made "after a long siege of beating" and "third degree tactics" from law officers, as the Memphis press reported. Once authorities charged Persons with the slaying, they sent him to Nashville for safekeeping.

(Side 2)
Meanwhile, groups of white men referred to as "the avengers" monitored all rail lines into Memphis as Person's trial date approached. On May 21, 1917, one of these groups overpowered two Shelby County deputies, seized Persons, and removed him from a rail passenger car outside Potts Camp, Mississippi. News reports in Memphis the next morning stated the time and place where Persons would be lynched. A carnival atmosphere prevailed here as automobiles jammed Macon Road and vendors sold drinks and snacks. After the lynching, onlookers dismembered Person's charred body. Later that day, his head and foot were dumped on Beale Street for black pedestrians to see. No one was brought to trial in either the Rappel or Persons slayings.

Erected 2017 by Facing History and Ourselves and Students Uniting Memphis
of Overton High School and the
Shelby County Historical Commission.