‘Who Lynched Willie Earle’ topic of conference at Wofford

Feb. 17 event focuses on ‘preaching to confront racism,’ Willimon book

Dr. Will Willimon

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Wofford College will host a conference on South Carolina’s last lynching, the subsequent trial, a courageous sermon and the continuing challenge of preaching to confront racist. The Feb. 17 event will feature the launch of the book “Who Lynched Willie Earle: Preaching to Confront Racism,” written by Dr. Will Willimon, a 1968 Wofford graduate and retired United Methodist bishop.

The conference will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Leonard Auditorium in Main Building. It is free and open to the public; lunch will be offered for $10.

The lynching of Willie Earle took place in Greenville, S.C., on Feb. 16, 1947, when Earle, a 24-year-old black man, was arrested in the robbery and murder of a Greenville cab driver named Thomas Watson Brown. Based on circumstantial evidence, Earle was charged in the murder and arrested. A convoy of taxi drivers drove to the jail, forcibly procured Earle’s release and beat, stabbed and shot him to death in what is considered the last racially motivated lynching to occur in South Carolina.

The trial, which gained national media attention, resulted in the acquittal of 31 white men who had been charged with Earle’s murder.

The conference at Wofford will include lectures from Willimon, a member of the Wofford Board of Trustees and a former dean of the chapel at Duke University, and Will Gravely, a 1961 Wofford graduate and a long-time scholar on the Willie Earle lynching and trial. Gravely is professor emeritus at the University of Denver.

The conference also will include panel discussions on preaching to confront racism with Bishop Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and other clergy from South Carolina and North Carolina.

Actors will read an excerpt from “The Lynching,” a two-act play by John Jeter and Lucy Beam Hoffman. In “The Lynching,” a young newspaperman must confront violent racism when he covers the largest lynching trial in U.S. history. George MacNabb, a 26-year-old reporter for the Greenville Piedmont newspaper, finds himself assigned to cover the Willie Earle murder and the subsequent lynching trial, where he comes face-to-face with national and international celebrity-journalists and must confront violent racism in his hometown and in his own past.

To register for the conference, contact Elizabeth Fields in Wofford’s Halligan Center for Religious and Spiritual Life at fieldsem@wofford.edu or 864-597-4050. The $10 boxed lunch must be reserved in advance and paid at the door. Continuing education units are available.

Wofford College, established in 1854, is a four-year, residential liberal arts college located in Spartanburg, S.C. It offers 25 major fields of study to a student body of 1,650 undergraduates. Nationally known for the strength of its academic program, outstanding faculty, study abroad participation and successful graduates, Wofford is home to one of the nation’s 283 Phi Beta Kappa chapters. The college community enjoys Greek Life as well as 19 NCAA Division I athletics teams.