LABELLE — Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) history professor Brandon Jett was recently awarded a $4,500 grant from the American Society for Legal History (ASLH) for his digital history project “Lynching in LaBelle.”
In 1926, Henry Patterson, a Black man who was working on road construction in LaBelle, was wrongfully accused of assaulting a white woman and was lynched by dozens of white LaBelle residents. The accusations were proven false, 14 white men were arrested for Patterson’s murder, and a grand jury trial began.
“However, the grand jury trial fell apart when witnesses were not called or no longer remembered what they testified to during the coroner’s inquest, and the defense attorneys made successful appeals to white solidarity with the grand jurors,” Jett said. “After a three-day trial, the grand jury returned no true bill.”
“Despite being the first time local prosecutors and the state of Florida attempted to prosecute participants in a lynch mob, the lynching in LaBelle has garnered relatively little attention,” said Jett. “Only two articles in academic journals exist, a few online blogs discuss the events, and some locals have shared what they ‘know’ about the case.”
The digital history project will include primary and secondary sources with information related to the lynching, biographies of those involved in the trial, official documents from the investigation, court records, and other artifacts that Jett and three students in his African American History course have collected. The documents will be analyzed and digitized on a dedicated website. Local residents are also encouraged to contribute what they might know as part of the oral history.
“Despite the lack of scholarly attention, the case symbolized a turning point both in the history of Hendry County and Florida,” Jett said. “I hope this project encourages LaBelle residents to become more comfortable learning and talking about this important event in our local history.