Written by: Leo Lawton
Among the members of any family there are always those who seem to be unlucky, or lucky, enough to have events happen to them that others seem to pass by. Usually these selected family member’s stories are just a bit more vivid than those others who live an entire lifetime without making or leaving a ripple on life’s surface. One such person that made newspaper headlines, certainly through no apparent fault of her own was Nellie Marie Lawton, born November 14, 1884 in St. Joseph, Michigan. Nellie’s mother died while Nellie was young.
Of this item I know only in general, specific details have passed me by, but I am aware that the Courtland Enterprise newspaper dated August 13, 1897 stated in a story that “the three Negroes named Lewis Thompson, Walter Neville, and Rosa Binford were found guilty of assaulting little Nellie Lawton at Decatur, and sentenced to hang on Tuesday, September 7.” I do not know if the sentence was actually carried out, but I suppose it was.
Nellie obviously survived her harrowing experience, whatever it may have been exactly, as she married in 1905, and raised a fine family of 8 children of which I have made the acquaintance of some of her descendants.
I have wondered about this event for many years with little way of learning more about it, but I wonder if any relative of mine might have an interest of going to the nearby Decatur Library to search through dusty old newspaper files to see what could be learned of this sad occasion? As justice was much swifter in those days, than within our maddeningly slow courts of today, I suspect the assault took place not too long before the trial, and probably in the spring or summer of 1897.