The world of Broadus Miller: homicide, lynching, and outlawry in early twentieth-century North and South Carolina
Young, Kevin Wayne
MetadataShow full item record
In the summer of 1927, an African American named Broadus Miller was accused of killing a fifteen-year-old white millworker in Morganton, North Carolina. Following a manhunt lasting nearly two weeks, Miller was killed and his body then publicly displayed on the Morganton courthouse lawn. This dissertation uses Broadus Miller’s personal history as a narrative thread to examine the world within which he lived and died. Miller’s story exemplifies much larger patterns and provides a unique lens on race relations and criminal justice in early twentieth-century North and South Carolina. In Miller’s native South Carolina, white supremacy was maintained through lynching, but violence permeated all forms of human interaction and most homicides featured same-race perpetrators and victims. In the early 1920s, Miller spent three years in the South Carolina state penitentiary after killing an African American woman. The court process in his case illustrates the role of race within the South Carolina legal and judicial systems, while examining conditions in the penitentiary during his incarceration demonstrates that rather than serving any rehabilitative function, the penitentiary was a highly lucrative enterprise designed to benefit penal officials. Following Miller’s release from prison, he embarked upon the same journey as thousands of other black South Carolinians in the early 1920s, when the boll weevil ravaged the state’s cotton fields and precipitated a mass out-migration of farm laborers. Like Miller, many of these migrants moved to North Carolina, where they faced a hostile and unwelcoming environment in which the Ku Klux Klan and other nativist groups flourished. By the 1920s white supremacist violence in North Carolina was largely masked by formal law. A unique feature of North Carolina law was the state’s outlawry statute, which was used against Broadus Miller and which gave private citizens the legal authority to kill him. The statute’s origins and application cast a stark light on the nature of state-sanctioned violence. The killing of Miller and exhibition of his dead body took place on the borderline between lynching and state-sanctioned execution—and showed how indefinite that borderline was.