100 Years later: The Lynching of Adolphus Ross 

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, March 24, 2021

North Mississippi recently marked the 100th anniversary of a gruesome lynching in Yalobusha County, as reported in the Oxford Eagle and North Mississippi Herald.

March 19 marked the 100th anniversary of the murder of an African American man abducted from a Water Valley jail. The North Mississippi Herald published a series of short articles about the incident from March 18 through April 8, 1921, and the Oxford Eagle ran an article about the incident on March 24, 1921.

Calvin Hawkins, a historian from Water Valley, researched his case for his new book “Under the Dust Sand.” His book recounts African American history in Yalobusha County from 1870 to 1970. 

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While Hawkins could not find further information published about this case, he said that most lynchings were unreported during this time. He said plans to speak on lynchings that predate this case in his book, which he hopes to publish later this year. 

“You have to be very careful,” Hawkins said about reporting on historical lynchings. “It is a very sensitive topic for people.” 

The victim, Adolphus ‘Dolphus’ Ross, was accused of the attack and attempted rape of an elderly white woman outside of Water Valley. According to the Herald, the woman, Angie Cofer, was ambushed outdoors by a man on March 17, 1921. The woman repeatedly struck her attacker with a knife before he fled the scene. 

The next day, the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department trailed bloodhounds from the scene of the attack to Ross’s house. Sheriff W.N. Frost then arrested Ross and his son Leroy, who was between 19 and 20 years old, and placed them in the Water Valley jail on March 18, 1921. 

That night, a group of men broke into the jail and forcibly removed the men from their cell. On March 19, 1921, the body of Adolphus Ross was found with several bullet wounds. The shooter was unknown, and authorities buried his body and closed the case. 

The Oxford Eagle additionally reported that Sheriff Frost, who lived above the jail with his family, discovered the lynch mob when he returned home from a picture show. He was allowed to move his family to a safe location but could not return to the jail. 

The Herald published an open letter from the sheriff on April 8, 1921, in which he recounted the incident in his own words. The letter claimed that Leroy Ross was released unharmed, but no additional information was provided. 

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, four out of 654 recorded lynchings in Mississippi took place in Yalobusha County. Approximately seven recorded lynchings took place in Lafayette County. It is unknown how many were unreported.  

Hawkins said he believed the paper printed this story because it was a shooting death and not hanging or burning. According to his research, officials reported those cases more often. 

“They will show the ones being shot, but not being hung,” Hawkins said. “It was considered a murder.”

According to the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology Lynching Database, “hanging and riddled with bullets” was labeled as the cause of Ross’s death. Hanging, however, was not expressly mentioned in the local news articles about the incident.  

There are few copies of these newspapers that remain. David Howell, the North Mississippi Herald Publisher and Editor, said that they no longer have bound issues from the 1920s, which were flood-damaged. Howell said that the Library of Congress has digital copies available to the public. 

A copy of the Oxford Eagle newspaper article can be found in the bound editions of newspapers from 1921 in the Lafayette County Chancery Building. 

By Allen Brewer | EAGLE Contributor