EMPORIA, VIRGINIA - Saturday - March 24, 1900. Two lynchings have taken place in this county today. Walter Cotton, a negro, the confessed murderer of two men, Justice of the Peace Saunders and a man named Welton, was hanged and riddled with bullets by the indignant white citizens of Emporia at 12 o'clock noon. A few minutes later a telegram was received from Greensville, stating that O'Grady, a white man, who was with Cotton at the time of the murders, had been lynched by the colored people of that town.There's a rather different account at History Engine:
The score now is even - one negro lynched by the whites and one white man lynched by the negroes. Great excitement has resulted, and because the State troops have been withdrawn to Richmond, more serious outbreaks against law and order may be expected.
The action of the negroes of Greensville in lynching a white man has aroused the entire county, and the neighboring towns are aflame. The whites are talking of proceeding to Greensville and dealing with the negroes there according to the rules of the South, and the negroes are said to be armed and prepared for any attack that may come from the whites.
State troops were sent here from Richmond by Governor Tyler on the demand of Judge W. Samuel Goodwin, to whom the whites had made their threat of lynching the negro. Major Hutchins was in command of the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. This morning he wired Governor Tyler for more troops, but before they were started, he wired back, saying they would not be needed, the Sheriff having said he could handle the mob without military aid.
Meanwhile the people of Emporia held a mass meeting in the Judge's office, and passed resolutions protesting against the presence of the troops, although it was acknowledged that the lynching would take place as soon as the troops were gotten rid of. The order for withdrawing the troops was signed by the Judge and Sheriff.
The troops left for Richmond at 11:25 o'clock. In less than an hour the negro's body was swinging from a tree in the Courthouse yard, riddled with bullets.
In the summer of 1900 Brandt O'Grady, an Irish immigrant was hanged along side Walter Cotton, a ginger colored negro, by a mob of angry Virginians at the Greensville County courthouse. The hanging was in retaliation for the brutal murder of several white individuals around Greensville County, including the 1898 murder of Charles Wyatt, a storeowner from Portsmouth, Virginia. After escaping from jail in Portsmouth, O'Grady and Cotton terrorized Greensville County, executing robberies and the violent murder of a farmer. The duo was eventually captured in Norfolk and was sent to the Emporia jail. Several days later the growing mob of whites and blacks stormed the jail with chants of Lynch [Cotton] Hang [Cotton] String up the man who killed our friends Upon storming the jail, the mob pulled Cotton from his shackles and hanged him from the Cherry tree in the corner of the courthouse yard. After Cotton's lifeless body hung from the tree like a scarecrow blacks who had witnessed the lynching turned on the whites and demanded the subsequent lynching of O'Grady. You have lynched the Negro, now lynch the white man. The biracial crowd then turned on the jail pulling Mr. O'Grady from his cell and hanging him on the Cherry tree next to the lifeless body of Walter Cotton.The violent lynching of a black man for the murder of a successful white businessman such as Charles Wyatt was not uncommon at the end of the nineteenth century. However the lynching of Walter Cotton is one of the rare instances in southern history were the participants of the lynching were of both black and white racial identity.For Walter Cotton is a poem by Rudolph Lewis that's rather nice. How historically accurate it is, I haven't a clue, but Lewis tried; in the Responses, which I highly recommend, he answers a great granddaughter of a man who Cotton was found guilty of murdering, saying, "My intent was to tell the story of Walter Cotton, Outlaw, from his perspective retaining the integrity of his life. The story is more or less as I found it in the Emporia library. I made every attempt to tell the story with the known facts as objectively as I could." Lewis's decision to present Cotton as not entirely guilty is reasonable: some people who were lynched were later proven innocent; some had committed the crimes that provoked mob justice.