Documented by Annika Myrup
Bill Dooley was an African American man who lived in the outskirts of Fulton, Kentucky (a town in southwestern Kentucky bordering Tennessee) with his wife and children. He was employed as a railroad section hand by the Illinois Central Railroad. News reports after his death referred to Dooley as “a peaceable, inoffensive man.” Nothing else is known about his personal life.
On Friday, February 14, 1902, Police Officer R. M. Potts showed up at Dooley’s house with a posse in search of a certain man named Moore. This much was admitted by Potts later in court. When Dooley told Potts that he didn’t know where this man was, many harsh words followed from Potts. Some newspaper accounts state that this included a threat on Dooley’s life. That night, at 11pm, Dooley was dragged outside of his house from his bed and shot five times by a group of four or five white men. There were four black witnesses to the incident. Two recognized the man firing the fatal shot as Potts himself.
Potts was suspended from the police force the day after the lynching and he and a civilian named Hardee Beasley were arrested on February 18. Before and after these arrests, statements were published in several newspapers inside and outside of Kentucky, announcing that the Governor had “offered a reward of $200 each for the arrest of the unknown murderers of Bill Dooley…” Newspapers continually hinted that there were several more suspects in the case that would soon be arrested, but these arrests never occurred. Trials were held for these two men in the county seat of Hickman on February 24. Beasley was acquitted by a jury who sided with the defense that there was no evidence against him. Potts’ trial continued for multiple years, until May 1904, when he was also acquitted.