Documented by Gracie Henderson
Grant Smith was born in 1878 in Kentucky. His mother was born in Nova Scotia, and his father was born in the United States. Grant Smith was married to Addie Smith in 1905 in Mason County, Kentucky, and they resided together in Johnson, Fleming County, Kentucky. Fleming County, Kentucky is located in northeastern Kentucky, close to the Ohio River. Living in the household with Addie and Grant was their daughter, Annie Smith, who was born in 1902, Grant’s brother-in-law Thomas Timberlake, who was born in 1895, and his niece Tharsia Timberlake, who was born in 1917. According to the 1920 census, Grant Smith held the occupation of farm laborer, and he was unable to read or write. Grant’s wife Addie was able to read and write, was not employed in 1920, and did not go to school.
In March 1920, Grant Smith was accused of assaulting Ruby Anderson, who was the daughter of a wealthy, prominent farmer. Grant was taken to jail by Deputy Sheriff Powell. The Lexington Herald reported that Judge C.W. Fulton was anxious about a gathering mob who might try to interfere with the transfer and trial of Smith. Judge Fulton wrote Sheriff Powell a letter, instructing him to escort Smith from jail in the evening and out of the view of the mon. But, in the process of transferring Grant, the mob intercepted the police, affirming the worries of the judge. The mob took Grant from police custody, wired his arms to his side, and lynched him on a telephone pole between Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky and Mayslick, Kentucky. According to news reports, witnesses said that Smith lived for about 15 minutes after being hanged. Smith’s body was found on the telephone pole, his hands still in handcuffs.
The lynching of Grant Smith also emphasizes the role newspapers and other forms of public media played in stirring up public outrage and promoting beliefs about black criminality. A few days before the lynching, one newspaper, the Kentucky Post and Times-Star, reported that Grant claimed he was innocent of the charges and that there was a $500 reward for his arrest or capture. A few days after the lynching, many newspapers reported the same story (listed on this site), in which Grant confessed twice to assaulting the girl. One newspaper, the Maysville Public Ledger, printed both stories, one of Grant’s confession and one of Grant’s declaration of innocence. The kidnapping and hanging of Grant took place before he was ever brought to trial.