In the early morning hours, Baker was awoken by a fire set deliberately to the building that housed both his family’s home and the town’s post office. Baker, his wife Lavinia (pictured third from left), and their six children (pictured) were trapped by the blaze and a heavily armed mob of White men out in front of the building. After attempting to stamp out the fire, Baker and his family tried to escape the post office.
The men opened fire on the family, fatally wounding Baker. The men continued shooting, injuring three of Baker’s oldest children.
As the children escaped via an open door, Lavinia and baby Julia attempted to follow but the mob shot Baker’s wife through the hand and killed the baby.
Suffering a wound to her leg, Lavinia collapsed in the burning building before neighbors came to her and the family’s rescue.
The murder of the federally appointed Baker angered many around the nation and galvanized the anti-lynching movement.
Newspapers from around the country reported on the murder, and the incident even received a bit of global attention.
Baker’s lynching was a cowardly act and was reportedly sparked by prejudiced Whites who didn’t think a Black man deserved the post he was given.
The response to the Baker case was truly an anomaly, seeing as violence against Black people typically happened without justice.
According to research compiled by Auburn University history professor David C. Carter, the Baker case began a potentially vital rally that was later snuffed out due to the reluctance of Whites to show favor to Blacks in any fashion.
After a government investigation, federal prosecutors gathered 13 White men in federal court in the city of Charleston on charges of conspiracy against Baker 14 months after the incident.
South Carolina authorities and their failure to bring Baker’s killers to justice prompted the government involvement, which built a strong case for conviction. However, since witnesses lied on the stand and White jurors reportedly looked to protect the men associated with the murder, the case was later declared a mistrial.
Even with support from well-meaning folks of all walks of life across the country, the Baker family survivors would never get their due.
Those calling for an end to lynching and racist tactics used Baker as a rallying moment, but the South’s hold on the legal system and its separatist aims won out overall.
An abolitionist, William Loyd Garrison II — along with concerned African Americans — encouraged the Bakers to relocate to Massachusetts in 1899. Sadly, Lavinia would take her children up north only to lose every single one to tuberculosis.
Lavinia would end up returning to South Carolina and dying — both childless and husbandless — in 1947.
Baker’s lynching serves as one of the many painful reminders that African Americans and their time in this country has not been utopian. What remains in the wake of America’s racist past is that there is an even greater unspoken debt that still must be paid.