A closer look at a 1919 Austin racial incident turns up the unexpected

Mob beat secretary of the NAACP, but who was he?


One of the most notorious incidents in the history of race relations in Austin occurred in 1919, when the executive secretary of the newly founded National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was attacked by an Austin mob and then run out of town.

John Shillady had traveled to Austin to work out a dispute between the state and the NAACP. He was confronted on a public street by Constable Charles Hamby, County Judge Dave Pickle and Ben Pierce. According to a newspaper report, they beat him “until he was bleeding from the face and howled for mercy.”

Houston author and public relations expert Patricia Bernstein covered the incident in her well-reviewed 2006 book “The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP.”

“There were rumors that the NAACP was stirring up racial unrest following a ‘race riot’ in Longview,” Bernstein wrote me recently. “And the Texas attorney general had subpoenaed the Austin NAACP branch’s records, trying to shut down all 31 branches across the state.”

Bernstein’s new history, “Ten Dollars to Hate: The Texas Man Who Fought the Klan,” contains 20 crucial pages on the Invisible Empire’s activities in our city. This immensely readable book provides a lot of background on the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 20th century. It focuses on Dan Moody, a future Texas governor who, as district attorney for Travis and Williamson counties, prosecuted one of the first successful cases against the Klan.

Back to the mobbed social worker, Shillady. One thing wasn’t always clear to this reporter: He was white. As were many of the founding leaders of the NAACP.

“Shillady never recovered and died in 1920, affected mentally as much as physically by his terrible experience,” Bernstein writes. “Gov. (William) Hobby was quoted as saying that Shillady got just what he deserved — and so would anyone else who interfered with Texas’ handling of its Negroes.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

West Lake Hills brush pickup to stagger every three years
West Lake Hills brush pickup to stagger every three years

Next year’s proposed budget was tightened up and council got an update on Bee Cave Road construction during the Aug. 23 West Lake Hills City Council meeting. The City Council passes the 2017-2018 budget and a new tax rate in late September, and so has made great progress working its way through budget numbers during the last several meetings...
BREAKING: Boil water notice issued near Cedar Creek, Red Rock in Bastrop County
BREAKING: Boil water notice issued near Cedar Creek, Red Rock in Bastrop County

A boil water notice has been issued for an area of Bastrop County that is near Cedar Creek and Red Rock, according to the Aqua Water Supply Corp. Around 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, portions of the Aqua Water Supply system experienced low pressure as a result of a water-main break, which may have allowed harmful microbes into the water system, Aqua Water...
Judge permanently bars Texas from enforcing ‘discriminatory’ ID law
Judge permanently bars Texas from enforcing ‘discriminatory’ ID law

A federal judge Wednesday tossed out the Texas voter ID law, saying changes recently adopted by the Legislature fell short of fixing a law that was drafted to intentionally discriminate against minority voters. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi issued an injunction permanently barring Texas from enforcing its voter ID requirements...
Family: Man killed Wednesday was second brother shot dead in Austin
Family: Man killed Wednesday was second brother shot dead in Austin

A man who died from gunshot wounds Wednesday afternoon in North Austin is the second brother in his family to be shot and killed, according to his older brothers. Police declined to confirm the victim’s identity Wednesday, but two people at the scene identified him as their brother, 30-year-old Benson Briseño. Police got a 911 call about...
Suspect shot, ran over victim in North Austin homicide, police say

Austin police on Wednesday named a suspect in a weekend homicide — in which the victim was shot in the face and run over — but they think he fled to Mexico. Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Gustavo Linan, 28, on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of 35-year-old Valente Garcia-Hernandez, with bail set at $1 million...
More Stories