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.”

You can’t understand New Austin without delving into Old Austin. One digital avenue for that quest is Austin Found, a series of historical images of Austin and Texas published at statesman.com/austinfound. We’ll share samples here regularly.



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