The Lynching of Jube Benson

by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553

“The Lynching of Jube Benson” appeared in one of Dunbar’s last collections of short stories, The Heart of Happy Hollow (1904). The story, like many of his others, is set in the post-emancipation South and is written to uphold the humanity of the black race. As such, “The Lynching of Jube Benson” is perhaps his strongest piece of protest fiction.

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In the library of a southern gentleman named Gordon Fairfax, Dr. Melville, a relatively young medical doctor, and Handon Gay, a young newspaper reporter, are discussing various issues of the day, one of which is lynching. Gay expresses the desire to see one; Fairfax does not necessarily want to see one but would not avoid one if such an opportunity arose; Dr. Melville adamantly insists that he would avoid one, because, he relates to his companions, he had seen and taken part in one some seven years earlier, the lynching of Jube Benson.

At the time of the lynching, Dr. Melville was recently out of medical college and had moved to Brandon to open a medical practice among the white and black residents. Soon after his arrival, he began to fix his attentions on the young, pretty Annie Daly, daughter of a prosperous townsman from whom he rented office space. During this time, Dr. Melville also met Jube Benson, the black man who worked for the Dalys and who was fiercely devoted to young Annie.

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Jube Benson became Dr. Melville’s ally in his quest for the attentions of Annie Daly, to the point that he discouraged all other suitors. Also, during an outbreak of typhoid fever, which Dr. Melville contracted after treating most of the townspeople, Jube Benson served as devoted nursemaid to the doctor.

One afternoon of the following summer, Dr. Melville returned to his house from a visit in a neighboring village to find Annie Daly beaten, raped, and near death. Dr. Melville fought to save her, but she died, but not before identifying her attacker as “That black—.” As Jube Benson was nowhere to be found, it was immediately assumed that he was the perpetrator of this vicious crime. A lynch mob formed immediately to find and punish Jube Benson.

Jube, who in reality had been to visit his own girlfriend, Lucy, was soon found, confronted with Annie’s corpse, and immediately hanged despite his excuses and earnest pleas. Dr. Melville was the first to pull the rope.

No sooner had Jube’s body swung from the tree limb than his brother, Ben Benson, arrived, dragging with him the real culprit, Tom Skinner, “The worst white ruffian in town,” who had blackened his face with soot. Dr. Melville’s efforts to revive Jube Benson were unsuccessful, and he felt all the more guilty when he reexamined Annie Daly and found the skin of a white man beneath her fingernails. He thus feels the burden of guilt because he helped murder an innocent man and a faithful friend. Seven years later, he still suffers from the guilt as he tells his companions, “Gentlemen, that was my last lynching.”

The story is fast-paced and is written with sharp, crisp prose which emphasizes the action. While Dunbar’s characters fail to rise beyond stereotypes, in this story they are successful in communicating Dunbar’s purpose, that of articulating his abhorrence of lynching.

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