Hosea Carter: Carpenter Lynched in Mississippi, 1948

Hosea “Shant” Carter, who was lynched in Marion County, Mississippi on May 2, 1948. Photo courtesy of The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive.
Hosea “Shant” Carter, who was lynched in Marion County, Mississippi on May 2, 1948. Photo courtesy of The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive.

On December 17, 1951, a national civil rights organization accused the United States of genocide. 

Citing cases of violence against Black people in the United States, the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) submitted to the United Nations the report “We Charge Genocide.” 

The report received considerable media attention, and raised global awareness of cases of anti-Black violence in the United States.

One of the cases covered by the CRC’s 1951 report was the killing of Hosea “Shant” Carter, who was lynched in Marion County, Mississippi on May 2, 1948.

Carter was born in 1915, one of 11 children. As an adult, he served in the military and worked as a carpenter in Marion County, Mississippi. He and his wife, Earnestine Carter, had four children; Florine, Donna Fay, Jimmie Dale, and Lavern. It was a household that, in a recent interview with CRRJ, Jimmie Carter described as “close-knit,” warm, and kind.

But this family was destroyed when Carter was shot in the chest on May 2, 1948. 

According to accounts, on the day of the murder, Carter had been hired to repair an electric pump at the home of Charles and Gisela Renfro. During a break from the scorching May sun, Gisela Renfro and Carter sparked up a conversation, the details of which are unknown. Their meeting was witnessed by an ice salesman, Jack McKenzie, who then drove the 18 miles north to the lumber yard where Charles Renfro and his employer, William Ratliff Prisk, were working. McKenzie, a white man, told Charles Renfro about the exchange and Renfro telephoned his wife, who confirmed she was not in any danger.

Despite Charles Renfro’s request to leave Carter alone, two carloads of men, including Prisk, left the yard to find Carter, who received advance warning from a friend that the white men were on their way to see him. Carter attempted to flee to his sister’s home which was nearby. 

The mob fired their shotguns the moment Carter stepped from his truck, shooting him in the chest. Carter staggered through the house and escaped into surrounding woodland, where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later. His attackers failed to locate his body, which was found by a relative the following day, covered in leaves just as Carter had learnt to hide during military training. 

The facts of the case were reported differently in various newspapers. The Black press wrote Carter was killed by a mob after he was accused of making advances toward Gisela Renfro, a German war-bride.

Meanwhile, Marion County Deputy Sheriff T.W. White told reporters Carter was shot after he and two others, including Carter’s brother Willie Carter, attempted to break into the Renfro home. According to this account, Carter and his accomplices fled once Gisela Renfro began to scream. Charles Renfro pursued Carter and a scuffle ensued, during which Carter was fatally shot.

It was believed Prisk, Charles Renfro’s employer, fired the fatal shot that killed Carter. He was arrested and charged with murder by Sheriff J. Calvin Broom, but the charges were ultimately dropped. None of the other assailants ever faced trial. Broom would later tell the press that the shooting was “what any decent white man would have done.”

Read more about Carter’s death on the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive

About the Archive

The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive houses case files and documents for more than 1,000 cases of racial homicides in the Jim Crow South. Co-founded by Melissa Nobles, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Margaret Burnham, CRRJ director and professor of law at Northeastern, these uncovered stories highlight how violence affected lives, defined legal rights and shaped politics between 1930 and 1954.

A coroner’s inquest determined that “H. Carter came to his death by party or parties unknown,” and the death certificate lists the death as a homicide.

But the family’s pain and trauma did not end there.

Upon collection of his body, the undertaker refused to drive into the woods where Hosea Carter lay, scared by the crowds of Black and white residents who had gathered in outrage and dismay to witness events. Instead Earnestine Carter, his wife, was forced to drive the hearse out into the woods to collect her dead husband’s body.

Following his murder, Carter’s brothers were targeted. On the day of the shooting, Carter’s younger brother Eddie was approached by police and arrested. After officers openly debated whether to shoot him and throw him in the river, he was taken to prison and released on bail, only to later flee Marion County. A few weeks later, another of Hosea Carter’s siblings, William Carter, who had vowed to avenge his brother’s death, was found burned to death in his car. 

Earnestine Carter, Hosea Carter’s wife, continued working as a housekeeper for the Prisk family even after her husband’s murder, terrified that if she quit her family would face further horrific violence. 

His father’s death still haunts Jimmie Carter, who was six years old at the time of the murder.

“It never leaves me,” he said. “I can see it in my mind’s eye as if it were yesterday.”

In May 2023, Jimmie Carter organized a memorial in his father’s honor at the Sunflower Missionary Baptist Church in Marion County, MS. Now, he is in the process of erecting a new headstone and organizing a gravesite dedication for his father. 

Through this work, Jimmie Carter hopes to restore some semblance of justice for his father and his family.

“My prayer before I leave this world,” said Jimmie Carter, “is that I can help to restore the honor and dignity that was taken from him in life.”

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