Facing Down the Mob

From The Dogcatcher and The Fox: Chapter 1, Part 2

Raven kept both hands on the implement so they would not see her shaking, and she swallowed hard, hoping to dislodge the lump in her throat. She also carefully avoided looking directly at the torch in the hands of one of the men. She unconsciously kept her pitchfork pointed in his direction as though it might ward off the flames.

“Where’s Boyd?” one of the men demanded.

“He’s not here,” she lied. “You need to move on. There are animals inside, and I’m not letting you burn them up.”

“Then get ‘em out of there,” shouted another man who rounded the corner of the building. He was squat with a square face and flaming red hair and he was followed by a dozen or so boisterous companions bearing torches, clubs, and rocks. They were laughing and jostling as though they had been drinking and they, too, came up short at the sight of a white woman in this neighborhood.

“I can’t get them out. There’s nowhere for them to go.”

“What are you protecting that job-stealing nigger for? There should be a white man running this livery.”

“Who you callin a nigger, boy?”

Raven was confused. That was Rondell’s unmistakable baritone voice, but she was practically touching the barn door and it had not opened. Her eyes swung toward the voice as Rondell emerged from the shadows at the side of the building. The entire congregation of people shifted in his direction.

He stood holding an axe handle with his feet apart, ready for action—a slender man with smooth skin that defied any attempt to guess his age. His deep voice, clever mind, and defiant disposition made her think he was pushing forty. Rondell was one of those Negroes who clearly did not like white people telling him what to do. He would probably have been lynched, had he stayed in Alabama. Now he might be lynched here in Chicago.

As she moved to head off trouble, Raven raised the pitchfork and pointed it at her opponents. The flash of a camera momentarily blinded her and gave her hope that the mob would not harm a white woman in front of a news photographer. 

The little red-headed man clenched his fists, rose up on the balls of his feet, and said, “Come on, boys. Let’s burn this place down.”

Raven gripped her pitchfork and felt Rondell move up beside her. She wanted to run away, but her feet were rooted to the spot. She was relieved to see the crowd hesitate and to hear another man speak for the first time.

“Danny,” he mumbled to his red-headed companion, “Let’s move on. We can’t win a fight with a woman. The newspaper is here, and they will eat us alive. Mr. Sweeney won’t like that.”

At the mention of Sweeney’s name, Danny’s demeanor changed. His puffed-up presence deflated like air coming out of a tire. His fierce eyes became shifty, and he glanced over his shoulder at some invisible presence.

At that moment, Raven realized that this hateful mob—these men of violence—were not here on some noble mission. They were here at the behest of others. They were puppets whose strings were being pulled. Raven could not help but worry. Who were the puppeteers and what could motivate them to foment such hatred and violence? Raven planted the pitchfork handle in the dirt and let the man approach her. She towered over him, her black hair billowing in the evening breeze.

“This ain’t over,” Danny said. He backed away from her and said louder as he glared at Rondell and moved away. “We’ll be back.”

They never came back. Boyd’s Livery stable and all the animals inside were spared, thanks to the courage of one woman—at least that’s how the newspaper reported it. The photograph of Raven Griffith holding off a mob with a pitchfork would become iconic both for the strength of one woman, and for her fierce determination to protect helpless animals. Her boss, however, would not be impressed.

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