Laura Nelson's Story
Detailed lynching photos of Laura Nelson (top) and LD/Lawrence Nelson. May 25, 1911, Okemah, OK.
Bottom Right: Photograph of the bridge where mother and son died with a crowd of onlookers.
The Lynch Quilts Project began with the story of Laura Nelson when I encountered her image at the Without Sanctuary Exhibit. I was prompted to purchase the book. It's not that in the back of mind I did not consider this as a natural component of this history. But for some reason, the story of Laura and her son stuck with me. I was mortified the day I saw the image of Laura and her 12-yr old son. Those images solidified that "knowledge" into a realization. I knew then that I had to do something. I didn't know what the "something" was but it would take 3 years to figure out what made sense for Laura's image and until 2021 to figure out what to do about her son.
There are several accounts and versions of the events leading up to this atrocity. But what we do know, is that Laura Nelson was murdered on May 25, 1911 in Okemah, OK side-by-side with her son L.D./Lawrence, who was 12 years-old at the time. There is also documentation that she had a 2 year-old daughter named Carrie in her cell when the lynched mob arrived, as well as a newborn baby girl around 2 months. Both have been lost through history. What we do know is on that day in 1925, a mother died with her son and two daughters are missing from historical record.
There are stories that both she and he were raped; that she died protecting her son; that it was about stealing meat; and so many others. Below find several links to various accounts of what is written about the lynching.
Research by Andrew Hardaway: Page offers additional information about the events surrounding the lynching such as original articles, census information ,etc.
There are other stories of women and lynching that must also be remembered. Mary Turner who died seeking justice for her husband who was also lynched. As a result, her unborn baby girl was cut from her body. Born alive someone then proceeded to stomp the new babe's head into the ground. Or, Mary Scott; twice victimized. Lynched because her brother killed a white man who had raped his sister. When they arrived to lynch him, he got away and she was then killed instead.
For a list of recorded cases of women and lynching please click here. You can also check out the following books: Lynchings of Woen in the United States, by Kerry Segrave and Gender and Lynching: The Politics of Memory, edited by Everylin M. Simien.