Sometime after Christmas in 1887, fourteen-year-old Lula Sherman was looking after her little sister. Her parents weren’t home. There was a knock at the door. As Lula opened the door, she was greeted by a white man, Manse Waldrop, who asked Lula where her parents were. She mentioned that they were out for the day.
Despite her response, Waldrop remained at the doorway. He grew increasingly hostile towards Lula. He then forced his way into the home and brutally raped Lula. Lula later died from her injuries. Waldrop was eventually arrested and found guilty of his crime.
Lula’s father, Cato Sherman, a former sharecropper on Fort Hill Plantation and a freed man, decided to get justice for Lula. Mr. Sherman gathered allies: Gaylord Eaton, John Reese, Bill Williams, Harrison Heyward, and Henry Bolton. Other men were also involved in gaining justice for Lula and lynching Waldrop. Most of these neighbors were Black men themselves.
On December 30, 1887 these men apprehended Waldrop as he was being transported from the Central jail to Pickens. Ironically, Waldrop was transported at night because rumors of his potential lynching spread. Cato Sherman and his friends lynched Waldrop near the woods of Dr. L.G. Clayton’s home likely between the hours of 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. Waldrop’s execution by Black men was a way to get retribution for Lula and an act of resistance to the racist infrastructure established at the time.
On Monday, January 16, 1888 warrants of arrest for Henry Bolton, Harrison Heyward, Bill Williams, Gaylord Eaton, John Reese, and Cato Sherman were issued. Some of the other men involved were temporarily arrested but later released.
The first trial against Cato Sherman and his friends was held on July 9, 1888. They pleaded not guilty. Many people attended the trial since it was very rare that Black men would lynch a white man for the rape and murder of a young, black girl. The trial continued on until July 10, 1888, with the result being a mistrial.
The men remained in jail until their second trial on March 6, 1889. Cato Sherman, John Reese, and Gaylord Eaton were found not guilty. However, Harrison Heyward, Bill Williams, and Henry Bolton were found guilty. Bolton requested for a new trial and bail. Williams and Heyward were sentenced to be hanged on April 5, 1889. The result of Williams and Heyward’s sentence sparked uproar in both Black and white communities. Petitions for their release were circulated among South Carolina citizens. Black ministers even met with South Carolina Governor, John P. Richardson, to appeal for Williams and Heywards.
Then on July 8, 1889, Williams and Heyward were pardoned and released. The petitioning and support from citizens forced the court to reconsider their original sentence of death for these two men. Specific details for Bolton’s trial are unknown, but he was also eventually released.
The actions of Cato Sherman and those who assisted him forced the South Carolina Court System to reconcile this thought: lynchings were a valid form of punishment for rapists regardless of race. This thought was revolutionary since Black individuals were subjected to being raped and murdered by white people for many years in the South. This particular act allowed Black people to fight back against the injustices which were stacked against them for many years.