Jessica Yamane’s quest for details of an Augusta man’s suspicious death 64 years ago is like piecing together fragments from a long-forgotten puzzle.
“At this point, county and medical records have all gone dry,” said the Northeastern University law school student, whose project focuses on the 1948 death of Richmond County Stockade inmate Ike Crawford. “We are hoping to find and talk to some of his descendants.”
There is plenty of information available about Crawford’s short life: He was 28, worked at Sibley Mill and was married with two sons and a daughter. Yamane has his obituary, his home address – even his Social Security number.
What’s missing, though, are definitive answers about the death, in which the white warden who severely beat the black inmate was later fined but never charged with murder or homicide.
Crawford, on probation for stealing $31, was later rearrested for being drunk and sentenced to a stockade work crew. He was hospitalized May 22, 1948, with a head wound severe enough to cause blindness and died on June 5, 1948. He was buried at Southview Cemetery.
Yamane’s research is part of the university’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project, which conducts research on anti-civil rights violence and other possible miscarriages of justice of that period.
Crawford’s official cause of death was listed as acute hepatitis, but – in more than a dozen articles in The Augusta Chronicle and Augusta Herald – allegations arose that his death was caused by a beating with a heavy wood stick or a rubber hose with a wooden handle.
The resulting investigations included a coroner’s jury, which ruled that “Ike Crawford came to his death from natural causes, after having been admitted to University hospital for the treatment of an injury to his eye brought about by causes unknown.”
A state prison official’s inquiry shed more light on the case and yielded details of other beatings of both white and black inmates. Ultimately, three guards were charged with multiple counts of assault and battery.
The guard alleged to have beaten Crawford was found guilty of 10 counts, for which he was fined $50 and placed on parole for six months. Black prisoners who had testified about the beatings were transferred to another county for their protection.
Although the case was widely investigated, and attracted enough media attention to prompt a grand jury investigation into treatment of inmates, Yamane wonders whether the complete truth was ever told.
“There might be more we can learn,” she said. “It would be great if we could locate any of his relatives, to get their perspective.”
Although re-examining old cases such as Crawford’s is part of her education, it might also be possible to change the cause of death from hepatitis to homicide, she said.
“But that would require sound information,” she said. “Theories have to be grounded more in hard facts.”
Yamane can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.