Ceremony to be held for Gilbert

Published 7:45 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify where Henry was killed in 1947.

It’s been nearly 71 years since Henry “Peg” Gilbert, an African American farmer, was killed in the Harris County Jail. This weekend, his descendants will gather for a formal commemoration to honor Gilbert’s life — a life they say ended too soon because of an unjust murder.

The commemoration will be held March 10 at 11 a.m. at Union Springs Methodist Church in West Point. The commemoration was organized by the family, One Harris County, a local coalition working for social and economic justice, and The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at Northeastern University School of Law.

“I think it is very important for the truth to be known, for the facts to be known, for the Gilbert family to have some closure,” said Pam Avery, public relations director for One Harris County. “To me, philosophically, the only way we as a society can really move forward and embrace justice for all is if we embrace the transgressions of the past. Yes, these things happened, and this was a failure of several different elements. The community, the law enforcement, the judicial, the churches — everybody failed the Gilberts.”

According to archives from The LaGrange Daily News, the story of Gilbert’s death started May 5, 1947, when Gus Davidson, an African American male, hit a calf belonging to Olin Sands, a white Troup County farmer. The story, headlined “Troup Farmer, Sands, Killed by Gun Shots” says that Sands confronted Davidson, who allegedly fired three shots and killed Sands.

Gilbert was arrested and charged with being an accessory in connection with Sands’ murder.

According to newspaper stories, the Harris County Sheriff at the time, M. E. Hadley, said that Gilbert transported Davidson in his automobile after Sands’ death.

On May 23, 1947, Gilbert was shot and killed in the Harris County Jail. County Chief of Police W.H. Buchanan said that Gilbert told him that he was ready to make a confession and asked him to come to the jail.

The newspaper said that Buchanan went to see Gilbert and asked if he was ready to confess. 

Gilbert reportedly said “Yes, I’m ready to end it all.”

Buchanan said that Gilbert struck him with a chair, knocking him down and then jumped on top of him.

Buchanan said he kicked Gilbert off and shot him, according to the 1947 story in the LDN.

A study by Tara Dunn and Ariel Goeun Kong of Northeastern University School of Law notes that a report by Georgia State Patrol officer, Sgt. T.E. McClung, described Gilbert’s body as mangled, including a beaten face, a broken left leg, a mangled body and six bullet wounds.

Gilbert’s wife, Mae Henry Gilbert, was also charged with harboring a criminal, according to newspaper records. Davidson fled the area but was eventually arrested in Camden, New Jersey in 1951. Davidson was sentenced to death multiple times, but his sentence was changed to life in prison in 1952, and he was paroled in September 1961. Davidson passed away in Clayton County in 1996 at age 77, according to The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice project by Northeastern University.

Gilbert owned 111 acres in Troup County, and he was a father to four daughters. After his death, the family had to sell the farm.

“The family is happy that it will bring some closure, maybe some healing, maybe some bringing together of the community. Of course, it won’t bring him back or change the way Aunt Caroline’s life was after,” said Valerie West, one of the descendants, while referring to Mae Henry, who she called Aunt Caroline.

Union Springs Methodist Church, where the service will be held, is located at 6710 Whitesville Road near West Point.