Murder of Sarah Littlefield (26), San Antonio, 1910
On June 9, 1910 in San Antonio, a 30-year-old white woman named Miss Bertha Obert shot and killed Sarah Littlefield, a 26-year-old Black washerwoman. Littlefield had come to Obert’s home, 1419 Avenue B, in the early afternoon to drop off some laundry and collect her earnings. In an interview with the San Antonio Light and Gazette, Obert claimed that she argued with Littlefield over a missing garment and had refused to pay. Obert reported that Littlefield left the home, but returned and forced herself back inside and then proceeded to curse and slap her. Obert fired a gun at Littlefield, shooting her in the back, below the right shoulder blade. Witnesses heard the shot and saw Littlefield running to the street where she fell and died. When neighbors ran outside to see what happened, Obert allegedly told them to call the police so she could turn herself in.
In response to the killing, Obert declared: “Of course, I am sorry that it happened…I was alone and I had to protect myself; that negro woman was certainly fierce.”
Obert received special treatment from the moment of her arrest. Instead of placing her in one of the regular jail cells, she was detained in an area where women and girls were held while waiting for release on bond. Not only was she placed in a special area, she was also permitted the company of two fox terriers, she was given literature to pass the time, and was allowed to eat meals sent from home rather than the jail food. A group of respected ladies brought her flowers and sang and prayed over her. Only four days after her arrest, four doctors gathered enough money for Obert’s bail so that she could return home.
Obert was charged with murder, and her trial began on February 10. The trial began and ended on the same day, after only ten minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. That Littlefield had been shot in the back did not raise concerns about Obert’s account of the shooting.
This case is noteworthy because of Bertha Obert’s immediate arrest and trial for the murder of Littlefield. Murders and lynchings of Black Texans rarely led to investigations or trials. Many newspapers covered the details of the case, such as the absence of eye witnesses to the murder. Yet many of the newspaper accounts romanticized the murder and portrayed Obert as a heroine whose actions were justified. A June 10, 1910 issue of the San Antonio Light and Gazette dedicated almost a whole page to lofty descriptions of Obert’s personality, status, and appearance, describing her as having a “lithe, erect carriage” and a “character of more than usual determination and fearlessness.” Obert’s account of what took place was given credence and her descriptions of Littlefield as “fierce” shaped public opinion. The story of Sarah Littlefield, who was shot in the back after a conflict over owed wages, undoubtedly sent a shocking message to other washerwoman and wage laborers in San Antonio.
Sarah Littlefield lived on Milam St. and was only 26 years old when she was murdered. She was survived by her mother, Ellis Littlefield. She was buried in City Cemetery No. 3.