Fred Rouse, 1921

In late 1921, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters (AMC), a labor union representing butchers and packinghouse workers, called for a national strike. Workers in places like Chicago, Kansas City, and Fort Worth organized in an effort to maintain limited wartime gains, including an eight-hour work day. Confrontations between police and strikers captured media attention. Some strikers also directed violence and intimidation toward workers perceived as strikebreakers, many of whom were immigrants or African Americans and barred from union membership.

On Tuesday, December 6, 1921, a struggle broke out in Fort Worth. A crowd of picketers confronted Fred Rouse, a Black packinghouse worker at Armour and Company, as he left work for the day. The crowd surrounded Rouse, preventing him from boarding a streetcar. According to news coverage, Rouse pulled out a gun in defense and wounded two men, Tom and Tracy Maclin. The crowd began beating Rouse with iron bars, and he was later admitted to the City-County Hospital with serious injuries, including a fractured skull.

Days later, on the night of Sunday, December 11, a mob seized Rouse from the hospital where he was receiving treatment for his injuries. The nurse on duty, Essie Slaton, estimated that the mob consisted of around thirty men. She and Dr. W.F. Keye claimed that they attempted to stop the mob from entering but submitted when the men threatened to use force. The mob seized Fred Rouse and drove him to a tree along Samuels Avenue, where Rouse’s body was discovered shortly before midnight. Rouse had been shot several times and hanged. Rouse was buried in the New Trinity Cemetery in Haltom City on December 12, but no headstone has been located.

Black packinghouse workers faced racist violence associated with the AMC strikes outside of Texas as well. Jake Brooks of Oklahoma City and an unnamed victim in Chicago were both lynched during December 1921 and January 1922. Rouse’s murder was also one in a series of lynchings that took place in Texas in December of 1921. Lonnie Newsome (Gladewater) and Curley Hackney (Waco) were the other two victims. The tree from which Rouse was hanged had also been the site of a lynching in 1920. The victim, a white man named Tom Vickery, was accused of killing a police officer. After learning about Rouse’s murder, Vickery’s relatives requested that the tree be cut down. Mrs. A.S. Dingee, who owned the land that the tree was on, evidently sympathized and arranged for the tree to be removed on December 14, 1921.

In February of 1922, a handful of arrests were made, including Niles City Chief of Police G. Henry Tiller, Niles City police officer William H. Atherton, and Rock Island switchman Tom Howell. All three men were released on $4,000 bonds. A fourth man, M.B. Morgan, was charged with assault to murder for attacking Rouse on December 6. After initial arrests, however, the grand jury voted against indicting the men, claiming that there was insufficient evidence. In September of 1922, however, new information surfaced and the grand jury returned six indictments. The men included G. Henry Tiller, William H. Atherton, Tom Howell, Bud Madden, John Roberts, and “Bugger Red” Cantrell. Attorney Will Parker, who became the Tarrant County District Attorney in 1935, represented the indicted men. However, as of July 1924, all six cases were still pending.

In addition to the widespread media coverage, the NAACP collected information about Fred Rouse’s lynching and submitted this record as evidence for a Senate hearing on an antilynching bill in 1926. In recent years, local and national organizations have also worked to bring attention to Fred Rouse’s murder. Two Fort Worth organizations, the Tarrant County Coalition for Peace and Justice (TCCPJ) and DNAWORKS, have been leaders in these efforts. In 2018, the TCCPJ organized a memorial and soil collection ceremony in connection with the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The organization also purchased the land on which Rouse was lynched, and, as of 2021, plans to establish the Fred Rouse Memorial Park on this site.