This post is the third of a three-part series.
John B. Jennings, pictured to the left, circa 1870, was murdered in the street in broad daylight on June 26, 1875 in Russellville, Franklin County, Alabama.
According to the Jennings family Bible in possession of Arthur Jennings, the Jennings family’s American antecedents were in Virginia and Georgia. The Jennings Bible mentions John B. Jennings had three brothers: Dick, Jim, and George; Jim and George were John’s half-brothers.
John B. Jennings married Lucinda Fannie Curry on May 7, 1865 in a wedding officiated by Rev. Joseph White of Molton, Alabama. They had five children: Alpha Jennings, born June 2, 1866; Daisie Z. Jennings, born September 29, 1867; Veto Curry Jennings, born September 17, 1869; Richard Otto Jennings, born October 14, 1871; and Worth Alston Jennings, born December 6, 1873.
Northern Alabama was especially tumultuous during Reconstruction. In Harper Lee’s novel, Scout Finch’s first grade teacher, Miss Caroline, introduces herself to the class:
Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region… North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background. (16)
Reconstruction was difficult in North Alabama. Removed from Alabama’s capital in Montgomery, North Alabamians often clashed politically with their Southern counterparts and had a close affinity with Tennessee (Jennings 2). Politics is said to be the reason why John B. Jennings was killed.
Prior to Jennings’ death, North Alabama suffered under an outbreak of violence including burglary, arson, and murder. According to Arthur Jennings, John B. Jennings drew the ire of a political candidate because of something Jennings said at a political rally. In an alternate version of the story, the grudge between Jennings and the candidate originated with an article that had appeared in the The North Alabamian newspaper during the summer political canvass. The candidate, George C. Almon, sought Jennings out, according to Arthur Jennings, so that he could “give him a whipping” (qtd. in Jennings 2). According to Arthur Jennings, things did not go quite as Almon planned, and he had to “take one instead.” Arthur Jennings believed that Almon told a clerk at a hotel across the street from John Jennings’ blacksmith shop that he saw a mad dog coming up the street. The clerk gave Almon the gun. He walked over to the door and shot John in his shop from across the street. John B. Jennings was struck by four large buckshot and died within a half hour.
Almon surrendered himself to the sheriff. His trial took place on June 28 and 29, 1875. He was acquitted of murder — it was determined he acted in self-defense. If Arthur Jennings’ version of the story is true, it is hard to believe that George C. Almon acted in self-defense, but I have a feeling that Arthur Jennings’ version is rather kinder to John B. Jennings by virtue of the fact that he was family. It may be a popular redneck joke, but there is a grain of truth to the notion that a valid Southern defense for murder has been “he needed killin’.”
An account of the murder was published in a Tuscumbia, Alabama newspaper. The writer, using the pen name Russel Villian, “found fault with both men[:] Jennings for insulting [Almon] and [Almon] for acting with [S]outhern chivalrous behavior” (Jennings 3). Russel Villian did not say what exactly it was that John B. Jennings said to George C. Almon, but it may be that it was bad enough that the jury apparently felt Jennings’ murder was justified; indeed, the reporter Russel Villian believed John was at least partly responsible for his own murder.
Almon prospered in Alabama government and politics. Five years after the murder, Almon was a practicing lawyer in Russellville (Jennings 3). He was appointed a probate judge, and in 1886, he was elected to the Alabama State Senate in the 12th district.
Fannie told her descendants that she feared her sons would seek revenge against Almon if she didn’t move them away from Alabama. She must have realized that striking out against a person with Almon’s clout would be at best a fruitless endeavor, and at worst, result in more deaths. Fannie moved the children to Honey Grove, Fannin County, Texas in 1880. Ten years later, the family moved to Swisher County in the Texas Panhandle.
Jennings, Jan. 2006. Descendants of John B. Jennings. (PDF version of document sent in e-mail to Dana Huff, 24 Jul. 2006).
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1960.