Courage and Justice Against All Odds
You are standing before the site of one of the homes inhabited by George and Mollie Dinning and their children. One winter night, a mob forced Mollie Dinning and her children to abandon their farm in Simpson County, Kentucky, ill-clad and robbed of almost everything they owned. At that time, George Dinning, Mollie’s husband, was in prison for defending his family during an earlier attack. By the end of 1899 the family had settled in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where they hoped to find safety. Jeffersonville would remain the couple’s home as they fought a legal battle for their civil rights and raised children and grandchildren.
The formerly enslaved George and Molly owned a tobacco farm and raised a large family. Their modest success attracted covetous eyes. In 1897, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, a Klu Klux Klan (KKK) mob attacked his family in the night, on the excuse that George may have stolen livestock from white neighbors. The mob fired shots into the house, terrifying the Dinning children. Despite sustaining injuries, George defended his family, ultimately shooting and killing one wealthy attacker, Jodie Conn. At the time, articles in Kentucky portrayed the mob sympathetically.
After Dinning turned himself in, both he and the troops that protected the county jail endured attacks from Jodie Conn's friends. The Cincinnati Enquirer of June 30, 1897, reported that attacks included dynamite charges aimed at the jail. Despite the continued violence, a jury convicted Dinning of murder and sentenced him to hard labor, according to The Louisville Courier-Journal, July 6, 1897.
Meanwhile, Northern outrage over Dinning's treatment. After Dinning spent just two weeks in prison, Kentucky’s anti-racist governor William O’Connell Bradley granted a full pardon, reported the Cincinnati Enquirer of May 6, 1899. The same article reports that Dinning lost an eye when an unidentified mob assaulted him after his release. After joining his family where they had sought refuge in Jeffersonville, Indiana, the Dinning sued his attackers in Kentucky courts and won.
Despite the historical importance of the verdict, the Dinnings' remarkable resistance to KKK violence, and the brilliant defense of Dinning's rights put forth by Young, Dinning's attackers have never paid their $50,000 fine in full. Nevertheless, Dinning remains remarkable for his courageous defense against mob violence.
George and Mollie Dinning are buried in Eastern Cemetery in Jeffersonville. Mollie's obituary in The Jeffersonville Evening News describes the members of the extensive family the couple raised in Jeffersonville. However, no local paper noted Dinning's death in 1930 at the age of 68.