During the miserably hot summer of 1908, the racial tension heightened.
On the night of Independence Day, 1908, Clergy Ballard, a respectable mining
engineer, had his home broken into. He was awakened from his sleep by some
unfamiliar noises in his home. When investigating, he saw a stranger at
the bedside of his young innocent daughter. The intruder, upon discovery
ran out of the house. Ballard gave chase and caught the assailant who, unfortunately
for Ballard, had a straight razor and slashed Ballard's throat. Clergy Ballard
died the next morning from wounds received that horrible night.
The people of Springfield were led by the press to believe that the crime was a thwarted sexual assault attempt. The public was outraged by the ugliness of the crime. Before Clergy Ballard died he managed to identify the assailant as a Joe James, a local black man with a long police record of minor criminal offenses. He was later caught by a band of angry whites and beaten unconscious. The police rescued James from the crowd and carted him off to jail for murder and attempted rape.