Race was a very visible issue in the deep south in 1914, and it was at the heart of the murder of Claude Brown, a wealthy white man, who on the night of April 12th, 1914, went out in West Palm Beach, Florida, looking for a good time. He found a black prostitute but got into an argument over payment with her minder, Shelby Wise, who was also black.
The two men scuffled. Brown struck Wise in the face with a bottle and Wise retaliated by stabbing him four times. Wise fled and Brown pursued him, but fell dying beside a railway track.
A local reporter covering Wises trial for murder wrote: Hopeless, no possible chance for life, the prisoner sat with downcast eyes. From not one face in the courtroom did he read a sign of mercy, showing plainly that for him, death had already begun.
It had indeed. Rejecting manslaughter as an option, the jury found Wise guilty of capital murder. Before he was hanged on Friday, July 2nd, 1915, he spent his time on Death Row singing gospel songs and preaching to other prisoners. Of the murder he said: Whisky and bad women were the cause of it.