James Cameron, Founder Black Holocaust Musem born
August 7, 1930
America's Black Holocaust Museum, Inc.
August 7, 1930.
The night James Cameron's life changed forever. A day before, he and two other young Black
men were arrested for the robbery, rape and assault of a White couple in Marion, Indiana. James
is in a cell in the Grant County Jail. There is a lynch mob outside numbering into the thousands.
James is sixteen years old.
The mob comes into the jail and grabs one of men accused, with James, of the crime. He is beaten
unconscious, dragged outside and lynched. The second man is then given the same treatment. The
bodies of these two men, Tom Shipp, 18, and Abraham Smith, 19, hanging from a tree is depicted
in a famous and disturbing photograph. The mob now comes for James. He is beaten and dragged
out to the tree where his friends now hang and the rope is placed around his neck. It is at this
moment that James remembers hearing what he describes as an angelic voice above the crowd
say "Take this boy back, he had nothing to do with any killing or rape." Suddenly the hands that
were beating him are now helping him. The rope is taken from around his neck and the crowd
clears a path for him to walk back to the jail. In interviews he later conducted with people who
were in the crowd, no one remembers hearing any voice. Their reason for why the crowd did not
lynch James: "You were lucky that night." Though James never admitted any guilt in the assault (he
admits that he was there), he served 4 years in prison. The female victim later changed her story
and confirmed that James had no part in the assault.
After he was paroled, James Cameron moved to Milwaukee. During his career, he held several
jobs including table waiter, laborer, construction worker, laundry worker, salesman, janitor, ditch
digger, record shop owner, theater custodian, junkman, newspaper reporter, shoeshine boy and
cardboard-box factory worker. He also organized the Madison County Branch of the NAACP in
Madison and other chapters in Muncie and South Bend, Indiana. Upon retirement, he opened a
rug and upholstery cleaning business.
In 1983, after not being able to find a publisher for the book he started writing in prison, Cameron
took out a second mortgage on his home to publish A Time of Terror, his autobiographical
account of what happened that night in 1930.
The following year, after hearing of plans to build a Jewish Holocaust Museum in Washington,
D.C., James Cameron decided that a Black Holocaust Museum was needed. "It seems that every
group of people have a chance to erect museums and memorials and statues in our country so the
that the world can never forget."
In 1988, he founded America's Black Holocaust Museum, Inc., a non-profit museum
devoted to preserving the history of lynching in the United States and the struggle of Black people