By Kevin Deutsch
At last, Rubin Stacy has won a small piece of justice.
More than 85 years after his lynching by a mob of white vigilantes, the onetime Broward resident was honored with a street naming on Davie Boulevard this month—an act of healing near the spot where an ebullient crowd once gathered to watch him hang.
The Feb. 8 commemoration doubled as a moving tribute to Stacy, who still has relatives living in the area, including Tamarac and Lauderhill. It also served as a stark lesson about the perils of racism and extrajudicial violence at a time when hate crimes are surging in the U.S.
Around 37 at the time of his murder, Stacy’s lynching on July 19, 1935, is believed to have been carried out by local residents with the aid of Broward Deputy Sheriff Bob Clark, brother of corrupt Broward Sheriff Walter Clark, who was also implicated in the murder plot.
The men led what at the time was a frequently lawless police agency, one that upheld Jim Crow and terrorized Broward’s Black residents.
Parkland Vice Mayor and attorney Ken Cutler, whose research into Stacy’s life and efforts to educate local politicians about the case laid the groundwork for last week’s commemoration, said he was “proud of the city of Fort Lauderdale and the community for coming together” to honor Stacy.
“This man did not get justice in his day, and it’s about damn time,” said Cutler, who requested the street naming. “Eighty-seven years later, they recognized that our history needed to be acknowledged and that change in our culture…needed to happen.”
“People are going to see that sign for years and years to come, and they’re going to say, ‘who’s Rubin Stacy?’ That’s going to cause a dialogue, and hopefully, that will be a teaching moment for people who really want to know.”
Stacy spent his final, terrifying moments in a two-mile span of Davie Boulevard, now officially known as Rubin Stacy Memorial Boulevard.
Feet from the dedication ceremony once stood a pine tree. On that spot, vigilantes strung up Stacy’s handcuffed body, placing it on display for a crowd of gawking onlookers, including a little girl seen smiling in a photograph as she stared up at Stacy’s dangling corpse.
According to historical accounts, the stage for Stacy’s killing was set three days earlier, on July 16, 1935.
That’s when Fort Lauderdale resident and Sunday school teacher Marion Jones, who was white, told authorities a Black man had knocked on her door to ask for a drink of water, then came inside and threatened her with a penknife.
A struggle ensued, and Jones, who lived near the orange groves owned by her family, suffered cuts on her arms and hands.
Sheriff Clark sent deputies and scent-tracking dogs to hunt her assailant. But none was found during their search.
Two days later, deputies arrested Stacy, the result of a trucker in Deerfield Beach saying he had seen Stacy, a farm laborer and married father of a young son, ducking behind some bushes.
Stacy said he was innocent of attacking Jones—his encounter with the trucker happened 25 miles from the crime scene—but he was arrested and placed in Sheriff Clark’s custody.
Elected to office five times, Clark was Broward’s longest-running sheriff before he and his brother were indicted on charges they worked with a gangster who ran syndicate-controlled gambling casinos in South Florida, leading to their removal from office in 1950.
On July 19, 1935, the sheriff made a decision that helped seal Stacy’s fate.
Instead of conducting a suspect lineup with Jones in attendance, the sheriff brought Stacy directly to her home, where she identified the Black man as her assailant. According to Clark, her son ran from the house screaming upon seeing Stacy.
News accounts at the time said the arresting deputies each received a $25 reward.
Next, Stacy was brought to the county jail. He would never be given an attorney, face a judge, or be granted a trial.
Instead, word falsely spread in the community that Stacy had raped Jones. Vigilantes plotted to abduct him, leading Clark to try and move his charge to the jail in Dade County for his own protection, the sheriff later claimed.
Stacy never made it there.
During the drive, a mob of 50 to 100 local men traveling in a large caravan ran the sheriff’s transport vehicle off the road, according to official accounts given at the time.
The vigilantes kidnapped Stacy and brought him to a wooded area outside Jones’ home on Davie Boulevard, just west of Southwest 31st Avenue.
There, they strung him up with Jones’ wire clothesline and shot him 17 times.
Stacy’s death certificate said he died of a broken neck and gunshot wounds through his heart.
He was left hanging for eight hours.
As was common after many lynchings in the U.S., hundreds of white onlookers were said to have gathered at the scene and taken souvenirs of the murder, including pieces of Stacy’s overalls and bark from the pine tree.
Afterward, deputies tied Stacy’s body to a car hood and delivered it to local Black undertaker George Benton.
“Here’s another dead n—– for you, George,” deputies said as they cut Stacy’s corpse loose and threw him into the street, Benton’s son later recalled.
A rushed coroner’s inquest quickly ruled Stacy’s death a result of actions by one or more unknown people.
Florida Governor David Sholtz directed the Broward state attorney to convene a grand jury to investigate Stacy’s lynching, but the panel’s members said they believed the Clark brothers’ testimony claiming they had been run off the road by a mob of “unknown” masked men, who could not be identified.
No one was ever charged with any crime related to the killing.
In 1988, according to the Sun-Sentinel, a woman who said she participated in Stacy’s lynching came forward and said Deputy Bob Clark had strung Stacy up with Jones’ clothesline. Clark also told onlookers to fire their guns into Stacy’s body, she said.
Witnesses told the newspaper Sheriff Clark and his brother had planned Stacy’s lynching and also murdered other Black residents of Broward during their reign.
Stacy, who lived in the 800 block of Northwest Second Street in downtown Fort Lauderdale—then the city’s Black section—was buried in an unmarked grave at Woodlawn Cemetery.
Cutler said he is hopeful more events will be held to honor Stacy, including placing a state historical marker and a dialogue between schoolkids and Broward Sheriff Greg Tony, the county’s first African-American sheriff.
Organizers could not get the school board’s permission to hold the dialogue on school grounds, so they are planning an off-campus event instead.
“We had a lynching that occurred, and we had these racist white sheriffs who caused a lot of harm to our community in Broward County,” said Cutler. “Now, we’ve come to the point where we have a Black sheriff.”
Cutler said he’d been especially moved by the involvement of Stacy’s relatives in efforts to commemorate his life.
“They flew in from all over the country…because it meant a great deal to their families,” he said of the street naming. “I was very humbled by it.”
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- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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