Grandson of ex-slaves in Mississippi, Bishop Jakes’ paternal grandfather and namesake, Thomas Dexter Jakes, was killed during his lunch break at only 23 years old. He and his wife Lorena had a young son, Hoover, with another child on the way.
Jakes’ employer filed his death certificate claiming the death “accidental while bathing in a swift current in the creek.” The Jakes family refutes the claim, as they argue a strikingly different account. Jakes habitually swam across the lake, going from the turpentine camp where he worked to his home each day at noon to enjoy a meal with his family before returning to his shift.
In early June of 1928, according to Lorena Jakes, her husband had quarreled with some of his white coworkers. As Jakes’ uncle Hoover explains, “They threw some barbed wire in the lake. He dived in there, and the barbed wire tangled and caught him. That’s why they found him dead.”
With corrupt social structures and systems in place, American lynch mobs often got off scot-free when countless African Americans “mysteriously died”, “oddly disappeared”, or were “accidentally killed”. With weakened legal muscles to achieve justice, black families maintained oral history with little to no written record of what really happened.