The Fourth of July, 1903, was a rare day of rest at the Borland mining camp in Upper St. Clair. At a dance that evening, miners James Edwards and Clinton Banks, both labor migrants from Virginia, fought over a young woman. Carrie Mills, who had recently left her husband in Virginia to be with Edwards, was dancing with Banks.
Edwards took exception to Banks’ interest in his date and shot Banks, who died early in the morning of July 5.
Efforts by police to move into the mining camp and investigate the killing were reportedly rebuffed at gunpoint by miners. Untroubled by the racial hostility its campaign against black laborers was contributing to, the Pittsburgh Daily Post expressed alarm that “the negroes who infest the place have little fear of being brought to justice by the authorities” (July 6, 1903).
Edwards fled after the shooting and was captured in Montgomery, West Virginia, on July 27. He confessed to the killing. He was also implicated in several other killings in mining towns in the region.
Without resources or supporters, Edwards pleaded guilty and was convicted of first-degree murder on December 5, 1903. He was sentenced to death the same day.
James Edwards was hanged on May 5, 1904.
In what the Washington Post described as the “color line on scaffold,” William Hartley, who is white and executed on the same day, requested that he and Edwards be executed separately so that his family would not “bear the disgrace” of people thinking he committed his crime with a black person. The request was granted.