The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

city

James Cameron

James Cameron, founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum, was born February 23, 1914, in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, to James Herbert Cameron and Vera Carter. When Cameron’s father left the family the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and later to Kokomo, Indiana. When his mother remarried, Cameron resettled in Marion, Indiana. Cameron attended DaPayne School through the 8th grade where he was given the name Apples because he carried apples in his pockets for lunch. On the night of August 7, 1930, Cameron’s friends Abe Smith, nineteen, and Tommy Shipp, eighteen, tried to hold up a white couple at the local Lovers’ Lane. The Grant County Sheriff arrested Cameron charging him and his friends with murder; the Ku Klux Klan stormed the jail and tried to lynch the trio. During the altercation, Cameron passed out; his two friends were lynched but Cameron’s life was spared.

Although Madame C.J. Walker sent him two NAACP lawyers from Indianapolis, Cameron was convicted in his 1931 trial as an accessory. Paroled in 1935, Cameron moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he worked for Stroh’s Brewing Company and attended Wayne State University. In Madison, Wisconsin, Cameron founded the local branch of the NAACP and founded two more chapters in Muncie and South Bend, Indiana.

In 1983, Cameron mortgaged his house in order to publish his memoir, A Time of Terror. In 1988, with the assistance of philanthropist Daniel Bader, Cameron founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum, a non-profit devoted to preserving the history of lynching in the United States and the struggle to eradicate it. Located in a twelve thousand square-foot gym purchased for one dollar from the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the museum contains artifacts from slavery, stereotypes, lynching postcards, and photographs. America’s Black Holocaust Museum is visited annually by thousands of school children. Cameron appeared on ABC television’s Nightline, and scores of other television programs. In 1991, Cameron was officially pardoned by the State of Indiana.

Cameron passed away on June 11, 2006 at age 92.

Accession Number

A2005.163

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/14/2005

Last Name

Cameron

Maker Category
Schools

D.A. Payne School

Wayne State University

First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

LaCrosse

HM ID

CAM06

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Wisconsin

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

The More You Learn, The More You Can Do.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Wisconsin

Birth Date

2/23/1914

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Milwaukee

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

6/11/2006

Short Description

Civil rights activist and museum chief executive James Cameron (1914 - 2006 ) was the founder of America's Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Cameron survived a lynching as a youth.

Employment

America’s Black Holocaust Museum

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
0,0:8410,162:9402,277:61574,739:69326,860:92422,1088:101820,1205$0,0:103376,744:104412,776:109632,817:133176,1370:157998,1744:158382,1749:160760,1792
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Cameron's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Cameron lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Cameron describes his mother's family's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Cameron talks about his family's move to Birmingham, Alabama and his father's profession

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Cameron describes his father and his parents' meeting

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Cameron recounts his parents' divorce

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Cameron remembers his mother being fired in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Cameron remembers his teenage years in Kokomo, Indiana

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James Cameron describes his stepfather's shooting of policemen who abetted a lynching

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - James Cameron recounts how he survived an attempted lynching

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - James Cameron talks about leaving town after his attempted lynching

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - James Cameron describes the racism he encountered while held in protective police custody

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - James Cameron describes being held at the Grant County Jail in Marion, Indiana before his attempted lynching

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - James Cameron describes how the white mob attempting to lynch him stormed Grant County Jail in Marion, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Cameron describes how he was found and beaten by a lynch mob

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Cameron recounts the crime that led to his attempted lynching, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Cameron recounts the crime that led to his attempted lynching, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Cameron recalls being arrested, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Cameron recalls being arrested, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Cameron describes Abraham Smith and Thomas Shipp

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Cameron talks about his legal defense and police protection

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Cameron talks about his time in jail and Sheriff Bernard Bradley

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Cameron talks about his trial and conviction

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Cameron describes his prison sentence

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Cameron details his parole efforts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Cameron remembers his arrival in Detroit, Michigan in 1935

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Cameron describes his time on parole in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dr. James Cameron describes his jobs and Bethel A.M.E. Church in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Cameron remembers meeting and marrying his wife in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Cameron describes his education and career in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Cameron remembers seeing Joe Louis win the world heavyweight championship in 1937

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

10$4

DATitle
James Cameron recounts how he survived an attempted lynching
James Cameron details his parole efforts
Transcript
The Ku Klux Klan [KKK] had marchers out there in the, ten to fifteen thousand people clearing the path. They had their hood on, and their robes, but they didn't have their masks on. And they were bringing me up to the tree. I looked from right to the left, and I saw people that, whose lawn I mowed, whose errands I ran, whose shoes I shined 'cause I was a shoeshine boy in the urban station, something like a Greyhound [Lines] bus station. So they got me up to the tree, and that's when they put the rope around my neck and pushed me up under the tree 'cause they wanted me to be, hanging me some feet in the air. And that's when I prayed to God. I said, "Lord, have mercy, forgive me my sin." And all of a sudden a voice came out from above, an echo voice, said, "Take this boy back. He had nothing to do with any killing or raping." And that crowd that had been acting like a baseball game fan, suddenly became quiet, and those hands and clubs and things that had been beating me and trying to beat me to death, they all became soft and tender. And they took the rope off my neck and allowed me to stumble back to the [Grant County] Jail [Marion, Indiana], which was just a half a block away.$You know, but when I went--my eighteen months was up, I was gonna see if I could get a government pardon, a government parole. They said, "Nah, you gon' have to do your two years." So I did my two years, and I went up for investigation because of my parole. They sent me back thirty days of investigation. I did those thirty days, and they sent me back sixty days. I did those sixty days, and they sent me back ninety days. I did those ninety days, they sent me back six months. I did those six months and they take me back a year. So that was four and twenty months. Next time I went up for parole after my year was up, I didn't press my clothes. I didn't comb my hair. I didn't give a damn how I looked, you know, 'cause I thought they gon' give me two years and then after that, give me four years, and after that give me eight years till over twenty-one years was up. But one of 'em, the whole parole board that sent me back for investigation, one of 'em was from Marion, Indiana. The new governor, Paul V. McNutt--Paul V. McNutt, he was a new governor, he got rid of 'em and put his own men on there. And one of 'em, one of 'em happened to be one that was on the parole board all the time. But my mother [Vera Carter Burden] was washing clothes for him and ironing for him. So he just know. So, the man was sitting there and then I was standing up there in front of him. He said, "You think if we let you out of here, you'll get back in trouble again?" I said, "Nah, you just let me out, you'll find out." So they said, "Okay, we gon' give you a five-year parole," said, "Where you gonna go?" I said, "I'll move to Detroit, Michigan, and stay with my Aunt Catherine Brown [ph.], my mother's sister."$$So what year was that when you were paroled?$$Thirty-five [1935].