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Don Paine Collection of State of Tennessee v. Maurice Mays

Identifier: MS-3056

  • Staff Only

This collection contains the materials collected by Tennessee lawyer Donald F. Paine about the murder trials of Maurice Mays in 1919 and 1921.

Series I. Research Material contains photocopies of original materials from the 1910s and 1920s, including correspondence with Governors Roberts and Taylor about similar crimes and asking for clemency for Maurice Mays, as well as newspaper articles about the trial and transcripts. There are also notes by Paine from 2006. All items dated "circa 2006" are actually undated but written by Paine, who researched the case in 2006.

Series II. Publications, organized chronologically, includes articles and books written about the case or about Knoxville by historians in 1983, the 1990s, and the 2000s. Authors include Don Paine, Matt Lakin, Robert J. Booker, Jack & Aaron Jay, and John Egerton.

Series III. Knoxville Bar Association Lunch and Learn contains the material for Don Paine's Mays lecture at the KBA Lunch and Learn on December 14, 2006. This includes lecture note cards, handouts, skit transcripts, photographs, and correspondence from before and after the lecture.

For similar trial collections compiled by Don Paine, see MS-2640, MS-2708, MS-2732, MS-2778, and MS-2807.


  • 1905-1926, 1983-2007 (bulk 1920's, 2006)

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite and must be requested in advance. See for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.

Conditions Governing Use

The UT Libraries claims only physical ownership of most material in the collections. Persons wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants on for detailed information. Collections must be requested through a registered Special Collections research account.


1.5 Linear Feet


This collection contains the materials collected by Tennessee lawyer Donald F. Paine about the murder trials of Maurice Mays in 1919 and 1921. Mays, a black restaurateur and former deputy sheriff of Knoxville, was convicted of the murder of a white woman named Bertie Lindsey in 1919. He was executed by the state on March 15, 1922, despite the concerns of respectable white and black citizens as to a fair trial and doubts about his guilt. Three series within the collection contain photocopies of trial transcripts, newspaper articles, correspondence, and other material about the case from the 1910s and 1920s, as well as publications and lectures about the case from the 1983 to 2007.

Biographical/Historical Note

Donald Franklin Paine was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1939. He earned his B.A. (1961), M.A. (1963), and LL.B. (1963) from the University of Tennessee. Immediately after graduation, Paine served in the Army as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He was discharged in 1966 and returned to Tennessee, where he authored the Tennessee Law of Evidence (1974). Paine practiced law with Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers in addition to researching Tennessee's legal history. He was a Reporter to the Supreme Court Advisory Commission on Rules of Practice and Procedure, wrote a monthly column for the Tennessee Bar Journal, and lectured for the Tennessee Law Institute, the University of Tennessee College of Law, and the Tennessee Judicial Conference. Paine also served as President of the Knoxville Bar Association (1983) and of the Tennessee Bar Association (1986-1987). He died in Knoxville on November 18th, 2013.

Maurice Mays was one-quarter African-American, born to white politician John McMillan and his maid Ella Walker, of mixed race, on May 8, 1887, in Knoxville, TN. William and Frances Mays adopted him with financial support from McMillan when he was only six months old. In 1904, he shot a man in self-defense while helping police break up illegal gambling. He was tried, convicted, and pardoned due to letters of support from judge, prosecutor, and jury. Mays married Mattie Douglass on July 1, 1917, but they were later separated.

On the night of August 30, 1919, an intruder broke into the house of Bertie Lindsey and her cousin Ora Smyth. As Lindsey attempted to flee, the intruder shot and killed her. Next, he sexually assaulted Smyth, stole Lindsey's pocketbook, and fled. Policemen Andy White and Jim Smith joined other officers at the crime scene, and there White, who knew and hated Mays, accused him of the murder. At Mays' house, they smelled his pistol, which had no smell of gunfire, and transported him for identification by Smyth. Arrested and imprisoned for the murder, white rioters stormed the jail in hunt of Mays, while police absconded with him dressed as a woman to Chattanooga, TN. The rioters continued throughout the night, breaking into stores and killing innocent people.

The first trial occurred from October 1-4 that same year. After eight minutes of deliberation, a jury found Mays guilty, and Judge T. A. R. Nelson sentenced him to death. The decision was reversed by the Supreme Court because the judge sentenced Mays, but the death penalty law required the jury to sentence him.

The second trial took place from April 18-23, 1921. Eyewitness accounts varied on the description of the man, and some policemen testified they smelled gunpowder emanating from Mays' gun, while others testified they did not. Other women testified about similar assaults occurring while Mays was imprisoned; one of whom said the assailant even admitted to killing Bertie Lindsey. Despite this evidence, the jury again sentenced Mays to death by electrocution on December 15, 1921.

Governor Alf Taylor granted a postponement of the execution to March 15th, 1922, because hundreds of white and black, rich and poor, Knoxvillians wrote concerning their thoughts on Mays' guilt. Maurice Mays was executed on the set date. Though buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery (formerly the Colored Cemetery) in Knoxville, TN, his grave remains unmarked.


Collection consists of two boxes in three series:

1. Series I. Research Material, 1905, 1917-1926, 1999-2006, undated 2. Series II. Publications, 1983, 1993, 1999-2007 3. Series III. Knoxville Bar Association Lunch and Learn, 2006 November-2007 January

Acquisition Note

This collection was donated to the UT Special Collections Library in May 2007 by Don Paine.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA