Monday, August 6, 2018

When whites fear losing their privilege

“Black success was an intolerable affront to the social order of white supremacy, so ta king their possessions not only stripped Blacks of their material status, but also tipped the social scales back to their proper alignment.”~ Historian James S. Hirsch
The Reconstruction period that followed America’s Civil War was one of the most violent eras in American history. During that time, thousands of African-Americans were killed by domestic terrorists like the Ku Klux Klan who tried to reinforce policies of white supremacy.

Bitter over the Confederacy’s loss, many white Southern Democrats tried to continue disenfranchising and restricting the rights of former slaves. Then as now, m
any impoverished whites faced increased economic hardship and wealthier whites exploited their fears and blamed freed Blacks and immigrants as the cause of their ills.  While, newspapers were full of radicalized propaganda.  Dangerous rhetoric turned lethal and in 1919 alone more than a dozen Black soldiers were lynched, some while still in uniform and eleven live African Americans were burned at the stake by white mobs. 

The following are cautionary tales about the explosive and violent potential of whites who feel on the verge of losing their privilege.


Memphis Massacre 

scene from Memphis Massacre

In the late afternoon of May 1, 1866 tensions between the residents of southern Memphis, Tennessee erupted into a three day riot when Blacks showed up to stop the police from jailing a Black ex-soldier.

An altercation followed, then a shooting that left two Black soldiers dead. The violence quickly spread to other Blacks who were attacked while their homes, schools, and churches were destroyed. Memphis police and firemen openly participated in the violence and looting.

More that 50 Black men, women and children were killed.

The Daily Avalanche:
"The chief source of all our trouble being removed, we may confidently expect a restoration of the old order of things. The Negro population will now do their duty ... Thank heaven, the white race are once more rulers in Memphis.”  
 New Orleans Massacre 

Engraving of sketch by Theodore R. Davis
murdering negroes in the rear of Mechanics' Institute
Credit:Wikipedia
The New Orleans Massacre occurred on July 30, 1866 as delegates attended the Louisiana Constitutional Convention.  Opposed to the Convention, the police and a mob of angry whites surrounded the Institute and opened fire on the building, shooting indiscriminately into the windows. Then the mob rushed into the building and began to fire into the crowd of unarmed delegates.

Those who surrendered were killed on the spot. Those who ran were chased and shot in the back. African Americans were shot on the street or pulled off of streetcars to be summarily beaten or killed. White mobs broke into homes and shot residents at close range, conducted executions in the streets, and killed those who tried to intervene. They plundered former slave quarters and stole items they found useful, most notably registration papers. A black pregnant woman was hacked to death by men with bowie-knives next to the courthouse. A white police officer was murdered by mobs for trying to keep the peace.

It was 19th-century terrorism.  By the end of the massacre, at least 200 Black Union war veterans were killed, including forty delegates at the Convention. Altogether more than 240 Black people were killed and dozens were wounded.

Cyrus Hamlin wrote,
"The wholesale slaughter and the little regard paid to human life I witnessed here was worse than what I had seen in battle." 
The Opelousas Massacre


St. Louis Republic newspaper report of riotThe Opelousas Massacre occurred on September 28, 1868 in Opelousas, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. It is unclear who initiated the battle that began when attempts to lure African-Americans to join the Democratic Party failed. What is clear is that the white Democrats had the overwhelming advantage in numbers and weapons. By the afternoon the battle had become a massacre. 

A number of Blacks were shot and killed or captured and later executed. Those who were not captured were chased into the swamps and killed on sight. Twelve Blacks who surrendered were executed the next day on the edge of town. No one will ever know how many people were killed but the best estimate is that the number exceeded 300.



That same year in St. Bernard’s Parish white men tore through the parish leaving behind them a trail of more than 100 Black corpses.

Colfax Massacre

The Colfax massacre took place following the hotly contested Louisiana governor's race of 1872.

On April 13, 1873, a mob of more than 150 white men, most former Confederate soldiers and members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White League, armed with rifles and a small cannon, surrounded the courthouse.

The unarmed Blacks were forced to surrender. But when they did, the white mob murdered many of the Black men, shooting some and hanging others. It’s estimated that more than 250 African-Americans were killed.

97 members of the white mob were indicted. In the end only nine men were charged of violating the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and 1871, sometimes known as the Klu Klux Klan Acts, intended to guarantee the rights of freedmen under the 14th and 15th Amendments.

A handful of them were convicted but were eventually released when the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Cruikshank ruled the Enforcement Act was unconstitutional neutering the federal government’s ability to prosecute hate crimes committed against African-Americans.

The Thibodaux Massacre
Men gathering sugarcane

Credit: https://static.mediabong.com/close.png 

On November 23, 1887, a mass shooting of African-American farm workers in Louisiana left hundreds dead. Bodies were dumped in unmarked graves while the white press cheered “a victory against a fledgling Black union.”

Years after the Thirteenth Amendment brought freedom, cane cutters’ lives were still “barely distinguishable” from slavery, With no land to own or rent, workers and their families lived in old slave cabins and toiled in gangs, just like their ancestors had for nearly a century. Growers gave workers meals but paid famine wages of as little as 42 cents a day.

Cane cutters sought a living wage but planters wanted to cut wages.  Workers banded together in several sugar parishes, demanding cash wages of $1.25 per day, or $1.00 if meals were included. The growers refused and workers called a strike.

The New Orleans Daily Picayune circulated false reports: 
“The leader of them said to-day that no power on earth could remove them unless they were moved as corpses.”
The response was a massacre. 

Several companies of white men went around night and day shooting Black men who took part in the strike. As many as 300 men, women and children were killed. Survivors ran to the woods and swamps. Workers returned to the fields on growers’ terms while whites cheered a Jim Crow victory. 

The Daily Picayune blamed Black unionizers for the violence, saying that 
“they provoked white citizens.…” 
The union died with the strikers. Planter widow Mary Pugh was right when she wrote, 
“….this will settle the question of who is to rule, the nigger or the white man for the next fifty years.”
Southern Black farm workers would not attempt to unionize again, until the 1930s.

The Slocum Massacre

Lynch mob When a regional road construction foreman put an African American in charge of rounding up help for local road improvements, warnings of threats against Anglo citizens and plans for race riots spread. White hysteria transformed into bloodshed.

Whites moved from road to road and cabin to cabin, killing African Americans. The white mobs followed fleeing Blacks into the surrounding forests and marshes and shot many victims as they fled.
“Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them,” Sheriff Black told the New York Times. “These Negroes have done no wrong that I can discover,” Black continued. “They hunted the Negroes down like sheep”. 
By the end of May 3, the Black community had been devastated. There were five rapes and 285 murders. All known victims were unarmed, and most were shot in the back as they fled; no whites were injured. Over one hundred houses and buildings burned down. No arrests were made.

John Holley survived the massacre but fled with his family, losing his granary, dairy, and general store that he had developed since slavery. The abandoned African American properties were absorbed or repurposed as the now-majority white population saw fit and the white world order was restored.

The Elaine Massacre 


Mass lynching in Arkansas



“….the most serious reason which is believed to be directly responsible for the tragedies is the seemingly baseless and unfounded wild reports and rumors which gained currency and which were magnified as they were repeated from mouth to mouth.  These were to the effect that the negroes were preparing to rise and kill all of the white people.” - 

Dallas Morning News, August 1, 1910




On the night of September 30, 1919, African American sharecroppers in Elaine, Arkansas attended a meeting of the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America hoping to organize to obtain better payments for their cotton crops.

During the meeting, three white individuals arrived and one asked the Black guards “going coon hunting, boys?” Words were exchanged and then gunfire erupted. Though sharp debate exists as to who fired first, the Black guards shot to death a white security officer from the Missouri-Pacific railroad and injured the county’s white deputy sheriff.

In response, a white mob began killing Blacks and ransacking their homes. Some residents fled while others armed themselves in defense. Meanwhile, local white newspapers that. reported a “deliberately planned Black uprisings”, further inflamed tensions.

Though exact numbers are unknown, it is estimated over 250 African Americans were killed during the white hysteria of a pending insurrection of Black sharecroppers. A research team from the University of Arkansas used the census to try and determine how many citizens had been killed. After accounting for deaths that might have occurred naturally and people who had relocated, they determined the number of Blacks killed was over 800.

A local investigation concluded that the Sharecroppers Union was a Socialist enterprise and "established for the purpose of banding Negroes together for the killing of white people." However, agents of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation filed a total of nine reports stating there was no evidence of a conspiracy of the sharecroppers to murder anyone. Their superiors at Justice ignored their reports and the local government tried 79 Blacks, who were all convicted by all-white juries; 12 were sentenced to death. The remainder of the defendants were given prison terms of up to 21 years.

The NAACP and other civil rights groups worked towards retrials and release of the “Elaine Twelve,” eventually winning their release, the last of whom were set free on January 14, 1925.

East St. Louis Massacre

Newspaper account of St. Louis riot
Following a labor meeting, 3,000 white men began attacking African-Americans. The mob destroyed buildings and beat people. After cutting the water hoses of the fire department,  they burned entire sections of the city and shot inhabitants as they escaped the flames.

Claiming that "Southern Negroes deserved a genuine lynching," whites hanged several Blacks.

National Guardsmen joined in the rioting rather than stopping it, while the police were indifferent and encouraged the destruction. Six thousand African-Americans were left homeless

The Ocoee Massacre

Citizens of Ocoee, Florida

In the weeks leading up to the presidential election of 1920, African-Americans throughout the South were registering to vote in record numbers.  But on election day, African-Americans were met with resistance from the white community when they attempted to vote. Black voters were turned away either by threats of violence or by poll workers who found their names “mysteriously” absent from the voter registration rolls.

Whites seized and beat Julius Perry, who had helped register voters. They dragged him through the streets behind a car. The mob strung up Perry to a telephone pole along the highway and riddled the body with bullets. The gruesome scene was left with a note saying and set fire to entire rows of houses; those who were inside, forced to flee, were shot. At least 20 buildings were burned, including every African-American church, schoolhouse and lodge room in the vicinity.  “This is what we do to niggers who try to vote.”  Then the mob surrounded the Black community.


A total of 330 acres plus 48 city lots owned by 18 Black families were lost. According to a 2001 AP report, the land lost, not including buildings on it, was assessed by tax officials at more than $4.2 million,.

Blacks fled under the threat of being shot and burned if they did not “sell out and leave.” About 500 African-Americans in total were driven out of Ocoee. They were never able to return to their properties. Those who were offered any compensation at all were forced to sell their land for pennies on the dollar. By the 1930 census there were no African Americans in Ocoee.

Walter White, a fair complexioned African American civil rights activist worked undercover as a white northerner interested in buying property in Orange County. He found that the whites were “giddy with victory” and that the massacre was precipitated by the white community’s jealousy of the prosperous African-American landowners.


Greenwood Massacre

Postcard from Tulsa riot

As Black men were leaving the courthouse, a white man approached a tall African American World War I veteran who was carrying an army-issue revolver.
"Nigger", the white man said, "What are you doing with that pistol?"

"I'm going to use it if I need to," replied the Black veteran.

"No, you give it to me."
“Like hell I will."
The white man tried to take the gun away from the veteran, and a shot rang out. A massacre had begun.

Thirty-five blocks of Greenwood were razed, 1,256 homes and 191 businesses were destroyed. 10,000 Black people were left homeless. By morning, Black Wall Street had been reduced to rubble

In 1921, Tulsa had the wealthiest Black neighborhood in the country. They called it Black Wall Street. Its main strip boasted attorneys’ offices, auto shops, cafes, a movie theater, funeral homes, pool halls, beauty salons, grocery stores, furriers and confectioneries.

White residents were disturbed by the Black wealth in Greenwood.
“Black success was an intolerable affront to the social order of white supremacy,” writes Hirsch, “so taking their possessions not only stripped Blacks of their material status, but also tipped the social scales back to their proper alignment.
After a sexual assault allegation against a Black teenager, a group of whites  began firing indiscriminately. Black people were shot in the streets, and dragged behind cars with nooses tied around their necks. Their houses and businesses were looted and burned down. Planes flew overhead dropping burning turpentine balls.”

In 2016 numbers, more than $30 million worth of property damage was sustained, and more than 300 people were killed.  An official investigation in 2001 found that deputies and uniformed police officers were responsible for some of the burning and looting. The report concluded that the City of Tulsa owed reparations to the survivors of the massacre and their descendants. Those reparations have yet to be paid.

Read more here: The Tulsa World

Oct. 4, 2018


A white mob rampaged through a wealthy black business district in Tulsa, Okla., in 1921, in a spate of violence that destroyed more than 1,200 homes and left up to 300 people dead.


Now, the city’s mayor has renewed efforts to locate possible mass grave sites where victims may have been buried, seeking to further unravel the history of the mob attack and provide long-sought closure for victims and their families....New York Times

Rosewood Massacre


destruction of Rosewood property


In January 1923, Rosewood was a small, mostly African-American community of approximately 120 residents located nine miles east of Cedar Key.  The community consisted of approximately twenty families, several of which were related by marriage. Families owned their own homes as well as other property in the area. The community had a school,  two churches, a Masonic lodge,  a post office, a timber mill, several stores, a depot, and a hotel. 

On January 1, 1923 a massacre was carried out instigated by the rumor that a white woman, Fanny Taylor, had been sexually assaulted by a Black man in a nearby community.  A group of white men, assembled to capture him.

The white mob suspected a Rosewood resident of harboring the fugitive. An official report claims six Blacks killed along with two whites. Other accounts suggest a larger total. At the end of the carnage only two buildings remained standing, a house and the town general store.

Many of the Black residents of Rosewood who fled to the swamps were evacuated on January 6 by two local train conductors, John and William Bryce. Many others were hidden by John Wright, the owner of the general store.  Other Black residents of Rosewood fled to Gainesville and to northern cities.  As a consequence of the massacre, Rosewood became deserted.

When Polly Carter later tried to reclaim her property, with a shotgun pointed at her,  she was told "she owned no property in Rosewood and  never to return again."

In 1994, however, as the result of new evidence, the Florida Legislature passed the Rosewood Bill which entitled the nine survivors to $150,000 dollars each in compensation.

And now, white's complain that they are the victims.




History's Lost Black Towns - The Root



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