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*On this date in 1875, white Democrats attacked Republicans in Mississippi. The riot happened because of the pressure on white supremacy in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Black males in Mississippi, most of whom had joined President Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party, first began voting in 1867 by electing candidates to the Constitutional Convention of 1868.
By 1875, Black males had experienced eight years of suffrage, and September 4 of that year held the promise of continuing the incorporation of Freedmen within the state’s political process. Republicans planned political rallies that day at Utica and Clinton in Hinds County and at Vernon in nearby Madison County. Whole families of Black Republicans gathered at Moss Hill, the site of a former plantation in Clinton destroyed by Union troops during the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863. Estimates of the attendance that day ranged from 1,500 to 2,500, nearly all consisting of Freedmen and their families who gathered to enjoy an afternoon of picnicking and politics. There were also about seventy-five whites present, eighteen of whom were known to be Democrats from nearby Raymond.
Republican organizers, including Black state senator Charles Caldwell from Clinton, made several appeals for peace. Yet, the events of that afternoon quickly escalated into violence. Eugene Welborne, another rally organizer, testified that many of the white Democrats in attendance fell into formation, brandished weapons, and trained them upon the crowd. “The thing opened just like lightning and the shots rained in there just like rain from heaven” he recalled.
Frantic Black mothers scooped up their terrified children and fled to the woods in every direction to avoid the gunfire. One Black mother hid her infant child in the hollow of a nearby tree for protection. Fatalities that day numbered three white men and at least five Blacks, two of whom were children.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.