[That's right, it's April, which means that it's Confederate Heritage Month. We continue our coverage. Previous installments at the bottom.]
The 94 white men who were indicted by the coroner's jury in the Hamburg Massacre were never prosecuted, and not merely because those indicted included some of the most prominent figures in South Carolina politics. It was also because the indictment occurred in the court of an African American Judge named Prince Rivers.
As always, the Confederates were determined to manifest the judgment of Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney in Dred Scot 20 years previously that black people "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
Ben Tillman, one of the leaders of the Hamburg Massacre, saw to that. Stephen Budiansky, in The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, describes what happened after the indictments were issued:
Ben Tillman went into Aiken and got the good ladies of the town to run up a set of homespun shirts for the men, and also bought some Venetian red and turpentine, and he brought them back and a high time was had manufacturing their very own "bloody shirts" that, the men said, they for once would wave at the Yankees. And when the day came they donned their red shirts and wore them outside their pants with their pistol belts buckled over them ...The indicted men and their supporters made a long parade into Aiken, where the county courthouse was, to mock the proceeding, replete with banners and large paper masks of "negroes." It was a rowdy affair, and the proceedings inside the courthouse -- where the indicted men all brought their pistols with them -- were a bolloxed affair that ended with the judge issuing bonds, and the clerk permitting the men to stand for each other as bond.
"In truth the whole performance was a laughable travesty on law," Ben Tillman said, "for if they had attempted to put us in jail I am sure few or none of us would have acquiesced; and we would have probably killed every obnoxious radical in the court room."They all walked out that day in their red shirts and never came back. But the red shirts became a fixture -- the Klan symbol without the mask or the robe. And it spread throughout the South.
waving of the bloody shirt speech by Senator Oliver Morton in the Senate that was meant to bolster support for the Republicans' Reconstruction policies in South Carolina. The red shirt symbolism quickly spread. The accused in the Hamburg Massacre wore red shirts as they marched on September 5 to their arraignment in Aiken, South Carolina. Martin Gary, the organizer of the Democratic campaign in 1876, mandated that his supporters were to wear red shirts at all party rallies and functions.Nor did the terror end after that parade in South Carolina, according to Budiansky:
Wearing a red shirt became a source of pride and resistance to Republican rule for white Democrats in South Carolina. Women sewed red flannel shirts and made other garments of red. It also became fashionable for women to wear red ribbons in their hair or about their waists. For young men, a red shirt was viewed as compensation for their inability to have contributed to the Southern cause because of their age.
Ben Tillman made sure to be on hand the day that fall when the Sweetwater Sabre Club got ahold of state senator Simon Coker, a colored man they did not much care for, and marched him out to a field and made him kneel and shot him dead, and then one of the boys had put his pistol right up to the dead man's head and shot him once more, remarking as he did that he remembered what a mistake they had made with Pompey Curry, and, "Captain, I did not want any more witnesses coming to life again."The Red Shirts became ominpresent in the state, per Wikipedia:
Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond enthusiastically, shouting the campaign slogan, "Hurrah for Hampton." This created a massive spectacle that united and motivated those present.
Red Shirts sought to intimidate both white and black watchers into voting for the Democrats or even not at all. The Red Shirts and similar groups were especially active in those few states with an African-American majority. They broke up Republican meetings, disrupted their organizing, and intimidated black voters at the polls. Many freedmen stopped voting from fear, and others voted for Democrats under pressure. The Red Shirts did not hesitate to use violence, nor did the other private militia groups. In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, and Barnwell, freedmen who voted were driven from their homes and whipped, while some of their leaders were murdered. During the 1876 presidential election, Democrats in Edgefield and Laurens counties voted "early and often", while freedmen were barred from the polls.
Armed and mounted Red Shirts accompanied Hampton on his tour of the state. They attended Republican meetings and would demand equal time, but they usually only stood in silence. At times, Red Shirts would hold a barbecue nearby to lure Republicans and try to convince them to vote for the Democratic ticket.Within the year, Reconstruction itself was dead, killed finally by the election of 1876, which ended with a disputed result between Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican nominee, and Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic nominee:
Hampton positioned himself as a statesman, promising support for education and offering protection from violence that Governor Daniel Henry Chamberlain did not seem able to provide. Few freedmen voted for Hampton, and most remained loyal to the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. The 1876 campaign was the "most tumultuous in South Carolina's history." "An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign."
After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund William McGregor Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the "Hunkidori Club" from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.
An informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute: the Compromise of 1877, which awarded all 20 electoral votes to Hayes. In return for the Democrats' acquiescence in Hayes's election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, ending Reconstruction. The Compromise effectively ceded power in the Southern states to the Democratic Redeemers, who went on to pursue their agenda of returning the South to a political economy resembling that of its pre-war condition, including the disenfranchisement of black voters.Hayes ordered the removal of the Union Army from South Carolina on April 3, 1877, completing the white takeover of the state's political apparatus. Wikipedia notes that in "the gubernatorial election of 1878, the Red Shirts made a nominal appearance as Hampton was re-elected without opposition."
And the men who made it all happen profited handsomely. The murderers of Hamburg eventually became some of the most prosperous people in South Carolina.
|Matthew C. Butler|
Budiansky explains why no one was ever prosecuted for these crimes, beyond the red-shirted charade of their initial hearing.
Through the good offices of the editor of the Charleston News and Courier, and with the urging and enthusiastic support of United States senator Matthew C. Butler, the federal government in 1879 had agreed to drop the civil rights cases it had brought against the Hamburg murderers and Simon Coker's murderers and all the other white rifle club members who were never prosecuted by the state for the crimes committed in the bloody fall of 1876 that had brought them to office. The price the federal government asked in return was modest enough; namely, that the state of South Carolina would in return drop all the corruption cases it had brought in the meanwhile against former Republican officeholders of the state.Butler was displaced in 1894 by none other than his former comrade-in-arms, Benjamin Tillman -- who wound up having a far more illustrious political career. Indeed, if anyone benefited from his associations with the Hamburg massacre over the years, it was Tillman.
From a New York Times review of Tillman's biography:
Tillman's role in the Hamburg Riot established him as a leader of men in that time and that place. His involvement, about which he boasted constantly in future years, was the cornerstone upon which he would build a remarkable political career, first as governor of South Carolina and then, for 24 years, as a United States senator.
How could these execution-style murders of 1876 serve as the springboard for such extraordinary political advancement -- and a legacy of racism that would keep Tillman's name alive as Pitchfork Ben well into the 20th century? The explanation lies, Kantrowitz believes, in the determination of white men in the post-Civil War South to reclaim what they had lost through emancipation and the experience of Reconstruction: their sense of independent, unfettered manhood. ''Tillman sought to transform the slogan 'white supremacy' into a description of social reality, reconstructing white male authority in every sphere from the individual household to national politics,'' Kantrowitz, who teaches American history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, writes. Tillman's constituents responded to his leadership because they too believed that the end of slavery and the enfranchising of blacks had set loose a threat to white society that had to be checked by whatever means necessary. It took a man like Tillman -- an ideologue, an organizer and a terrorist'' -- to give voice to their fears and to translate their determination into physical and political action.
Ben Tillman in 1880
Tillman proved to be a master at pillorying his well-bred political opponents -- white Negroes,'' he called them, or effete urban ''dudes'' produced by aristocratic institutions of higher learning like the Citadel or the University of South Carolina. When it came to reforms that might actually help to relieve the farmer's economic plight, however, Tillman offered precious little: an agricultural college for white men (Clemson), a new school for white women (Winthrop College) and a state-run dispensary system to regulate liquor sales. Almost everything else he proposed had a single goal: the suppression of the state's black population to a position of permanent inferiority.
In 1892, a group of Tillman's supporters in Abbeville, S.C., prepared a banner anointing the governor the ''Champion of White Men's Rule and Woman's Virtue.'' Earlier that year, Tillman had coupled a statement opposing lynching with a declaration that he would ''willingly lead a mob in lynching a Negro who had committed an assault upon a white woman.'' His ''lynching pledge,'' as this promise became known, was never personally carried out, but it reveals a great deal about Tillman's rhetorical and political strategy. The black man, in Tillman's words, ''must remain subordinate or be exterminated.'' An epidemic of mob killings broke out in South Carolina in the 1890's, and in the upcountry counties of Abbeville, Edgefield, Laurens and Newberry, lynchings outnumbered legal executions during that decade.When Tillman went to Washington, his message went with him. Now known as Pitchfork Ben -- in 1892 he had threatened to stick a pitchfork in that ''bag of beef'' Grover Cleveland -- Tillman became the ''resident wild man'' of the Senate. His record was a model of negative consistency. He opposed woman suffrage (the vote would ''rub the bloom off of the peach,'' he said). He opposed American overseas expansion (building an empire comprising nonwhite peoples he looked upon as a form of insanity). And he opposed any exercise of federal authority that would allow the national government to intrude in a state's ''domestic affairs.'' This ensured his opposition to any measure that might actually provide some economic relief for the farmers back home.
Budiansky lets Tillman himself explain his worldview:
He was elected governor and then United States Senator, and for forty years he fought off attacks by the Bourbons and the real Populists alike by reviving the horrors of "negro misrule" that he said the state had endured under Reconstruction. That was his ticket to power, and for forty years of political life he offered what he called a "solid front to all comers on the bond of white supremacy." He stood on the floor of the United States Senate and jabbed his finger and said "we had to shoot negroes" and recounted again and again how the black man had "tasted blood," had been infected by unscrupulous Northern carpetbaggers with the "virus of equality" back in those dark days, and that they only way to make sure that it never happened again was for whites to remain politically united behind men like him who weren't afraid to tell the truth about how they had to shoot niggers back then.
Ben Tillman in the Senate"The poor African became a fiend, a wild beast, seeking whom he may devour, filling our penitentiaries and our jails, lurking around to see if some helpless white woman can be murdered or brutalized," Pitchfork Ben said on the floor of the United States Senate, and he always reprinted his best such efforts in pamphlets that he sent to everyone. "We realize what it means to let ever so little a trickle of race equality to break through the dam."In 1895 South Carolina called a convention to rewrite the state constitution to disenfranchise the last remaining colored voters who hadn't already been cheated or beaten out of their ballots, and Pitchfork Ben came and again retold the story of the "infamy" of those dark days, and how at any moment that sleeping viper might be "warmed into life again and sting us whenever some more white rascals, native or foreign, come here and mobilize the ignorant blacks."The "hell hounds" who had masterminded it all the last time, he explained, had hated the South and were seeking revenge. They had concocted the most perfect scheme for "degrading us to the lowest level possible" -- giving the ballot to our own ex-slaves. "The most fertile imagination, if it had been given a thousand years to concoct a scheme of revenge, could not have surpassed it."And he continued: "How did we recover our liberty? By fraud and violence. We tried to overcome the thirty thousand majority by honest methods, which was a mathematical impossibility. After we had borne these indignities for eight years life became worthless under such conditions. Under the leadership and inspiration of Mart[in] Gary ... we won the fight. In 1878 we had to resort to more fraud and violence, and so again in 1880. Then the Registration Law and the eight-box system was evolved from the superior intelligence of the white man to check and control this surging, muddy stream of ignorance.
"And this must be our justification, our vindication, and our excuse to the world that we are met in Convention openly, boldly, without any pretense of secrecy, to announce that it is our purpose, as far as we may, without coming into conflict with the United States Constitution, to put such safeguards around this ballot in future, to so restrict the suffrage and circumscribe it, that this infamy can never come about again."
Day 1: Strange Fruit
It Was About Slavery
That Peculiar Institution
How Poor Whites Got Suckered
The First American War Criminals
'The River Was Dyed'
War By Other Means
Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and the Liars Who Named Them
Crying 'Bloody Shirt'
Massacre at Colfax
Hamburg and Reconstruction's End