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South Carolina

South Carolina African Americans – Racism Against Freedmen


Also see African-Americans - Reconstruction - 1865-1900 Main Page



Written by Michael Trinkley of the Chicora Foundation

Our Enemy

Racist defiance was found throughout South Carolina, with the tone being set by individuals such as Armistead Burt, who exclaimed that as a white man he was ready to fight for the control of his state and country, "which was discovered by the white man, settled by the white man, made illustrious by the white, and must continue to be the white man's County."

Joseph Abney insisted, "We need not be dainty as to the means employed; we must fight the Devil with fire ... [and] wage incessant, restless, and eternal war" on African-Americans.

Economic coercion was certainly one means used to "control" African Americans in South Carolina. With blacks increasingly unable to acquire land, the economic system of the state continued to be solidly rooted in the plantation system – which was controlled by the white planters. One Democratic Club in Edgefield County passed a resolution that members would "not employ any negro or white man, or any member of their family, who fails to bring with him a written certificate from his former employer that he is a Democrat and has voted with the Democrats at some election."

Governor Benjamin Perry announced simply, "If they will not vote with us we should not employ them."

But their successful form of control was also the most traditional instrument – violence. As Lieutenant M. DeKnight in Abbeville reported, "Unless the colored man either votes the Democratic Ticket or stays away from the Polls altogether, he will be shot down."

Lieutenant William Stone in Edgefield confessed it was impossible "to protect the lives and property of those who do not agree politically with the large majority of white citizens."

A similar account from Clarendon, Kershaw, and Lancaster found Republicans "intimidated by threats of the most violent and dangerous character" and confirmed that "armed bands of men" patrolled the roads.

Democratic Clubs were raised throughout the State – and their purpose was anything but social. Testimony to Congress by one leader of these clubs made their purpose clear: "To find out where the negroes were holding Union Leagues ... kill the leaders; fire into them and kill the leaders if [we] could."

Similarly, these Democratic Clubs sought out holders of Republic ballots before elections and take the ballots away from them. If they resisted, "shoot them and take them by force." This campaign was successful. State Senator Solomon Washington Dill was shot dead in his home. Representative James Martin, a legislator from Abbeville, was killed in front of the Abbeville Court House. Johnson Stuart, a prominent Republican from Newberry, was murdered riding home from a political meeting. Lee Nance, president of a local Union League, was killed in his front yard. And Representative B.F. Randolph was murdered as he stepped off a train at Hodges Depot.

South Carolina whites embraced terrorism and the best example of that was the Ku Klux Klan. Although organized in Tennessee in 1866, cells of the organization did not appear in South Carolina until 1868. Some historians have tried to soften the hate and racism of the KKK by suggesting that its goal was to enforce community morals. As historian Richard Zuczek remarks, "Cases do exist of hooded horsemen abusing suspected thieves and chastising adulterers, but instances of 'moral enforcement' are negligible when compared to the number of political attacks."

Other historians have tried to link the creation of the Klan to protection against an "out-of-control" black militia. Although the Klan was clearly operating in South Carolina by the late spring of 1868, no militia of any kind existed in South Carolina until the spring of 1870 since all such forces had been disbanded by the Reconstruction Acts of 1867!

A few historians have tried to argue that the Klan arose in response to Republican corruption and fraud. It is difficult to find any connection between political corruption in Columbia and the whipping or lynching a black man a hundred miles away on a rural farmstead. Nevertheless, when the Klan was formally introduced to South Carolina in 1868, South Carolina's new government was barely operational – there certainly wasn't time for it to have become "corrupt and fraud-ridden."

The Klan arose in 1868 immediately after the failure of whites in South Carolina to defeat the new state constitution. The Klan was a political organization with an agenda that was very certain to the citizens of South Carolina at the time. One individual testifying before Congress made this clear when he explained their goal was to "kill out the leaders of the republican party and drive them out of the state."

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