Warning: This piece contains graphic descriptions of race violence.
NOXUBEE COUNTY, Miss.—Travonder Dixon-McCloud grew up in Macon, Miss., hearing about a local white mob killing a Black principal and other prominent community leaders. The upstanding citizens also closed down the one-room school serving Black children in the early 20th century, back in a time when they could not learn along with white kids. Dixon-McCloud’s great-grandmother, Emma Lou Martin-Brooks, had herself gone through the eighth grade, the most education allowed for her, but the principal asked her to teach at the small school later.
Martin-Brooks shared the horrific story forward to future generations like Dixon-McCloud, now a local alderwoman.
“She told me that it was a lady Black principal who had a one-room schoolhouse, and my great-grandmother was a teacher in that one-room school,” Dixon-McCloud said on June 15, 2021, while sitting in the library of the Noxubee County High School where she works as a clinical psychologist. “She said they killed (the principal). They didn’t hang her, though. It was something to do with water.”
Mob Violence, Before and After Red Summer 1919
In a county with a very minimum of 10 lynchings of Black people, local white terrorist bands—many of them prominent citizens helped by law enforcement, records show—took Black people across the Noxubee River to whip, lynch, drown or threaten those actions if they ever returned to their homes. If they forced the targeted people to flee the county, the Black community might presume them dead, instilling the fear that it could happen to them, too.
News reports and U.S. congressional records back up local mob attacks on Black schools and many other terrorist episodes—with this one likely what is known as the Macon Riot of 1919, which was Noxubee County’s most famous violent white riot, with its own Wikipedia page. Cameron McWhirter wrote in his 2011 book “Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America” that on June 7, 1919, “a white mob that included a leading banker, a deputy sheriff, and a city marshal attacked and beat a school principal, a merchant, and several other prominent blacks.”
This white mob violence was extremely common inside the South, especially, but also across the nation. During this period, fake science about the danger of “race-mixing” leading to a tainting of white blood (not actually a real thing) was in vogue among even educated white Americans far from the South. “Mixed” schools would lead to the feared miscegenation, white supremacists have long feared.
McWhirter found from historic records that the Macon mob looted local stores run by people they believed were trying to organize local African Americans toward advancement and political involvement and ordered them to leave Macon, never to return. News Scimitar, a Black newspaper in Memphis, reported on June 9, 1919, that the mob took three Black Macon residents—including the principal—“across the river and gave them good advice.” The next night a white gang kidnapped and took another Black local “across the river” for allegedly drawing a pistol on a plantation owner. That person “has not returned,” the Scimitar reported.
Like Red Summer massacres and lynchings across the country, the Macon mob sought to teach local Black people to stay resigned to their white-assigned fate eight days shy of 102 years before Dixon-McCloud sat in the school library, alongside its principal Aiesha Brooks, telling the story of terrorism against Black Noxubee educators long seeded into the grapevine of her home county and her family’s lived realities.
That means that up to five generations of local Black people had grown up hearing the cautionary truth that white men would get together and kill Black people who seek better-quality and -funded education, increased pay, public office, voting rights, or even the basic dignity of not leaving a court-square sidewalk to allow a white person to pass.
Race Violence to Prevent Black Education and Voting
It wasn’t like the June 1919 riot started or ended white intimidation and violence against Black people in Macon or surrounding communities, though. In fact, the always-majority-Black county originally built around plantations, cotton production, and enslaved labor had been one of the top spots in Mississippi for white terrorism and Klan activity since Nathan Bedford Forrest and other white terrorists ran roughshod over Mississippi.
As illiteracy among Black southerners started falling dramatically after emancipation—from 80% in 1870 among non-white Americans to 30% by 1910—preventing good Black education was always a top target for white supremacist violence in Noxubee and across Mississippi, including the Ku Klux Klan and other vigilante bigots determined to maintain the caste system they reigned over. After all, educated Black people were more likely to vote, organize, demand better jobs and pay, and ensure that quality schooling was available to all.
Race violence and lynchings were a favorite way to stop the spread of Black education and political engagement—and it has thrust education and electoral/political inequity forward through today. A 2021 American Economic Association study found that southern counties with higher rates of lynching from 1882 to 1930 have lower voter-registration rates today. Study author Jhacova Williams of the Rand Corporation wrote that Black people with more education or higher earnings were not more likely to be registered to vote in those counties with more pronounced histories of race violence.
That is, using race violence to prevent both education and voting in counties like Noxubee from its founding to as recently as 50 years ago was like a one-two punch to local Black people, helping embed a systemic pattern that still affects conditions from low political engagement to higher mortality rates. Only being a part of a strong Black church community seems to mitigate the problem in high-lynching counties, Williams found.
With low political engagement, equitable access to quality education, school resources and opportunity inevitably suffers, providing a self-perpetuating package deal of sorts for white supremacists who understood and embraced systemic oppression from the time of slavery.
Starting right after the South lost the Civil War and as Black people were hungry for the literacy and education long denied them, white terrorists in Noxubee County and beyond began threatening, whipping, and lynching both Black and white educators in “free schools.” They burned schools and churches that hosted classes to ensure inequity and economic immobility would continue for Black southerners into future generations.
At one point, author Michael Newton wrote in his book on the KKK in Mississippi, no Black schools remained in the entire county because the local Ku Klux Klan had closed or torched them all in what would become a self-serving campaign of race violence that would span many decades.
‘They Took Me Out of My Bed’
Lydia Anderson was living with her children on what she called “Massa Killes Anderson’s” plantation three miles above Mushulaville on the edge of Noxubee County on the night in early 1871 when the Ku-Klux galloped up to the house looking for her. Her daughter saw the four men with masked faces and bizarre costumes first, saying to her sister, “I believe them nasty things is about here. Where’s mother?”
Anderson was sleeping as was her son-in-law Fuller when the terrorists banged on the door of their house. He got up and opened it.
“Is Aunt Liddy here?” one of the costumed men asked.
“Yes, sir,” Fuller answered. The man then asked if she was sleeping. “Yes, I expect she has gone to bed.”
“Tell her to come out. We want to see her; we just want to ask her some questions; we are not going to hurt a hair of her head.”
But the second the formerly enslaved Black matron stepped outside, the same man bellowed: “March to them woods there, or I’ll blow your goddamned brains out.”
“They took me out of my bed—out of my house,” she would testify at the Macon U.S congressional hearings about “the Ku-Klux Conspiracy” seven months later on Nov. 6, 1871. She joined dozens of both Black and white people to testify five years after the Ku Klux Klan launched in Pulaski, Tenn., and two years after Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest supposedly disbanded it.
In the woods, “only one whipped me, but he whipped me enough for all,” Anderson told Congress.
How many licks, the chairman asked?
“Nine licks and cut my skin, and the marks is on my back,” she answered. The same Klucker also jabbed a pistol at her and said, “Go on now, and I’ll see you again in a few days, and I’ll give you 500 lashes the next time I see you.”
“Had they disguises on?”” the chairman asked Anderson.
“Yes, sir; they all wore dresses,” she answered.
“(They) all had gowns on, and one had a sheet over him,” she continued. “[T]hey had horns here and here, at the corners of the head,” the Black mother described, pointing.
Witnesses at the Mississippi-based hearings, largely focusing on seven Klan-infested Mississippi counties along the Alabama border, had indicated that the disguises tended to vary county to county for the early KKK and related white terrorist groups. That included Noxubee-born White Rose Society (obsessed with stopping the “radical” Black and white vote) and local Native Sons of the South in and near Noxubee County. They either had their wives whip their costumes up or ordered them custom-made. Newton wrote in his book “The Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi: A History” that most Noxubee terrorists chose “crafted paper masks with false beards and mustaches made from mules’ tails.”
‘That’s Not My Disposition’
Lydia Anderson told federal investigators that she recognized the voices of the men in dresses; they were the “old master’s sons,” meaning the progeny of “Old Man Richards,” whose place she had gone to work the previous year to help his wife cook and milk cows. He’d caught her alone and told her, “The witches rode me last night.” She was first confused, but figured out he expected her to have sex with him—like the sexual harassment that still plagues many Black Mississippi women 150 years after Lydia Anderson’s testimony. In today’s workplaces, they suffer three times the sexual harassment as white women encounter, the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable reports, using EEOC data.
“The old lady told you to take good care of me,” Old Man Richards told his employee, referring to his wife. Anderson refused, saying, “that’s not my disposition.”
Later, she caught the old man sexually harassing her daughter and then coming after her with a big hickory stick to “make her mind.” Anderson intervened and told him, “She shan’t stay, and I shan’t stay.”
After that, the four horned horsemen came for her. Anderson soon moved to Macon to get farther away, but had to leave her children behind. Her oldest daughter had to flee the Richards men to another town for her own safety.
During her testimony, as did witness after witness from the seven counties, Anderson listed Black men whom night-riders had targeted: Jack Triplett’s carriage driver Solomon Triplett shot and killed; preacher Old Uncle George Murff, who lived next door in Winston County, shot down on the way back from the fields the previous year; and Pete Gregory was “killed dead” above Mashulaville just a month before the hearing.
When Anderson spoke of “Uncle Aleck Hughes” who was badly whipped two weeks before her in Mushulaville, a committee member asked her, “Was he a colored man?”
“Yes, sir; a Black man,” she responded.
Then there was the “colored preacher” Nathan Campbell: “They whipped him nearly to death,” Anderson said. “I suppose it was because he was teaching school; they said he shouldn’t teach school and be a preacher,” Anderson told the men visiting from Washington, D.C..
A Coalition of ‘First Families’ and White ‘Loafers’
Attacks on teachers and school buildings—including churches where Black children often attended classes then—were epidemic and built deeply into the beliefs and practices of both the white upper-class business leaders and landowners and poorer whites often called “loafers” in those days. Many, although certainly not all, white southerners were united after the Civil War in the belief that freedmen and their white allies could not be allowed political power, or access to the voting booth.
Noxubee County plantation owner Jefferson B. Algood (also then spelled Allgood) testified to the committee that he believed Klan-type groups could “correct some of the evils in the country,” but had ended up in hands of “bad men” who were only using the KKK for political purposes. He didn’t deny the wrongdoing, but blamed it on “a class of people who never owned a negro, and are now violently opposed to negro suffrage and negro labor.” People like him who had enslaved and thus lived with Black people tended to not despise them, he said on Nov. 6, 1871.
“It is the class of poor people that are really down on the negro,” Algood said, pointing the finger away from neighbors who had built their own generational wealth using the institution of slavery, which the Mississippi Declaration of Secession had called the “the greatest material interest of the world” as men of all financial levels, from enslavers to poor whites, signed up to fight to continue the institution. (The planter Confederate leaders later draft poor whites who did not sign up.)
Algood was wrong. It was the “first families” of Noxubee County and beyond who built the Ku Klux Klan, as young Black post-emancipation legislator (and future lieutenant governor) Alexander K. Davis described to the committee about the supposedly sophisticated and compassionate planter and business class in his adopted home county. He described how they quickly turned on white planter descendant John R. Taliaferro who infiltrated and helped expose the local KKK, testifying to the committee on July 15, 1871.
“There are gentlemen in this county—very clever, nice gentlemen, and some of the very first families—that have since denounced (Taliaferro) as a thief, and scoundrel, and everything else,” Davis said. Right before he rejected the KKK’s tactics, though, the turncoat was part of the “gentleman” class, he added.
Many wealthy white southerners financed white terrorists, and helped pay their legal defense back then and at least through the 1960s. White wealthy leaders would also help bring back the Klan itself for a resurgence around the time that Travonder Dixon-McCloud’s great-granny lost her boss lady “across the river.”
37 Armed White Men on Horseback
Peter Cooper was teaching in what was then called a “colored school” when 37 armed white men showed up on horseback to teach the Black educator a lesson.
He told the congressional hearing in Macon on Nov. 16, 1871, that he had lived in adjoining majority-white Winston County for at least 26 years when the gaggle showed up at his house at about 1 a.m. on a Saturday. He wasn’t there, so they busted into his room, stole $23 from his trunk, and burned all his clothes and books, as well as shoemaker’s tools that he used in his other gig.
Witnesses told Cooper the men were disguised with “some white kind of cloth over their faces, and aprons that came down about their knees.”
Cooper also described a Black school six to eight miles from Louisville being burned. Another Black teacher, Nathan Cannon, was whipped “nearly to death” for teaching at the free school, Cooper shared, adding that the Klansmen made it clear they wanted to run all “radical Negroes” out of the county. In fact, the mob told his roommate that he shouldn’t live with a “damned radical scalawag.”
“[T]hey said there shouldn’t be no colored schools,” Cooper testified. “They said that I was not going to have any; that I shouldn’t teach at all.” The attackers also said they wouldn’t pay taxes “for the purpose of schooling colored children,” a position not unfamiliar in today’s Mississippi.
Fearful for his life, Cooper quit teaching and moved.
Similar stories were ubiquitous as the Joint Select Committee to Inquire Into the Conditions of the Affairs of the Late Insurrectionary States showed in its 1872 reports, with witness after witness recounting Black and some white educators whipped or killed, and Black schoolhouses and churches hosting classes burned in and around Noxubee County and across the state.
State legislator O.C. French of Natchez told the select committee that he knew of 25 Black schools burned across the state by June 3, 1871, but in his Mississippi KKK book, Newton reported that he found records of far more. He wrote that at one point no schools remained in Noxubee, Winston and Lowndes counties thanks to the Klan and copycat groups.
White terrorists also attacked fellow white “radicals” who tried to help Black Mississippians get a leg up toward opportunity, education and a modicum of equity after generations of slavery when education for them was illegal. After Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831, all slave states but three—Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland—outlawed teaching enslaved people to read or write. Plus, southern states passed laws to try to prevent freedmen from teaching others to read and write, but many free and enslaved Black people secretly taught each other.
Algood, the proud former slave trader who testified against the Ku-Klux, as the group was commonly called then, talked about the Grand Cyclops sending an anonymous letter to the Noxubee County superintendent of education, “Judge Ames”—perhaps probate Judge David Ames or his son. The missive instructed Ames to give up his education position and to stop friend Algood from opposing the Klan, or “they would visit us both.”
In Chickasaw County, terrorists burned the home of school superintendent A. J. Jamison and that of Rev. John Avery, a Winston County teacher who said his own brothers helped torch his home to stop him, Newton wrote. Alabama’s Pickens County adjoins Noxubee across the Tombigbee River, and witnesses said many white terrorists operated back and forth across the border to burn Black schools and churches. (Alabama had its own hearings and select committee reports, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 in 1871.)
Local masked men didn’t follow up every threat with a burning, whipping or murder, but they did many of them, leaving the fear of “who’s next?” throughout Mississippi, including Noxubee where a KKK sniper had killed a white magistrate in his home. Their literal “war on schools” was designed to destroy the north’s “radical” strategy of pursuing equality for newly freed enslaved people in the old Confederacy—and use threats and violence to ensure white people stayed in line, too. The Mississippi Encyclopedia explains that the post-Civil War Freedman’s Bureau had consolidated three types of schools to educate Black children: private schools, which free Black people had founded; missionary schools with northern-born teachers; and private schools started by Mississippi white people as “freedmen schools.”
“Between 1865 and 1870 approximately 10 percent of Mississippi’s former slaves attended schools consolidated by the bureau. The schools peaked in 1868, when 128 institutions enrolled a total of 6,250 pupils,” historian Christopher M. Span wrote.
Then in 1870, the Black/white Republican-run Legislature launched Mississippi’s first tax-supported public-school system, igniting white terrorism across the state determined to stop it.
Fear of Polluting White Bloodlines
As the fear of an educated Black majority fully set in, southern post-Civil War Democrats focused on destroying and defunding public schools Black children would attend for three reasons, Newton wrote. They obsessed over cost to white taxpayers who didn’t want to pay for Black education; the “antebellum phobia concerning educated [B]lacks”; and to stop race-mixing and miscegenation in schools, a racist mythology that would drive white supremacy throughout the 20th century. The political journey around race and racism was complicated as white southern Democrats turned into openly segregationist Dixiecrats by the 1940s, and then steadily flipped into today’s Republican Party as national Democrats rejected its party’s racist past and supported federal civil-rights legislation in the 1960s.
Educated, wealthy men running Mississippi’s postbellum newspapers stoked the bloodline fear as well. The Jackson Clarion (later becoming the Clarion-Ledger) warned that “a fund will be raised by taxing the property of people to build up a gigantic system of ‘Public Education,’ under the control of important amalgamationists.” Amalgamation” was a popular phrase for the feared race-mixing that would supposedly wipe out superior white bloodlines.
The Jackson Daily News was even more blunt in the 1860s about the so-called “innate beastiality” of Black people in its support of Black Codes. “We must keep the ex-slave in a position of inferiority. We must pass such laws as will make him feel his inferiority,” it demanded, as Newton reported in his book.
Ohio U.S. Rep. Samuel S. Cox, nickname “Sunset,” used reprehensible words to Congress in 1864 to oppose the Freedmen’s Bureau, established in 1865, saying Black people would perish without slavery. “No Government farming system, no charitable black scheme, can wash out the color of the negro, change his inferior nature, or save him from his inevitable fate,” the elected bigot declared. “The irrepressible conflict is not between slavery and freedom, but between black and white, and as De Tocqueville prophesied, the black will perish.”
Newton found that southern Democrats especially hated white educators teaching in Black schools and warned that any teacher at a Black school “was a radical tool and emissary to excite race hatred among the negroes”—an argument not unlike that being pushed by supposed opponents of “critical race theory” in today’s schools. Like censorship efforts of the past, much-CRT legislation today seeks to ban teaching hidden race history and systemic racism, which presumed Republican candidates for governor are pushing for in Mississippi as well. (See Wisconsin’s banned “CRT” terms list.)
Coincidentally, Mississippi’s most successful proponent of censoring Civil War and Reconstruction race history out of textbooks and classrooms was Noxubee County plantation heir Stephen D. Lee, the first president of Mississippi State University.
In the early 1870s, teachers in Black schools, and some in new whites-only “free schools” supported by local taxes, received threatening letters, telling them to leave the state or else, the 1871 Select Committee report shows. Like Gov. Haley Barbour’s attacks on “government schools” 125 years later in his 1996 book, “Agenda for America,” most wealthy white Mississippians then did not want their taxes to go to public schools. They especially were opposed to funding Black public schools, and many still are.
“We can inform you that we are the law itself and that an order from these Headquarters is supreme above all others,” one anonymous letter sent to various teachers stated, Newton reports. Terrorists burned at least one tax-supported white school near Mushulaville and another in Shuqualak, among others.
Irishman Teacher Pistol-Whipped, Beaten, Belittled by Newspaper
Cornelius McBride was a 24-year-old Irish immigrant teacher originally from Belfast, Ireland, who moved from Ohio to Mississippi and taught in Black schools in Oktibbeha and Chickasaw counties. As a result, white terrorists pistol-whipped and beat him until he escaped, he told the Select Committee.
After McBride wrote a column detailing instances of Mississippi terrorism for a northern newspaper, original Macon (Miss.) Beacon editor and publisher Henry C. Ferris wrote a flippant response to the Washington (D.C.) Chronicle on Aug. 12, 1871, reprinted in his Macon (Miss.) Beacon. Ferris was a an Irish Catholic immigrant who moved to Macon in 1849 and took over his brother Edward’s Noxubee Rifle newspaper there, first changing its name to the Union Beacon. It originally opposed secession, but later Ferris joined local sentiment, changing its name to the Macon Beacon.
H.C. Ferris outright denied McBride’s experiences and chided his fellow Irishman. The paper, then run by his son Philip Thomas Ferris and William Ward, also tried to discredit the widely known whipping of William Coleman in Winston County for buying land against the local white code of not allowing Black people to accumulate land and wealth.
“Without knowing the facts, we pronounce this a malicious lie,” the Beacon editors stated on page one. H.C. Ferris also denied McBride’s claim that most Black Noxubee schools had been closed or burned. “[T]here are not less than 12 freedmen’s schools in Noxubee alone and one of them we know is taught by a disabled confederate soldier,” he wrote on Aug. 12, 1871.
Ferris critiqued several white “radical” men, including one “Ku-Klux hunter under orders”—a Capt. Reed, as well as turncoat John Taliaferro—and said McBride was trying to “poison the minds” of “reliable freedmen.” He also took a slap at the U.S. government for “giving higher privileges to an ignorant race just emerged from slavery, and arraying them against those who were really their truest friends.”
Teacher McBride was an active Republican. The new Black voting base and their white allies like him were the old Mississippi power structure’s worst nightmare due to electoral math in the then majority-Black Mississippi. Ferris spilled a lot of ink about the white rogues previously considered local upstanding citizens.
The multitude of white vigilante groups like the White Rose Society, Native Sons of the South, and the best-known and most powerful Ku-Klux chapters were the enforcers to beat back any progress or systemic advances the Black Republicans enjoyed.
The white terrorism base, many of them wealthy men born outside Mississippi, including in the north, especially wanted to thwart then-Gov. James Lusk Alcorn’s plan to spread free education to all children across postbellum Mississippi, including the successful establishment of the nation’s first Black land-grant university, Alcorn State University on 225 acres in Lorman, Miss. Still, Alcorn was an old-school Whig from Illinois who came to Mississippi to run plantations with large numbers of enslaved people doing the work.
To the first Ku Klux Klan generation, Black education, political organizing and voting were intertwined and would destroy their “way of life.” So they went to horrific lengths to ensure that could never happen in Mississippi, with state leaders like Alcorn doing far too little to stop the violence and intimidation beyond lip service, as Newton reported. As a result, the select committee report lists 13 deaths, two whippings, two people shot at and myriad home/church/school burnings in the seven counties at hands of the Ku-Klux and related groups since the KKK took hold there and by its 1871 hearings. That they knew of.
And that was just the beginning of postbellum white terrorism in Mississippi.
Visible and Violent ‘Empire of the South’
Today’s vision of the Ku Klux Klan in America is inevitably incomplete, in both the stories its defenders and its enemies tell. By any measure, the KKK’s origins and deeds were more savage than most on either side knows or admits. So was its influence on decades of dozens of copycat violent white vigilante groups—from the White Caps across Mississippi to Seventy-Six in North Mississippi to the powerful Knights of the White Camelia in the lower southern states. Then there was the Klan’s own periodic re-emergence, including among wealthy, educated bigots far from the South around Red Summer 1919.
From its creation by six Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Tenn., in 1866, the Ku-Klux was infantile, mean and vindictive. It wasn’t yet as organized and deadly as it would later become under Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a failed businessman and slave trader who became a violent and cruel rogue military leader ordering the massacre of 193 Black and 101 white federal prisoners at Fort Pillow, Tenn., in 1865. The original young, wealthy veterans founded the KKK as a “hilarious social club” to “play pranks on the public,” Newton writes. They took the name from the Kuklos Adelphon fraternity at the University of North Carolina, often called “Old Kappa Alpha.”
The original club targeted Black southerners from the beginning, borrowing cruel capers (and probably members) from old “patterrollers,” the slave patrolmen who long treated both enslaved Black people and freedmen horribly, even breaking into their homes to perform atrocities, Newton wrote.
When Forrest later became grand wizard of the nouveau Kuklos Adelphon, he turned the KKK into a straight-up terrorist organization—“to keep n—-rs in their place,” as he put it per Newton’s book.
Hounded by debtors, Forrest had moved in and out of Mississippi (including Coahoma, Tippah and DeSoto counties) and knew the state well. He recruited members of his new “Invisible Empire of the South” and urged splinter groups and Klan cover names like Heggie’s Scouts, Pale Faces, the Jack Robinsons and many others, as he traveled the state as a railroad-stock salesman. Powerful lawyers like James Z. George, L.Q.C. Lamar and Edward Walthall helped Klansmen beat charges in a Lafayette County courtroom in one of the most Klan-infested counties then, and the site of one of Forrest’s earliest chapters, Newton reported in his book.
Organized white terrorism caught on fast in Noxubee County in the late 1860s among white landowners licking their wounds over losing their free labor and grasping at any way to keep white supremacy in place. Newton quoted the pledge of locals there “to take the avenging of a wrong against a white man by colored men into the hands of the people, and away from the law”—establishing a routine pattern of extra-judicial violence and “punishment” that continued deep into the 20th century with white juries backing them up.
As they disguised themselves with fake horns and in dresses, as Lydia Anderson described her night visitors who thought Black people were pliable enough to think they were ghosts, the Ku-Klux crowd wanted much more than revenge, though. They wanted to stop political power shifts away from their domain into majority-Black hands even as Black Mississippians and white Republicans were aligning to win political office. This wouldn’t do.
This desire to “take back” political office and power reached a fevered pitch by the local 1875 election, four years after Congress investigated the Klan and copycat terrorists in 1871. Fear of losing power (and abject racism) led many of the groups to change their names and form new alliances to stop the election of Black or white Republicans—and the racial advancement goals of Reconstruction—by the pivotal 1875 congressional elections by any means necessary.
Historians call it the First Mississippi Plan to end Reconstruction and Black gains—and it was a bloody success.
‘It May Turn Out to Be Very Bitter Fruit’
At first, Mississippi newspapers treated the events of Sunday and Monday, Aug. 22 and 23, 1875, as an argument between a white man and some rude Black folks over loud drumming at the Fox Trap plantation, 14 miles east of Macon near the Alabama border. The Black people caused the ruckus and then fired first, news reports first said; some of them were injured; “all is quiet now,” no deaths, nothing to see here.
By the next day, The Vicksburg Herald proclaimed “Eight Negroes Killed, Several Wounded and Twenty Made Prisoners” after a “private quarrel between a white man and a negro about drum-beating” turned into a face-off at the Black New Hope Church near Prairie Point, six miles east of Macon. But soon a fuller, if biased account emerged in the out-of-town Herald.
Turns out, the massacre was one of myriad violent 1875 attacks by white Democrats on the Black-white Republican coalition in a pivotal election year. That included the infamous Clinton Massacre that started on Sept. 4 at a political rally over in Hinds County, leaving as many as 50 Black people dead.
The Saturday before the New Hope massacre, Aug. 21, Black Noxubee County Republicans had voted to deny current Sheriff William Conner the nomination for re-election, instead nominating Jefferson B. Algood, a doctor and likely the same former slave trader who testified to Congress about Klan violence while defending fellow landowners and former slavers back in 1871. Infuriated, Conner immediately announced he’d run against Algood as an independent.
On Sunday, Aug. 22, a group of Black Algood supporters took drums—which the nominee supposedly supplied—to Conner’s plantation for a demonstration. The Herald reported that son Ed Conner confronted them, and “high words ensued,” and perhaps blows. The Black revelers left, returned with guns and drummed again until they were run off, at least according to the white newspaper. On Monday Black revelers regrouped on the grounds of the New Hope church eight miles west toward town, the news account said.
The Herald reported that “a company of fifty white men left town for the church, and were joined by men from the country,” then “marched” on New Hope, a Black church. All white news accounts say Black people fired first, with the Herald saying that then “the whites charged and scattered them like sheep.” The report repeated historic Mississippi newspapers’ standard post-white-terrorism line: “All is quiet now.”
The final death toll was a one-sided massacre, with “six to eight” Black people dead at the church with more wounded, and no whites killed.
At a citizens meeting, Algood “was required to bring the drums to town and make negroes behave themselves.” The Vicksburg Herald concluded: “If he had refused, it would probably have been the last of him, as the people were much enraged. We apprehend no further trouble. A slight display has had a very salutary effect.”
A followup report in the Meridian Mercury told a fuller, if also predisposed story—that the massacre was a “private radical wrangle over the spoils of office” under the political-reporting headline, “The Blood of Seven or Eight Darkies has not ‘Benefitted the Party.’”
The Mercury quoted former Circuit Judge and planter H. W. Foote of Macon implying he was a witness at New Hope. “Negroes commenced the fight, fighting first. Our men were commanded by deputy-Sheriff Lucas,” Foote claimed. The newspaper also slammed the nominee, referring to “J.B. Algood, one of the meanest of the tribes of renegades, and general bondsman for all of the official thieves in Mississippi.” (News reports then spelled “Algood” and “Allgood” interchangeably.)
Judge Foote was the great-great grandfather of writer Shelby Foote who romanticized the Confederate “lost cause” and compared Nathan Bedford Forrest to Abraham Lincoln.
The Mercury report blamed the “radical” coalition of Blacks and whites who had won the nomination together and then celebrated the win: “Out of this grew the turbulence of Radical factions, which, as we understand it, culminated in the blood fight of the Fox Trap Prairie on Monday evening.”
“We know the doctor and know that he has been running very low down with the negroes of Noxubee county for a long time,” the Mercury continued about Algood. “He had degraded himself to about the lowest level of scallawaggery could sink to. (sic) It has borne fruit for him, and instead of rich and juicy, it may turn out to be very bitter fruit.”
Such widespread violence against potential “radical” Black voters and white “scalawags” succeeded in the 1875 elections, driving many to stay home to avoid vigilantes on their way to the polls or what might happen to them afterward. The sweeping loss of the Black-white pro-public education, pro-equitable reform Republican coalition in the South in November 1875, and then the presidential election of 1876, was a turning point for the righteous goals of Reconstruction, fully destroyed in the Compromise of 1877.
The white Democratic resurgence meant that the impressively diverse 1874-1875 Mississippi Legislature was soon decimated, including by trumped-up charges, impeachment and removal from office, as happened to Lt. Gov. Alexander K. Davis, the Black Noxubee County man who had testified to Congress about white terrorism in 1871.
It also was the beginning of the end of Black freedom in Mississippi that would culminate in the Jim Crow provisions inserted into the Mississippi Constitution in 1890—the Second Mississippi Plan. The box-set of both Mississippi Plans to roll back and prevent Black political and educational gains succeeded.
Former Confederate leader and slaveholder James Z. George had volunteered to defend violent members of a probable Ku-Klux cover group, Heggie’s Scouts, in a Lafayette County courtroom back in 1866; they were believed to be involved with killing 116 Black people and throwing bodies in the Tallahatchie River, among other atrocities. But by 1890, George was a U.S. senator and enlisted to write the Jim Crow laws, and his statue is today still in the U.S. Capitol representing Mississippi.
Stephen D. Lee, the first president of Mississippi State University whose wealth largely came from his Blewett-Harrison in-laws’ slave-cultivated fields in Noxubee County, was on the commission that created Jim Crow and successfully led Confederate veterans’ efforts to censor the brutality of slavery, Reconstruction and the southern insurrection from textbooks.
The real radicals had won, intentionally roadblocking Black progress for generations to come, but the violence played on, ensuring those systemic barriers would long remain in place.
A Black Doctor Chased Out of Macon
When Black doctor and pharmacist Daniel Webster Sherrod went to what white newspapers called a “negro tent show” on the Scott Farmer lot in Macon, Miss., on Nov. 12, 1906, he couldn’t know it was the last thing he’d ever do in his hometown but run for his life.
Born on March 10, 1867, four years after Black emancipation, Sherrod got educated enough locally to study at Fisk University in Nashville, then get his M.D. from Meharry Medical College in 1896. He then returned home to practice medicine and opened the Macon Drug Store the same year, serving the segregated Black community. Many local whites respected Sherrod, the Beacon would report later in a piece called “Macon’s First Riot,” which ignored all the previous white Noxubee County terrorist mobs over previous decades.
After an opening performance and as the music started at the tent show, “a number of negroes crowded in front of the seats reserved for the whites,” the Beacon reported. Deputy Sheriff Ernest Lucas, who hailed from a prominent local family, asked the Black people to move, and “all obeyed except for Sherrod, the negro doctor,” the report said. After Lucas repeated his order and the 39-year-old still wouldn’t move, the deputy hit him on the head with his nightstick.
The doctor fell to his knees and then “got up fighting, striking the officer with a stick,” the paper maintained. The deputy then shot Sherrod in the right arm, causing a flesh wound as a mob of white men started gathering.
The law officers pulled Sherrod away and rushed him to the local jail and called a white doctor, the Beacon reported. Learning that the mob was en route to the jail, officers then took Sherrod out back and told him to leave before his wounds were dressed.
When the angry mob arrived to kidnap Sherrod, one of them pretended to be drunk, and the others told the Black jailer to open the door to lock him up, then drew their pistols and took his keys to search the jail for Sherrod.
Not finding the doctor, the mob went to Sherrod’s home; he wasn’t there, but they set it on fire. The wooden structure burned rapidly, threatening Noah Scales’ mill and lumber yard; W.F. and Harry Patty’s cotton mill and gin; and the entire Black community where Sherrod lived. The Beacon, which at least feigned outrage at the attempt to lynch Sherrod and the burning of his home, added that the fire was ultimately “beneficial to the owner, as Sherrod carried insurance to the amount of $1500 on his house, furniture and library.”
The Beacon reported that Sherrod was hiding “somewhere out in the county” and had requested to return, promising he would be on “good behavior.” The paper—then run by the grandson of Henry C. Ferris who had denied and belittled accounts of Ku-Klux terrorism in 1871—reported rumors that Sherrod would sell his drugstore. Publisher Douglas C. Ferris didn’t seem happy about attention the mob attack would bring to Macon, saying they had “spat upon and fouled with contempt the law … which should be the particular care and pride of white men.”
“Best citizens think highly of (Sherrod) and his conduct and bearing,” the slightly-more-woke 1906 Beacon reported, adding that “he’s never had any trouble with any white man.” It then both-sides-ed the victim, indicating that Sherrod was involved in labor organizing. “Others, with deep race prejudices, believe him to be a dangerous man, and all the more dangerous for the present attitude of the servant question in this vicinity, and whenever a cook or house girl failed to show up, he was held in some way responsible.”
In an adjacent editorial, the later-generation Ferris took a dim view of the mob’s intentions: “Lynching is contrary to law. Participation in the illegal excution (sic) of a criminal is as much murder as any other from of (sic) the taking of human life.” Still, he understood the instinct. “Yet, there are circumstances under which prompt punishment—even vengeance—is so much a part of human nature that it’s inflictist is weakened,” he wrote, adding that lynching “might be sometimes regarded with a certain sympathy.”
But it was sick to enjoy it as so many Noxubee Countians had and would still do in the future,” the Ferris grandson wrote, bemoaning the “element of taking pleasure in it that makes the lynching spirit one of the greatest perils to a community or country….” Plus, he added, “the death of the wretch” makes “all further wreaking of vengeance futile.”
The Beacon acknowledged in the same edition under the headline “Macon’s First Riot” that it had “failed to ‘touch wood’” when it had reported a “[d]eplorable killing of a few weeks ago,” of a victim removed from the jail (a report the Mississippi Free Press has not yet found). The Beacon noted then “that there had never been any trouble in Macon between the races and that our jail had never been attacked or entered by a mob.” The admission, however, did not follow up with any details of Noxubee County’s long and bloody history of white terrorism.
Of course, the near-miss murder of a prominent Black doctor would be far from the last attempted or actual lynching Macon and Noxubee County would see, with Black murders at least in the double digits, an unknowable number of beatings and threats in the past and future, and the 1919 Macon Riot still ahead.
But, like many of today’s shielded grands and great-grands of the progenitors of local inequity and racism, it’s possible D.C. Ferris didn’t know about all the terrorism his own grandfather had defended as Beacon proprietor. And maybe he hadn’t read archived newspapers that had helped embed viral systemic racism into Noxubee County’s white culture, belief system and climate, replacing it with a naive romanticism that would last much longer into the future than knowledge of the atrocities and the challenges of daily life and advancement for Black citizens.
Like many terrorized Black people before him, Dan Sherrod did not return to his hometown after he was beaten, shot, chased, and his home and books burned. He took his talents south to Lauderdale County where, before the end of 1906, he went into debt to open the Sherrod Drug Co. His “Who’s Who of the Colored Race” listing says he accumulated property exceeding $30,000 in value—nearly half a million dollars today—and was the secretary of the U.S. Board of Examining Surgeons for four years. He was the president of the Mississippi Colored Anti-Tuberculosis League and the Mississippi Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Association.
Dr. Sherrod, a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1912, 1916 and 1920, married Bessie Lena Williamson of Meridian in 1913, was a deacon in his Missionary Baptist church and is buried in the city’s Odd Fellows Cemetery, a historic Black masonic burial ground and part of three 10th Avenue historic African American cemeteries that would see neglect over the decades.
After Deputy Lucas smacked Dr. Sherrod over the head that 1906 evening for not deferring to white people, Noxubee County residents of all races and ethnicities would no longer benefit from his leadership, drive, and focus on progress in a county that would lose population, businesses and opportunity for the next century through today. Race violence and policing shaped by societal bias and segregation would, however, continue to lodge inequity and inexcusable challenges into what has proved to be America’s most resilient community of citizens.
Early white terrorists, and their supporters and apologists, wanted future generations long past their own deaths to enjoy the same racist spoils and power. That meant a 20th-century barrage of lynchings and threats through the Civil Rights Movement; attempts to keep schools segregated and majority-Black public schools underfunded; the use and teaching of “innate beastiality” lies by the Citizens Council in the 1960s and beyond, which was even taught in original segregation schools in the 1960s and used as a legal excuse to try to block school integration in Mississippi.
It means the kind of racist policing and prosecution that has put so many innocent Black men in Mississippi prisons or on death row, like Kennedy Brewer and Levon Brooks, both wrongly convicted of molesting and killing two toddlers in the early 1990s in Noxubee County.
Reconstruction-era actions also paid racism forward to cause formerly booming towns like Shuqualak and Macon to crumble into poverty with rampant building decay and de facto segregation in schools and neighborhoods, with many white Mississippians still blaming Black neighbors for inequities and systemic roadblocks and traps that their own ancestors set and activated years ago. Like possibly D.C. Ferris, many of the progeny may not even know when they’re using the same language of blame and excuse-making white terrorists shaped many years ago or, perhaps, the role their own people played.
James Rives, a white attorney and former Confederate soldier from Noxubee County, summarized the forward-looking views of local white supremacists to the Select Committee in 1871: “The apprehension seems to be this; that the conferring of the right of suffrage on the negro, and his equality before the law, and his right to all the privileges of the free schools, will in process of time bring the two races together in the schoolroom as children, and that in that way the principles of their children and the rising generation will eventually be more or less affected.”
Still, there is inherited and lasting Black resilience in every county in Mississippi including Noxubee. For Dixon-McCloud’s family, the terrorism backfired on the systemic bigots: That history helped instill a devout focus on education and political involvement despite the threats. They stayed and build community and businesses, and they still invest their time and energy into reversing the inequities such white supremacy, fear and terrorism baked in for generations of Black families in Noxubee County and beyond.
But it’s hard to change systemic and historic racism and inequity, which ultimately has a negative impact on all races, when so many deny it exists. With Black and white children today largely on separate education tracks in Mississippi, with continued efforts to only teach children “positive” history and keep tax dollars out of public schools a la 1871, there is no telling when communities and schools will actually get the chance, or find the will, to bring the races together in a meaningful, solutions-driven way.
It certainly won’t happen in separate and usually unequal schools that would make the Ku Klux Klan OGs snicker and cheer in their graves. The old white terrorists must not continue to win the war they started.
Torsheta Jackson contributed to this report. The above historic report is part of the Mississippi Race Violence Project and the Noxubee County education focus in the “(In)Equity and Resilience: Black Women, Systemic Barriers, COVID-19” project. The Mississippi Free Press and the Jackson Advocate are collaborating in the systemic-reporting project with initial support by the Solutions Journalism Network.
Visit the BWC Project microsite for all stories to date here. Read Torsheta Jackson’s overview of conditions in her native Noxubee County and its embedded systemic inequities, and Donna Ladd’s piece on the history of white segregated academies and schools in Noxubee County.
Write [email protected] to get involved with the project, participate in a solution circle or to sponsor ongoing work in this project, initially focusing on Noxubee, Hinds and Holmes counties.
Correction: Donna Ladd originally referred to author Michael Newton as Michael Newman in the above story. This piece also referred to Travonder Dixon-McCloud as a school psychologist, when she is in fact a clinical psychologist. We apologize for the errors.