Part 2, Conclusion, of
The King Street Riot of 18761
The Most Violent Race Riot in Downtown Charleston
by Gene Kizer, Jr.
(Continued from Part 1. It is best to read Part 1 first to
get the background. At the end of Part 1 is a link to Part 2.
Click here to go to Part 1.)
The King Street Riot
The next night, Wednesday, September 6, 1876, the Democratic Hampton and Tilden Colored Club of Ward 4 met at Archer's Hall, corner of King and George Streets. The meeting was conducted by black Democrat J. B. Jenkins, vice-president, with some whites present. White lawyer Joseph W. Barnwell spoke as did several blacks including Jenkins himself, Isaac B. Rivers and J. W. Sawyer. There had been a threat made that two black Republican gangs, the Live Oak and Hunkidory Clubs, planned to break up the meeting and kill the black Democrats, so when the meeting adjourned around 10:15 p.m., each black Democrat was put in the middle of six or seven whites2 and the line headed out onto King Street led by Joseph Barnwell.3
Alfred B. Williams writes:
The Hunkidories and Live Oaks, negro Radical Republican secret organizations, had gathered their forces and were massed, waiting, in King Street armed with pistols, clubs and sling shots, the last made with a pound of lead attached to a twelve inch leather strap and providing a deadly weapon at close range.4
On both sides of King Street there were jeers and taunts as the line of whites and black Democrats marched quietly up King Street toward Citadel Green (Marion Square). When they got to the German church, St. Matthews, "a mob of 150 negroes, armed with staves, clubs and pistols, came yelling after them, hurrahing for Hayes and Wheeler."5
The whites leading the line stopped, a black rioter ran up and "knocked the first white man he met in the head with a 'slung shot,' and the crowd immediately behind him fired a pistol into the crowd of whites, shouting that they would have the colored Democrats out even if they had to kill every man in the crowd to do it."6 Several whites shot over the heads of the mob to cover other whites who quickly took the black Democrats to the federal troops stationed at the Citadel where they were safe. All the shooting had attracted more black rioters and instantly there were 300 "yelling and shouting and breathing threats of violence."7
The 45 or so whites in the crowd "retreated backwards up King Street, facing the negroes and keeping them off as well they could by returning the fire from the pistols of the mob." Just as the whites reached John Street "the negro mob was reinforced by another multitude of blacks who swept out of John Street and cut off the retreat of the whites." These reinforcements were yelling "Blood!"8 The whites were now completely surrounded and outnumbered some 500 to 45. Things were desperate and it quickly became a hand to hand fight with pistols going off rapidly.9
Earlier, whites had somehow gotten word to the police at Broad and Meeting and finally four or five arrived though they were "powerless to restrain the infuriated mob."10 A black policeman, Charles Green, with Justice Reed and "a white man named Plaspohl, then came up and called on a posse of citizens white and black to assist him." The rioters kept yelling "Blood!" though it appeared for a moment the mob might be quieted as curses and threats seemed to get fewer, then a "skirmish" broke out between a white man and black on the outskirts and that started it all over. Green was surrounded and pistols "were going off every moment, and amid the firing Policeman Green fell shot through the abdomen." Soon, the police "were reinforced by members from the upper and lower Guardhouses, and succeeded in separating the whites from the blacks."11
A detail left to take the wounded to the stationhouse "and the fighting immediately began again." White men "by this time numbered only about fifteen" as there were "large numbers of them (at least 30) having been knocked senseless with clubs and palings." Fifteen minutes later, the negroes "had complete mastery of the field." Policeman Green "was the only colored man up to that time who was hurt, and he was shot it is believed by one of the negro mob, who attempted to fire at a white man he was protecting." Other blacks had been knocked down and some had "bad gashes over the head" but none was seriously hurt.
There is no question the black Democrats would have been brutally beaten or murdered by the Republican mobs had it not been for the white men who risked their lives protecting them. One young white man with a wife and child at home did lose his life in the melee. The planners of this ambush must not have taken into account that the black Democrats could be turned over to federal troops there at the Citadel for protection; or maybe something went wrong with the timing of the ambush which gave the whites a single fleeting chance to get the black Democrats to safety, which they did successfully.
It is entirely possible that the timing element that went wrong for the planners of the ambush was the whites stopping to face the first mob. The ambush's planners probably figured the whites, when faced with the first angry mob of 150 armed blacks, would break and run, or their formation would fall apart, or they would at least continue up King Street. The whites, stopping, composed and determined, was probably the last thing the ambush's planners figured would happen.
It is a certainty that if the whites and black Democrats had advanced just a block further up King Street, the whites would not have been able to get the black Democrats to safety with the federal troops at the Citadel and all of them, most likely, would have been murdered.
The black Republican rioters then gathered "in crowds of forty and fifty at each corner along King Street, extending from Calhoun street to the Upper Guardhouse" (located to the north on the opposite end of King from the main police station at Broad and Meeting). At that upper guardhouse, another infuriated black mob threatened to break in and beat to death all the wounded whites who had been taken there.12
Any poor white man who happened along was beaten as reported by the News and Courier:
White men on the street were scarce, and as soon as one turned a corner or came along on his way home, the crowd in his immediately vicinity would give a yell and go for him with brickbats, stones and pistol shots. The crowds at the corners above and below them, hearing the pistol shots, would close up, and in a few moments the unfortunate as surrounded by a pack of over two hundred negroes, who did everything but kill him. They would knock him down with brickbats, and as soon as he would get up to run they would fire pistol shots at him and over his head, while the crowd ahead would rearrest him and give him another beating.13
A reporter observed "a mob of negroes chasing a white man, who had hardly a vestige of clothing upon his person, and covered with blood from a dozen wounds." The poor man "was knocked down several times with brickbats or clubs, and several pistol shots were fired at him." A police Lt. Gouldin with two other policemen rescued the man and carried him home "in an almost lifeless condition."14
The driver of one of the railway cars, Edward Salters, was chased down King Street to his home. He barely made it but the mob chasing and firing pistols at him stayed outside and cursed and threw brickbats for a half hour. They broke out most of the windows and "almost every bannister in the piazzas." The howling mob left only after spotting another victim.15
By midnight, the riot was over though isolated violence continued all night. White men had been "compelled to stay in their homes with shivering and terror stricken families because any white man venturing on the street alone invited death uselessly."16
The wounded inside the upper police stationhouse "presented a sickening sight, men lying drenched in blood over the yard and in the hospital." The white man shot in the abdomen, Mr. J. M. Buckner, a bookbinder by trade, 26 years old with a wife and child at home, had been one of the escorts of the black Democrats. He was on a stretcher in excruciating pain, groaning, having been "shot just in the pit of the abdomen." He died the next day.
Another shooting victim, Policeman Charles Green, was also in bad shape but he survived. Two doctors worked all night on the injured, a Dr. Joe Yates and a Dr. Aldrich. Yates had taken off his own shirt and torn it to pieces to make bandages.17
A few of the others who were injured illustrate the types of injuries sustained:
. . . Policeman Lloyd, colored, was lying senseless with a huge gash in the back of his head caused by some stray brickbat or the sharp edge of a paling.
Mr. John Holmes, son of Prof. Francis Holmes, was beaten very badly in the head and body, and spit up quantities of blood.
W. S. White, white, was shot in the back with a pistol ball, but not seriously.
Mr. E. M. Reeder, a white lad of about eighteen years of age, was beaten terribly, his head and forehead being covered with contusions and his clothing being saturated with blood. He fainted twice in the Stationhouse. This young man was rescued and his life saved by Private Lee, of the police force . . . 18
There were far more white casualties than black. The white man killed, Buckner, had reportedly been shot accidentally by another white. Over 50 whites had been severely injured as opposed to a handful of blacks. Among policemen, four white and two black were injured.19
The only rifle company that had assembled the night of the riot was the Carolina Rifle Battalion, no more than 75 strong that night, commanded by Major Theodore G. Barker. They were marched to Hibernian Hall and stood in formation for an hour and a half, listening to the distant sounds of the riot and dying to get into action.
The next day Major Barker took some criticism for not going into action. He had deliberately waited because he had been told the riot was almost over, then over. He published his justification in the paper the next day and admitted they could have killed several black rioters that night, but it would have restarted the riot and brought mobs into the lower end of the city.
Like all Democrat leaders during the 1876 campaign, he knew whites killing blacks would bring the Northern press down on them which would cause President Grant to "fasten the reconstruction government on the state more strongly and cruelly than ever," so that was another reason he held back. As it turned out, with the only death being a white man and few negro arrests, the press accounts around the country were very favorable to the Democrats.20
In giving a more detailed report that Friday, September 8, the News and Courier reported that the riot had raged almost a mile along King Street between Cannon, on the upper end, and Wentworth, on the lower.21
That same day, large notices appeared in the newspaper from Charles H. Simonton, Chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee. The first, dated September 7, 1876, stated that "some colored men, citizens of this County, in the exercise of an unquestionable right, have connected themselves with the Democratic party." It goes on with:
. . . Because of threats made against them that, being colored men, they are Democrats, they have asked the Democratic party to protect them, and they have received from our party promise of such protection.
During the evening of the 6th instant, after a respectable and orderly meeting, the colored men who spoke at that meeting in favor of the Democracy were attacked on their way to their homes by an armed mob of colored people and barely escaped with their lives. Such an occurrence disgraces our community. Its repetition would be a stain upon our manhood.
We call upon all citizens, whatever may be their party or race, to unite with us with every means in their power in affording to these Colored Democrats the most ample protection in the exercise of their rights and citizens to select their own party and to advocate their principles. . . .22
The second, dated September 5, 1876, orders the rifle clubs to defend black Democrats:
The Democratic Party of South Carolina having appealed to the colored citizens to unite with them in the determined effort which is being made to rescue the Government from the Republicans, who have prostituted and degraded it, and having pledged protection to all colored citizens, who, by reason of their uniting with the Democrats, may be subjected to violence or exposed to danger.
The Executive Committee of Charleston County directs that the several Democratic Clubs and organizations throughout the County do promptly organize proper and efficient means for securing to all colored citizens within their respective precincts, who shall unite with them, adequate protection from all violence or injury to which they may be exposed during the canvass and election. The several Clubs will report to this Committee the means which they adopt, and this Committee will afford them all the aid it can command in perfecting the arrangements and redeeming the pledges of protection. . . .
There was also a warning to the local Radical Republican leadership in an article entitled "The Riot and the Remedy," on the editorial page. It ends with:
. . . And now, a word of advice to the men who are at the bottom of all this turbulence and trouble in our usually quiet city. They are well known, though they do not figure at the head of any of the black gangs who have spread alarm and disorder in the community. It is known, also, how easily and absolutely they can control, whenever they choose, the poor ignorant rabble who make up "the party." It is time for them, for their own sakes, to exercise this control, in the interest of public peace and order. It will no doubt be a highly proper thing for them to deplore the consequences of another riot, after it is too late to avert them. But we warn them that this may be not enough to satisfy the citizens whose homes and families are endangered.
The day after the riot, a show of strength included a thousand white members of the Butler Guards and Charleston Light Dragoons assembled to protect black Democrats. The Charleston Light Dragoons began patrolling the streets of Charleston that night. Previously, they had told authorities they were available to assist at any time. Now, they were taking no chances on a poor or ineffective effort by authorities in any future riot. An elaborate communication network was set up and within two hours, 2,000 white men could be assembled. From then until after the election in November "the sound of the hoofs of their horses plodding the streets from nine o'clock to sunrise, in all weathers, was listened for in every part of town and carried to troubled hearts comforting assurance that all might sleep safely, watched over by tireless vigilance and faithfully guarded from danger."23
There were two other violent racial confrontations in the Charleston area during Reconstruction. The first took place at Cainhoy, 12 miles up the Wando River from Charleston during a joint meeting Monday, October 16, 1876, some five weeks after the King Street Riot, and there is strong evidence that it was a black Republican ambush of the Democrats, just like the King Street Riot. There is evidence that the speech of a black Democrat named Delany was the signal for the black Republicans to begin the massacre. The white Democrats, who had a few black Democrats with them, were taken completely by surprise. They were low on ammunition from having shot much of it pleasurably during the boat ride. They had few weapons anyway, just some pocket pistols. The black Republicans apparently had muskets and numerous other weapons hidden and when the trouble started they grabbed them and had an easy time with the whites. Around 40 whites were wounded along with three black Democrats.
One young white man was brutally beaten and had his right eye torn out but survived. Five of the wounded whites were murdered. They had been beaten, hacked, mutilated, then robbed of valuables and clothing. The only black Republican casualty at Cainhoy was an old man killed. No Republican blacks were wounded at Cainhoy.
The last violent race riot of Reconstruction was the Broad Street Riot Wednesday, November 8, 1876, the day after the election, three weeks after Cainhoy, and eight weeks after King Street. It was unplanned and happened due to the volatility of the situation. Blacks and whites were in Broad Street armed, as always, and a shot was accidentally fired causing panic, rumor and a race riot to start. Casualties on Broad Street were: one white man killed, 12 wounded; among black Republicans, none were killed, but 12 were also wounded.
It was during this riot that some black policemen joined the Republican rioters and began shooting at whites from behind the columns of the main police stationhouse at Meeting and Broad.24 One such policeman shot and killed Endicott H. Walter, son of prominent Charleston businessman George H. Walter. They had been returning to work on Adger's Wharf from dinner and apparently had no weapons that were visible.25
The Mississippi Plan and the determined efforts of white and black Democrats got former Confederate General Wade Hampton, III elected governor, though the election was challenged by Republican Chamberlain well into the next year. As part of the deal for receiving South Carolina's electoral votes, Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes removed federal troops in April, 1877, and that secured Hampton's victory and ended Reconstruction in the last, most long-suffering Southern state.26
1 This paper was written 22 years ago and turned in May 2, 1998 for a Victorian Charleston history course taught by Professor Robert P. Stockton at the College of Charleston when I was a middle-age student. The parallels between the violent leftists of the Democrat Party today, and the violent Republican Party during Reconstruction, are striking. Both used (and Democrats today are still using) racial hatred, division, and violence, to stay in power.
2 The accounts of the exact formation of the whites as they protected the black Democrats differ. One says a single black Democrat was put in the middle of six or seven whites, leading one to believe that there were several groups of these whites with a black in the middle, all in a line, since there were several black Democrats at this meeting. Other accounts say that all the blacks were in the middle of a single larger group of whites.
3 "A Bloody Outbreak." News and Courier, Thursday, September 7, 1876; Alfred B. Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, South Carolina's Deliverance in 1876 (Charleston, SC: Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, Publishers, 1935), 120-22; Melinda Meek Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction: The 1876 Riots in Charleston and Cainhoy," South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 86, No. 2 (April, 1985), 105.
4 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 121.
5 "A Bloody Outbreak.", News and Courier, Thursday, September 7, 1876.
8 Williams, Hampton and His Redshirts, 121.
9 "A Bloody Outbreak.", News and Courier, Thursday, September 7, 1876.
15 "A Night of Excitement.", News and Courier, Friday, September 8, 1876.
16 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 122.
17 "A Bloody Outbreak.", News and Courier, Thursday, September 7, 1876.
19 Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction," 106.
20 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 123-26.
21 "A Night of Excitement.", News and Courier, Friday, September 8, 1876.
22 "Democratic Executive Committee.", News and Courier, Friday, September 8, 1876.
23 Williams, Hampton and His Red Shirts, 126-27.
24 For an excellent photograph of this building with its six large columns facing Broad Street, see Robert P. Stockton, The Great Shock, The Effects of the 1886 Earthquake on the Build Environment of Charleston, South Carolina (Easley, SC: Southern HIstorical Press, Inc., 1986), photograph #5 in the photo section following page 22. It shows damage to the top of the building from the earthquake of 1886, but none to the six large stately doric columns. It was from behind one of these columns that a black policeman shot and killed Endicott H. Walter during the race riot of November 8, 1876.
25 John S. Reynolds, Reconstruction in South Carolina, 1865-1877 (Columbia, SC: The State Company, 1905; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), 391-92; Hennessey, "Racial Violence During Reconstruction," 110-11.
26 Louis B. Wright, South Carolina, A Bicentennial History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., and Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1976), 195.