Carrollton Courthouse Massacre

(1886) In February of 1886, Ed and Charley Brown, who were both part Indian and part African-American, were delivering molasses when they ran into James Liddell, a white man, spilling molasses on Liddell. A fight ensued in which Lidell and Ed Brown exchanged heated words. Later, Liddell, who was joined by a group of men, had another encounter with the Brown brothers. This encounter turned into a shootout during which Liddell was injured. The Brown brothers were jailed two days later. A white mob came to the jail, presumably looking for Ed Brown, but got the wrong prisoner. The armed and masked men demanded that Sheriff T.T. Hamilton turn over the keys to the jail. The mob then took Will McKinney, a nineteen year old African-American who had been convicted of manslaughter the year before, and shot and hung him.

On March 12, 1886, the Brown brothers charged James Liddell and six other men with assault with the intent to kill. Before the trial, there were warnings to both African-Americans and whites to keep away from the courthouse on the day of the trial. On March 17, 1886, the trial commenced. Disregarding the warnings, a large number of African-Americans were in the courtroom to witness the trial. During the trial, a mob of armed white men rode into town and entered the courthouse from all four entrances. They flooded upstairs into the courtroom where gunfire erupted. Since the mob was blocking the doorway of the courtroom, the only way out of the building was through two large windows. Many jumped out of the windows to escape.

One newspaper explained, “The crowd around the courthouse, all being strangers, supposed each man trying to escape one of the Browns.”The mob shot at anyone coming out of the windows. There are conflicting reports of the number of men that died that day. In his book, The Negro in Mississippi 1865-1890, Vernon Lane Wharton writes that “ten met immediate death and a large number of others died later from their wounds.”It is known that all the men that died that day were African-American and that both Brown brothers were killed that day.

After the massacre, there was public outrage at the events that occurred on March 17, 1886. The Raymond Gazette called for the identification and punishment of the murderers. Wharton observes, “This seems to be the first example of such a suggestion in the entire history of the period.”The Jackson Clarion also expressed outrage, but indicated that it was unrealistic to think that the members of the mob would be punished for their actions in Carrollton. The editor of the Clarion wrote, “To such considerations we can close our eyes and our ears; but we cannot be blind or deaf to the appeals of the weak who claim and deserve our protection, nor can we be unmindful of the indelible blot that has been put upon the reputation of the State.”Wharton writes that, “such a stand on the part of a paper that for years had insisted that reports of such affairs be suppressed was an indication of remarkable progress.”The massacre was reported across the country. Newspapers reported that even Southerners who were used to a violent racial climate were shocked.

One reason suggested for the violence that occurred in Carrollton, Miss., on March 17, 1886, is that the whites were afraid of the African-Americans gaining political power. Freed slaves were given the right to vote in 1867 as part of Reconstruction and the majority of the voters were African-American. At the time of the 1880 census, Carroll County’s population was 56% black and 44% white. The Cleveland Gazette wrote an article about the Carrollton massacre and explained that “it was, in short, plainly and beyond a doubt a deliberate, cold-blooded massacre, the sole aim of which was to cow the colored voters of the whole region.”The Gazette writes that the effect was that “the colored voters [were] duly intimidated by the wholesale slaughter of their fellows. And the solidity of the South [was] strengthened by the cement of innocent blood.”

After the massacre “balls were lodged in all the walls, ceiling, doors, window sash, piercing the glass, mutilating the benches, etc.” Carrollton native and writer, Elizabeth Spencer, describes seeing the courtroom as a child: “At what age did I first actually see it—the shattered plaster, left just as it had been at the end of a fateful day, the gray lathes exposed beneath, pocked with countless bullet holes?”There is no longer any physical evidence of the massacre at the Carrollton Courthouse. The only evidence that remains is a plaque saying that the courthouse was restored in 1992.

Sources:

Susie James, Carrollton Courthouse “Riot”of 1886, GREENWOOD COMMONWEALTH, March 12, 1996.

VERNON LANE WHARTON, THE NEGRO IN MISSISSIPPI 1865-1890 223 (Harper & Row 1965) (1947).

Susie James, They Didn’t Want Us To Hate, CLARION LEDGER, Dec. 9, 2001, at 1B.

GreeneSpace, http://greenespace.blogspot.com (August 11, 2005, 10:52 AM).

The Carrollton Massacre, CLEVELAND GAZETTE, April 17, 1886, at 2, available at http://dbs.ohiohistory.org/africanam/page.cfm?ID=14899&Current=02_03A.

Bingham Duncan, A History of Carroll County From 1871 (Aug. 4, 1982) (unpublished Masters thesis, University of Mississippi) (on file with J.D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi).

ELIZABETH SPENCER, LANDSCAPES OF THE HEART: A MEMOIR 156 (Random House 1998).

Carroll County