On this dayNov 03, 1874

White Mob Wages Deadly Violence Against Black Community Seeking to Vote

On Election Day, November 3, 1874, local white residents in Eufaula, Alabama, determined to regain political dominance in the county that they had lost during Reconstruction, used terror and intimidation to suppress Black votes, ultimately waging a violent, deadly massacre.

As the 1874 election neared, white employers openly fired any Black workers who intended to vote for Elias Keils, a white candidate who supported the aims of Reconstruction, for the position of city court judge. False rumors spread that Black residents planned to violently drive white voters from the polls, and white residents began stockpiling guns near Eufaula polling sites.

Judge Keils tried to notify state and federal officials of the danger, but Alabama’s attorney general rebuffed the warning and federal troops stationed in Eufaula refused to intervene.

Despite the risk, hundreds of Black men marched to the downtown Eufaula polling site on November 3. Some Black voters were immediately arrested and jailed on fraud accusations. Around noon, several white men forced a Black man into an alley and threatened to arrest him if he did not vote against civil rights. As witnesses protested, a single gunshot was fired by an unknown individual, harming no one.

Soon afterward, a large mob of white men retrieved the stockpiled guns stored nearby and fired “indiscriminately” into the crowd of mostly unarmed Black voters. Within minutes, 400 shots had been fired, killing at least six Black people, and possibly many more based on some estimates; as many as 80 additional Black people were left injured. Many survivors fled, including an estimated 500 Black people who had not yet voted.

Later that day, a white mob attacked another county polling station in Spring Hill, Alabama, where Judge Keils was the election supervisor. The mob destroyed the ballot box, burned the ballots inside, and killed Judge Keils’s teenage son Willie.

Although the identities of many white perpetrators of the massacre were known, no white person was ever convicted. Instead, a Black man named Hilliard Miles was convicted and imprisoned for perjury after identifying members of the white mob. Decades later, Braxton Bragg Comer, whom Mr. Miles had named as a perpetrator of the massacre, was elected governor of Alabama.

The Eufaula Massacre and its aftermath showed Black residents that exercising their new legal rights—particularly by voting—made them targets for deadly attacks and that they could not depend on authorities for protection.

The result was mass voter suppression. While 1,200 Black Eufaula residents voted in the 1874 election, only 10 cast ballots in 1876. That legacy remains. Today, the population of Barbour County is nearly 50% Black but white officials hold 8 of 12 elected county positions. In 2016, the county had the highest voter purge rate in the U.S.

Learn more about the history of racial violence during Reconstruction and how it was used to suppress political reform and hinder Black political development.  

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