Election Riot of 1874

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Election Riot of 1874
Part of the Reconstruction Era
Date November 3, 1874
Location Barbour County, Alabama
Result Republican government overthrown
Belligerents
White League

United States

Voters
Casualties and losses
None 8 dead, 70 injured

The Election Riot of 1874 or Coup of 1874 took place on election day, November 3, 1874, near Eufaula, Alabama in Barbour County, where blacks comprised a majority of the population and had been electing Republican candidates to office. Members of an Alabama chapter of the White League, a paramilitary group supporting the rise of the Democratic Party, attacked black Republicans, killing at least seven and wounding 70, while driving away more than 1,000 unarmed blacks at the polls. In attacking the polling place in Spring Hill, the League killed the 16-year-old son of a white Republican judge, they turned all Republicans out of office and declared the Democrats as winners.

Background[edit]

The White League had formed in 1874 as an insurgent, white Democratic paramilitary group in Grant Parish and nearby parishes[1] on the Red River of the South in Louisiana. It started with members of the white militia who had committed the Colfax Massacre in Louisiana in 1873. Historians such as George Rabe consider groups such as the White League and Red Shirts as a "military arm" of the Democratic Party, as its members worked openly to disrupt Republican meetings, and attacked and intimidated voters to suppress black voting, they courted press attention rather than operating secretly.

Chapters spread to Alabama and other states in the Deep South. A similar paramilitary group were the Red Shirts, who originated in Mississippi and became active in the Carolinas. Both paramilitary groups contributed to the Democrats' regaining control in the state legislatures in the late 1870s, the Red Shirts were still active in the 1890s and were implicated in the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 in North Carolina.[2]

Events[edit]

On election day, November 3, 1874, an Alabama chapter of the White League invaded Eufaula, killing at least seven black Republicans, injuring at least 70 more, and driving off more than 1,000 unarmed Republicans from the polls,[3] the group moved on to Spring Hill, where members stormed the polling place, destroying the ballot box, and killing the 16-year-old son of a white Republican judge in their shooting.[4]

The White League refused to count any Republican votes cast. But, Republican voters reflected the black majority in the county, as well as white supporters, they outnumbered Democratic voters by a margin greater than two to one. The League declared the Democratic candidates victorious, forced Republican politicians out of office, and seized every county office in Barbour County in a kind of coup d'état,[5] such actions were repeated in other parts of the South in the 1870s, as Democrats sought to regain political dominance in states with black majorities and numerous Republican officials. In Barbour County, the Democrats followed up by auctioning off as slaves (for a maximum cost of $2 per month), or otherwise silencing, all Republican witnesses to the events, so that they could not testify to the coup if the case went to federal court.[5]

Legacy[edit]

Due to the actual and threatened violence by the White League, blacks began to stay away from the polls in Barbour County, they no longer voted in sufficient number to retain Republican domination of politics. By the late 1870s, Democrats controlled the Alabama state legislature and Reconstruction ended with the withdrawal of federal troops. Intimidation of black voters was repeated through the late 19th century, as they continued to elect local Republican officials in many states.

In 1901 the Democratic-dominated state legislature in Alabama, like other southern states, followed Mississippi's lead to end such election-related violence by passing a new constitution that effectively disfranchised most blacks by such measures as poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and white primaries. Poll taxes and literacy tests also disfranchised tens of thousands of poor whites in Alabama, although the Democratic legislature had promised whites would not be affected by the new measures, politicians wanted to preclude poor whites allying with blacks in Populist-Republican coalitions.[6] With disfranchisement achieved, the legislature passed laws imposing racial segregation and other elements of Jim Crow, a system that lasted well into the 1960s, at that time, the gains of the Civil Rights Movement led to Congressional passage of legislation in the mid-1960s that prohibited segregation and began to enforce the constitutional rights for minorities to suffrage and equal protection under the law.

In 1979, to commemorate the election riot, the state erected a historical marker located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 82 and Barbour County Road 49 near Comer, Alabama, it leaves much out of the account.

It reads:

Near here is Old Spring Hill, the site of one of the polling places for the November 3, 1874 local, state and national elections. Elias M. Keils, scalawag and Judge of the City Court of Eufaula, was United States supervisor at the Spring Hill ballot box. William, his 16 year-old son, was with him, after the polls closed, a mob broke into the building, extinguished the lights, destroyed the poll box and began shooting. During the riot, Willie Keils was mortally wounded, the resulting Congressional investigation received national attention. This bloody episode marked the end of the Republican domination in Barbour County. - Erected by the Historic Chattahoochee Commission, 1979.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Parishes" in the State of Louisiana are administrative regions basically analogous to "Counties" in most other States of the United States of America.
  2. ^ LeRae Umfleet, "Chapter 3: Practical Politics", 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission Report, North Carolina Dept. of Cultural Resources
  3. ^ Mary Ellen Curtin, Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865-1900, University Press of Virginia, 2000, p. 55
  4. ^ Curtin (2000), Black Prisoners, pp. 55-56.
  5. ^ a b Curtin (2000), Black Prisoners, p. 56
  6. ^ Glenn Feldman, The Disenfranchisement Myth: Poor Whites and Suffrage Restriction in Alabama, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004, pp. 135–136

External links[edit]