After Slavery: Educator Resources

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9. North Carolina Conservatives Attempt to Frame a Union League Official

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Six: Pursuing Citizenship: Justice & Equality in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Across the South, the conservative reaction to the granting of the franchise to blacks shared certain features. Prominent among these patterns was the attempt to boycott black Republicans by refusing to sell goods or extend credit to them; attempts to ensure that they were unable to rent land and, most painfully of all, attempts to deny them employment. In the actions of local officials, however, we can also see a more coercive approach evolving, one which would eventually find an outlet in paramilitary activity. In this newspaper account we get an eyewitness account of the attempt to victimize a prominent black Republican. The identity of the gentleman correspondent is unknown.

North Carolina Conservatives Attempt to Frame a Union League Official

A difficulty occurred in Wilson county on Saturday, between Zeno H. Green, white, and Dave Ruffin, colored, in which the latter was shot and slightly wounded in the leg. Green was arrested and bound over to the Supreme Court.

Afterwards Bill Grimes, negro, President of a Union League, made a long, violent and incendiary speech to the negroes, from the courthouse steps. He and other negroes used threatening language, and urged the burning of houses and killing of the whites. About 11 o-'clock that night Green's barn was discovered to be on fire, but he and his family were afraid to venture out of the house for fear of being murder.

The negro Grimes was seen near the barn just before the fire. He was arrested, tried before a magistrate, and his guilt so clearly established, that in default of $300 bal he was sent to jail. There is considerable excitement in the community, but hopes are entertained that no further disturbances will occur.

A gentleman writing from Edgecombe county, North Carolina, to a friend in Philadelphia, on the 28th ult., says: "Cases are frequently reported to me of physicians refusing to attend the sick, because their relatives were Republicans, or expressed their intention to vote for Grant and Colfax. One man came into my office and told me that his little boy died on Monday for want of medical aid. No physician in the part of the country where he lived would attend the boy, because he was a Radical; one store keeper kept him from eight o'clock in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon, and would not sell him any thing, because he persistently said he would vote for Grant. One man asked me to send for a Northern physician, because the faculty of the country would not attend his wife, and she was at the point of death. Did I tell you about the affair in Wilson county, a few weeks ago? The authorities, all rebels, and equal to Ku-Klux, arrested a colored man named Grimes, on the charge of burning a barn, but Grimes proved himself to any reasonable and unprejudiced mind perfectly innocent. But he is the leader of the Union League, and they wanted to rake him up, as he had made a severe speech against them and in favor of the Radicals the day before. A delegation of colored men came for me twenty miles. I went.

I asked for a hearing for Grimes in my presence. It was not granted. I offered to bail him. This offer was rejected. A rebel drew his revolver on me in the court house, behind my back. Some one more prudent stopped his shooting. I left, telling them I would have Grimes out, and the next morning they released him to prevent my having the gratification of doing it, so I was told. Grimes wouldn't promise them to vote for Seymour and Blair, but the next day he raised a company and went to the Raleigh Convention.


  1. "Serious Difficulty in Wilson County-Negro Outrage," New Orleans Times September 1, 1868;
  2. "Spirit of the Southern Democracy," Cincinnati Daily Gazette, November 10, 1868


Questions to Consider

  1. How can we account for the discrepancy in these two accounts of the incident in Wilson county? Which of the two do you find most believable, and why? If you had access only to the first rendering of the story, what would you have concluded about Grimes's part in the fire?

  2. Judging from the second account, how well-organized was the conservative boycott against Republicans?

  3. The correspondent from Edgecombe County describes local authorities in Wilson County as "equal to Ku Klux." What does he mean by this?

  4. Judging from the article, why might conservatives target Grimes? How can the Republican Party protect freedmen against the kind of victimization experienced by Grimes in this case? What will be the consequences if they are unable to do so?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Six