After Slavery: Educator Resources

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7. A. M. E. Pastor S. B. Williams Reports Atrocities to Governor Holden

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Nine: Coercion, Paramilitary Terror, and Resistance in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Prominent white Republicans like Albion W. Tourgée played an important role in making a national audience aware of the brutality being carried out by white paramilitaries in the South. And while they were occasionally its victims, freedpeople bore the brunt of the violence during Reconstruction. Often the defense of local communities fell to grassroots black leaders—Union army veterans, ministers, Loyal League activists—with limited military experience and even less access to suitable weaponry. The following letter is fairly typical of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of letters sent from desperate black communities across the South to Republican officials, who they looked to for protection and assistance.

A. M. E. Pastor S. B. Williams Reports Atrocities to Governor Holden

Hillsboro NC Sept. 16th 1869
Gov. W. W. Holden


I wish to inform your Honor of the state of things in Orange County. It appears that a number of the Ku Klux has taken in hand to murder up whom they may deem improper to live in the community.

You are no doubt acquainted with the fact that two young men of color were taken out of jail, one of shot and has since died from the effects of the wound. They also visited Chapel Hill of which your Honor is aware have been made acquainted. On last Monday night a week, they went some five miles below Hillsboro and took away a young man; on the pretense that they were a going to lodge him in jail.

Search was made for him but to no purpose. I have been creditably informed this morning that he has been found with his tung torn out of his mouth and his throat cut.

My own life has been threatened; and I must be afraid to lie down at night.
Is there no way to put a stop to such outrages[?] Can not your Honor order out a special police as your own Police force to keep the peace of the community and the protection of loyal citizens[?]

Or if not order arms to be sent to some of us that we may protect ourselves. I think the other plan the best. Yet I would like to have arms but am to poor to buy them As inteligence has reached me that my life is threatened.

Fraternally yours

S. B. Williams, Pastor of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church and
Teacher of Freedman's School

Source: S.B. Williams to Governor William W. Holden, Governor Holden Papers, North Carolina State Archives


Questions to Consider

  1. Are there any reasons you can think of why Reverend Wiliams would be more likely than others from Orange County's African American community to correspond with the Governor about these matters? Why might he be a target of Klan violence?

  2. What is the tone of the document? Is Williams deferential towards the Governor? Demanding? What is the significance of the language he uses in seeking "protection for loyal citizens"?

  3. According to this document, are freedpeople willing to organize their own defense? What do they expect from the state?

  4. What factors will Holden consider in deciding how to respond to Williams' letter?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Nine