After Slavery: Educator Resources

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3. Hostility to Freedpeople and Federal Authorities in the South Carolina Upcountry

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.

The following report from a Freedmen's Bureau agent stationed in the South Carolina upcountry conveys, in plain language, the severe limitations that whites were able to impose on black freedom where they were unimpeded by federal intervention or by the likelihood that freedpeople might avenge the violence. In a rural area with a substantial white majority, western South Carolina would continue throughout Reconstruction to serve as a refuge for white paramilitaries like the Ku Klux Klan, eventually leading President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law in the region.

Hostility to Freedpeople and Federal Authorities in the South Carolina Upcountry

[October 23, 1865]

The colored people in this section of the State are not Freedmen and Women. They are nominally such-but their conditions indeed is worse than bondage itself-and ever will be unless this Sub District is flooded with [U. S.] Cavalry-or a civil protective law is enacted at once-and the latter I fear will be no preventative of assassinations-robbery-burglary-assault and battery with intent to kill etc. Crimes are increasing daily. The freedman is safe nowhere except very near the garrison. The US soldiers and freedmen are alike threatened and despised, and a very little respected. The military authorities are seldom obeyed except when necessity compels, and their garrison is limited, hence a majority of the guilty go unpunished.

Some of the desperadoes must be encouraged in their acts of violence and screened from the hands of justice by citizens of boasted connections professing to be loyal and above implication of being in any way party to their outrages.

The determination among a certain class is to get rid of the freedmen and women now their crops are nearly gathered... There are those who delight in killing Negroes and they cherish the same old desire to butcher US Soldiers, which is clearly demonstrated by the fact that I hear to day that five Negroes have been murdered within a week or two in Greenville District also by the fact that three of my commanders have been wantonly murdered within three weeks. Humanity and the integrity of the government demands that more troops be forwarded at once. A battalion of cavalry in addition to the present force is actually needed. We do all we can do with our present force but can not do all that can be done with an ample force of mounted men.

The authorities must remember we are still among our enemies and they communicate no intelligence to us except from necessity, and the negroes are afraid to tell half they know and see.

Source: Lt. Col. C. S. Brown [Anderson Court House] to Brvt. Brig. Genl. C. H. Howards, "Outrage Reports," Records of the Assistant Commissioner for South Carolina, RG 105: Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands


Questions to consider

  1. What evidence does Brown present to support his claim that freedpeople are living in conditions "worse than bondage itself"? How might the series of outrages recounted here affect freedpeople's confidence in the federal commitment to Reconstruction?

  2. According to the document, what is the relationship between the "desperadoes" involved in atrocities against blacks and "respectable" citizens among the white population? Does Brown seem to have solid grounds for suspecting elite acquiescence?

  3. Do military authorities have sufficient resources to suppress the violence? What should be done in these circumstances?

  4. Does the document present any evidence regarding the willingness or ability of blacks to collaborate with federal authorities in suppressing this violence?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Nine