UPDATED: 9:30 a.m. ET, Dec. 7, 2023
On this day in history, hundreds of African Americans were lynched for coming to the defense of the first Black sheriff in a Mississippi county in 1874. It is one of the more shameful aspects of American history that has seemingly been forgotten amid this country’s purported nationwide racial reckoning.
The carnage was called the “Vicksburg Massacre,” named for the town in which it took place. Vicksburg was part of Warren County Sheriff Peter Crosby’s jurisdiction. But the racist white men living there didn’t like having a Black man as its top law enforcement officer and “forcibly removed him,” the Vicksburg Post reminded its readers in a news story published in 2015.
#tdih 1874 Vicksburg Massacre
Whites attacked Black citizens who had organized to defend Peter Crosby.
— Zinn Ed Project (@ZinnEdProject) December 7, 2023
Crosby was a former slave and fought in the Union army, which further enraged the group that the Vicksburg Post kindly referred to as an “angry mob.”
When they were finished with Crosby, they went after Vicksburg’s other Black residents. The Zinn Education Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes teaching history, estimated anywhere “from 75 to 300” Black people were killed — or lynched, a violent, hateful term that does not only refer to hangings.
#OnThisDay 1875, Peter Crosby, a Black sheriff, was shot in the head in the wake of the Vicksburg Massacre in which armed White Leagues overthrew the Reconstruction government in Mississippi, killing up to 300 Black Americans. #history https://t.co/zPVbTbJDRe pic.twitter.com/8mPSdetzpi
— Jerry Mitchell (@JMitchellNews) June 7, 2023
The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit criminal justice organization, has written extensively about the “Vicksburg Massacre” and put the little-known but very ugly stain on American history into its proper perspective:
“During the Reconstruction era that followed Emancipation and the Civil War, Black Mississippians made progress toward political equality. Despite the passage of Black codes designed to oppress and disenfranchise Black people in the South, under the protection of federal troops in place to enforce the newly established civil rights of Black people, many Black men voted and served in political office on federal, state, and local levels.
Following this brutal attack, federal troops were sent to Vicksburg and Mr. Crosby was appointed as sheriff again. However, in early 1875, a white man named J.P. Gilmer was hired to serve as Sheriff Crosby’s deputy. After Sheriff Crosby tried to have Mr. Gilmer removed from office, Mr. Gilmer shot Sheriff Crosby in the head on June 7, 1875. Mr. Gilmer was arrested for the attempted assassination but never brought to trial. Mr. Crosby survived the shooting but never made a full recovery, and had to serve the remainder of his term through a representative white citizen.”
Small but powerful document I just transcribed for @CWRGMatUSM: telegram to Gov. Ames from Peter Crosby, Black sheriff of Vicksburg. “I shall not be able to retain peaceble possession of my office.” Three days later, the Vicksburg massacre: https://t.co/6CDMdck9X5 @ZinnEdProject pic.twitter.com/q86psMchWm
— DeeDee Baldwin (@DeeDeeBaldwinMS) February 27, 2023
It’s important to recognize that this type of violence has continued up until this day in America; it just presents itself differently.
White supremacist-informed domestic terrorism has not just endured the decades since the racist coup that targeted Sheriff Peter Crosby in Vicksburg; it has also thrived.
It was only this past summer when a racist white man targeted a historically Black college campus in Jacksonville, Florida, in what became a thwarted effort to carry out gun violence and kill African Americans. When that failed, the hateful gunman drove a short distance away and initiated a mass shooting with an AR-15-style rifle adorned with swastikas that intentionally killed three Black people at a Dollar General store.
On Dec. 7, 1874, the Reconstruction era “Vicksburg Massacre” occurred in Mississippi, with estimates ranging from 75 to 300 African Americans killed. Whites attacked Black citizens who had organized to defend Sheriff Peter Crosby. pic.twitter.com/T4ohomyjB5
— MACCEXCLUSIVESAPPAREL (@maccexclusives2) December 7, 2019
Never mind the fact that police continue killing Black people at will and getting away with it because their purported fear for their lives left them with no other point of recourse than to shoot to kill…
While the numbers pale in comparison to the kind of vigilante violence that killed Black people just for being Black in the 1800s and before, the motivation for such hate keeps revealing itself in different forms and shows no signs of slowing as 2024 rapidly approaches.