Dispatch from a Mississippi Colored Farmers’ Alliance (1889)

The Colored Farmers’ Alliance, an African American alternative to the whites-only Southern Farmers’ Alliance, organized as many as a million black southerners against the injustices of the predominately cotton-based, southern agricultural economy. Black Populists, however, were always more vulnerable to the violence of white southern conservatives than their white counterparts. Here, the publication The Forum publishes an account of violence against black Populists in Mississippi.

Some Knights of Labor in Louisiana ventured to ask their employers for a larger share of the plantation crops; they were called rioters, and shot down in cold blood. Such occurrences have taken place in various sections. Take, for instance, the case of the suppression of the Farmers’ Alliances at Minter City, Mississippi. Minter City is in the rich, cotton-growing region of Tallahatchie County. White lecturers of the Farmers’ Alliances went there and organized Alliance stores. Colored people joined the organizations. The Alliance at Durant, on the Illinois Central Railroad, advanced supplies. The farmers began to patronize these stores, instead of the local traders, who had charged them enormous profits, swallowing up their little earnings. These local traders determined that the Alliances should be broken up. The annexed extracts from the St. Louis “Globe-Democrat,” in a dispatch dated December 2, 1889, tell how it was done.

“Of all the’ Nigger killings’ charged up to Mississippi, the recent campaign in the Tallahatchie country was the worst. The smallest estimate of the number shot is 20. The largest return of casualties is 200 dead. Probably 40 Negroes were murdered before the work ceased. The sole offense which called for such a terrible lesson was the organization of a Colored Farmers’ Alliance, and the attempt to put in practice the plan of patronizing an Alliance store. Against the right of the Negro to enjoy the benefits of the Farmers’ Alliance organization, the white store-keepers and planters of the Tallahatchie country banded themselves together. They began by exiling Cromwell, the agent of the commercial company. The usual reports now went out that the Negroes were organizing and arming for a race conflict. Then the killing began. … There was no battle. There was no resistance by the Negroes. The white store-keepers and planters, armed with Winchesters, rode through the country picking out their victims. … The condemned man was made to stand facing a tree, and a volley was fired at his back. Then the white store-keepers and planters rode on to the next place. It is known that at least 20 Negroes were killed in this way. … The outline of facts comes from white men and Democrats. … When the white store-keepers and planters had concluded their work they met and adopted the following resolutions:

“Whereas, it is the sense of this meeting that the organization known here as the Colored Farmers’ Alliance is being diverted from its original or supposed purpose,

“Resolved, that we, the planters and citizens of Tallahatchie River, hereby request the Durant Commercial Company to desist from selling goods or loaning money to said organization … and we hereby serve notice that goods or other things shipped to the secretaries or managers of said Alliance shall not be delivered. …We do not intend to, and we will not submit to, a combination subversive of our fortunes, our lives, and our property.

“Resolved, that the secretary of this meeting be required to notify the editor of the Colored Farmers’ ‘Alliance Advocate,’ published at Valden, Miss., that the issuance of copies of his paper to subscribers at the Shell Mound, McNutt, Sunnyside, Minter City, Graball, and Sharkey post offices shall be stopped, and to notify him further that a disregard of this notice will be treated as it should deserve by a united and outraged community.

“Resolved, that the members of this meeting pledge themselves individually and collectively to carry out these resolutions in letter and spirit.

“Resolved, that the Secretary forward a copy of the proceedings of this meeting to said Durant Commercial Company and the editor of the Colored Farmers’ ‘Alliance Advocate,’ by mail.”

The local Tallahatchie county paper says:

“These resolutions look harsh and arbitrary, but when the fearful ignorance and prejudice of the Negroes are taken into account, it is indisputable that a combination of any kind among them is dangerous and needs more or less surveillance. They frequently prostitute their churches and benevolent orders to wrongful purposes.”

In view of the incidents and purposes of the foregoing brutal and bloody Minter City tragedy, well does the “Globe-Democrat” ask: “What will the National Farmers’ Alliance do about this?” On the other hand, what, may we ask, will not the southern Democrats do when the southern Farmers’ Alliances not only organize co-operative stores, but also undertake to elect members of the Farmers’ Alliances as State officers and congressmen?

We give the answer: they will not be allowed a free canvass or an honest count. They will be trampled under foot by reckless southern Democrats. Free politics does not exist at the South. Freedom is there a mockery to the black man; suffrage is a sham to all Republicans. All that a national law can accomplish toward fair elections at the South, both for the Republican and Farmers’ Alliance candidates, should be done. But more than that is needed. When southern Democrats like Senator Pugh openly proclaim that national laws, constitutionally enacted, are to be resisted at the South unto bloodshed, there should be aroused everywhere at the North a sentiment of indignation; and this, growing stronger each day, should at last resemble that northern uprising of former days, which, overcoming commercial cowardice and dough-faced subserviency, first thrust slavery back to its gloomy lair, and next, on due provocation, invaded its precincts and destroyed the monster forever.’

Source: The Forum, vol. 9 (New York: Forum Publishing Company, 1889), 716-717. Available online via Google Books (https://books.google.com/books?id=S3cXAQAAIAAJ).