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Red Shirts (Southern United States)

The Red Shirts or Redshirts of the Southern United States were paramilitary groups in the 19th century, active primarily after the formal Reconstruction era of the United States. They first arose in Mississippi in 1875, when Democrat private militias adopted red shirts to make themselves more visible and threatening to Republicans, both whites and freedmen. Similar groups formed in other Southern states and also adopted Red Shirts.

Among the most prominent Red Shirts were supporters of Democratic Party candidate Wade Hampton during the campaigns for the South Carolina gubernatorial elections of 1876 and 1878. The Red Shirts were one of a number of paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana, that arose in the continuing insurgency of white Democrats in the South in the 1870s. Such groups acted as "the military arm of the Democratic Party."[1] While engaging in terrorism, in contrast to secret vigilante groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Red Shirts and other paramilitary groups worked openly, were more organized and directed their efforts at political goals: to restore the Democrats to power by turning out Republicans, and repressing civil rights and voting by blacks.[2] During the 1876 campaign, the Red Shirts of North Carolina also played prominent roles.


[edit] Origins and symbolism

According to E. Merton Coulter in The South During Reconstruction, the red shirt was first used in Mississippi in 1875 by "southern brigadiers" opposed to black Republicans. The Red Shirts were active in disrupting Republican rallies, intimidating and assassinating black leaders, and suppressing black voting at the polls.

The first use of a red shirt in South Carolina was in Charleston on August 25, 1876, during a torchlight parade by Democrats. They were mocking the waving of the bloody shirt speech by Sen. Oliver Morton in the Senate to bolster support for Reconstruction policies of the South. The idea spread. Those accused of the Hamburg Massacre wore red shirts as they marched to their arraignment in Aiken, South Carolina on September 5. Martin Gary, the organizer of the Democratic campaign in 1876 and Hampton's right-hand man, mandated that supporters were to wear red shirts at all rallies and functions.

Donning a red shirt became a source of pride and continued resistance for the white Democrats of South Carolina. Women sewed red flannel shirts and other garments of red; it became fashionable for women to wear red ribbons in their hair or about their waists. For young men, to wear a red shirt was to come of age and compensate for their inability to have contributed to the Southern cause of the Civil War.[3]

[edit] South Carolina

The state Democrats organized parades and rallies in every county of South Carolina. Many of the participants were armed and on horseback, and all wore red. The use of mounted men gave the impression of greater force. African-American Red Shirts were placed in a prominent position for the procession. At gatherings, when Wade Hampton and other Democrats spoke, the Red Shirts would respond energetically, yelling the slogan of the campaign, "Hurrah for Hampton." Such an atmosphere of chants, speeches and armed men in red on horseback created a massive spectacle that united and motivated attendees.

Red Shirts created a show of force to intimidate both white and black bystanders to vote for the Democrats or refrain from voting. The Red Shirts were one of a number of white paramilitary organizations, such as the White League in Louisiana and other Deep South states, that arose to push Republicans out and suppress African Americans' civil rights and voting rights. They were especially active in states with African-American majorities. They broke up Republican meetings, disrupted their organizing, and intimidated or barred blacks at the polls. Many freedmen stopped voting, and a few voted for Democrats under the public pressure. The Red Shirts freely used violence and assassination for intimidation, as did other private militias. In the Piedmont counties of Aiken, Edgefield, Barnwell and others, freedmen were driven from their homes and whipped, and some leaders were murdered. When it came to the 1876 election, in Edgefield and Laurens counties Democrats voted "early and often" and barred freedmen from the polls.[4]

Armed and mounted Red Shirts accompanied Hampton on a tour of the state. They often attended Republican meetings and demanded equal time, although they did not often speak. Among the more peaceful actions, in some cases Red Shirts would hold a barbecue a mile away in order to lure Republicans away from the gatherings and convert them to vote the Democratic ticket.

Hampton positioned himself as a statesman, promising support for education and offering protection from violence that Gov. Chamberlain did not seem able to provide. Nonetheless, only a few freedmen voted for Hampton and most remained loyal to the Republicans. The 1876 campaign was the "most tumultuous in South Carolina's history."[5] "An anti-Reconstruction historian later estimated that 150 Negroes were murdered in South Carolina during the campaign."[6]

After the election on November 7, a protracted dispute between Daniel Chamberlain and Hampton ensued as both claimed victory. Because of the massive election fraud, Edmund Mackey, a Republican member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, called upon the "Hunkidori Club" from Charleston to eject Democratic members from Edgefield and Laurens counties from the House. Word spread through the state. By December 3, approximately 5,000 Red Shirts assembled at the State House to defend the Democrats. Hampton appealed for calm and the Red Shirts dispersed.

As a result of a national political compromise, Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes ordered the removal of Federal troops from the state on April 3, 1877. The white Democrats completed their political takeover of South Carolina. In the gubernatorial election of 1878, the Red Shirts made a nominal appearance as Hampton was re-elected without opposition.

Future South Carolina Democratic politicians such as Ben Tillman and Ellison Smith, proudly claimed their association with the Red Shirts as a bona fide for white supremacy.

[edit] North Carolina

Red Shirts were active in Raleigh, North Carolina and during Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. On November 4, 1898, the Raleigh News & Observer noted that, "The first Red Shirt parade on horseback ever witnessed in Wilmington electrified the people today. It created enthusiasm among the whites and consternation among the Negroes. The whole town turned out to see it. It was an enthusiastic body of men. Otherwise it was quiet and orderly."

The Red Shirts were part of a Democratic campaign to oppose the interracial coalition of Republicans and Populists, which had gained control of the state legislature in the 1894 election. Such biracial coalitions had also occurred in other states across the South, threatening white Democratic control of state legislatures. Upper- and middle-class white populations feared the empowerment of freedmen and poor whites.

To break up the coalition, white Democrats used intimidation to reduce black Republican voting and regain control of the legislature in 1896. They then passed laws and a new constitution disfranchising most African Americans and many poor whites.[7] From 1896 to 1904, black voter turnout in North Carolina was reduced to zero by a combination of provisions such as poll taxes, residency requirements, literacy tests, grandfather clause and more complicated rules for voting. This followed a pattern of similar state actions across the South, starting with Mississippi's new constitution in 1890. After a decade of white supremacy, many people forgot that North Carolina had thriving middle-class blacks.[8]

[edit] Rise

Due to the feelings of political devaluation among many white Democrats in North Carolina, the Democratic party and Red Shirts made it their goal to restore full and total power. The Red Shirts made this possible by disfranchising black voters and practically eliminating the black vote in the state.[9] Red Shirts were first spotted in North Carolina during the October 21, 1898, rally in Fayetteville. At this rally one of the prominent South Carolina Red Shirts leader, Benjamin Tillman, gave a speech that would be followed by a plethora of Red Shirt activities in the state of North Carolina.[9] The North Carolina Red Shirts was a conglomerate of all social classes, including teachers, farmers, merchants and even some elite members of the Democratic party.[10] From that day on much of the Red shirt activities were found in the southeastern part of North Carolina, including "New Hanover, Brunswick, Columbus, and Robeson counties" all of which geographically lie next to the South Carolina border.[10]

Much of the beginning Red shirts activities can be seen during the initiation of the "white supremacy" movements of 1898 and 1900. The white supremacy movements of 1898 were sparked by the increase in black government officials in the state of North Carolina between the years of 1894 and 1897. This increase in black officials forced the "frightened and desperate Democratic Party" to initiate the white supremacy campaign that the Red Shirts would become integral partners in.[11] Unlike the KKK, the Red Shirts only collaborated with the Democratic Party, and wanted the North Carolina population and non-Democrats to know their identities, and by the end of the election in 1898, they would prove to be a potent political force not to be messed with.[9]

[edit] Election of 1898

During the initial reign of Red Shirts terror, the senator of North Carolina, Sen. Jeter Pritchard (R), wrote to Pres. McKinley asking "Will you send deputy United States Marshal to preserve the peace?"[9] The Red Shirts used the tactics of intimidation and sometimes violence to get their point across to non-Democrats not to vote. With the rise in violent and intimidating activities among the Red Shirts, both blacks and threatened whites were buying weaponry to protect themselves. It was also noted by the Senator that most of the issues stemming from Red Shirts activities could be found "in counties where colored people predominate," the primary victims of the Red Shirts' wrath.[9]

In addition to the Senator's concern, Gov. Daniel L. Russell (R), noted to the public that along the southern edge of the state, "armed and lawless" men had taken over due to the increase in crimes and violent activities. The Red Shirts often disrupted many non-Democratic political meeting via "threats, intimidation, and actual violence".[9] Through their violence and intimidation, the Red Shirts successfully deterred many members of the counties from registering to vote in the 1898 state election. Due to the citizens being fearful to register to vote, Gov. Russell put out a proclamation on October 26, 1898, requesting that all "Ill-disposed persons ... to immediately desist from all unlawful practices ... Turbulent conduct, and to preserve peace." Governor Russell's proclamation did not sit well with the lawless men of the Red Shirts; therefore they increased their activity.[9]

[edit] Before the election

The week before the 1898 election, the Red Shirts activities were non-stop, and the threats were so recurrent that many Republicans and Fusionist speakers canceled their engagements, even leading to the withdrawal of the Republican Fusion ticket in Hanover County.[9] A few days before the election, November 2, 1898, the Morning Star newspaper of Wilmington North Carolina took note of a large rally with Red Shirt affiliate Claude Kitchin as the fiery speaker. The rally involved one thousand men with red shirts that marched in the predominantly black areas of Richmond County for 10 miles. Their goal as the newspaper noted was "to show their determination to rid themselves of Negro rule." The intimidation tactic of the Red Shirts was quite successful for "many Negroes [had] taken their names from the registration list."[12]

[edit] Election day

During the November 8, 1898, election Red Shirts wanted to enforce their prior intimidation tactic by riding around the voting precincts on their horses, with rifles and shotguns to deter all Republicans, Fusionists and African-American from the polls. The Red Shirts' activity helped the Democrats win with a 25,000 majority, as headlined in the News and Observer.[9] The Election Day Democratic victory was followed by a large celebration on November 15 organized by Josephus Daniels to commemorate "white supremacy and rescuing the state from Negro-rule."

[edit] Election of 1900

[edit] Before the election

The election of 1900 was a special election because there was one held in August and another held in November. The same Democratic platform from 1898 was resounded as in the 1900 election, with sayings such as "White Rule for TarHeels," "White Supremacy", and "No Negro Rule".[9] The Red Shirts and Democrats would ensure their win during the August special election, which was a Democratic ploy to disfranchise the black vote. The Democrat and Red Shirts felt that if they could "demoralize black leaders" the black vote would decrease.[11] On the day of the disfranchisement election in August, one prominent black leader, Abe Middleton, a former Republican county chairman of Duplin County, was symbolically "killed" when his wife found a "pasteboard coffin" in their garden. During a post-election hearing, Middleton testified that there was an increase in shooting near his home.[11] Though the incidents did not faze Middleton, members of the black community saw this activity and failed to vote. The intimidation activities of the Red Shirts was so successful that many African-Americans abandoned their homes, some even seeking refugee in swamps, as accounted by Dave Kennedy, a black voter of Duplin County.[11]

The Red Shirts not only caused much havoc in the black community, the gang of lawless men continued to attack non-Democrats with violent and destructive means. The New York Times, in an August 2, 1900, article, noted how the day before the election the Red Shirts disrupted the speech of Mr. Teague and demolished the platform on which he spoke.[13] The deputy sheriff did not attempt to stop the Red Shirts' activity, indicating their support from Democrats, but also law enforcement officials of many counties throughout the state.[11] Later as Teague was traveling to Dunn County during his canvassing tour of the state he was kidnapped by the Red Shirts and driven out of town.[13] Among other prominent non-Democratic speakers, Marion Butler and others were disrupted by the throwing of rotten eggs. The increasingly disruptive activities of the Red Shirts lead the Republican chairman of Johnson County to send a request for troops to Gov. Russell.[9]

[edit] Election day

The day of the 1900 election was no different from the 1898 election, except that there was a greater Red Shirt presence. The gang of men still rode around the voting polls with their guns and horses, intimidating blacks from voting. The success of the disfranchisement of black votes in the August 1900 election, ultimately lead to the November Democratic gubernatorial win of Aycock over Adams, the Republican. The vote 186,650 to 126,296 was noted as "the largest majority ever given to a gubernatorial candidate".[9]

After the Democratic win in November, the Red Shirts were not to be found. Because the Red Shirts were primarily poor whites, the Democratic Party of elitist whites parted ways with the group. Thus the prevalence of Red Shirts declined upon the inauguration of Gov. Aycock.[9]

[edit] Contemporary Red Shirts

Some white South Carolina groups continue to use the Red Shirt as a symbol of anti-African Americanism.

The League of the South members use the Red Shirt to express neo-secessionist politics. They sometimes protest the activities of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors civil rights and voting.

In 2006 a group calling itself the Red Shirts urged members to march at the South Carolina state capital to protest the NAACP and state observance of Martin Luther King Day. In addition, they protested the campaign of Republican Bob Inglis, who had run for election for another term despite earlier promises not to do so. Their website includes a statement of purpose taken from Jefferson Davis' announcement of secession in 1861.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132
  2. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York: Farrar Strauss & Giroux, Paperback, 2007, pp.74-80
  3. ^ Ball, William Watts (1932). The State That Forgot: South Carolina's Surrender to Democracy, Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merril Company. pp. 158.
  4. ^ Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, New York: Harper & Row, 1988; Perennial Classics, 2002, p. 574-575
  5. ^ Eric Foner,Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, New York: Perennial Classics, 2002, p. 572-573
  6. ^ Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, New York: Farrar Strauss & Giroux, Paperback, 2007, p.174
  7. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000, p. 27, accessed 10 Mar 2008
  8. ^ Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, Vol.17, 2000, pp.12-13, accessed 10 Mar 2008
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Prather 1977
  10. ^ a b Edmonds 1951
  11. ^ a b c d e Beeby 2008
  12. ^ "White Men Show Their Determination to Rid themselves of Negro Rule: A thousand Red Shirts." [http http://www.lib.unc.edu/ncc/1898/sources/rsrally.html Morning Star], 2 November 1898, Special Star Telegram.: p.1. Print. Accessed November 7, 2009.
  13. ^ a b "Riots in North Carolina: Red Shirts Drive Off Populist Speakers and Destroy Stand." The New York Times, 2 August 1900. Accessed November 7, 2009.

[edit] References

  • Drago, Edmund L. (1998). Hurrah for Hampton!: Black Red Shirts in South Carolina during Reconstruction. University of Arkansas Press. ISBN 1-55728-541-1. 
  • Edgar, Walter (1998). South Carolina A History. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1-57003-255-6. 
  • Reynolds, John S. (1969). Reconstruction in South Carolina. Negro University Press. ISBN 0-8371-1638-4. 
  • William Arthur Sheppard, Some Reasons Why Red Shirts Remembered, (Greer: The Chas P. Smith Company, 1940)
  • William Arthur Sheppard, Red Shirts Remembered, (Atlanta: Ruralist Press, INC, 1940)
  • Francis Butler Simkins & Robert Hilliard Woody, South Carolina During Reconstruction, (Durham: The University of North Carolina Press, 1932)
  • Williams, Alfred B. (1935). Hampton and his Red shirts; South Carolina's deliverance in 1876. Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company. 
  • Richard H. Pildes, "Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon", Constitutional Commentary, 17, (2000).
  • Ball, William Watts (1932). The State That Forgot: South Carolina's Surrender to Democracy. Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merril Company. 
  • Beeby, James M."Red Shirt Violence, Election Fraud,and the Demise of the Populist Party in North Carolina's Third Congressional District, 1900.", North Carolina Historical Review. 85.1 (2008): 1-28. Print.
  • Prather, H.Leon. The Red Shirt Movement in North Carolina 1898-1900., Journal of Negro History 62.2 (1977): 174-184. Web.
  • Edmonds, Helen G. The Negro and Fusion politics in North Carolina 1894-1901, Chapel Hill, NC:The University of North Carolina Press,1951.
  • White Men Show Their Determination to Rid themselves of Negro Rule: A thousand Red Shirts. Morning Star, 2 November 1898, Special Star Telegram.: p. 1. Print. .
  • Riots in North Carolina: Red Shirts Drive Off Populist Speakers and Destroy Stand. New York Times, 2 August 1900.

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