|Date(s):||July 4, 1876 to July 16, 1876|
|Location(s):||EDGEFIELD, South Carolina|
|Tag(s):||African-Americans, Crime/Violence, Law, Race-Relations|
|Course:||“Rise and Fall of the Slave South,” University of Virginia|
|Rating:||5 (1 votes)|
On July 15 and 16, 1876, the United States House of Representatives met in Washington, D.C. to debate the meaning and consequences of a racial disagreement and subsequent massacre that had taken place in the city of Hamburg, South Carolina on the fourth and fifth of July in that same year, the nation's centennial. A seat of racial tension, particularly because of an established African American population that controlled many prestigious government and military positions, Hamburg had undergone nearly eleven years of Reconstruction that had, in the opinion of South Carolinian Sam Aleckson, brought some "tranquility to the state and people." Nonetheless, the success of Reconstruction (especially in Hamburg) was blemished when a white Ku Klux Klan mob assaulted a black militia group led by South Carolina National Guard Captain Doc L. Adams.
At the time of the incident, Adams' regiment had been parading legally on the streets of Hamburg in celebration of the Fourth of July. Two white men, Messrs. Henry Gatzen and Thomas Butler, approached them and instructed them to move to the side of the road, which they did begrudgingly. This action, however, was not enough for Mr. Butler, and he reported the militia company for "obstructing the highway" to the local trial justice, Mr. Prince Rivers, who printed out a warrant against Capt. Adams. This action Mr. Butler carried out in accordance with South Carolina law. The second action Mr. Butler took, however, was much less lawful. Butler related the stubborn response of the militia company to his cousin, General M.C. Butler (an ex-Confederate general and a participant in Ku Klux Klan activities), who took the law into his own hands, demanding that the militia company turn over its legally-held weaponry as well as summoning an armed mob from Augusta, Georgia, to assault the black National Guard regiment.
Soon after, Butler's mob forced the militia men into a local house and threatened to blow up the house with cannon fire. Weary of this threat, the militia company escaped the building, but was unable to evade General Butler's mob, which murdered five and severely wounded three of the captured African Americans. This violence occurred for no other reason than the company's immediate refusal to move from a public road.
The Hamburg Fourth of July incident, while cheerless in outcome, portrays race relations in South Carolina during Reconstruction, specifically whites' blunt refusal to end antebellum traditions and accept society's newly freed members. Regrettable though it is, this was the true Reconstruction South, one that had not changed as drastically as emancipation had demanded.