“The insurrection wasn’t just a thing that happened on one day, it’s a thing that’s continuing to happen to us all.” The January sixth capitol riot is not the first time an angry mob of white people turned to violence to interfere with the political process. Michael Harriot tells the story of The Hamburg Massacre, the bloodbath in South Carolina you’ve likely never heard of. TheGrio Daily is an original podcast by theGrio Black Podcast Network. #BlackCultureAmplified
[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.
Michael Harriot [00:00:05] My family is from this little town in Lee County, South Carolina. That’s why it’s named after General Lee, you know, the Dukes of Hazzard car. But that’s where my family was enslaved. And my mother was for a long time researching our family history, but she wasn’t really able to find much until she just happened upon this trove of records from the old Salem Courthouse. And, you know, she found all of our records. But I was really interested in like what happened to this courthouse that burned down. And I found out that the old Salem courthouse was burned during one of the biggest insurrections in American history that we never talk about. And that insurrection can teach us a lot about what’s going on today, because it shows us that Trump doesn’t really serve as a danger to democracy as much as the people who follow them. So I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that’ll tell you about the true danger and the first insurrection.
Michael Harriot [00:01:29] I’m Michael Harriot, the world famous wypipologist and this is theGrio Daily. So, you know, long before January 6, 2001, there was another insurrection in America, and it was successful. It was kind of like this one. Right. And it I found out about it, you know, just researching this family history and the courthouse that burned down. So and it goes back to an interesting story, right? So in 1876, in South Carolina, Black people were in charge. Right. And Black people were a majority in the state legislature. They had formed this land commission that was actually giving Black people their 40 acres. There wasn’t any mules, but giving people their 40 acres. Black people were basically running South Carolina. Black people were the majority in South Carolina until like the 1940s. Right. As a matter of fact, the title of Ta-Nehisi Coates book, We Were Eight Years in Power. That quote comes from a South Carolina legislator talking about the years when Black people ruled South Carolina after the Civil War. When these Black people were in power, white people were intent on getting their power back. So in the 1876 election, there was this dude named Wade Hampton who ran for governor. And Wade Hampton, he was a white supremacist. Right. So right after the Civil War, he could’ve run for governor. He was a Confederate hero. But he said, nah, I aint gonna do it yet. So what he did is tell people not to vote for him. And he was behind the scenes. And what he was doing is preparing for an insurrection, a coup. And what he did is all through South Carolina, he organized these groups, called the Rifle Clubs. Right.
Michael Harriot [00:03:42] They were basically like the KKK in other parts of the country. And what they would do is disarm Black people and under the guise of being protecting the second Second Amendment rights. So Wade Hampton organized these groups all around South Carolina, and then he was ready. So he was ready to run for governor in 1876. And in the 1876 election there was this big debate over the Electoral College, as you can imagine that. Right. So some people were saying that the Democrats won. Some people were saying that the Republicans won. And eventually they installed the Republican president in exchange for white people in the South being able to negate any Black rule and to install Jim Crow laws. But what we’re talking about is the governor this election of 1876, that’s more important, even though that, you know, national election, the compromise of 1877, ushered in what we now call Jim Crow, in South Carolina, when Wade Hampton run, they knew Wade Hampton was kind of going to lose, right? Because again, all the Black people could vote and there were more Black people than white people.
Michael Harriot [00:05:12] On July 4th, 1876, a couple of months before the election, there was these two white guys. Right. And they knew that Black people were going to be celebrating emancipation. You know, before Juneteenth, we celebrated emancipation on 4th of July. Right. So there were these people in this town called Hamburg, South Carolina, and they were having this big parade. Right. And when the white people started forming the Rifle Clubs, Black people had them, too. So the the the Civil War veterans, the Black Civil War veterans were having a parade through Hamburg, and these white dudes tried to just, like, drive their horse and buggies through the parade. And the Black people were like, nah, ya’ll can’t do that. And so it was this big fight. It turned the white people away, and the white people went and organized the Rifle Clubs all around the state. And they came back to Hamburg and you know, it’s no way to say it, they just slaughtered all the Black people. The Black Rifle Club retreated to this armory and to a warehouse, and they had this big shootout. And then they went through the town killing Black people. It was called the Hamburg massacre.
[00:06:40] And what the Hamburg massacre did more than just was an atrocious event. Right. It scared Black people all across the state because they kind of enforce this terrorism. That said, like if your vote in this November election, this is what’s going to happen. So the election comes. And Wade Hampton. Loses, he doesn’t have enough votes. And so then they start counting the votes in Hamburg or the Edgefield District is what they called it back then in Edgefield. If you look it up, Edgefield literally is probably the most racist place in American history. Edgefield, South Carolina. But in Edgefield, Wade Hampton across the state, he was down by a little bit. But then when they started counting the votes in Edgefield and Hampton County. Suddenly he jumped in the lead. And that’s because the white people had just stuffed the ballots. As a matter of fact, there were 2000 more votes than people who lived in the county, in Edgefield and in Hamburg. Right. So the Hamburg massacre worked. But not only did it work as an insurrection. Right. And not only did it take back white rule of South Carolina, but all over the state of South Carolina the white people who came to massacre the Black people became heroes. Right. Like you could win office for decades in South Carolina if it was known to the public that you participated in the Hamburg massacre. Right. Like it gave you clout.
[00:08:40] For years, this clout was unimpeachable. And one of the biggest you know, recipients of that clout was a dude name Ben The Pitchfork Tillman. Oh, man. Ben Pitchfork Tillman was more racist than anybody you ever known. Right. So in the late 1800s, like going into 1900, Tillman ran for election. And you have to remember, South Carolina hadn’t been accepted back into the union yet. So South Carolina, to get accepted back into the union, when they reformed their constitution, they instituted in 1898 that Black people can’t vote. It was just that simple. Right. They didn’t hide it. They put in all of these laws that forbid or prevented Black people from voting. And Tillman was the head of that disenfranchisement effort. Right. And not only was he the head, Tillman was the leader of the Hamburg massacre. I mean, he was his group was called the Red Shirts, and Tillman and the Red Shirts were basically a terrorist organization. As a matter of fact, they were actually indicted for the Hamburg massacre. But everybody was so afraid of the Red Shirts, they wouldn’t prosecute them.
[00:10:11] So. When Tillman becomes governor, Tillman really goes in on disenfranchizing Black people. But again, South Carolina was majority Black. So the people who were in favor of disenfranchizing Black people, they were called Tillmanites. And so even though Tillman was governor he eventually was elected to the Senate, the United States Senate. But those followers, the Tillmanites, were basically a political party. You could be Republican, you could be Democrat, but if you were a Tillmanite, people know that meant you didn’t want Black people to vote. You were part of a terrorist organization. In Sumter County, South Carolina, the Tillmanites were strong. They were so strong, in fact, that they wanted to form their own all white county, where there were more white people than Black people because they couldn’t really kind of disenfranchize all the Blacks that either had to kill them all or they had to form their own county. So what they did is they took a little bit from this county, a little bit from that county, from Sumter County, a little bit from a district called Old Salem and a little bit from Clarendon County. And because Black people were forming that constitution, it was considered unconstitutional. So they struck down the county. They tried it again. They struck down the county.
[00:11:51] So the Tillmanites had a new solution. What if it wasn’t no county? What if there wasn’t a county courthouse? There wasn’t a jail or anything? So they went to Old Salem and they burned down the courthouse. They burned down the jail. And then they applied to the Supreme Court, says, hey, really, like we should have a new county because there is no courthouse, there is no county infrastructure. So why don’t we just recreate this white county? And on December 15th, 1902. The Supreme Court of South Carolina created Lee County. Now, General Lee was dead. There was no Confederate presence in South Carolina anymore, but they created Lee County from these because of the Tillmanites. And like you could read the old, old newspapers and you see like the fired a Confederate cannon in celebration. It was like a big celebration that last until this day. Right. Like they went to the, and it’s kind of ironic, they went to the Lynches River in South Carolina and celebrated. And that’s how the place where my ancestors was enslaved became a county.
[00:13:20] And the reason this is instructive, right? It’s not just a cool or bad story that we remember, but it wasn’t Wade Hampton that was the danger in South Carolina. It was his followers. Right. He was a terrorist. But Tillman. Because he was one of those Hampton insurgents that was part of that insurrection that overturned a free and fair election in South Carolina and installed white rule that last until this day, he became the powerful one. And when you look at Donald Trump, you don’t have to be afraid of Donald Trump. You have to be afraid of what he evolved. What you have to be afraid of men like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Here’s an interesting thing. There’s a prosecutor in Florida who said that my county is small and we have a limited amount of resources, so what we’re going to do is not prosecute people based on this crazy abortion law. We only have, like so many people we can prosecute. So I’m not going to prosecute anyone for, you know, having an abortion. And DeSantis had him removed from office. Now, the governor in Florida can’t really do that. But what DeSantis did is go back to this old antebellum law and found that the governor can remove a person if they were guilty of drunkenness or for of a felony or for something that negated their oath of office. But this this prosecutor didn’t do that. DeSantis did it just using authoritarian means, because this is what Donald Trump has brought.
[00:15:17] When you look at Marjorie Taylor Greene Marjorie Taylor Greene, like those people who use the cloud from the first insurrection. Marjorie Taylor Greene in her debate claim that she was a victim of the insurrection on January 6th. But aside from that, she uses that clout of her ginning up white fear to cause an insurrection that is going to get her elected. Same thing with Greg Abbott in Texas. Same thing with men like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. They were part of that insurrection. They weren’t there killing people, just like Wade Hampton wasn’t there killing people in Hamburg, South Carolina. But they organized that resistance. They used the clout from that. And it will last for years to come. And so not only has this affected me and my family, that first insurrection, but it literally faced how the state of South Carolina operates to this day. And we should use that to learn that the insurrection wasn’t just a thing that happened on one day. It is a thing that is continuing to happen to us all. That insurrection will affect us for decades into the future. And that’s why you got to pay attention to history. That’s why you’ve got to download theGrio app. You’ve got to subscribe to this podcast. You’ve got to tell a friend about it. And as always, we’ll leave you with the famous Black saying, “History is not a thing that happened, history is what white people tell you happened.” If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at the theGrio.com.
[00:17:36] You are now listening to the Grose Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.