Meridian Star

Local News

July 22, 2006

The Riot of 1871

The Riot of 1871 has the dubious distinction of being called “the bloodiest day Meridian ever saw,” and epitomized the boiling point of post-Civil War racial tensions in the city at the time.

Up to 30 people were killed, some in extraordinarily brutal fashion.

White Democrats and vigilantes — some aligned with the Ku Klux Klan — resented the presence of blacks in

positions of political power. They also despised so-called carpetbaggers and Northern “strangers,” the unflattering terms given to individuals such as Meridian’s white Mayor, William Sturgis, who hailed from Connecticut.

The first slaying was that of Joseph Williams, a black legislator on the county’s board of supervisors, who was reportedly “called out of his house and killed.”

After black legislators Warren Tyler and William Clopton staged a protest rally, the store owned by the Mayor’s brother, Theodore, was set on fire. Although it’s unclear as to exactly who set the fire, it reportedly spread and was not

extinguished until “two-thirds of the

business-houses of Meridian had been destroyed.” Also spreading was a rumor by white Democrats that blacks would burn the entire city.

Mob rule then ensued, with Tyler, Clopton, and black preacher J. Aaron Moore arrested and charged with inciting riot, and a committee appointed to remove Mayor Sturgis from office.

At a hearing two days later at Con Sheehan Hall, gun shots killed white Republican Judge E.L. Bramlette and a black policeman. Tyler jumped from Con Sheehan’s second-floor window, but was chased by a white crowd and then killed two blocks away. The crowd then

reportedly returned to throw Clopton out an upstairs window, and then slashed his throat after he fell to the ground.

Armed angry whites then spread out in a vindictive mob, and “chased down and murdered at least 30 black

Meridians.” Mayor Sturgis, meanwhile, was said to have escaped the city

“under the cloak of night.”

— Sources: “Paths to the Past: An Overview History of Lauderdale County, Mississippi” by Laura Nan Fairley and James T. Dawon, 1988, Lauderdale County Department of Archives and

History, Inc. and Web site.

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