On July 8, 1876, the small town of Hamburg, South Carolina erupted in violence as the community’s New Afrikan militia clashed with whites from the surrounding rural area. Hamburg was a small all-black community across the river from Augusta, Georgia. Like many New Afrikan communities in South Carolina, it was solidly Republican and with the GOP in charge in Columbia, some of its men were members of the South Carolina National Guard….
On July 4, two white farmers from surrounding Edgefield County, Thomas Butler and Henry Getzen, attempted to drive a carriage through the town along the main road, but were obstructed by the all-black Militia which was engaged in a military exercise. Although the farmers got through the military formation after an initial argument, racial tensions remained high. – By this point hundreds of armed white men, including many who were members of various rifle clubs, descended upon the small black community. Militia members retreated to a stone warehouse which they used as their armory.
Sometime during the afternoon a battle ensued. Surrounded and outnumbered, twenty-five militiamen and fifteen Hamburg residents fought back from the armory. By mid afternoon a white attacker and a militiaman lay dead, and a few more members of the militia were wounded. A cannon was brought over from nearby Augusta and aimed at the armory. As cannon fire blew a hole in the armory, some black militiamen and Hamburg’s Town Marshal, James Cook, attempted to flee. Cook was shot and killed. The rest of the militiamen and towns people were captured in the armory. Four of the militiamen were brought out and immediately executed by the white mob. The rest were allowed to escape, though as soon as they began to flee, the whites trained their guns on the escaping men, shooting as many as possible. Seven men died that afternoon. Six were black militiamen or civilians and one was a white farmer killed in the attack on the armory.
Haki Kweli Shakur
The events that led to the massacre began July 4, 1876, when two white men driving a carriage through Hamburg, an all-black town on the banks of the Savannah River, were delayed by a parade of the town’s militia, which was then part of the South Carolina Guard.
Whites later demanded that the militia be disbanded, and tensions rose. On July 8, about 100 armed whites surrounded about 40 blacks at the militia’s armory and shots were fired.
Meriwether, a white farmer, was killed. Some of the militiamen and other freedmen slipped away after darkness fell, but about two dozen were caught by the white mob, which picked out and executed four of them: Attaway, Phillips, Stephens and Myniart. Other black victims died of wounds from the armory fight or as they fled the scene of the executions.
Though 94 white men were indicted by a grand jury, they were not prosecuted. The massacre spawned violence elsewhere – in Ellenton, for example, where 100 blacks were killed – and drew national attention.
Black South Carolinians For Black Militia
Hamburg, South Carolina, was an all-black town on the border with Georgia, an area that was a stronghold for the Democratic Party. Hearing news of white militias forming in surrounding towns, the intendant (or mayor) of Hamburg, John Gardner, formed an all-black militia of 84 men and, with the following letter, asked the governor to arm them as part of the state’s National Guard.
Town Hall, Town of Hamburg, August 19, 1874
His Excellency F. J. Moses, Jr., Governor of South Carolina
I respectfully recommend to your immediate and favorable consideration the application of 75 of the Citizens of this Town who have formed themselves into a Company and wish to be received into the National Guards and be armed as such. I have several reasons for urging this matter, but will only allude to one. We are situated on the banks of the Savannah River, a bridge connecting us with the City of Augusta [Georgia]. We call your attention to the paper of last Tuesday and today which show the danger the poor colored and few white Republicans of this town are in when 50 men or more leave their State to come to ours for the purpose of aiding a riot. In our rear some 6 or 8 miles we hear of two well-organized cavalry companies (whites) fully armed, ready for any purpose. We are entirely unarmed.
Therefore I pray your Excellency to receive the Company of which I am a member, commission the officers and use your authority in immediately arming them. The Citizens have for the last three nights been guarding this Town as the rumors are that those men would pay us a call with their Sharps rifles. Hoping your Excellency will assist us. I am your Obedient Servant,