Mob violence changed the course of Memphis’ history

It’s a shame #memphismassacre1866 wasn’t a trending topic on Friday.

What happened in Memphis this month 150 years ago is a history lesson deserving to be told, however uncomfortable the details. Rising tensions stemming from the end of the Civil War and Reconstruction helped produce three days of unspeakable violence between May 1-3. Less than a month earlier, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 passed, essentially guaranteeing citizenship and forbidding discrimination based on race or previous condition of slavery.

Black soldiers who supposedly killed a white police officer attempting to arrest a black soldier ignited the brutality. Gen. George Stoneman, Fort Pickering’s commander, ordered black soldiers to the barracks and confiscated their weapons, leaving a nearby black neighborhood and black refugee camp completely defenseless.

From there, carnage ensued. White mobs, which included law enforcement, attacked the camp and black neighborhoods. Men, women and children were hunted down and shot in South Memphis. Some houses were even set afire and armed officials guarded them to guarantee no one escaped. Every crime from larceny to murder to rape took place. Think of the movie The Purge, but only on black people.

John C. Creighton, the Memphis city recorder, defined the moment’s evil in one quote. “Boys, I want you to go ahead and kill every damned one of the n—– race and burn up the cradle.”

Blood tattooed the streets of Memphis. Families were physically and psychologically shattered. Approximately 50 people were killed and the psyche of the city’s black community was scarred permanently moving forward.

But most unsettling, yet unsurprising?

No arrests were made. Congress explained the chain of events in a detailed report, but not much happened to remedy what Memphis’ black residents were forced to endure. The government essentially washed its hands of the slaughter.

If you’re searching for an in-depth account of the horror inflicted on the city where Martin Luther King Jr. took his last breath, The Atlantic has an incredible breakdown well worth the read.

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