Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April 1869: Aftermath of the violence

There are no records of arrests - and certainly no convictions - for the shootings of the spring of 1869. The circuit court grand jury, led by foreman John M. F. Erwin of Greenwood, expressed with "deepest regret...[its] utter inability to obtain evidence sufficient to bring to justice a large number of the guilty." Erwin commeneded the "hearty cooperation" of the county's civil officers and citizens, but, conveniently or not, conceded that "crime of the deepest die goes unpunished." Erwin was a prominent merchant and sometime politician who bitterly opposed the Bureau and its aims. His stately home stands in Greenwood today.

The violence of the spring terrified Jackson County African Americans. T. Thomas Fortune later recalled the extraordinary efforts of his father, state assemblyman Emanuel Fortune, to fortify and defend their home. Fortune wrote that white men stalked the home day and night and vividly recalled tripping early one morning over a man sleeping beside a shotgun at a position overlooking their homestead. Emanuel Fortune sensed his "life to be in danger at all times." Finally, Fortune heeded the counsel of his friends, white and black, to leave. He distributed his property among his relations and neighbors and packed up his family, settling in Jacksonville. His son rued that his father received almost no compensation for the farm, business, and chattel he had assiduously built and accumulated since Emancipation.