Timeline

1892

March 9th, 1892

Three Black Grocers Lynched in Memphis, Tennessee

In March 1892, three young black men, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Steward, opened the People's Grocery Company in Memphis, Tennessee. Located across the street from a white-owned grocery store that had been the local black community's only option, the new business reduced the white store's profits and threatened the racial order by forcing whites to compete economically with blacks.

A white mob formed, intent on using force to put the black grocery out of business, and the black grocers armed themselves for defense. When the mob attacked, shots were fired and three white men were wounded. Moss, McDowell, and Steward were arrested and sensational newspaper reports published the next day fanned the flames of racial outrage. On March 9, 1892, a white mob stormed the Memphis jail, seized all three men and brutally lynched them. No one was punished for the killings.

Ida B. Wells, a 29-year-old black schoolteacher and journalist living in Memphis, was a friend of the three murdered men and was deeply impacted by their deaths. She published an editorial urging local blacks to "save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons." More than 6000 African Americans heeded her call. Ms. Wells would devote her entire life to documenting and challenging the injustice of lynching through research, writing, speaking, and activism.