Timeline

1890

November 4th, 1890

White Supremacist “Pitchfork” Benjamin Tillman Elected Governor of South Carolina

On November 4, 1890, Benjamin Ryan Tillman was elected governor of South Carolina. An outspoken white supremacist, Tillman advocated for violence against African American voters and staunchly opposed educational access for black people.

Tillman’s political career catapulted to success after his involvement in the 1876 Hamburg Massacre, where white men rioted and killed nine people in a predominantly African American town in South Carolina. In his gubernatorial campaign, Tillman promised to keep the state’s African American population in a position of permanent inferiority. In his inaugural address and throughout his administration, he emphasized white supremacy and the necessity to revoke African Americans’ rights. Concerning the education of African Americans, Tillman argued, “when you educate a Negro, you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or spoil a good field hand.”

He served two terms as governor and played a critical role in the 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Convention. In order to vote under the revised constitution, a man had to own property, pay a poll tax, pass a literacy test, and meet certain educational standards. The 1895 constitution disenfranchised African American voters and served as a model for other southern states.

Tillman was elected United States Senator for South Carolina in 1895, and he served in this capacity for twenty-four years. Throughout his tenure, he opposed African American equality, women’s suffrage, and any federal interference in state government. Tillman’s philosophy helped shape the era of oppression and abuse of African Americans throughout the South. A statue honoring Tillman still stands on the grounds of South Carolina’s State Capitol.