Timeline

1874

December 7th, 1874

Vicksburg, Mississippi Massacre: White Mob Attacks Black Political Meeting

During the Reconstruction era that followed Emancipation and the Civil War, African American Mississippians made significant strides toward political equality. Despite the passage of black codes designed to oppress and disenfranchise black people in the South, many African American men voted and served in political office on federal, state, and local levels.

Peter Crosby, a former slave, was elected to Sheriff in Vicksburg, Mississippi – but shortly after taking office, Crosby was indicted on false criminal charges and removed from his position by a violent white mob. On December 7, 1874, the “Vicksburg Massacre” occurred, in which whites attack and killed many black citizens who had organized to try to help Crosby regain his office. The violence prompted President Ulysses S. Grant to finally send troops to mediate the conflict. Crosby regained his position as Sheriff soon after, through the use of force and the courts.

In early 1875, J.P. Gilmer, a white man, was hired to serve as Crosby's deputy. After a disagreement, Crosby tried to have Gilmer removed from office. Gilmer responded by shooting Crosby in the head on June 7, 1875. Gilmer was arrested for the attempted assassination, but never brought to trial. Crosby survived the wound but never made a full recovery, and had to serve the remainder of his term through a representative white citizen.

The violence and intimidation tactics utilized by white Mississippians intent on restoring white supremacy soon enabled forces antagonistic to the aims of Reconstruction and racial equality to regain power in Mississippi.

1977

December 7th, 1977

Black Family Flees Smithfield, North Carolina, White Neighborhood After Violent Harassment

Around 3:30 a.m. on December 3, 1977, gunshots were fired into the Smithfield, North Carolina home of Cornell and Geraldine Cook, the only African American couple living in a previously all-white neighborhood. A sheriff’s detective found about twenty pellet holes from a .12-gauge shotgun in the front of the house, but no one was injured in the shooting. On December 7, the local newspaper reported that the family planned to leave the area following the incident, the latest in a string of attempts at racial intimidation since the Cooks moved into their home. The Cooks subsequently quit their jobs at the GTE-Sylvania plant and returned with their nine-month-old son to Mr. Cook’s hometown of Newport News, Virginia.

In October 1977 when the Cooks first expressed interest in buying the home, Realtor James White gave them the option of first renting it to see how they liked living there. Mr. White warned the Cooks “not to expect to be welcomed with open arms” by the community, and he received about fifteen complaints within a week of renting the home to them.

Several weeks before the shooting, neighbors had found a watermelon with a burning cross stuck in it on the Cooks’s lawn, but removed it before the Cooks returned and did not tell them about it. Similarly, the Cooks and their neighbors felt that the shooting was racially motivated. Said Mr. Cook, “When you come right down to it, it’s the color of my skin that caused it.”

Following the shooting, Smithfield’s community leaders worried about the town’s reputation, which had already been recently soured by a lighted billboard visible from Interstate 95 proclaiming: “Join and Support the United Klans of America. Welcome to Smithfield. Help us fight Communism and Integration.” The billboard had been removed the previous spring, before the Cooks moved in.