Wounds still deep 124 years after Phoenix, S.C. election riots that killed 9

124 years ago today here in the Carolinas, there was deadly violence on election day that was all connected to the right to vote.
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 9:38 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - 124 years ago today here in the Carolinas, there was deadly violence on election day that was all connected to the right to vote.

Lives were lost, people hurt, and communities shattered.

2021 acknowledged the 100th anniversary of targeted violence in Tulsa’s Black Wall Street district resulting in hundreds of African Americans deaths.

Reminders from Oklahoma offer a throwback to Wilmington, North Carolina’s fatal coup and incur coming that same week of race riots during 1898, in Greenwood County, South Carolina, where blacks seeking the ballot lost their lives.

Absent from many maps in Greenwood County is the tiny community of Phoenix. There were nine deaths that were recorded from the Phoenix riots.

The New York Times measured the climate by detailing what started near the Rehoboth United Methodist Church in Phoenix on election day with deadly assaults against African Americans.

“It happened at the time where whites particular place like South Carolina, we’re going about the business of re-establishing white rule here in the south,” Benjamin E. Mays historic site director Christopher Thomas said. “One of the things that they had to take away from African Americans at that time was the precious right to vote.”

Donya Williams and Brian Sheffey head up an initiative called Genealogy Adventures.

Interest in Greenwood County took their research to Montgomery Alabama’s Equal Justice Initiative Museum which focuses on lynching.

Etched in stone are the names of victims lynched and killed in Phoenix and in Greenville County, the story takes another twist.

“Let’s not cover this...White people were lynched too,” a speaker said.

Thomas Tolbert, a white man was wounded by bullets as he supported the vote of African Americans, but J.I. Etheridge who opposed voting rights was shot and killed.

And it’s the worst thing that has ever happened in Greenwood County, historically speaking.

Deadly violence linked to race in the Palmetto state is a given fact. In the 20th century, three African American students were fatally wounded by South Carolina Highway Patrolmen in February of 1968 at the HBCU campus of South Carolina State.

It would be known as the Orangeburg Massacre, and in the 21st century, nine people were shot to death by convicted killer Dylan Roof during June of 2015 at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME.

Voting outcomes and the 19th-century race-related shootings got plenty of front-page ink across the country, but in Greenwood County, no one was ever prosecuted.

Loy Sartin, who is a former curator of South Carolina’s Benjamin Mayes Center is hoping for a different kind of justice.

“People knew who did the shootings, but they got away with it,” Sartin said. “I believe that we never charged, but one day they will be charged by almighty God.”

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