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THE BOYD INCIDENT: Black Belt Violence During Reconstruction William Warren Rogers A few minutes before eleven on Thursday night, March 31, 1870, some thirty horsemen, riding two by two without haste but with purpose, converged on the town of Eutaw, Alabama. The men were attired in loose fitting black robes, some trimmed with gold and silver fringes of varying lengths. Their faces were disguised. One wore a high hat; another a hat that seemed to have horns attached; still others had their faces covered with quills that gave the appearance of long teeth and created an eerie rustle in the night air. Armed with guns and pistols—a few had sabres and several witnesses observed ropes outlined against the black material used to disguise the horses—the men rode into the heart of town, the public square. Eutaw, a sprawling village of two thousand residents, was the seat of government for the Black Belt county of Greene. A new courthouse (the old one had been claimed in 1868 by an unsolved crime of arson) graced the square which was flanked on all sides by various places of business.1 Most of the citizens, including a number of Presbyterian ministers in town for a regular session of the Presbytery and accommodated in private homes, had long since retired for the night, but at least twenty witnesses were among those still up. Some were lounging in front of Hickman & Thompson's barroom, others wandered in and out of George Cleveland's hotel. Cleveland himself was across the street playing billiards. Their routine and sleepy reluctance at finally having to turn in for bed vanished instantly when the disguised band appeared. Startled and frightened, the on1 Created in 1819, Greene County was named for Revolutionary War hero General Nathaniel Greene. Designated the county seat in 1838, Eutaw was named for Greene's victory at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina, in 1781. Eutaw was incorporated again in 1868, and in 1870 had 429 whites and 1,491 blacks. The county's population was 18,399, of whom 14,541 were blacks and 3,858 were whites (about 21 per cent of the population). See Ninth Census Of The United States, I, Population (Washington , 1872), 11-12, 79; Acts of the Ahbama Legishture, 1868, pp. 506-509; V. Gayle Snedecor, A Directory Of Greene County For 1855-6 (Mobile, 1856), pp. 63-66; and Mrs. Cecil R. Class, "Early Days Of Eutaw," Alabama Review, XVII (January, 1964), 56-62. The prevailing theory for the burning of the courthouse was that the records of some 1,800 suits by freedmen against planters were about to be instituted. Supposedly the Klan set the fire to prevent the litigation. See R.A. Wilson to Brig. Gen. T.H. Ruger, Aug. 31, 1868, Demopolis, Ala., Letters Sent From July 1, 1867, To Dec. 31, 1868, 268-270, Freedmen's Bureau Records, Record Group 105, National Archives , Washington, D.C. Hereafter cited as Freedmen's Bureau Records, RG 105. 309 310CIVIL WAR HISTORY lookers knew at once that the intruders were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Employing hand signals, the silent riders stationed sentinels to guard different roads. Six horsemen took a position on the northeast corner of the public square near the Circuit Clerk's office. The main body dismounted in front of Cleveland's hotel. Leaving a few guards, some ten or twelve Klansmen entered the hotel's main office. Once inside they forced the clerk, J. W. Freeman, to guide them upstairs . After reaching the second floor they asked Freeman for a light and demanded that he show them rooms four and five. One of the men gripped a grass rope. The person they sought was young Republican Alexander Boyd, who held the dual positions of Solicitor and Register in Chancery for Greene County. Bursting into the room, the men intended to seize Boyd, take him outside, and hang him. Boyd thwarted them with fierce physical resistance . Witnesses first heard the sounds of a scuffle, next screams of terror and shouting, and then a pistol shot. After an intermission of one or two minutes several more shots were heard. Boyd had staggered out of his room and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 309-329
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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