The “Carrollton Massacre”

March 17, 1886


While attending a trial at the Carrollton, Mississippi courthouse on March 17, 1886, twenty blacks were killed.  An argument several days earlier led to the bloodshed. Susie James, writing for the Greenwood Mississippi Commonwealth, and in a special to the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger explains the massacre:


Carrollton Courthouse “Riot” of 1886


Written 3-12-96


CARROLLTON--Bullet holes were mute evidence for decades of the bloody shootout--or massacre--which occurred in the courtroom of the Carrollton courthouse March 17, 1886.

Twenty-three, including two brothers whose suit against Jim Liddell Jr. of Greenwood was to have been heard in circuit court that day, either died that day or later died of their wounds.

Today, 110 years later, some of the scars have been glossed over for the sake of repairs and renovations.

Shortly after the fatal day, however, a grand jury wrote about its investigations into the riot. The same grand jury also was asked to look into the lynching of a young convict, which happened a month earlier in the courtyard.

The convict, Will McKinney, who was about 19, and those who died as a result of what happened on the second floor of the courthouse March 17, were black.

McKinney had been convicted during the October 1885 session of circuit court of manslaughter in the death of a young man named Charlie Broadway and was serving a 12-month sentence.

The grand jury wrote that on the night of Feb. 18, 1886, a crowd of armed, masked men forced Sheriff T.T. Hamilton to give them the keys to the jail. They took McKinney outside, where they shot and hung him to death.

Though as in the investigation of the "Carrollton Courthouse Riot" the grand jury failed to return any indictment, its members wrote, "We feel it our duty to condemn without reservation the act of barbarism visiting such terrible vengeance upon a helpless convict."

John T. Stanford was foreman of the grand jury, which also included T.A. Kimbrough, W.A. Layne, G.S. Fox, W.P. Mussalwhite, Lawyer Lott, Ance Liddell, G.F. Roberts, W.F. Mabry, J.H. Fields, W.C. Chatham, J.B. Harlin, Lee McMillon, L.L. Chambley, J.V. Williford, and G.W. Pentecost. (Harbin?)

Five days before the lynching, according to a historian for the W.P.A., who in the late 1930s took down the story from J.A. Norwood, two part-Indian, part-black brothers, Ed and Charley Brown, were delivering molasses to a saloon at Carrollton when (James) Liddell bumped into one of the Browns. Molasses was spilled, either before or after a fracas started.

The grand jury wrote that there was a second encounter between the Browns and Liddell, but during the first, Liddell had referred to Ed Brown as a "S.O.B." After eating supper at a hotel, Liddell, who was either with other men or was joined by them shortly afterward, walked toward a group outside, which included the Browns, and asked what they were doing there. Ed, the grand jury found, replied that it was none of his "g-d business", and then Liddell slapped Ed in the face.

If others were seriously injured or killed during the shooting which erupted, the grand jury did not say, but they did report that Liddell was wounded in the thigh and in the arm, recovering well enough to return to his home in Greenwood March 10, 1886.

Two days after the shooting, the Browns were arraigned before Mayor Elam of Carrollton, but on March 12, they swore out an affidavit against Liddell and six others, charging them with assault with intent to kill.

The grand jury wrote that when the case came to trial, Ed Brown fired at Liddell after hearing "some disturbance" outside of the courtroom, precipitating the massacre.

"The evidence before us goes to show that the Browns were turbulent and desperate half breeds, always ready for a conflict..." the grand jury concluded, ultimately blaming the Browns for everything.

Norwood's account to the W.P.A. historian details the "disturbance" mentioned in the grand jury's report, which was directed to Circuit Judge C.H. Campbell.

Outside, and stretching up the road leading to Carrollton from the highway to Greenwood, were riders, allegedly from Leflore County and allegedly led by Houston Whitworth, who broke into four squads of 15 or more at the square, heading into all four entrances to the courthouse.

Some jumped out of the windows of the courtroom as they tried to avoid the gunfire. Walter McLeod, according to the W.P.A. account, was shot in the heel, and Jake Cain was crippled for life as he tried to get away. The body of one man was left hanging from a window.

Carroll County bore some of the resulting expense.

"George Jackson, et. al." were paid $6 for digging six graves at nearby Oak Grove Cemetery for paupers who died. T.H. Oury, coroner, was paid $10 to attend to burying 10 of the men. Jeff Johnson was paid $5 each for the coffins for Amos Mathews, John Money, Ed Brown, Charley Brown, Simon Cain, and Andrew Roberson. Alex Stansbury was paid $10 for cleaning the bloody, bullet-riddled courtroom.

(Elsewhere in the W.P.A. account, it’s written Oury was called out of services at Carrollton Baptist Church at some point by the father of the massacred Browns. Oury then shot and killed Brown.)

T.E. Marshall remarked to the W.P.A. historian asking for details about the "Carrollton Courthouse Riot" of 1886 that describing what happened as a riot was wrong. Marshall said many of those who died that day were "peaceable but curious" men who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that what occurred seemed well planned and executed.

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Carrollton Massacre Courthouse Map


They Didn’t Want Us To Hate


Special to the Clarion-Ledger

CARROLLTONMildred Cain Burks walks slowly and with a cane among the weathered tombstones of the Cain Cemetery in a secluded glen several miles southeast of here. She stops at a boldly carved monument to her grandfather, Jake Cain, Sr., who survived one of the county’s bloodiest post-Reconstruction Era episodes.

Twenty-three people – all black – either died during the so-called Carrollton Courthouse Riot of March 17, 1886 or died later of wounds suffered that day.

Burks’ grandfather’s name appeared on the list in a New Orleans newspaper published two days following the riot, which more accurately could be termed “massacre”. A reporter wrote this line: “Jake Cain, will die.” Cain, born into slavery Aug. 12, 1862, died Sept. 1, 1945.

What happened that day, Burks says in a voice softened with emotion and with pain, grownups didn’t discuss in front of the children. Her father, who had the same first name as his father, told her later: “We didn’t want to teach you to hate.”

Blacks had crowded into the courtroom to watch a trial. Mixed-blood blacks, Ed and Charlie Brown, sons of a free black man of Indian extraction who had moved to Carroll County from Tennessee, had filed assault charges against James Liddell, a white man. The Browns were well known, and so was Liddell.

Drumbeats of warning had sounded earlier in the day. Some got the warning and obeyed. Others didn’t, or came anyway. The sheriff, T. T. Hamilton, according to the reports, was home at dinner. Mounted, armed men flooded the square. The gunmen entered the courthouse and went upstairs and into the courtroom.. Gunfire erupted. If there were exits, they were the tall windows, not those two blocked doors.

A grand jury convened to investigate the so-called riot, amazingly, placed the blame of that bloody day on the backs of the Browns, who were both killed outright.

Cain took his second-storey exit.

“I’ll tell you history,” Burks says, feeling with one of her hands her own back to show the location of the scar in his own back that her grandfather tried to hide. It has been said for years that Cain limped from injuries he suffered that day, jumping from the window. “He was shot in the back,” Burks says, “he lay wounded and bleeding, and men came up with guns to shoot him again. Someone said, don’t waste bullets, (he’s) going to die anyway. Later, someone came and took him away. I don’t think he ever saw a doctor, just a person who did healing.”

Ed Brown’s body was riddled with bullets. According to the article in the New Orleans newspaper, one of these rifle balls passed through three seats of heart pine, each one and one half inches thick.

Cain’s brother, Simon, died at the courthouse.

Their father was also named Simon, Burks says. “He had already been sold down here,” she says, trying to remember correctly. “My grandfather’s mother brought her baby with her when they came on down from Virginia. Caroline, I think that was her name.”

Caroline’s Simon, Burks says, came out of slavery with many working skills. He dug wells. He disappeared up in northern Carroll County sometime prior to 1886, she thinks it was, when he set off for the Calvary community there to dig a well.

Burks points her cane to a shaded tombstone. “That’s Lucy Ann Cain Wilkerson-Peters,” she says, “Sally Cain, her mother, is buried beside her.” Sally Cain was married to Burks’ grandfather Cain’s brother, Simon. “She knew big words, she couldn’t write them,” Burks says, almost slyly. “She’d go work in the big house and listen to the old master. Those big words, that’s how she got her ‘Mr. McCain’. She’d just repeat what she heard in the big house, she called him ‘McCain’, not ‘Cain.’”

The Cains owned land, and descendants still own the place down highway 17, off to the east, where a ruined old house stands and where the well-kept, fenced cemetery stands. Burks, who lives at North Carrollton a door away from the town’s Senior Citizens’ Center, which she owns, left Carroll County as soon as she could. Her father, the late Jake Cain, Jr., tried to keep her at home, taking the $10 monthly fee she was earning by participating in a government program. Somehow, she held onto that final $10 and escaped Carroll County to Memphis.

“I could never be SATISFIED,” Burks explains. She didn’t want to become a teacher, because, she says, she recognized so many young people of her race had been injured by receiving instruction from people who hadn’t been properly educated themselves. She went on to Chicago and wound up in Indianapolis, Ind. She lived there about 13 years, married, and then divorced.

Back home, she married Winston W. Burks, whose tombstone, she points out, in 1970.Through him, she has three stepchildren. Burks was also born in 1919. She nursed him as he died of cancer Jan. 1, 1994. Now, she fights skin cancer on her own.

During her time away from Carroll County, Burks found a profession that fit – dressing hair. When she came back home, Burks landed on Marshall Road, near the old cotton gin. She had a little shop first in her house, and then in a separate building nearby.

A new youth club, Youth of Carrollton, organized recently, meets in the tiny Senior Citizens’ Center she owns. County supervisors also lease her shotgun styled building, which her father built, as a feeding site for senior citizens, and Burks is trying to wrangle some extensive renovations to enlarge the center.

It would be a way of helping keep young people in the historically black neighborhood off the streets and out of trouble, Burks says, recalling the disciplines of her own generation.

“The older ones, they were very strict with us,” Burks recalls, “protective.”

Several years ago, the Cain family homecoming took place in that well-kept glen. This year, it was in California. “We swap around,” Burks said, closing the cemetery gate.

The gravel road leading away from the Cain Cemetery hooks up with another one, narrow and twisting. Interchanges back into the present subtly continue until the pavement of highway 17 shows itself again.

Burks chuckles.

“I was close to my grandfather, and I listened to the older ones, but I’m not telling everything,” she says. “I’m saving some things for my book.”

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The Cleveland Gazette (Ohio)


Ohio Historical Center Archives Library, Vol. 3, No. 33, P. 1.  Newspaper Roll 4427.  April 3, 1886.







The Cleveland Gazette (Ohio)


Ohio Historical Center Archives Library, Vol. 3, No. 35, P. 2.  Newspaper Roll 4427.  April 17, 1886.





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