Outrages by Negroes- A Reign of Terror in South Memphis

February 28, 1866


" A party of negroes" rob multiple groceries stores in Memphis dressed in full military uniform as terrified store owners fear for their safety.


The state of affairs in South Memphis is such as to excite serious apprehensions. Armed bands of negroes, numbers from ten to thirty, generally soldiers or ex-soldiers, prowl about the streets, "splitting the ear of the night" with their fiendish carousals, committing all manner of deviltry, and striking terror to the hearts of many a defenseless family. On Wednesday night one of these gangs were seen at several places. Their conduct shows very fairly what the negro is, when conscious of superior brute force, and armed with the bayonet. About 10'oclock the part, numbering about eighteen or nineteen, entered the grocery store of an Italian, on the corner of Beale and Shelly streets, and helped themselves freely to the contents of a fruit stand within. Three of them carried muskets and accouterments, and all were dressed in full uniform, and had pistols. After satisfying themselves with fruit, etc., they went out on the pavement and fired twenty or thirty shots promiscuously. One of them returned and lired at the store-keeper, but fortunately did not wound him seriously. The charge barely grazed his side, and the pistol was so close that the powder burned his flesh. Some policemen hurried to the spot, and arrived only in time to see the rear guard, with three muskets, closing up the safe retreat. They then proceeded to the grocery store of William Ryan. The front door was closed, but they went around to the back door, which was open, placed a guard there, and proceeded to help themselves to whatever struck their fancy. Five or six customers were in at the time. These were quickly relieved of all their money. Mr.Ryan himself was searched, but happened to have no money on his persons except fifty dollars, which was in a secret pocket and overlooked. The money drawer was cleaned ; what amount was obtained we are not informed. By way of assuring Mr.Ryan of their power and soothing him, they held a pistol close to his ear and fired it off- very magnanimous in them not to blow his brains out. They took in all about five hundred dollars' worth of of goods, besides the money, and then departed leisurely. Such is the reign of terror in South Memphis, people close their stores and houses early in the evening to guard against violence ; and when an instance of this kind occurs, they are almost afraid to report it to the authorities, lest double vengeance should be visited upon their heads by the authors of their wrongs. - Memphis Argus, 23d.
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Justin Barlow




“Outrages by Negroes- A Reign of Terror in South Memphis,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed December 5, 2022, https://reconstructingvirginia.richmond.edu/items/show/75.