Many white Southerners labeled the return of “home rule” following the Radical era of Reconstruction as a period of “Redemption.” That word, however, contained a very bitter note for anybody who believed that the aftermath of the Civil War promised equality to all and a socioeconomic revolution for the region’s dispossessed. For southern blacks, in particular, the Redeemers represented an ominous threat, not only to their rights as freemen, but to their lives. How far Redemption might go in undoing the reforms of Reconstruction –and how violent its advocates might be in that process– remained to be seen by the end of the 1870s. However, it was already clear during the Centennial Year of 1876 that violence against blacks was looming. The Hamburg Massacre in South Carolina during July 1876 offered one of the most gruesome examples. Foner describes the wanton violence against blacks in the small town, but he leaves out a discussion of the subsequent role of
Prince Rivers, the black militia leader and local trial judge charged with investigating the aftermath of the massacre. A new website from historian Stephen Berry (CSI: Dixie) offers a vivid account of the massacre and the complicated role that Rivers tried to uphold during the proceedings afterward. Students in History 118 should remember Prince Rivers, because he was the former contraband slave who been “discovered” by James Miller McKim (Class of 1828) and who subsequently emerged as a leader in the First South Carolina volunteers and a hero during the Civil War. Rivers also turned out to be a symbol of the betrayal of Reconstruction’s promise. Students should be able to explain why after reading Berry’s narrative of the Hamburg Massacre.