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Phoenix SC Massacre Remembered, 125 Years Later at Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site

Though not commonly taught in most American history classes, neither at the high school or collegiate levels of education, there have been several instances of attempts of racial and ethnic cleansing or terrorism due to race in America. There were horrible acts against Native Indigenous Americans, Pacific-Americans, and Blacks / African-Americans throughout the United States, whereby these groups were expunged from towns under threat of mob rule, with an intent to harm and / or eliminate these ethnic communities.

These such incidents enumerate:

  • From the 1700s to 1860, there were 50+ such incidents;
  • During the Civil War period (1861 – 1865), there were 5;
  • During the Post-Civil War and Reconstruction period (1865 – 1877), there were 28;
  • During the Jim Crow period (1877 – 1914), there were 73;
  • From 1914 to 1954, there were 60+;
  • During the Civil Rights Movement (1955 – 1973), there were 77;
  • From 1974 to 1989, there were 14;
  • Since 1990, there have been 20+.

Georgia incidents included in these counts are:

  • The Camilla race riot in Camilla, Georgia, September 19, 1868;
  • The Jesup riot in Jesup, Georgia, December 25, 1889;
  • The Atlanta Race Massacre of Atlanta, Georgia, September 22-24, 1906;
  • The Jenkins County, Georgia riot of 1919 [part of the “Red Summer” riots of 1919];
  • Various lynching and racial expulsion activities in Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912;
  • The Summerhill and Vine City Riots, September 6-8, 1966.

Even though these incidents enumerate upwards of 330+, many American citizens, lawmakers and politicians refuse to acknowledge these events and recognize their importance / significance in U. S. history, especially since they have made families fearful to act and changed the course of livelihoods, political activism and outcomes of several generations in America.


Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays Quote In "Born to Rebel"
The late Civil Rights leader, educator and mentor Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays (1894-1984) stated at the beginning of his 1971 autobiography, Born to Rebel
“I remember a crowd of white men who rode up on horseback with rifles on their shoulders. I was with my father when they rode up, and I remember starting to cry. They cursed my father, drew their guns and made him salute, made him take off his hat and bow down to them several times. Then they rode away. I was not yet five years old, but I have never forgotten them.”
“I know now that they were one of the mobs associated with the infamous Phoenix Riot which began in Greenwood County, South Carolina, on November 8, 1898, and spread terror throughout the countryside for many days thereafter. My oldest sister, Susie, tells me, and newspaper reports of the period reveal, that several Negros were lynched on the ninth and others on subsequent days.”
“That mob is my earliest memory.”
  • Mays, Benjamin E., and Burton, Orville Vernon. “In the Days of My Youth.” Born to Rebel: An Autobiography, University of Georgia Press, 1971, pp. 1-21. Chapter I In the Days of My Youth (pp. 1-21)

In Phoenix, South Carolina – in Greenwood County – a group of Blacks tried to file affidavits to vote but were denied the ability to vote. The race-based riot was part of numerous efforts by white conservative Democrats to suppress voting by Blacks, as they had largely supported the Republican Party since the Reconstruction era. Southern states passed new constitutions and laws designed to disenfranchise Blacks by making voter registration and voting more difficult. Over the following few days, twelve Blacks were fatally shot or lynched, hundreds more were injured by the white mob.

On Thursday, November 16, 2023, the Greenwood County Remembrance Project (GCRP) coalition had a solemn, prayerful soil collection at two sites in the Phoenix Community where seven of the nine lynching victims (all nine shot by rifle fire) were murdered during the Phoenix Riot, November 8-14, 1898. The other two victims were killed in local farm fields, exact locations unknown today.

On Thursday, November 16, 2023, the Greenwood County Remembrance Project (GCRP) coalition had a solemn, prayerful soil collection at two sites in the Phoenix Community where seven of the nine lynching victims (all nine shot by rifle fire) were murdered during the Phoenix Riot, November 8-14, 1898. The other two victims were killed in local farm fields, exact locations unknown today. The names of the lynching / murder victims that were recognized and who had soil represented were eight Black men: Wade Hampton McKinney, Jesse Williams, Columbus Jackson, Drayton Watts, George Logan, Essex Harrison, Benjamin Collins, Jeff Darling and one Black woman: Eliza Goode.
On Thursday, November 16, 2023, the Greenwood County Remembrance Project (GCRP) coalition had a solemn, prayerful soil collection at two sites in the Phoenix Community where seven of the nine lynching victims (all nine shot by rifle fire) were murdered during the Phoenix Riot, November 8-14, 1898. The other two victims were killed in local farm fields, exact locations unknown today. The names of the lynching / murder victims that were recognized and who had soil represented were eight Black men: Wade Hampton McKinney, Jesse Williams, Columbus Jackson, Drayton Watts, George Logan, Essex Harrison, Benjamin Collins, Jeff Darling and one Black woman: Eliza Goode.

On Saturday, November 18, 2023, the group dedicated and unveiled a Phoenix Riot historical marker at the Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays Historic Preservation Site in Greenwood, South Carolina to commemorate the impact that the Phoenix Riot had upon Mays and his family.

The names of the lynching / murder victims that were recognized and who had soil represented were eight Black men: Wade Hampton McKinney, Jesse Williams, Columbus Jackson, Drayton Watts, George Logan, Essex Harrison, Benjamin Collins, Jeff Darling and one Black woman: Eliza Goode.

The program was attended by several local citizens. Participating in the program, included Reverend Christopher B. Thomas (pastor and director of GLEAMNS Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site); Reverend J. C. Collins; Reverend Caroline Dennis (pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church); Reverend Dr. Toby Frost (pastor of South Main Baptist Church); Loy Sartin (director emeritus of GLEAMNS Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site); Dr. Ashley Woodiwiss (professor of Political Science and Department Chair at Lander University in Greenwood, SC); Donald McKinney (great-nephew of Wade Hampton McKinney: one of the SC lynching victims); Sumita Rajpurohit (Justice Fellow, Equal Justice Initiative, Montgomery, Alabama); songstress Benetra “The Boss Lady” Calhoun; Floyd Nicholson (former mayor of Greenwood, SC and former SC State Senator); Mamie Nicholson (CEO of Self Family Foundation); and Reverend Doug Kauffmann (retired pastor, Connie Maxwell Baptist Church).

For more exciting content and information on Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, follow The Benjamin E. Mays Historic Site on Facebook  (at https://www.facebook.com/benjaminemays).

Help preserve the legacy.

Contribute to The Benjamin E. Mays Endowment

Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays
Coming from impoverished, humbled beginnings, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays rose to become one of the greatest international leaders of his generation.

The Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site
The Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site held its grand opening on April 26, 2011. The Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site was established on the campus of GLEAMNS Human Resources Commission which is located in the old Black Brewer Hospital before desegregation. The site – adjacent to and part of the old  Brewer School, which has its origins back to 1872 – was chosen because of its historical significance. Dr. Mays’ birth home, previously listed as one of South Carolina’s Eleven Most Endangered Properties, was originally located in a pasture in southeast Greenwood County in the community of Epworth, South Carolina. In 2004, the South Carolina Palmetto Conservation Foundation purchased the home from the owners and moved it to its current site.

GLEAMNS
In response to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, GLEAMNS Human Resources Commission, Incorporated was chartered as a private, nonprofit organization in 1966, under the authority of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. GLEAMNS fights against poverty in South Carolina. Changing its infrastructure to expand its comprehensive services and programs to different communities, GLEAMNS has evolved over the years. Since 1993, GLEAMNS stands for Greenwood, Laurens, Edgefield, Abbeville, McCormick, Newberry and Saluda, the associated and represented counties in South Carolina. GLEAMNS provides a variety of comprehensive services designed to help low-income families develop self-sufficiency. These programs include Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), Head Start and Early Head Start, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Weatherization, and a Workforce Development Program.


Last updated on November 22, 2023

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