Warning: this source uses outdated language to refer to African Americans. This account describes the murder of John Walter “Chicken” Stephens who was a Republican state senator and justice of the peace from Caswell County, NC. Stephens encouraged African Americans to vote for the Republican Party. This angered many of his white neighbors who considered him a scalawag, someone thought of as a traitor to the South after the Civil War. After his murder several Ku Klux Klan members were arrested, questioned, and then released.
RALEIGH, N. C., FEB. 25 — …Mr. Bowman, Republican… related from the sworn evidence of one of the parties present the particulars of the murder of Senator John W. Stephens, of Caswell, which occurred in June, 1870; and that warrants had been issued for the guilty parties. He stated that a public Democratic meeting was in progress in the court-house at Yanceyville, the county seat of Caswell; that Stephens was in attendance on that meeting; that a prominent Democrat of Caswell approached Stephens with a smile, and asked him to go down-stairs with him. Stephens assented, and they went into a room formerly occupied by the Clerk of the Court of Equity; that as soon as they entered the room the door was locked; that there were in the room eight white men and one negro. Stephens was surprised to find the room full of men, and was struck with horror when a rope, fixed as a lasso, was thrown over his neck from behind, and he was told by the spokesman of the Kuklux crowd that he must renounce his Republican principles; that he believed they were right, and that the Republic would prosper if they were carried out; that he could not leave the country and State, because his all was there; that the colored people looked upon him as a leader, that they depended on him, and that he could not desert them. Stephens was then told that he must die. He then asked to be allowed to take a last look from the window of the office, at his home and any of his family that might be in view. The request was granted, and when Stephens stepped to the window he beheld his little home and his two little children playing in front of his house. He was then thrown down on a table, two of the Kuklux holding his arms. The rope was ordered to be drawn tighter, and the negro was ordered to get a bucket to catch the blood. This done, one of the crowd severed the jugular vein, the negro caught the blood in the bucket, and Stephens was dead. His body was laid on a pile of wood in the room, and the murderers went up-stairs, took part in the meeting, and stamped and applauded Democratic speeches.
Citation: “Life in North Carolina: The Murder of Senator John W. Stephens — A Terrible Scene — Shall His Assassins Be Amnestied?” New York Times, February 26, 1873. https://www.ncpedia.org/anchor/primary-source-murder. Accessed 5 September 2023.
- What does this article tell you about the fight for African American political rights in Reconstruction North Carolina?
- How does this source depict both Democrats and Republicans in Reconstruction North Carolina?
- According to the text, what reasons does Senator Stephens give for not giving up his Republican principles?
Clerk: person who completes administrative duties for a court of law
Kuklux (Ku Klux Klan): white supremacist terrorist organization created in the South following the end of the Civil War
Renounce: give up