In the late 1860s and early 1870s, the Ku Klux Klan inflicted terror and violence on black Southerners in an effort to intimidate them and influence elections. Abram Colby, an African American legislator from Georgia, was a victim of Klan violence. An excerpt from his 1872 testimony, given before a congressional committee formed to investigate violence against freedpeople in the South, is presented here. This is Handout 10.1 (p. 176) of The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy.
The following is excerpted from the 1872 testimony of Abram Colby, an African American legislator from Georgia, given before a congressional committee formed to investigate violence against freedpeople in the South.
Colby: On the 29th of October 1869, [the Klansmen] broke my door open, took me out of bed, took me to the woods and whipped me three hours or more and left me for dead. They said to me, “Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?” I said, “If there was an election tomorrow, I would vote the Radical ticket.” They set in and whipped me a thousand licks more, with sticks and straps that had buckles on the ends of them.
Question: What is the character of those men who were engaged in whipping you?
Colby: Some are first-class men in our town. One is a lawyer, one a doctor, and some are farmers. They had their pistols and they took me in my night-clothes and carried me from home. They hit me five thousand blows. I told President Grant the same that I tell you now. They told me to take off my shirt. I said, “I never do that for any man.” My drawers fell down about my feet and they took hold of them and tripped me up. Then they pulled my shirt up over my head. They said I had voted for Grant and had carried the Negroes against them. About two days before they whipped me they offered me $5,000 to go with them and said they would pay me $2,500 in cash if I would let another man go to the legislature in my place. I told them that I would not do it if they would give me all the county was worth.
The worst thing was my mother, wife and daughter were in the room when they came. My little daughter begged them not to carry me away. They drew up a gun and actually frightened her to death. She never got over it until she died. That was the part that grieves me the most.
Question: How long before you recovered from the effects of this treatment?
Colby: I have never got over it yet. They broke something inside of me. I cannot do any work now, though I always made my living before in the barber-shop, hauling wood, etc.
Question: You spoke about being elected to the next legislature?
Colby: Yes, sir, but they run me off during the election. They swore they would kill me if I stayed. The Saturday night before the election I went to church. When I got home they just peppered the house with shot and bullets.1
- 1 : In Dorothy Sterling, ed., The Trouble They Seen: The Story of Reconstruction in the Words of African Americans (Da Capo Press, 1994), 374–375.