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The White Line Instigates Violence (1874)

Louisiana freedman Henry Adams testified before Congress in 1874 about how members of the White Line instigated confrontations with African Americans with the intention of committing murder. The following is an excerpt from his testimony.

They raise a little disturbance with some of the colored people. They come to a place where there is a kind of little gathering. One will take a drink—he won’t drink enough to get drunk—then comes out and commences to meddle with one of the colored men. Maybe the colored man will say something sort of rash like. If he does [the white] will haul out a revolver and strike him and maybe, perhaps, shoot him. As soon as [the whites] hear that firing, many come with guns and revolvers, and the first colored man they see, they beat him or shoot him. Then a passel of them will commence firing on them colored men who haven’t got anything to fight with. Now if one of them colored men will show fight, if he hurts one of them, his life ain’t no more than a chicken’s. He may go home but he won’t stay for a passel will come after him that night . . .

Q: Why do not the colored people arm themselves? Cannot they get arms?
A: They can buy arms if they have the money till the riot come. If there is a riot started, [the whites] go down by fifties and hundreds in a gang to watch us to see whether the colored men were going to buy arms. At the time a riot is going on, the colored men cannot buy no ammunition. If the colored men are attacked, they call it a riot, because they are killing the colored men. You never hear of the colored man raising a riot, because he never gets the chance. If he shoots at a white man they kill fifty colored men for the one white man that was shot.1

  1. Citations

    • 1 In Dorothy Sterling, ed., The Trouble They Seen: The Story of Reconstruction in the Words of African Americans (Dacapo Press, 1994), 437–438.

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