The Northern Birth of the White Caps
Following the dissolution of the original Ku Klux Klan, a group known as the White Caps was formed in Indiana. Unlike the Klan, there was no central leadership. This was more of an organic movement, each town and county mimicking the dress and actions of the preceding.
Also unlike the Klan, the White Caps weren’t a strictly racist organization. Simply put, they were vigilantes. When they saw something which bucked traditions or went against the perceived values of a community, they would take action. Typically this action found their culprits at the end of a rope. 1For instance.
But then the White Caps spread south. The Southern counterparts certainly followed suit, maintaining what they viewed as conservative values, but also adding a much stronger white supremacist bent to things.
Through the 1890s and early 1900s, the White Caps filled the roles that the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan would fill a decade or so later.
Today, we’ll look at two unrelated, but eerily similar lynchings that took place on the same night in 1901. Both were committed by White Caps, though separated by a distance of 500 miles.
Whitecaps Warn Negroes to Leave Country Or Be Mobbed
January 3, 1901 – Neelyville, Missouri
Regulators Visit and Shoot One of Their Victims, Besides Wrecking His Dwelling
Poplar Bluff, Mo., Jan 3 – Negroes living south of this city, near Neelyville, are greatly alarmed over a band of whitecaps which visited them last night, and after shooting out the windows and doors of their residences served notice on them to move out of the country within twenty days or they would receive a second visit, and all who remained would be lynched.
Those visited are of an industrious nature, quiet and thrifty. An organized band of men effectually disguising themselves as whitecaps and “from the vicinity of Upalika,” so they sign themselves, called at the home of Nelson Simpson last last night and summoned Simpson to the door.
When he appeared it was the signal for the discharge of a dozen or more firearms. They bullets fairly rained into the house. Simpson fell, badly wounded, and his 10-year-old daughter received a dangerous wound. His wife and other three daughters escaped injury and were not molested.
The outlaws continued shooting until every window in the house was riddled and the structure was perforated with bullets in a hundred places. Before the whitecaps departed, the leader of the band served notice on the family to leave the county within twenty days or a second visit would be made, their house burned and inmates punished.
Similar outrages were perpetrated later on. Will Lee, who lives in a house belonging to Attorney S. M. Chapman of Poplar Bluff. Every window in the house was broken, and Lee received a notice to leave the country.
Frank Nelson, negro, who was preparing to move into a house owned by I.H. Barnhill, was warned not to move, and threatened with a visit by the whitecaps if he was found in that vicinity at expiration of twenty days.
Two other negroes also received a visit and the same warning. All were threatened with a lynching if found in the county twenty days later.
All the negroes who live in the vicinity of Neelyville are badly frightened over the reorganization of the whitecaps and are preparing to leave the country. Others are arming themselves, and declare they will give the invaders a hot fight on their second appearance.
Several wealthy citizens of this city who own some of the residences occupied by the negroes are much alarmed and fear the outlaws will carry out their threats of burning their houses. There is not he slightest clue to any member of the band, but the gang is supposed to be composed of men jealous of the negroes and are determined to drive them out of the country.
Two years ago these same negroes were troubled a great deal by the Klu-Klux, who sought to drive the negroes away, and the present outrage is supposed to be due to a revival of that organization.
No action has yet been taken by the authorities to suppress the outlaws, but steps will probably be taken to prevent a repetition of the outrage. 2The St Louis Republic; St. Louis, Missouri; Thu, Jan 3, 1901 – Page 7. Here.
Though the Ku Klux Klan was officially disbanded in the early 1870s, clearly some vestiges of the group remained, forming on and off through the decades. I’ve not been able to find further information on the actions the Klan took against the black citizens of Neelysville two years earlier.
Whitecaps Slay Leading Negro
January 3, 1901 – Fairburn, Georgia
Sterling Thompson Is Shot To Death By Masked Mob
Fairburn, Ga., January 4 – On the Darnell place, ten miles west of Fairburn, near the Chattahoochee river, Sterling Thompson, a prominent negro politician and quite well-to-do, was assassinated in his own house.
About ten days ago the negro received a written notice to leave the county in ten days. Thompson paid little attention to it, and declared his intention of remaining. Last night a part of masked men called at the negro’s house and demanded to know why he had not gone.
The negro offered to go at once, if they would give him a chance, but he whitecaps replied that he had waited too long. The negro had the door of his house securely barred, but the mob hurled an anvil against it, knocking it own. As they did so, the riddled the negro’s body with bullets and buckshot.
In the house with Thompson were his wife and son, who succeeded in getting away, but a shot struck the son. The mob quickly dispersed, and when neighbors got to the place they found no one there but the dead negro. So far there is no clue to the perpetrators of the deed.
It has been suggested that the crime may have been the work of moonshiners, who were afraid the negro might know too much, as illicit stills are no strangers to that section of the county. 3The Atlanta Constitution; Atlanta, Georgia; Sat, Jan 5, 1901 – Page 2. Here.
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