100 Years before King era: Riots over civil rights erupt in Vicksburg

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Peter Crosby (a rendering, not a true image) by Mark Kelly of Vicksburg

After the Union’s Civil War victory in April 1865, the political climate in Vicksburg took a turn for the worse. Since the fall of the city to the Union on July 4, 1863, Vicksburg had become a refuge for the escaped slave and for the Black military service volunteers. With at least 15 Black Union regiments garrisoned there, and thousands of ex-slaves living in contraband camps on the outskirts of the city in Warren County, Vicksburg had the largest concentration of Black people in the state. 

But in 1865, the “redeemed” local white men again seized control of all the political offices and instituted the infamous “Black Code” of Mississippi that restricted Black lives nearly as much as slavery had.

Under the Codes, Black men were allowed to buy or rent land only in incorporated cities and towns. Intermarriage with whites carried a penalty of life in prison. And any violation of work contracts was subject to severe penalty and arrest.

These laws showed a blatant disregard for the “freedom” and the modicum of rights for the Black masses that were presumed to be protected by the 13th Amendment passed in December 1865. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States,” the new federal law specified. 

It was apparent to both the newly liberated Black masses and those key lawmakers in Washington, who had pushed for the abolition of slavery and the passage of the 13th Amendment, that something more dynamic had to be done.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 soon followed. This was the first law to provide broad protection for Black people in Vicksburg and the rest of the nation, guaranteeing them equality with white people before the law.

This bill, however, was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s successor as president and a deeply conservative former senator from Tennessee. But Congress reconvened and easily overrode his veto and passed the Congressional Reconstruction Act of 1867. Johnson was called before the House and Senate on impeachment charges in 1868 and was found guilty by the House, although the Senate vote fell short by one. 

To protect the key features of the civil rights bills from the whims of the next president or the next Congress, the Radical Republicans codified these laws into Amendments to the Constitution. That was the underlying reason for the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments.

The military governors in charge of the former Confederate states were now empowered to declare all the “redeemed” governments illegal and were ordered to make new temporary appointments or hold new elections that would include Black male voters who qualified under the 14th and 15th Amendments.


Gen Adelbert Ames, military governor of Mississippi in 1867, exercised this authority and dismissed the white redeemers from their offices and appointed temporary officials until elections could take place under a new state constitution in 1868 or 1869. 

“I found when I was military governor of Mississippi, that a Black Code existed there, that Negroes had no rights, and that they were not permitted to exercise rights of citizenship. I felt that I had a mission to perform in their interest, and I hesitatingly consented to represent them and unite my fortune with their own,” Ames said in his memoirs. 

Ames favored Union Army officers for the civilian posts, and appointed Colonel Charles Furlong as Warren County sheriff. Furlong viewed himself as the political “boss” of the county and since the sheriff was the tax collector, he held enormous power over nearly everyone in his county.

The military officers organized the Union Party, still a branch of the Republicans nevertheless, and welcomed in Black voters. Since the majority of Mississippians in 1867 were Black, they could be expected to deliver overwhelming election majorities to the Republicans. Warren County in 1867 was more than 80 percent Black, while Vicksburg had a slight white majority. 


The Black and Tan Convention of 1868 was named for the Blacks and mulattoes who were rising to power as the Republican majority overwhelmed most of the state. 

The convention voted to guarantee Mississippi’s Black majority the right to vote without property qualifications, the right to hold public office, free public education, the repudiation of slavery, and freedom to travel on public conveyances without discrimination.


Furlong’s destiny would change radically after 1871 when Black circuit clerk Thomas W. Cardozo would join forces with Furlong’s Black deputy Peter Crosby and a small group of other Blacks to seized control of their political party. The new Black Republican faction insisted that Black voters should be encouraged to elect Black officials at the local level. White men should not retain control of party interests in a Black majority county, they reasoned.

Warren County’s Black majority community was ready for a change at the time of Cardozo’s arrival in 1871. Having lost several hard-fought political battles to his white Republican counterparts in both North and South Carolina before moving to Mississippi, Cardozo was very irritated when Furlong appointed him to the circuit clerk’s job and demanded that Cardozo siphon off a sizeable portion of the fees he collected to the sheriff’s coffers. 

Cardozo struck up an alliance with Crosby, Furlong’s Black chief deputy; I.D. Shadd, a state representative and future speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives; and Warren County Constable William T. Montgomery, the older son of wealthy Black plantation owner Ben Montgomery, the first Black man to hold public office in Mississippi.

Cardozo, Shadd, Montgomery, and Peter Crosby all played a major role in strategizing and winning the election coup of 1873. 

Their plan was to marshal as many as possible of their Black and white allies to demand that Black men be elected to half the top offices in the state. At the local level, they developed a strategy to get Black men elected to the top county offices wherever they had an obvious majority of the population. And the plan worked.

When election time came in November 1873, the Black Republicans won half of the top state offices, which included lieutenant governor, secretary of state, superintendent of education, and speaker of the house. 

In Warren County, Black candidates had won all the offices except one. Most importantly, Deputy Peter Crosby had defeated his boss, Charles Furlong, whose resentment knew no bounds. After losing the sheriff’s office to Crosby, Furlong joined the anti-Black Democrats and won election to the State Senate and became one of the bitterest enemies of Black politics in Mississippi.

The other very important victories for statewide offices from Warren County included Thomas W. Cardozo as Superintendent of Education and State Representative. I.D. Shadd, who was named Speaker of the House in 1875. 

Former Vicksburg resident Hiram Revels, who later moved to Natchez, was elected U.S. Senator from Mississippi in 1870. Revels had also served a year as acting Secretary of State after the demise in office of Secretary of State William Lynch (not to be confused with Congressman John R. Lynch of Natchez who was also the former speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives.)


Crosby’s support team was out of the county, however, perhaps in Jackson, when the sheriff was confronted by a gang of 600 of Vicksburg’s “leading white men” in early December 1874, some with guns drawn, who demanded his resignation because he had fallen short of paying the full bond required to hold the sheriff’s office. The problem was that one of Crosby’s white bond sponsors had died and in the mind of his enemies the bond was no longer valid. 

Standing on the landing of the Old Courthouse in Vicksburg, Crosby heard the words, “We will have your resignation, or your life.” 

 Crosby, courageous as always, stared down the group and reminded them that what they were doing was against the law, before surrendering his badge. He rode horseback immediately to Edward’s Station to catch the train to Jackson. There, he reported the hostile situation in Warren County to Governor Ames and to political genius Cardozo.

Governor Ames and Cardozo advised Crosby to organize the Black community to defend itself. Cardozo drew up a handbill that Crosby would pass out to the Black people of the county, and Ames asked New Orleans-based Gen. Phil Sheridan to bring enough troops to Vicksburg to suppress the vicious white mob and restore order to the city and county.

On Dec. 7, 1874, the Black population of Warren County armed themselves and rallied to Crosby’s appeal and began a massive march from all directions that would converge on the courthouse and confront the white mob. 

The leaders of the white mob saw that they were outnumbered and asked Crosby to settle the matter in court. Crosby got the looming cadres of armed Black citizens to agree to return home and await the outcome of the courts.

Just as the crowd began to disperse, several white snipers began firing into the retreating masses, killing and wounding several at the time. Former Sheriff Charles Furlong was the leader of several vigilante groups that terrorized the city and county. The dispersed battles continued until the cavalry arrived from New Orleans. General Sheridan, never a friend of the Confederate rebels, kept a tight lid on the explosive situation until the arrival of a committee of Congressional investigators in early January and brought an end to the open warfare. 

The intermittent street battles and shootouts went on from December 7, 1874, to January 5, 1875. When the Congressional delegation finished its investigation, a lot of doubt remained about the extent of the damage done. 

The official report listed three white men killed, with an unspecified number of wounded, and said that 26 Black men had been killed, also with an unknown number of wounded. With Black officials back in charge of the county offices, the relatively modest number of fatalities reported is credible. 

In the end, Peter Crosby and all the other Black elected county officials returned to their jobs and served out their terms of office. Crosby opted to run for the office of Justice Court Judge in 1878 and won. Crosby died in 1884 while still holding a seat as Justice Court Judge in Warren County.

Warren County and Vicksburg eventually transitioned both economically and politically to white-majority control. A large segment of Warren County’s Black population moved north to the all-Black town of Mound Bayou that was co-founded in 1887 by W. T. Montgomery’s younger brother, Isaiah.

Republish This Story

Copy and Paste the below text.

100 Years before King era: Riots over civil rights erupt in Vicksburg

By Earnest McBride
January 25, 2024