In the wee hours of the morning of March 9, 1892, the three owners of the People’s Grocery Store, a market catering to the black community of Memphis, TN, were removed by a mob from the city’s jail, carried to a field outside of town, and “shot to pieces” by the mob. The three men, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Wil Stewart, were members of Memphis’s vibrant black bourgeoisie, and their store unfortunately happened to compete with a white owned business across the street. Their white competitor had invaded the People’s Grocery Store’s property with a white gang a few days earlier and the owners had defended their business with guns. Three white men were wounded, and the black business owners were caught up in the police raids that swept through the city’s black community.
The murders of Moss, McDowell, and Stewart inspired one of their friends, muckraking journalist and editor Ida B. Wells, to expose the lynching of African Americans in the Jim Crow South, which reportedly reached nearly 5,000 deaths between 1882 and 1950. On May 21, 1892, Wells published in Free Speech, the Memphis paper she owned and edited, an editorial documenting the eight lynchings that had occurred since her previous issue. Join me below the fold for a quote from that editorial, and a broader historical discussion of lynching in America.