"Dust and Ashes" The Meridian Mississippi Race Riot of 1871

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Compton, Cecil Garland III
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Western Illinois University
The subject of this thesis is the Meridian Mississippi Race Riot of 1871. This study's purpose was to investigate the factors and conditions of Reconstruction era Eastern Mississippi and Western Alabama that provided the catalyst for the riot, provide the first lengthy narrative of the Meridian Riot, challenge long held assumptions about who was responsible for the fire that destroyed part of the downtown business district, challenge long held notions regarding who was responsible for the gunshots that began the riot and describe the effects of the riot on the citizens of Meridian. The sources used to complete this study included Testimony taken by the Congressional Committee formed to Investigate the Affairs of the Late Insurectory States, records created by the Freedmen's Bureau, Local and State bodies that investigated the riot, private manuscripts, and local and national newspapers. The findings of this study concluded that although freedmen were traditionally held responsible for the business district fire, it is highly likely that the Republican Mayor of Meridian, William Sturgis, and a member of his police force, Thomas Pelton, may have played a significant role in planning and executing the blaze. Following the examination of all available sources this study also produced considerable doubt that Warren Tyler, who was credited for firing the gun shots that started the riot in the courtroom and killing justice Eikner Bramlette was entirely responsible for starting the Meridian Riot of 1871.