It was all based on rumors.
What rumor? A black man bought bullets. Or a new Black family moved to town. Or Black citizens congregated at church. It could have been one of those or another one that never made any of the papers.
The first sign of trouble was this September 16 article in the Fort Worth Gazette. According to the article, the people in Longview, TX, and the surrounding area were all worked up that the Black community would rise and take possession of the town. So, the report starts doing some digging around. It seemed that the Black community bought out the entire stock of 44-caliber cartridges.
In 1883, there weren’t any grocery stores around. So it’s not like they could go stock up on meat to store in their freezers. So instead, they had to hunt for meat. It doesn’t seem that far-fetched now, but that September, it was enough for the white community to organize patrols for both the day and night to ensure there wasn’t a sneak attack on them.
White residents let it be known; they would kill everyone.
The September 17th issue of the Galveston Daily News spoke of how the white men in town made sure to gather some of the Black residents up and let them know that they would kill every single Black person around if they were planning a raid.
Both of these articles mention how they questioned or confronted people with the Black community about these rumors, all of which they denied.
Then the September 18th issue of the Galveston Daily News published an article called “A Reign of Terror.” It reported that white farmers kept their wives and children in gin-houses and kept guard all through the night.
They were scared of the rumors, that they made up themselves, apparently.
That didn’t end the rumors.
The September 18th edition of the Dallas Daily Herald reported a delicate woman whose fears and imagination had combined to produce her into a hysterical condition. She ran down the street with her children to a neighbor’s house and told them, “a negro had warned her that the town was to be raided.” The man who she said told her this denied the accusations.
Did he actually tell her? Or did she make it up? We’ll never know, but this woman’s hysteria brought more white men to town, ready to defend against a race war.
The same Dallas Daily Herald article also spoke of midnight meetings in the Black community. Another rumor? Perhaps.
However, even though the threats of a race war were squelched, it wasn’t the end of this story.
The murder of Silas Johnson.
The September 27th issue of the Dallas Weekly Herald reported that a Black man’s dead body was found lying in the road. It was Silas Johnson, a preacher and a blacksmith.
“However,” the article notes, “These are only conjectures and may or may not be true.”
The Clarksville Standard further cleared it up the next day. Silas Johnson had just returned from Longview, where he was accused of exciting race troubles. It was suspected that parties from that town made the killing.
There was never a race war in Longview, Texas, nor did they ever find the killers who murdered Silas Johnson. Instead, Silas Johnson had his life stolen for rumors that were never substantiated.
You can now read an ad-free version of Living Blue in Texas and help support our mission to turn Texas blue. Sign up now.
Sign up for our weekly blog roundup: