Julia Hayden was about to work at a school in Tennessee in the fall of 1874 when she was shot to death by the White League, the paramilitary group that operated mainly to terrorize freed people to keep them from voting, political organizing, and getting an education.
Hayden’s only crime was that of being a colored teacher who sought to help her people in their struggle for elevation, a newspaper report said.
The daughter of a highly respected family in Maury County, Tennessee, Hayden was a student at the Central College, Nashville, where her intelligence and “ladylike deportment” attracted her to many.
Sources believe that during slavery, she was taken from her parents and sent to New Orleans to be sold. But she would improve herself to the extent that she decided to teach others. That led her to Western Tennessee, where she was to take charge of a school until her tragic end at the hands of the White League.
A newspaper report says that on August 22, 1874, three days after her arrival at Hartsville, Tennessee, two white men armed with guns showed up at the house where she was staying and “asked to see the teacher for a few minutes.” Sensing danger, Hayden fled to the room of the mistress of the house, but the white men followed and succeeded in shooting her to death.
“They fired their guns through the door of the room, and the young girl [young woman, actually] fell dead within. Her murderers escaped, nor is it likely that the death of Juia Hayden will ever be avenged, unless the nation insists upon the extermination of the White Man’s League,” writes Harper’s Weekly, 1874.
At the time, the White League, or White Man’s League, was a fearful organization that was allied with the Democratic Party in the South. In its attempt to crush black education, it whipped, intimidated or murdered teachers from Ohio to the Gulf, and its deeds “surpassed the horrors of the most vindictive civil war”, according to Harper’s Weekly.
Despite these terrors, colored people progressed and were very productive in the South; they cultivated farms, set up schools, and were engaged in trade.
Having respectable parents, reports said Hayden’s untimely demise cast a shadow over the hearts of many, and authorities even offered a reward of five hundred each for the murderers.
But nothing came out of that. In fact, months after she was killed, the White League formed by a group of Confederate veterans in Louisiana in 1874, reared its head again.
The white supremacist group, on November 3, 1874, attacked African-American voters at the polls in Eufaula and Spring Hill. Seven African-Americans were killed and 70 others wounded in the election riots that took place. The violence drove away over 1,000 African Americans from the polls while Republican politicians and officials were thrown out of office.
The White League, which sought to eliminate the Reconstruction government by “targeting local Republican officeholders for assassination,” didn’t count the votes cast for Republican candidates, and the Democrats were declared as winners of the 1874 elections, according to reports.
There were similar incidents in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina.