Wednesday, February 8, 2012

KKK in Fort Myers

From here.


See also this story from the Fort Myers News Press in 1925 about a KKK funeral.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Lynchings in Fort Myers and Labelle, 1924-26

A lynching took place in Fort Myers, FL, on May 26th, 1924. It is described here and here:
May 26, Fort Myers, Fla.:Bubbers Wilson and Milton Williams met death at the hands of mobs following their identification as the men alleged to have attacked two white girls. Wilson was taken from the sheriff shortly after being arrested, and Williams was removed from a freight train. Both were riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets.
It appears that Wilson and Williams were actually just skinny-dipping:
In the mid-1920s, crowds from as far as Arcadia lynched two black teenagers who were found to be skinny-dipping with white girls.

Two years later, Henry Patterson was lynched in Labelle, in a manner that involved horrific torture. This is described here and here and here and here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Immokalee's First Postmistress

Immokalee’s first postmistress, Mary Burrell, held the position from 1898 to 1919 before moving to Miami. She was interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938, and a record of the interview is on-line here. She offered these opinions (paraphrased by the interviewer) on Reconstruction:
Slaves were encouraged to go away from the land on which they had lived. Many went away only to become vagrants and were guilty of misdemeanors in other localities. As conditions grew more desperate, so the problem of the Negro became more serious. The carpetbagger stirred them to lawlessness, and only the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan saved the women and children of the South, including the north Florida counties and the southern counties of Georgia, where the Burrell families and their connections had their properties.
Burrell claimed that:
Negroes were accustomed to whipping as a punishment, and knew when they deserved it…To put a Negro in solitary confinement only let him enjoy leisure.
If the Immokalee postmistress was praising the Klan for saving white womanhood, what does this tell us about the likely treatment being received by African-Americans in Florida at that time?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Nelson Tillis in the Census 1870-1900

The 1870 Monroe County census (see here) listed four Black males and three Mulatto males in Fort Myers. The eldest Black males listed was Julius Cesare, a farmer, aged 40, born in North Carolina, whose personal estate was valued at $300 . He employed a Black labourer, July Walker, aged 25, born in South Carolina. Nelson Tillis was the eldest Mulatto listed in the census, and occupied his own dwelling. His age was given as 23 and his occupation as farm laborer. His birthplace was listed as Florida, suggesting that he was formerly a slave on the Willoughby Tillis plantation at Fort Meade, whose slaves were liberated by Union forces in April 1864.

Tillis was the only Black or Mulatto in Fort Myers who had a wife or child. His wife, Ellen, was listed incorrectly as Mulatto: she is normally considered to have been White based on photographic evidence and oral testimony (see here). Their eldest son, Eli, was aged 1 in this census. We may therefore conclude from this census that there is doubt as to whether Tillis was the first African-American in Fort Myers, but the census supports the claim that he was the first to raise a family.

In the 1880 Monroe County census Tillis’s wife’s Christian name is revealingly listed as “Pink?” His children are named Eli, Marion, Ida, Ann, Candaise and Lavina.

In the 1900 census (see here), Ellen Tillis was listed as Black. Their marriage year was dated to 1872, even though they had been listed as married in the 1870 census. Nelson was given an earlier year of birth (November 1842) than in any earlier census, and the gap in age between him and Ellen was larger than stated elsewhere. They were listed as having 11 children of whom 10 survived.

Eight Black children were recorded as being ‘At School’ in the 1900 Fort Myers census. These were Irene Major, Hager Robison, Doshie Tillis, Benjamin Tillis, Ernest Mitchell, Robert Mitchell, Isabelle Moody and Charlie Moody. The two Moody children were grandchildren of Nelson Tillis via his daughter Ida. There was also a Black schoolteacher in the area named Mary Price. These facts support the hypothesis that Tillis provided or found education for his and other children.

The marriages of some of Nelson Tillis’s daughters have been traced . Daisy ‘Carrie’ Tillis married John Perkins on 9 May 1895 (see here for all the Tillis daughter records), but she was listed as a widow in the 1900 census. Her sons from the marriage were Louis and Alton. Louis was conscripted into military service in 1917-18 (name registered as ‘Lewis Perkins’, see below). Daisy then married again to J.N. Cheney on 9th October, 1903 (see here). Alice Tillis married cattle herder David Smith on 17th December, 1891. Emma married Shedrack Bethel and they had daughters called Ella and Zephie. Doshie married William Blocker in 1905.

Two of Nelson Tillis’s sons and four grandsons were listed in the register of the Lee County military draft for 1917-18 (see here). The sons were Benjamin and William Tillis. The grandsons were Lewis Perkins, and Charlie, Lawrence and James Moody.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Racist Violence in Fort Myers, FL, 1895

On 9th December 1895, The New York Times reported:

WAR AGAINST FLORIDA NEGROES; Twelve Drowned While Fleeing from Their Persecutors -- Alleged Conspiracy Against Owners of Cotton Groves.

TAMPA, Fla., Dec. 9. -- Nearly 200 negroes have arrived here from Lee County, having been driven out by whites.

The article reported that 200 'negroes' who were working for orange grove owners in Fort Myers were taken by a white mob at gunpoint to the wharf and left unfed for 48 hours until a steamer took them to Tampa. The article speculated that this was a conspiracy to drive the grove owners from their land, allowing the conspirators to buy the groves cheaply.