Old Town Rock Hill, South Carolina
COURAGEOUS CHAMPION FOR THE RIGHTS & SAFETY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CITIZENS
Jim Williams (c. 1830 - March 6, 1871) was born a slave on the Rainey Plantation in the vicinity of Brattonsville (10 miles west of Rock Hill). He escaped from slavery during the Civil War and found his way to freedom behind Union lines. He served under General Sherman's command during his march through the Carolinas, supporting the fight to win the freedom of all African Americans held as slaves.
Following the Civil War, he returned to York County. During the years following the war, the Ku Klux Klan began a campaign of terror designed to intimidate African American citizens from voting and exercising other rights as citizens. Williams became the leader of a state militia company in York County composed exclusively of African American men. This militia company became a counterweight to the terror of the Klan. Williams was outspoken in his contempt for the Klan and in his determination to protect the African American citizens of York County.
In an effort to control the escalating violence in the state, Governor Scott officially disbanded the black militia companies in February 1871, but some units, including Jim William's company, refused to surrender their arms in order to continue protecting the community.
In response to widespread violence against African American citizens, President Ulysses Grant ordered Federal troops to occupy York County in early 1871. Despite the presence of Federal troops, Klan violence continued. On March 6, 1871, the Klan abducted Williams from his home during a midnight raid and hanged him. Beginning in October 1871, mass arrests of presumed Klan leaders by Federal troops finally put an end to the terror. Charges related to Williams’ murder were a major focus in the arrest and prosecution of Klan members from York County.
Jim Williams was a courageous champion for the rights and safety of African American citizens of York County. He sacrificed his life seeking to ensure equality and justice for his fellow citizens.