Echoes From The Past

By JUDY MAUPIN *- Echoes From the Past
(A Column of historical and genealogical anecdotes, stories and family notes.)
Calloway County, Ky.

The Birmingham Raid

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The activities of the Night Riders in 1907 and 1908 were originally the result of animosity felt by farmers at the price monopoly held by big business on the tobacco crops. But, as many such undertakings have a tendency to do, the original purpose later got lost, smothered by the anger and violence generated.

There are many stories told of incidents which happened as the result of night rider activities. One of these was the raid on Birmingham, that little town in Marshall County which no longer exists since the Impounding of Kentucky Lake. For some unfathomable reason, this anger, which was originally caused by the low prices paid farmers for their tobacco crops, became focused on Negroes. This animosity reached its zenith on the night of March 9, 1908, when about 100 night riders converged on the town of Birmingham. They fired into the house of every colored citizen in the town, seriously wounding and killing several Negroes. One of the citizens severely whipped that night was a teacher in the local colored school.

Many of the black members of the community hurriedly packed their belongings and fled to Missouri and Illinois, some even leaving bread baking in the oven, according to local legend.

A ferry boat operator at Birmingham had been wounded during this Incident; he had been attended by Dr. Emilius Champion, a popular physician of that area and the area between the rivers.

Some time after the raid, a grand jury investigation was conducted. Judge Reed, of Paducah, held the belief that many of the night riders were residents of the between-the-rivers region and brought forth 11 Indictments against several of them, including Dr.Champion. Right before the trial, a group of about 200 of the night riders rode into Marshall County in an attempt to Intimidate the citizens and cause them to drop the investigation, a tactic which failed.

But the grand jury Investigation did not really halt, or even slow down the activities of the night riders; In fact, it seemed to intensify their activities. Although the local law officials tried to halt the more serious depredations, many other similar Incidents happened. In April of the same year, seven night riders were arrested in Calloway County, but that didn't stop the violence either. Dr. Champion was subsequently found guilty of participation in the raid on Birmingham, although from what accounts are still In evidence, It seems that his most serious crime was pat-thing up the victims of the shootouts, both night riders and victims. He was sent to Eddyvlile Penitentiary for a year. During this year, many outraged citizens for many counties surrounding Marshall, raised petitions and wrote letters to the local papers, demanding his release. There was even an attempt made to make a folk hero out of Dr. Champion, and another petition started to send him to Congress - although the line of reasoning here escapes me.

For many years, until the mid-1960's, there were no Negroes to be found in Marshall County, as a direct result of the raid on Birmingham and the other night rider activity.

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