Charles Caldwell

Charles Caldwell (Hinds County)

State Senate: 1870-1875

Born: 1831/32
Died: December 25, 1875 in Clinton, MS

Appointed to be colonel in the second regiment of the Hinds County militia in 1873. Bold, outspoken advocate for civil rights, murdered in Clinton. Listed on the 1870 census in Hinds County, occupation “senator,” with wife Margaret Ann and children Charles and Annie.

“It is altogether likely that one day Mississippi school children, Negro and white, will be taught to revere the name and to hold precious the memory of Charles Caldwell.”
(Herbert Aptheker, To Be Free: Studies in American Negro History, “Mississippi Reconstruction and the Negro Leader, Charles Caldwell,” 1968)

On December 25, 1875, Caldwell went into the town of Clinton to learn about his nephew who had been threatened earlier that day. After dinner he returned to Clinton. This time an acquaintance of his, Buck Cabell, invited Caldwell to drink a toast in celebration of Christmas. While the two men stood in the basement of Chilton’s store, they touched their glasses, apparently a signal for the assassins. Caldwell was shot in the head as he stood with his back to the window. Not quite dead, he lifted himself up and told the assassins not to forget that they were killing a gallant man and that when he was dead be mindful of the fact that he was not a docile man. At that instant, some forty shots rang out, delivering the fatal blow.”
(Buford Satcher, Blacks in Mississippi Politics 1865-1900, 1978)

“Charles Caldwell, Mayson’s colleague from Hinds County, also exercised some influence in the [1868 constitutional] convention. A mulatto, he had been a slave blacksmith in Clinton, and had picked up a smattering of education. A Democratic leader declared he was ‘far above the average negro in intelligence.’ Although he was no orator, he was a natural leader. Later, as state senator, he helped to guide his party, and, as ‘the Warwick of the administration,’ became one of the strongest supporters of Governor Ames. Unlike the great mass of Negroes of the time, in or out of politics, he was absolutely fearless. Although he used his power for the maintenance of peace between the races, in the crisis of 1875 he led a unit of militia through Clinton, and for this he was marked for death. One night about a month after the overthrow, he was literally riddled with bullets on a street in that town.”
(Vernon Lane Wharton, The Negro in Mississippi, 1865-1890, 1965)

“In that day and age, black politicians were usually shot down in broad open daylight in the county square. But Charles Caldwell was no ordinary politician. He was strong, he was fearless, he was a dead shot – and nobody wanted to meet him face to face… With one last painful effort, Charles Caldwell pulled himself erect, smoothed the wrinkles in his blood-stained coat and said: ‘Remember, when you kill me you kill a gentleman and a brave man. Never say you killed a coward. I want you to remember it when I am gone.'”
(Lerone Bennett, Black Power U.S.A.: The Human Side of Reconstruction, 1867-1877, 1967)

“The jury also investigated most thoroughly the killing of Charles Caldwell and Samuel Caldwell in Clinton on the 30″ December 1875. We have been unable to find the party or parties engaged in this deed. The whole affair is shrouded in mystery, and though nearly every man, white and colored, who lives in or near Clinton, has been before the jury, we have no proof sufficient to attach guilt to any man… We have had every witness that could be heard of who was likely to know anything of the affair but utterly failed to elicit any evidence upon which we could take any action.”
(Report of the Grand Jury of Hinds County, February 7, 1876; Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Ames Series 803)

Signature of Charles Caldwell
Signature of Charles Caldwell from an 1874 petition to Governor Ames

Wikipedia Page
Mississippi Reconstruction and the Negro Leader Charles Caldwell
The Clinton Riot of 1875: From Riot to Massacre
The Clinton Riot: A True Statement, Showing Who Originated It – biased white POV
Voices of the Clinton Riot – dramatic reading performed at the 140th anniversary
The Root: Reconstruction-Era Voting-Rights Activist Claimed by an Assassin’s Bullet

Clarion-Ledger, May 12, 1868
Clarion-Ledger, May 12, 1868
Natchez Bulletin, July 7, 1869
Natchez Bulletin, July 7, 1869
Petition to support Blanche K. Bruce as a trustee of Alcorn University
Petition supporting B. K. Bruce, May 13, 1871
Hinds County Gazette, May 1, 1872
Hinds County Gazette, May 1, 1872
Hinds County Gazette, May 1, 1872
Vicksburg Times & Repub, Sep 2, 1873
Clarion-Ledger, October 2, 1873
Petition to Governor Ames, Feb 12, 1874
Petition to Governor Ames, Feb 12, 1874
Daily Mississippi Pilot, October 13, 1875
Daily Mississippi Pilot, October 29, 1875
Canton Mail, January 8, 1876
Clarion-Ledger, February 13, 1878
Vardaman’s Weekly, June 20, 1908
Caldwell historical marker, 2021
Caldwell historical marker, 2021