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The 1903 Lynching of Eli Hilson Jr. in Brookhaven, MS

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This story is about Black Prosperity, White Capping, and Justice.

A year of researching my family’s history in Brookhaven, MS, revealed that a lynching
took place on December 20, 1903, on property owned by my ancestors.

A lynching on my family’s land

Some of the land, where I grew up, still remains in my family. It was passed down to my grandfather, Reves Black Sr., through his mother, Luvinia Hilson Black, my great grandmother, Mo Venie.

As noted in a 2002 Congressional Record, the victim was a 39-year-old Black male, a prosperous land owner named Eli Hilson Jr. He was Mo Venie’s uncle. Her father, Jacob Hilson, was his brother.

The slain husband and father was my third great uncle.

The Leader, Brookhaven’s newspaper, now known as the Daily Leader, referred to his
murder as an “assasination”, a term typically reserved for an important person killed by secret attack.

Reading about his lynching in The Leader and other newspapers was emotionally
overwhelming. The experience led to a path of realizations about not only my family’s history but also my hometown’s.

My greatest take-away was a lesson that must no longer be buried – a story of devastation and justice (to an extent), that my hometown can build upon to educate the entire country while promoting change.

Discovery and Devastation

My uncle’s life, well-researched, raised my awareness of two major phenomena
surrounding the systemic practice of lynching – Black prosperity and the White Capping

Although Mississippi has been traditionally stigmatized as nothing more than a fire
hole of oppression for Black people, Hilson Jr. epitomized a less publicized reality, the history of Black prestige, power, and economic stability.

Sadly, regardless of their status, no Black Mississippian was safe from the horror inflicted by White Cappers, a group of White supremacists who forced Black families from their properties and seized control.

William F. Holmes, former Secretary-Treasurer of the Southern Historical Association, called attention to Black affluence in a 1969 article, “Whitecapping: Agrarian Violence in Mississippi, 1902-1906”, [See page 175.] which appeared in The Journal of Southern History.

Holmes, addressing a series of raids, highlighted two victims’ prominence, noting: ‘The most serious, lawlessness [assaults] developed in Lincoln County. On the night of November 28, 1903, a band of night riders shot and killed Henry List. Soon afterward someone murdered Eli Hilson.

List and Hilson were both Negro farmers who owned their land”. By Holmes’ account, “The
murders of List and Hilson, were by far the most serious Whitecap crimes”. In the South, land ownership was a viable resource for Black men to create sustainable wealth.

This article is one in a series of five to be published.

The next article will be published on December 12 with The Black Wall Street Times.

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