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Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017

1934 Riot, Part 6: More fears arise

Posted Tuesday, December 22, 2009, at 9:02 AM

Sixth of a 7-part series

This series goes into details of the December 1934 rioting in Shelbyville in which Bedford County Courthouse was burned after rape suspect E.K. Harris wasn't turned over to a mob. Information is taken from The Bedford County Times and national wire services of the time. Reader additions and comments are welcome.

SATURDAY, DEC. 22, 1934: More fears arise

A total of 550 Guardsmen and a 100-man vigilante committee composed of merchants, bankers and clergymen patrol the city. Cost is estimated at $5,000 per day.

During the morning a team of three Shelbyville police officers and a constable enters 27 residences of black families searching for moonshine whiskey. Three men are arrested for possession of moonshine and a fourth for loitering. They said more searches will occur Christmas Eve due to expected drinking that day.

A National Guard plane flies over the area all day to detect any formation of mobs on farmland outside Shelbyville and to guarantee safe passage of trucks carrying guns and ammunition for the vigilantes.

Casualty count is listed as four dead, 20 wounded.

Pressure is being brought to force Sheriff Tom Gant's resignation. Vigilante leaders think trouble will die down if Gant resigns and leaves town, but they express their determination to remain behind him as long as he remains in office.

Gant refuses to resign.

"The question is whether law-abiding citizens or farmer-Communists will run this city. I'll stay and rather die than quit, as long as the law-abiding citizens of the city are satisfied with my performance of the sheriff's duties," Gant tells International News Service.

Gibson allegedly tells Time magazine, "The fire hain't started to burn yet. Our people in the hills ain't agoin' to forget," and blames Gov. Hill McAlister for the problems.

The National Guard plans to pull out at 3 a.m. Vigilante leaders fear the jail will be attacked before sunrise.

NEXT: The aftermath

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I have found this all very interesting. But with all that was going on, why did they search black homes for moonshine? And why only black residences? Were the blacks rioting as well? Then with all the crimes that had been committed, they arrest a man for loitering. What was the line of thought here? I was under the impression that this was more or less whites wanting revenge for the attack of a 14 year old white girl by a black man.

-- Posted by goose2008 on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 7:31 AM

It has always been amazing to me, but when a mob mentality takes over, all reason goes out the window. I had a man tell me many years ago when there was a Edwards Paint Store on Madison Street that had all kinds of antique glassware in the show windows, that he would never do anything to break the law, but if a riot mob ever formed again he would be going to Edwards Paint Store, and break every piece of glass in their show windows with rocks or whatever he could get his hands on. Thank goodness that never happened because otherwise he was a really good man.

-- Posted by leeiii on Wed, Dec 23, 2009, at 8:16 AM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.