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It looked squally for a time

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Learn enough of our local history and it becomes hard to be shocked at anything people get up to now.

Case in point

On June 19, 1890, the African American population of Liberty County held a celebration, and in what must have been an effort to let bygones be bygones, they invited several of the local white officials to come speak.

One of them was County Attorney M.D. Rayburn. While there, Rayburn took offense to something a black school teacher said, and despite being a prosecutor and knowing the law, he still thought feeling insulted by a black man was cause enough to pull a gun.

Officers wrestled the gun away from him before anyone was hurt, but later that day he and the school teacher had a shootout in the middle of town. They were both terrible shots, though, and only the school teacher’s horse took a bullet.

Rayburn stood trial for “assault to murder” the following February and was acquitted.

The school teacher, Charles Walker Harris, had also been charged with “assault to murder” and was to be tried that same month, but was he not prosecuted on that charge. Instead he was tried and found guilty of unlawfully carrying a pistol and fined $25.

Minter Duke Rayburn resigned as county attorney the following August. However, despite his own obvious lack of respect for the law or the value of human life, Rayburn was elected in 1892, at the age of 24, to the first of his three terms as county judge. He died in 1904. His obituary says that he was graduated from the University of Mississippi with the law class of 1887, when he would have been about 20 years old.

Harris continued a long and successful teaching career in Liberty County and earned two doctorates. He died in 1919.

The horse died shortly after being shot.

Below is The Vindicator’s 1890 account of the incident, and attached is a short biography of Harris published by this newspaper in 1974.

The 19th of June.

Our colored population celebrated this day (last Thursday) in the usual way. In the morning quite a crowd gathered in from the country and assembled at the river. About noon a procession marched through town, and as it passed our office we noticed the crowd was composed largely of young men, women and children. The old men, former slaves, were conspicuously few, there being not more than half a dozen of them in the procession, so far as we could see. Reassembling at the grove near the river, speeches were made by Messrs. C. F. Stevens, M. D. Rayburn and L. C. Chambers, white, (who had been invited to speak) and B. H. Hayden, C. W. Harris and Rev. Hadnott, colored. All went well, we understand, until a difficulty arose between county attorney Rayburn and C. W. Harris, negro school teacher. Angry words ensued, a pistol was fired, (said to have gone off while the officers were trying to take it from Mr. Rayburn, who had been insulted by Harris) and while no on was shot it looked squally for a time. The crowd [dispersed], going in different directions, everybody more or less excited. Shortly after the trouble at the river, Mr. Rayburn, who had returned to town, was coming down the street, toward the drug store, when he observed Harris, on his horse, approaching in the same direction. Harris seeing Rayburn, reached for his pistol that was in his saddlebags, and after bursting three or four caps, succeeded in firing one shot at Rayburn, when R. rapidly returned the fire, shooting, we believe, three shots, one of which wounded the horse, which has since died. At this juncture Harris turned away and rapidly retreated in the direction of the river to his home.

Saturday morning Harris was arrested, and waiving examination was placed under bond in the sum of $300. We were not present during any part of the trouble, did not see or hear any of it, and what we have said, is as it was told us. Of course reports are conflicting, as is generally the case when men are excited. All should feel gratified to know that no violence ensued to place a stain upon the good name of our county. The law is always ample, and let it be upheld and vindicated. Such should be the desire of all good citizens, white and black.


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