FEBRUARY 22, 1898

This South Carolina historical marker was erected on the site of the post office where Postmaster Frazier Baker and his family were attacked in 1898. Credit: Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Frazier Baker, the first Black postmaster of the small town of Lake City, South Carolina, and his baby daughter, Julia, were killed, and his wife and three other daughters were injured when a lynch mob attacked

When President William McKinley appointed Baker the previous year, local whites began to attack Baker’s abilities. Postal inspectors determined the accusations were unfounded, but that didn’t halt those determined to destroy him. Hundreds of whites set fire to the post office, where the Bakers lived, and reportedly fired up to 100 bullets into their home. 

Outraged citizens in town wrote a resolution describing the attack and 25 years of “lawlessness” and “bloody butchery” in the area. Crusading journalist Ida B. Wells wrote the White House about the attack, noting that the family was now in the Black hospital in Charleston “and when they recover sufficiently to be discharged, they) have no dollar with which to buy food, shelter or raiment. 

McKinley ordered an investigation that led to charges against 13 men, but no one was ever convicted. The family left South Carolina for Boston, and later that year, the first nationwide civil rights organization in the U.S., the National Afro-American Council, was formed. In 2019, the Lake City post office was renamed to honor Frazier Baker. “We, as a family, are glad that the recognition of this painful event finally happened,” his great-niece, Dr. Fostenia Baker said. “It’s long overdue.”

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.