Oct. 29, 1869

Harper’s Weekly Credit: Library of Congress

Klansmen kidnapped and savagely beat Georgia legislator Abram Colby, leaving him for dead. 

Freed 15 years before emancipation, he became an early organizer of Black Americans. A Radical Republican, he represented Greene County in 1865 at a convention for freed African Americans and was elected to the Georgia Legislature a year later. 

In 1869, the Ku Klux Klan offered him a $7,500 bribe to not run for re-election, but he refused. “I told them that I would not do it if they would give me all the county was worth,” he recalled. 

These Klansmen were hardly impoverished white men, he said. “Some are first-class men in our town. One is a lawyer, one a doctor, and some are farmers.” 

During his whipping, they asked him, “Do you think you will ever vote another damned Radical ticket?” When he answered yes, the beating became even more severe. 

“They set in and whipped me a thousand licks more, with sticks and straps that had buckles on the ends of them,” he recalled. Although he survived, he was unable to work or hold office. Three years later, he testified before a joint House and Senate committee investigating reports of Southern violence, detailing what had happened. 

“The worst thing was my mother, wife and daughter were in the room when they came,” he recalled. “My little daughter begged them not to carry me away. They drew up a gun and actually frightened her to death. She never got over it until she died. That was the part that grieves me the most.”

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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.