When Black men showed up to vote in downtown Asheville on November 3, 1868, members of the Ku Klux Klan had gathered at the polling place. The Klan, a White supremacist terrorist organization, had entered Western North Carolina in the spring with the goal of preventing Black men from participating in elections. 

Black men had been registered to vote with the help of The Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal organization set up to help the South transition from slavery to freedom for Blacks. When some of the Black men cheered Republican Congressman Alexander H. Jones, a White man, as he passed by, White men reputed to be Klan members attacked. According to one account, “in a very few minutes the rebels fired about forty times into them.” Fourteen Black men were wounded and one, James Smith, was killed. Jones fled and hid in Raleigh.

Newspapers and court records tell part of the story of the Asheville election day riot of 1868. One of the more contemporary accounts comes from Harriet Jones, the daughter of Congressman Jones. Dated December 7, 1868, this letter offers insight into the murder of James Smith and the voter suppression and election fraud on November 3, 1868.

A letter from from Harriet Jones to William C. Stevens

Asheville, N.C.

7thof Dec. 1868

“Cousin Willie” [William C. Stevens, a Michigan Calvary officer who was among the occupation troops in Asheville in the Civil War’s immediate aftermath]

I believe it has been nearly two months since I received your last letter a longtime for a letter to remain unanswered but I believe if you knew what a state of excitement I have been in most of that time you would excuse me.

When the campaign for the recent elections commenced, with it commenced a warfare almost equal to the rebellion, indeed, I suffered a great deal more uneasiness than at any time during the war, but in the beginning I did not think of how much danger Pa [Congressman Alexander H. Jones] was in, and towards the last I knew he was in safe hands. Our house has been stoned at night by the Ku Klux Klan; Pa has been attacked, when coming from his office at night by ruffians who threatened his life. The rebels raised a riot here on election day in which there were fourteen negroes wounded and one killed. The one that was killed was living at our house. The way the riot occurred, the negroes had been told the should not vote at this box and they determined to see that all did vote, stood in a body near the courthouse. The rebels were standing around armed but kept quite until about one o’clock as Pa was going up to his office from dinner. The darkies gave three cheers for him and in a very few minutes the rebels fired about forty times into them. They ran, of course, not being armed, and they pursued them until they were altogether out of the streets.

A threatening advertisement distributed by the Ku Klux Klan to scare off Black voters before the 1968 national election.

Now they accuse Pa and Col. Eastmond [Freedmen’s Bureau Agent Oscar Eastmond] of being the instigators of the riot. Under the circumstances I don’t think it was at all safe for him to remain here, so Ma and I persuaded him to leave. He went to Raleigh where he remained until the 3rd inst, when he left for Washington.

His opponent, Mr. Durham [Plato Durham of Cleveland County; Ku Klux leader], was elected by eighteen votes so far as we know though all the returns have not been received, that is, the official returns. It is estimated there were 50 or 75 votes lost to the republicans by the riot and in one county in this district there were 36 vote thrown out because the negro elector’s name was scratched on the ticket. A great many other frauds can be proven so Pa will contest the election “with every confidence of easy success” he says. I could fill a quire of paper with outrages committed by them, but the papers are full of such accounts and a rebel is a rebel wherever found.

"The rebels raised a riot here on election day in which there were fourteen negroes wounded and one killed. The one that was killed was living at our house."

I expect now to go to Washington in two or three weeks, where I will be from among [them], at least, for a while.

Our family is quite small now, only Ma. Otho, my youngest brother, and myself. It is not my youngest but my oldest brother who is at West Point. He has been there about three months.

I received your photograph all right for which accept my thanks. It adds very much to the dignity of my album. I thought I remember your features perfectly but don’t believe I would have recognized you. Somebody “hooked” my last one as I have none to send you now but hope to have soon.

I remain as ever

Your true friend

- Cousin H