Arthur St. Clair: The Black Minister Lynched for Presiding Over a Mixed-Race Marriage in 1877

Arthur W. St. Clair was an African-American leader whose life was tragically cut short in 1877. His crime? Presiding over the marriage of a black man and a white woman.

Arthur St. Clair: The Minister Lynched for Wedding a Black Man and a White Woman in 1877

St. Clair was born into slavery on the May plantation in Dade City, Florida. Despite facing the typical hardships of slavery during his early years, he refused to let his circumstances hold him back. Instead, he actively sought out opportunities to educate himself and prepare for the day when he could achieve freedom.

The end of the Civil War brought with it the promise of freedom, and St. Clair wasted no time in seizing his newfound freedom and in time, he emerged as a prominent voice for African-American rights in Hernando County and was appointed the County’s first post-Civil War voter registrar.

As the first post-war voter registrar in Hernando County, he worked tirelessly to ensure that his fellow African-Americans could exercise their right to vote and participate in the democratic process. His efforts to expose voter fraud and corruption earned him the respect and admiration of his community.

After his time as a voter registrar, St. Clair tried three times to win a seat in the state Legislature as a Republican candidate, but he was unsuccessful each time.

St. Clair’s commitment to his community extended beyond politics. As a baptist minister, he recognized the importance of education in achieving true freedom. Thus, alongside his brother, he established the county’s first school for black students. Additionally, he founded Bethlehem Progressive Baptist Church to provide a place for black people in the county to fellowship.

In his role as an African-American Baptist minister, Rev. St. Clair was not afraid to take on controversial issues, including that of mixed marriages; those marriages considered taboo in the mid 17th to late 19th century. On a spring day in 1877, Rev. St. Clair decision to officiate the marriage of an interracial couple in Brooksville – David James, who was black, and Lizzy Day, who was white, was seen as a direct challenge to societal norms. Despite the backlash and threats he received, St. Clair remained unfazed.

Tragically, his principles cost him his life. On June 26 in 1877, he was ambushed and gun down by a mob of white supremacists, leaving a void in the community and exposing the deep-rooted racism of the era.

In the aftermath of St. Clair’s murder, a coroner’s inquest determined that “parties unknown” killed St. Clair. Although there were testimonies from witnesses, no evidence was offered to hold anyone responsible. Adding to the tragedy, the courthouse, where justice should have been served, was set ablaze by the assailants, burning all the records and voter files for the entire county and erasing any hope of closure or accountability.

The impact of St. Clair’s death reverberated throughout Hernando County, deepening racial tensions and leaving a scar on the community for years to come.

Arthur St. Clair: The Minister Lynched for Presiding Over a Mixed-Race Marriage in 1877

In 2007, the Brooksville City Council posthumously honored Arthur St. Clair as a Great Brooksvillian, recognizing his enduring contributions to the community and his unwavering commitment to equality.

Sources

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CRECB-2007-pt19/html/CRECB-2007-pt19-Pg27061-2.htm

https://www.tampabay.com/archive/2007/06/25/1877-burning-of-courthouse-symbolizes-period-of-lawlessness/?outputType=amp

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