Julie Hayden was a 17-year-old Black school teacher who was murdered in 1874 for teaching Black children in Hartsville, Tennessee, by members of the White Man’s League, a white supremacist group whose stated purpose was “the restoration of white supremacy.
Julie Hayden was a courageous 17-year-old Black school teacher, who left an indelible mark on history through her commitment to education during a tumultuous time in post-Civil War America. Born in 1857 in Spring Hill, Maury County, Tennessee, Hayden’s life was cut short in 1874 when she became a victim of racial violence for daring to teach Black children.
Growing up in Spring Hill, Hayden demonstrated a passion for education from a young age. She pursued her studies at Central Tennessee College in Nashville, a beacon of hope for Black students aspiring to become educators.
In her quest to “educate black people,” Hayden moved from Nashville to Hartsville in Trousdale County, Tennessee. Unfortunately, in the hostile climate of the time, teaching Blacks to read was perceived as a direct challenge to white supremacy.
Just three days after her arrival in Hartsville, tragedy struck. At 2:00 am on August 21, 1874, members of the White League, a white supremacist terrorist group, invaded the home of Emery and Pink Lowe, where Hayden was staying. Subsequently, they entered her room and fatally shot her while she slept.
Despite the brutality of the crime, justice remained elusive. The Superintendent of Public Instruction, Colonel John Fleming, called for an investigation and even offered a $500 reward for any information leading to the capture of her murderers, but the wheels of justice turned slowly, as was typical when dealing with crimes against Black people at the time.
It wasn’t until September of that fateful year that the Black citizens of Spring Hill, where Hayden’s family resided, mustered the strength to petition Tennessee Governor John C. Brown. Their plea for justice reverberated through the corridors of power, demanding accountability for the heinous crime.
Charges were eventually filed against Pat Lyons and J. Bowen Saunders, members of the White Man’s League believed to be responsible for Hayden’s murder. But in October 1874, they were released on $3500 bail, and no one else was ever arrested or tried for her murder.