The Brutal Lynching of Frazier B. Baker and His Infant Daughter by a White Mob in 1898

In 1897, when Frazier B. Baker, an African-American educator, assumed the role of postmaster in Lake City, South Carolina, local whites objected angrily and launched a campaign to remove him. Despite their efforts, when they failed to remove Baker through conventional means, a mob attacked him and his family at their home, which doubled as the post office, resulting in the tragic deaths of Baker and his infant daughter.

The Brutal Lynching of Frazier B. Baker and His Infant Daughter by a White Mob in 1898

Following the 1896 Presidential election, the Republican administration led by William McKinley appointed numerous Black individuals to postmasterships throughout the Southern United States as part of patronage jobs aimed at establishing local networks. These appointments faced opposition from local whites who opposed Black Republican officeholders, citing concerns that the growing political influence of Black postmasters might lead to unwelcome advances toward white women.

Frazier B. Baker, a 40-year-old African-American schoolteacher and father of 6, became one of the few African American postmasters in the United States when he was appointed as the postmaster of Lake City, South Carolina in 1897. His appointment, part of a broader effort by the Republican administration of William McKinley to empower Black Americans, was met with vehement opposition from the white community, who viewed any assertion of black political power with suspicion and hostility.

The resentment toward Baker’s appointment manifested in a relentless campaign to remove him from office. White residents, driven by racial animus and fears of black empowerment, boycotted the Lake City post office and circulated petitions demanding Baker’s dismissal. Despite facing threats to his life and property, Baker persisted in his role, determined to fulfill his duties despite the hostility surrounding him.

The night of February 21, 1898, marked the tragic climax of this campaign of hate. The Baker family, awakened by the terrifying sight of their home, which also served as the post office, engulfed in flames, found themselves under siege by a white mob intent on violence and destruction. As Frazier Baker attempted to escape from the fire, he and his family came under gunfire, Amidst the chaos, a bullet struck and killed his two-year-old daughter, Julia, who his wife Lavinia held. Realizing that his youngest daughter had been killed, Baker attempted to confront the gunmen but was fatally shot in the ensuing hail of bullets.

The Brutal Lynching of Frazier B. Baker and His Infant Daughter by a White Mob in 1898
Lavinia Baker is treated by Dr. Alonzo McClennan at the Charleston Colored Hospital. Scanned from a reproduction of the cover of a 1899 pamphlet by Reverend James Dart printed in True Stories of Black South Carolina.

Wounded by the same bullet that killed her daughter, Lavinia led her remaining family to safety across the road, hiding in bushes nearby. They later sought refuge at a neighbor’s house, where they found one daughter waiting, and the oldest, Rosa, joined them. Rosa had been shot in the right arm while escaping from an armed white man. Only Sarah (7) and Millie (5) escaped unhurt.

The lynching sparked widespread condemnation, resonating not only locally but also across the South. However, there were defenders of the lynching, including South Carolina Senator Benjamin Tillman, who justified the violence by claiming that the “proud people” of Lake City were unwilling to accept mail from an African American postmaster.

Following the tragic events, the McKinley administration launched an investigation, offering a reward for the capture and conviction of those responsible for the murders. Seven men were indicted on July 1, 1898, for the killings, with a total of eleven facing charges ranging from murder to conspiracy and assault by April 7, 1899.

The trial took place in federal court from April 10 to 22, 1899, but concluded in a mistrial as the jury remained deadlocked at five to five after approximately 24 hours of deliberation. Unfortunately, the case never proceeded to retrial, leaving the Baker family’s quest for justice unfulfilled.

After the trial, Lavinia Baker and her surviving children settled in Charleston before relocating to Boston, where they retreated from public life. Tragically, the family endured further anguish as four children fell victim to tuberculosis between 1908 and 1920. Lavinia’s last surviving child, Rosa Baker, died in 1942. Having lost all her children, Lavinia Baker returned to Florence County, where she lived until her death in Cartersville, South Carolina in 1947.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.



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