Postmaster Frazier B. Baker refused to be intimidated.
In 1897, President William McKinley personally picked Baker, a black 42-year-old school teacher from Effingham, to be the postmaster of the nearby town Lake City. He proudly accepted.
Almost immediately after his appointment, Baker began receiving intimidating letters that told him it would be better if he did not to come to Lake City at all.
Still, Baker felt compelled to serve — even if it meant taking up this postmaster position in a majority-white town that would repeatedly and forcefully try to drive him out.
He was shot and wounded that summer when he refused to give into demands that he appoint a white deputy to conduct post office business. A North Carolina newspaper reported Baker then vowed he would die before he would resign or relinquish his office to a white man.
“He did not give in,” Baker’s great-niece Dr. Fostenia Baker said. “He was an educated man, and he believed that he should be able to serve his country as any other man.”
Baker would not get that chance.
In January 1898, the post office where he was stationed was burned to the ground by townspeople who hoped it would drive Baker out for good. Instead, Baker and his family moved to the outskirts of Lake City and set up another post office at their home.
What happened next would make national and international headlines.
Around 1 a.m. on Feb. 22, an armed white mob approached Baker’s house and the town’s post office, which they set ablaze in a plot to lure him outside to his death. Then, the mob started shooting.
“Come on, we might as well die running as standing,” Baker reportedly told his wife, Lavinia, before he and his infant daughter, Julia, were shot and killed inside the burning house.
Baker’s wife and their remaining five children barely escaped.
More than a year later, 11 white men were arraigned in federal court in Charleston, but a divided jury resulted in a mistrial. No one was charged in the killings.
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