Finding Aid for the Beckwith / Yerger Collection (MUM00029)Questions? Contact us!
Finding Aid for the Beckwith / Yerger Collection
Table of Contents
|Title:||Beckwith / Yerger Collection|
|Collector:||Beckwith, Byron de la|
|Physical Extent:||7 boxes (2.919 linear feet)|
|Repository:||University of Mississippi. Department of Archives and Special Collections. University, MS 38677, USA|
|Language of Material:||English|
|Abstract:||The Beckwith and Yerger families of California and Mississippi were land speculators, entrepreneurs, and planters. Susie Yerger married Byron de la Beckwith, Jr. in California in 1912, and after his death in 1926, she and their young son Byron de la Beckwith III returned to her hometown of Greenwood, Mississippi. The collection contains primarily family and business correspondence between members of the two families. Also included are clippings and miscellaneous items.|
In 1962, Byron De La Beckwith III offered the University of Mississippi this collection of family papers. Together, the John L. Hebron Fund of the History Department and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity provided the necessary purchase price.
Collection processed by Leigh McWhite, 2001. Finding aid encoded by Jason Kovari, December 2009, and Kathryn Michaelis, September 2011.
This collection contains additional material that is not processed.
No further additions are expected to this collection.
The first Byron De La Beckwith was born in Mentor, Ohio in 1839. After completing his education, he went west to California in 1860-1861, where he soon settled in the town of Stockton. Beckwith taught school, clerked in a general store, and invested his savings in land speculation. By 1868, he had moved to Lodi, California and opened a drug store. For a period, he also served as the community’s postmaster and telegraph operator. In 1882, Beckwith married a young widow, Mary Oliver Bray, with three children (Elliot, Bert, and Jennie). Two years later, Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. was born. By 1886, Beckwith had helped to finance and organize the Woodbridge Canal & Irrigation Company, one of the state’s first successful irrigation projects.
After a prolonged illness, Mary Oliver Bray Beckwith died in 1889. In 1897, Beckwith and his son moved to Colusa, California where they lived with close family friends Will and Sally (nee Morgan) Green. Before his death in 1904, Beckwith had become involved in yet another irrigation venture – the Sacramento Canal Company. Taking advantage of his illness and death, the company’s partners refused to make good on Beckwith’s investments. Beckwith, Jr. pursued his father’s case for over twelve years until the state’s Supreme Court decided in his favor. In the meantime, he became the captain of the local National Guard company, served as the town’s postmaster for three years, and started selling insurance.
At some point prior to the summer of 1909, Sally Green invited her niece, Susie Yerger, to visit Colusa, where the young woman from Mississippi met Green’s surrogate son, Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. They corresponded for a number of years and wed in 1912. Eight years later, their only child, Byron De La Beckwith III was born in a Sacramento, California hospital. Beckwith, Jr. died from pneumonia with alcoholic complications in 1926, leaving a bankrupt estate for his widow and son. At that point, Susie Yerger Beckwith returned home to Greenwood, Mississippi.
The Yerger family, and the related Morgan, Kimbrough, and Southworth families, were part of the upper socio-economic class of Mississippi Delta whites who had owned slaves and plantations prior to the Civil War. Susie’s father, Lemuel Pernell Yerger, had joined the Confederate army at the age of sixteen. When he returned home after the war, Yerger took up the practice of law and ultimately married Susan Fisher Southworth.
Byron De La Beckwith III would grow up in Greenwood among his mother’s southern family. In June 12, 1963, a single rifle shot killed Medgar Evers, the state field secretary of the NAACP. Indicted for this murder, Beckwith went to trial twice in 1963, and each time the all-white jury trial ended in a mistrial. A third jury in 1994 would find him guilty.
Reed Massengill, Portrait of a Racist: The Man Who Killed Medgar Evers (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994): 17-38
R.W. Scott, Glory in Conflict: A Saga of Byron De La Beckwith (Camden, AR: Camark Press, 1991)
This collection contains no documents from the hand of Byron De La Beckwith III, but does offer a rich resource in understanding his family background and early childhood. Received in a largely disorganized state, the papers are primarily sorted by surname as either Beckwith or Yerger. The exceptions are a few pieces of correspondence by Sally Morgan Green, which, because of her residence in California and close ties to the Beckwith family, appear in the Yerger correspondence, and the pre-marital correspondence of Susie Yerger with Byron De La Beckwith, Jr. and others.
The preserved Beckwith correspondence, on the whole, occurs among family members: the Ohio branch of Beckwiths to Byron De La Beckwith, Sr.; Mary Oliver Bray Beckwith to her husband during his business trips; letters from Beckwith, Sr. to Beckwith, Jr.; and Susie Yerger’s letters to her fiance and then husband. Business correspondence occasionally appears in this mix as well, although documents and receipts are organized separately unless specifically found with a letter.
The Yerger correspondence is primarily of a business nature, with a smattering of personal letters and correspondence concerning Confederate commemorative efforts such as Confederate Veterans conventions. Separate from this correspondence are records specifically related to three of L.P. Yerger’s clients – George Cary, a resident of New Orleans who apparently speculated in Mississippi Delta land between 1870 and 1893; the estate of P.P. McLemore; and the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad Company which was essentially a branch line of the Illinois Central Railroad. In addition, Yerger was the executor of the estate of his brother-in-law Judge L.M. Southworth who had served on the bench in the Philippine Islands before succumbing to cancer in Baltimore, Maryland.
The miscellaneous items and clippings found in Box 7 derive from both the Beckwith and Yerger families or are indeterminate in origin.
An item-level inventory of this collection is also available.
Beckwith / Yerger Collection, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, The University of Mississippi
The Beckwith / Yerger Collection is open for research.
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This collection is arranged in 2 series and chronologically within each series.
An item-level inventory of this collection is also available.