The People’s Grocery was owned by prominent blacks in Memphis. The store was located outside of Memphis. One of the owners were Thomas or Tommie Moss an friend to Ida B. Well.
It all began on a Wednesday afternoon of March 2, 1892 when a young black boy named Armour Harris and a white boy named Cornelius Hurst got into a fight over a game of marbles outside of the Peoples Grocery. Hurst father stepped in and began beating Harris. Two black worker at the Peoples Grocery Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell came to Harris defense. When a white grocer William Barrett, who store were located right across the street from the Peoples Grocery, saw that the Hurst was outnumbered he also intervened. At one point during the altercation Barrett was clubbed. After everyone disperse and the police was on scene Barrett identified Steward as the one who assaulted him.
On the following day the police returned to Peoples Grocery to arrest Stewart, but was met by McDowell who told the officers that no one matching Steward description was within the store. Barrett became frustrated and hit McDowell in the face with his revolver knocking McDowell to the floor and dropping his revolver. It was said that McDowell picked up the revolver and fired at Barrett missing. McDowell was taken into police custody.
Hearing about McDowell arrest and the police looking to arrest Steward the black community rallied together to discuss what they should do. Barrett and other whites brought it to the authorities attention of blacks conspiracy against whites.
On the night of March 5, 1892, armed white men marched down to the Peoples Grocery a few were police officers in plain clothing. The black men were waiting inside the store anticipating a attack from whites and they were also armed and ready. What the black men did not know was some of the mob were police officers. When the white mob entered the store shots were fired and several whites were hit. Over powered the injured whites retreated to Barrett store and called in other police officers. When the Black men surrendered to the officers believing they had an arguable case in the court.
Thomas Moss was also arrested even through he was not involved, but because he was an owner of the store whites believed he was the ringleader and he was also indicted for his attitude when he was arrested.
None of the injured Officers died from their wounds.
On Wednesday, March 9, 1892, at about 2:30 a.m. seventy-five men in black masks surrounded the Shelby County Jail and nine entered. They dragged Thomas Moss, Will Stewart, and Calvin McDowell from their cells and brought them to a Chesapeake & Ohio railroad yard a mile outside of Memphis.
At the railroad yard McDowell “struggled mightily” and at one point managed to grab a shotgun from one of his abductors. After the mob wrested it from him they shot at his hands and fingers “inch by inch” until they were shot to pieces. Replicating the wounds the white deputies had suffered they shot four holes into McDowell’s face, each large enough for a fist to enter. His left eye was shot out and the “ball hung over his cheek in shreds.” His jaw was torn out by buckshot. Where “his right eye had been there was a big hole which his brains oozed out.” The Appeal-Avalanche newspaper added his injuries were in accord with his “vicious and unyielding nature.”
Will Stewart was described as the most stoic of the three, “obdurate and unyielding to the last.” He was also shot on the right side of the neck with a shotgun, and was shot with a pistol in the neck and left eye.
Moss was also shot in the neck. His dying words, reported in the papers, were, “Tell my people to go West, there is no justice for them here.”
This event sparked an emigration movement that eventually saw 6,000 blacks leave Memphis for the Western Territories.