Though Mills Higgins Flack (1838-1900) was a politically active and religiously devout veteran, he also had a dark side: a cruel and exploitative relationship with his black sharecroppers. This bad blood eventually led to the horrific Forest City lynching.
Mills Flack was born in Rutherford County, North Carolina on November 13, 1838. His roots in the area went deep; his great-grandfather John Flack had settled in Tryon County around 1778. Religion was important to Flack. He grew up attending Mountain Creek Baptist Church and was later a member of Montford Cove Baptist Church and Cool Springs Baptist Church.
Like most Southern white men his age, Flack fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He received a captain’s commission in the 103rd Regiment of the Rutherford County militia. Because companies at that time elected their officers, Flack was clearly well respected by his fellow militiamen. Flack took part in the secret Cherokee County expedition, an 1863 mission to recover state arms. His company also fought against deserters in Polk County from 1864 to 1865.
After the war, Flack returned to his farm and family. His first wife, Alvira Hemphill, died in August 1875. Flack later moved to Cool Springs Township and married a woman named Katie Harrill. The Flacks then relocated to an eighty-seven acre plantation at the mouth of Catheys Creek. There, Flack became a political activist, leading Rutherford County’s “rebel farmers” in the struggle against low crop prices.
Several black sharecroppers worked on Flack’s land. One of them, Avery Mills, became involved in a dispute with Flack over property rights. A heated argument between Mills and Flack left the former wounded and the latter dead. The dying Flack called on his fellow whites to kill Mills, a declaration that led directly to the Forest City lynching.