Henry Louis Gates Jr.: What Was the Colfax Massacre?Roundup: Talking About History
tags: Reconstruction, African American history, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Louisiana, Colfax Massacre
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
In Colfax, La., on Easter Sunday 1873, a mob of white insurgents, including ex-Confederate and Union soldiers, led an assault on the Grant Parish Courthouse, the center of civic life in the community, which was occupied and surrounded -- and defended -- by black citizens determined to safeguard the results of the state's most recent election. They, too, were armed, but they did not have the ammunition to outlast their foes, who, outflanking them, proceeded to mow down dozens of the courthouse's black defenders, even when they surrendered their weapons. The legal ramifications were as horrifying as the violence -- and certainly more enduring; in an altogether different kind of massacre, United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the U.S. Supreme Court tossed prosecutors' charges against the killers in favor of severely limiting the federal government's role in protecting the emancipated from racial targeting, especially at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.
Historians know this tragedy as the Colfax Massacre, though in the aftermath, even today, some whites refer to it as the Colfax Riot in order to lay blame at the feet of those who, lifeless, could not tell their tale. In his canonical history of the period, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, Eric Foner has called the Colfax Massacre "[t]he bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era." A generation earlier, Joel A. Rogers cited it to African Americans as an instance of Your History: From Beginning of Time to the Present. As we will see, Rogers saw it through a different lens.
comments powered by Disqus
- Presidential Inauguration History: From Grand to Fatal to Downright Awkward
- Nazi Doctor Mengele Now Himself Object of Medical Study
- Critics Attacked, History Revised as China Nationalism Rises
- Unpopular out of the gate, Trump making history one more time
- A New Martin Luther King Jr. Parade Divides a Virginia Town
- Kevin Starr, California’s premier historian and USC professor, dies at 76
- Secret WWI telegram holds lessons for today, historians say
- Antisemite, Holocaust denier … yet David Irving claims fresh support
- Timothy Garton Ash says liberalism failed in 2016 because it had succeeded
- Tim Naftali calls on Obama to declassify US intelligence community's assessment of Russian intentions and activities in the 2016 presidential election