April 13 Colfax Massacre

April 13, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1873.

That was the day the single-most deadly incident of the Reconstruction Era occurred, known as the Colfax Massacre.

As many as 150 black Republicans in Colfax, Louisiana were slaughtered by white supremacists determined to destroy advances made by the formerly enslaved.

Results of the 1872 gubernatorial election in Louisiana had been hotly contested.

President Ulysses S. Grant ordered federal troops in, to support the Republican winner, William Pitt Kellogg.

A number of black Radical Republicans had also won or retained local and state political positions.

William Ward, a black Civil War veteran and militia leader, had won a seat in the state legislature.

By the beginning of April, he and others were being threatened with attacks on the Grant Parish Courthouse in Colfax and lynchings by defeated white Southern Democrats.

Desperate for back up, Ward and others left for New Orleans to appeal for federal reinforcement.

On the holy Easter Sunday, ex-Confederates, Klansmen and Democrats rode into Colfax, armed with guns, rifles, knives and a cannon.

150 black Republicans were ready to defend the Courthouse. 

Fighting raged on for hours but eventually black Republicans were forced to retreat and then were massacred.

97 whites were indicted on federal conspiracy charges under the 1870 Enforcement Act, designed to enforce civil rights and root out Klan terror.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in the ruling United States v. Cruikshank, which essentially gutted the Enforcement Act.

Of the 97 indicted, nine were tried, and three were initially found guilty.

The Cruikshank ruling eventually overturned their convictions, and effectively marked the legal end of Reconstruction.

 

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