Labor History in 2:00

November 23 - The Thibodaux Massacre

November 23, 2020

On this day in Labor History the year was 1887. That was the day of the Thibodaux Massacre, in Louisiana just southwest of New Orleans. 

Thousands of African American sugar cane workers had gone out on strike. Before the Civil War, sugar cane, like other southern crops had been harvested by enslaved labor. After the war, planters put laws and practices into place to control and repress the newly freed labor force. 

By the late 1880s one of those practices was paying sugar cane workers in scrip. Instead of actual money workers received scrip only redeemable at the planters’ stores. This let planters set the prices for goods and keep their workers in debt.

The Knights of Labor began to organize the bayou sugar workers through their Local Assembly 8404. The union presented the Louisiana Sugar Producers Association, which represented 200 of the largest planters, with a list of demands.

The list included the end of scrip payment and a small wage increase. The planters refused. The union called a strike to begin on November first, during a key time in the sugar harvest. 

Outraged planters brought in scabs to replace the strikers and militia troops to protect the scabs. They evicted strikers from their plantation homes. Many evicted black workers made their way to the black section of Thibodaux. 

White armed men began to picket around the black neighborhood. Two of these white picketers were fired on by an unknown person.

In retaliation, for more than two hours the vigilantes rained gun fire on black strikers and their families. At least thirty people, and possibly many more were killed. The strike was crushed.    

 

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