Sunday, April 27, 2008

The end of Reconstruction: The Day Freedom Died

ON EASTER SUNDAY 1873 approximately 80 black freedmen were murdered by white supremacists in the small Louisiana town of Colfax. That mass murder might have gone unnoticed except for a tenacious U. S. attorney in New Orleans whose attempt to bring the guilty to justice ignited a legal battle that resulted in the virtual undoing of Reconstruction in the South.

Journalist Charles Lane tells the improbable but true story of the event in The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction.

After the Civil War many white Southerners resented the influx of Northern carpetbaggers and their political alliances with the newly freed black slaves. Those alliances resulted in a Southern Republican party that in some areas – aided by Congressional Reconstruction laws protecting black voters – could control local and state politics. To counter this, many Southern whites took to violence and intimidation to keep the freedmen from voting.

U. S. attorneys across the South, assisted by U. S. marshals and often times by army troops effectively used the courts to put down the supremacists and their allies in the Klan and similar organizations. That is until the Colfax Massacre and a ruling by a circuit riding Supreme Court justice pulled the thread which eventually led to the unraveling of the garment of Reconstruction.

This is a rich, well-researched, but sad story of life for the freedmen in post Civil War Louisiana. If you are a history or Civil War buff, or would just like to know why racial relations developed the way they did, this read is for you.

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