ALEXANDRIA, La. (WNTZ) – 150 Easter celebrations ago (1873), what’s known as “the bloodiest day” of Reconstruction took place in Colfax, La. Being well acquainted with the brutality of white supremacy, 80 free Black people risked their lives against more than 300 white rioters just to exist.
In 1872, unrest boiled throughout Louisiana, as a dispute of election fraud (sounds familiar) took place. While many citizens believed Republican William Pitt Kellogg was the victor, there were many who were determined that his opponent, Democrat Jon McEnery, was the obvious elect. McEnry was a white supremacist and ranking Confederate officer who believed the erasure of racial lines “encroached on the rights… of white people,” and left them with no recourse other than violence. Sadly, so did many of his cohorts and constituents.
Days before the 1873 Colfax Massacre, a young man named Jesse Mckinney was murdered by 3 white men while working on his yard fence in front of his wife and children. As the news of murder spread, Black citizens fled to Grant Parish.
The Colfax courthouse is where the massacre took place, barricaded within were 80 or more Black people defending Republican officeholders (who escaped, but were killed before leaving La.). After the rioters shoot a cannon ball into the courthouse, the few armed defenders returned fire; killing James Hadnot (a ranking Knights of the Camellia member). After their surrender, Black me were bound, executed, and some thrown into Red River.
Soon after, came the federal prosecution of the perpetrators of the Colfax Massacre went to the Supreme Court in the case United States v. Cruikshank. Many Black women (and few Black men) escaped the massacre, and each of them testified in the first district trial of the case. Those prosecuted were done so under precedent of the 14th Amendment stating: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the U.S.” This also incurred the creation of the “white league,” a terrorist organization focused on suppressing Black voters and limiting access to self-determination.
Why a memorial?
S.C. native artist, Jazzmen Lee-Johnson was commissioned with the honor of manifesting this memorial monument. The artist shares her intent, “I want to honor the determined Black people of the Colfax Massacre who stood up and spoke in the face of hate, prejudice, and violence. Remembering can help us create a just and equitable present as well as future. We must NOT forget!” This sentiment rings true through the use of historical imagery layered in-between Johnson’s finely crafted mark making.
This monument also features actual facts informing the reader of what happened on the Colfax grounds 150 years ago as opposed to the previous historical marker which reduces the barbaric acts an end to “carpetbag misrule.” The old historic marker is to be placed in a museum as a piece of history illustrating the socio-political dangers of historical white washing and spread of misinformation and importance of government accountability. Gov. Edwards notes, “We must be accountable for what we literally put on the pedestal and call a truth.”