The Lafourche Parish Council Honors Black Victims of 1887 Thibodaux Massacre in Louisiana

Pat Young

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#1
The Lafourche Parish Council has honored the victims of the 1887 Thibodaux Massacre of striking African American sugar workers. The Parish will observe a moment of silence at noon on November 23. According to local news reports:

The proclamation, presented Tuesday, was proposed by Councilman Jerry Jones and read by Council Chairman Corey Perrillioux. The proclamation recognizes the day in Lafourche Parish’s past, honors and remembers the eight known and countless unknown victims and asked that Lafourche residents hold a moment of silence at noon Nov. 23 in honor of the 30 to 60 victims of the massacre.

“The Lafourche Parish Council condemns the violence that occurred on Nov. 23, 1887, acknowledging its extrajudicial and extralegal nature,” Perrillioux said. “We do hereby proclaim Nov. 23, 2017, as 1887 Commemoration Day and encourage a moment of silence in memory of the victims. Furthermore, we support and encourage reconciliation and dialogue between all those whose family histories were touched by the violence and continued efforts to explore this history to facilitate justice and further reconciliation.”

On Nov. 23, 1887, armed white mobs shot black men and women in Thibodaux’s streets in response to a month-long strike by thousands of sugar cane workers who had been evicted from Terrebonne and Lafourche parish plantations and had taken shelter in town. The precise number of victims is unknown, but eight names and evidence of the event were uncovered by local journalist John DeSantis for his book “The Thibodaux Massacre: Racial Violence and the 1887 Sugar Cane Labor Strike.”

Descendants of some of the victims were on hand for the proclamation. Sylvester Jackson, the great-grandson of victim Jack Conrad, spoke before the council, thanking the members for the proclamation and DeSantis for bringing the hidden history to light.

“We look around us in this nation, in our state even, and we see division, we see strife, we see bad things, and yet Lafourche Parish has shown tonight that Lafourche Parish knows how to work with its history. And even though this piece of history is not a pretty one at all, this is the reconciliation and how it occurs,” DeSantis said. “Seeing what’s happened here, I just hope your action can be a model for other communities that have had difficult histories and shows who we are in 2017 and the future.”

DeSantis said Louisiana’s then-Lt. Gov. Clay Knobloch had been head of the Lafourche Parish militia, which was involved in the killings.

The city of Thibodaux made a similar proclamation on Sept. 5.
 

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Pat Young

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Why does the artist show black men in chains and a white man with a whip when depicting the events surrounding a bloody labor strike in 1887?
I don't know enough about the art to be able to answer that. If I find out more, I will let folks know.
 

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Why does the artist show black men in chains and a white man with a whip when depicting the events surrounding a bloody labor strike in 1887?
The information in the video is certainly limited and incomplete. If I were to make a guess, I would suppose it is one of a series of paintings depicting the lives of those that toiled in the sugar cane fields of that period. Starting from the time in which they were enslaved thru the period mentioned in Pat's OP. It may also be a painting of the brutal "convict" labor that was used during reconstruction and beyond.

Hopefully Pat will find more.
 
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The information in the video is certainly limited and incomplete. If I were to make a guess, I would suppose it is one of a series of paintings depicting the lives of those that toiled in the sugar cane fields of that period. Starting from the time in which they were enslaved thru the period mentioned in Pat's OP. It may also be a painting of the brutal "convict" labor that was used during reconstruction and beyond.

Hopefully Pat will find more.
I’m sure Pat will dig deeper.
 

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The information in the video is certainly limited and incomplete. If I were to make a guess, I would suppose it is one of a series of paintings depicting the lives of those that toiled in the sugar cane fields of that period. Starting from the time in which they were enslaved thru the period mentioned in Pat's OP. It may also be a painting of the brutal "convict" labor that was used during reconstruction and beyond.

Hopefully Pat will find more.
Looks like your guesses are on target.
 

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Here is part of the description of the video on YouTube explaining a couple of the paintings that Robert asked about:

The paintings are representations of people and events in the book, from subtle to stark. A slave being whipped is the subject of one painting. A slave whose infant was taken away on a Bayou Lafourche plantation so that she could wet-nurse the white plantation owner’s baby is the subject of another. Still others depict everyday antebellum and postbellum plantation life.
 

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I want spend some time summarizing the article by DeSantis.

The massacre grew out of a strike of sugar workers. The strike was called by The Knights of Labor led by Terrance Powderly. Powderly came up from the ranks of the Irish poor. In his organizing, the Knights insisted that workers needed one Union to represent them, so it included black and white, native-born and immigrant, women and men. While the modern reader will find flaws in its egalitarianism, at the time it was unique in its inclusivity.
 

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According to DeSantis:

The Knights of Labor (KOL), an integrated labor organization based in Philadelphia, had organized railroads with some success. Realizing that the plantation-bound sugar workers were ripe for organizing on a larger scale, the KOL connected with plantation school teachers, ministers, freemasons, and even local black barbers, all of whom were held in high regard.

By October 1887, inroads were made in the parishes of Terrebonne, Lafourche, and St. Mary, and a list of demands, composed by a black teacher named Junius Bailey, was delivered to the Louisiana Sugar Planters Association. The demands were refused, and word of a strike began to spread.
 

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The strike was started on Nov. 1,

On November 1, a strike was called, with the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporting that “the Negroes are stubborn and generally disposed to stand their ground,”

About 10,000 workers laid down their tools on the cusp of the harvest season, vowing to remain in plantation housing
 

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The governor sent in the militia who arrived on Nov. 2 and promptly deployed a Gatling gun. The troops threw the black strikers out of their homes. This is when the now homeless black families began seeking safety in nearby towns.
 

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According to DeSantis:

A local judge, Taylor Beattie, as well as other officials, sanctioned a “vigilance committee” during a fiery meeting at the town hall. Martial law was declared and the entrances to Thibodaux sealed by volunteer sentries. The strikers feared they would be attacked....

The situation was being cast more and more as a race war and less as a labor dispute.

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, November 23, two volunteer lookouts enforcing Beattie’s lockdown, Henry Gorman and Joseph Molaison, were shot and wounded by snipers at Thibodaux’s southern end. Townsmen blamed the strikers, and mobs of armed whites took to the streets.
 

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According to DeSantis:

An official account, that “rioters” converged on the scene of the shooting incident, was the prevailing tale told for a century after. Some Louisiana papers reported 25 strikers killed. Some witness accounts suggested as many as 60 dead. No report ever surfaced of any white casualties, other than the two sentries, even among publications sympathetic to strike suppression.

Letters between planter family members, some on file at Louisiana State University, others at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, paint a picture of events far bloodier than press accounts.

The New Orleans Pelican scoffed at the official reports, and a correspondent wrote of “lame men and blind women shot; children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down.”
 

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In researching the massacre, DeSantis writes that looking for information on Grant Conrad, a 19 year old killed by white rioters, led him to the Civil War pension file of his father Jack Conrad. Jack had joined the USCT during the war.
 

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According to DeSantis:

In the handwriting of a government examiner was an affidavit from Jack Conrad himself, who single-handedly verified accounts that the shootings were wanton and not limited to leaders of the strike.

He said he was sleeping in the house he rented in back-of-town Thibodaux when a commotion awoke him.

“I think there were about 50 or 60 men in the crowd, which was comprised entirely of white citizens who lived in and around Thibodaux,” Jack Conrad said. “When I opened the door one of the mob said ‘crack down on him’ and at that they went to shooting.”

Jack, his son Grant, and brother-in-law Marcelin were told to line up, and they began to run. Grant was gunned down behind a water barrel, Marcelin Weldon was shot as he ran in another direction, and Jack himself took cover under his house as the gunmen continued shooting, leaving to go to another house after they presumed him dead. He was hit by gunfire that shattered bones in his upper body, four shots altogether, a doctor’s diagram in the file clearly shows.
 

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The files also contained letters on the riot from other witnesses. DeSantis says the witnesses estimated that the shooting went on for two hours.
 



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