Black history comprises events that would later go on to shape the black culture. While some incidents bring back beautiful memories and helped the Black community to grow and integrated them with the Whites for sustainable development of the United States, others denoted atrocities committed against them. One of such incidents was the St. Bernard Parish 1868 Massacre.
However, some of the events that transpired on that fateful day in 1863 have become obscure, and as a result, The Power Is Now has decided to bring you up to speed as to why the St. Bernard Parish 1868 Massacre happened, the players, and how it ended.
Why the Massacre Happened
The incident occurred on 25th October, 1868, few years after the end of the American Civil War. It was one grave massacre that’s unforgettable in the history of Louisiana, as many black men lost their lives in violence orchestrated by the Whites.
The massacre preceded the General election, scheduled to hold a few days later. Black men had been granted the right to vote in Louisiana, but the whites were afraid that the Democratic Candidate Horatio Seymour would not win the election against Ulysses S. Grant, his rival because of the majority in Louisiana. Due to this, the white Democrats formed armed men to kill the black voters who were ever zealous to cast their votes in a presidential election and restore their way of life which they believed had been infringed upon. In essence, they planned to win the election for Horatio Seymour through violence. Whoever won the D-day would determine the Blacks’ fate and the Reconstruction era.
The racial incident that instigated the famous occurrence wasn’t peculiar to Louisiana alone but the South as well. The Southern part strived to make ends meet as a result of its devastating economy destroyed in the War, which relied tremendously on the slave population.
The Southern elites, especially the whites believed that Seymour would bring back the Reconstruction era policy that gave them the upper hand over Blacks and ultimate control if he wins – something that they no longer had. In his campaign, Seymour voiced his vituperations of the Blacks and the whites’ disenfranchisement and proudly branded himself as the candidate of the Whites. The elites opined that if Seymour’s opponent, Grant wins, he would enact policies that would eliminate racial inequality. That would crumble the political structure and other policies that had long favored the whites in the South.
When the War ended, the whites were most affected. They encountered hardship and lavished in impoverishment. The wealthier ones accused the Blacks for their fate and used the Press to publish anti-Republican and racist posts. The poor whites believed the Reconstruction kept them in a disadvantaged position, favoring only the freed people. These are the reasons they opted to throw their weights behind the Democratic candidate, Seymour.
The first death was recorded on 25th October, when a Black man Eugene Lock was shot and stabbed several times. Eugene Lock happened to be present when the White marchers were rallying for Seymour. They yelled at him to support Seymour, but he refused. One of the marchers tried to scare Lock to voice his support for Seymour but he remained resilient. The crowd became furious. A marcher tried stabbing Lock while another fired at him, missing the target by an inch. Lock took his pistol from the pocket and fired back at the man that shot him on his shoulder. He tried to elude but was outnumbered, and died eventually.
Lock’s death news spread throughout St. Bernard Parish, but some freedmen as they were called then thought the death was a case of being in the right place at the wrong time. However, this didn’t stop them from bracing themselves for war as they believed this would escalate into something much deeper. They were right; another freedman, Louis Wilson was captured the following day after coming from the courthouse where he had testified in a case. St. Bernard Parish was Wilson’s residence, and as he rode home along the Mississippi River, the white-armed men in horseback stopped and ordered him to descend his horse, which he obediently did. He was struck in the chin with the gun’s butt and taken with the white Democratic group in a wagon to a temporary prison where Wilson discovered that they had other freedmen.
Later in the evening, the white supremacists dragged the freedmen outside and shot them, killing everyone except Wilson.
The armed group forced other freedmen out of their homes and murdered them in cold blood. They shot residents, openly executed some, and ended the lives of those who pleaded on behalf of the residents. A white police officer was killed while trying to protect the Blacks. A pregnant woman was also a victim of the attack. They even carted away items in slave residential areas, mostly registration papers.
Eventually, the use of violence to suppress black voters paid off. Grant got one vote, while Seymour clinched Louisiana. Unfortunately, the Republican party won the election. The winning might have brought some good news to the Blacks, but the event that happened in the Parish was challenging to forget and topped the election itself.
Statistics of People that Died
The number of deaths recorded varies. Approximately 35 – 100 people died from the attack. Louis Wilson escaped death in the temporary prison by fleeing to the cane fields, resting there for a few days.
The armed men went through the nook and cranny of the Parish, to eliminate any threat.
How the Massacre Ended
It ended after the Republican candidate was declared the winner of the election. However, the aftermath didn’t go quite well for the Blacks as 60 of them were apprehended for the massacre. Unfortunately, none of the perpetrators was questioned. An investigation was carried out, but none was arrested for the severe killings. Even after the survivors identified the culprits, justice wasn’t carried out. In retaliation, they killed a Pablo San Feliu. They were eventually arrested for the murder.
Pablo San Feliu’s killing contradicted the story of the St. Bernard Parish incident with some inaccurate information pointing towards the Blacks as the real perpetrator of the killings, despite happening several months before Pablo’s death.
The atrocity committed was swept under the carpet. Contrary to popular beliefs, the massacre didn’t fade into obscurity because the Southerners refused to talk about it. It remained in the hearts of the Southerners.
Impact of the Incident on the African-American Community
St. Bernard Parish 1868 Massacre is amongst the violent events recorded in Black history. The massacre entails how far racism have come and advanced in the world and the collective efforts of White Supremacists to disenfranchise the Blacks. The real fact is the Reconstruction era favored the Blacks in the South and gave them a foothold. They had a voice in the affairs of the country, and for the first time, they felt like citizens of the United States.
The massacre also strengthened the unity of the Blacks, as evident in those who refused to compromise their integrity to vote for the Democratic party. The economy of the states in the South, and not just Louisiana all stabilized, as more Blacks got decent jobs.
The policy’s reversal a decade later showed the continuous effort to suppress the Blacks, deny them certain rights, and subject them to suffering by some of their white counterparts. Today, these problems exist in the form of police brutality, educational equality, lack of access to good quality healthcare, and affordable housing.
Understanding the events that transpired at St. Bernard Parish in 1868 can minimize the gap of racial equality that still exists in our society today.
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Published by Eric Lawrence Frazier MBA.
Photo source: https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/st-bernard-parish-massacre