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On this day in 1873

April 13, 1873

New Colfax Massacre memorial
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New Colfax Massacre memorial Credit: Courtesy of Heart of Louisiana

On Easter Sunday, after Reconstruction Republicans won the Louisiana governor’s race, a group of white Democrats vowed to “take back” the Grant Parish Courthouse from Republican leaders. 

A group of more than 150 white men, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White League, attacked the courthouse with a cannon and rifles. The courthouse was defended by an all-Black state militia. 

The death toll was staggering: Only three members of the White League died, but up to 150 Black men were killed. Of those, nearly half were killed in cold blood after they surrendered. 

Historian Eric Foner called the Colfax Massacre “the bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era,” demonstrating “the lengths to which some opponents of Reconstruction would go to regain their accustomed authority.” 

Congress castigated the violence as “deliberate, barbarous, cold-blooded murder.” 

Although 97 members of the mob were accused, only nine went to trial. Federal prosecutors won convictions against three of the mob members, but the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the convictions, helping to spell the end of Reconstruction in Louisiana.

 A state historical marker said the event “marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South,” and until recent years, the only local monument to the tragedy, a 12-foot tall obelisk, honored the three white men who died “fighting for white supremacy.” 

In 2023, Colfax leaders unveiled a black granite memorial that listed the 57 men confirmed killed and the 35 confirmed wounded, with the actual death toll presumed much higher.

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