This Bloody Massacre Helped End Reconstruction’s Progress

plaque that describes colfax riot
Via Flickr
Adé Hennis
May 22, 2024

From 1865 to 1877, Black people in the United States were experiencing something unprecedented. Reconstruction was an attempt to correct the racial injustices of the past. Unfortunately, it failed to do so.

Louisiana’s gubernatorial election of 1872 had no clear winner, but the Republicans,“the party of Lincoln,” were backed by the federal government. With white supremacists on the Democratic side facing a loss of their political power, they did something despicable.

Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, was Reconstruction's bloodiest day. In Colfax, Louisiana, nearly 150 members of a Black militia were peacefully defending the local courthouse when 300 white supremacists attacked, killing more than 150 people.

Only three members of the mob were convicted, but the Supreme Court overturned  convictions in 1876, declaring them unconstitutional. A memorial was erected to the three white militia members who died “fighting for white supremacy.” It was replaced in 2021 with one naming each of the Black victims of the massacre.

The Colfax massacre was an attempt to limit Black people’s role in politics and society. It is time to establish and control our own social and political power. What could we achieve then?