In A Nutshell
The end of the American Civil War marked an era of unprecedented change for the Southern states. African-Americans went from being slaves to, you know, actual people seemingly overnight—and traditional Southerners didn’t like it. One result of the tension was a brutal massacre in Colfax, Louisiana, where white supremacists assaulted the town with a cannon and killed around 150 black men in 1873.
The Whole Bushel
After the Civil War, the victorious United States government, dominated by Republicans, kick-started Reconstruction. Confederate states were reincorporated into the Union, and the slow process of rebuilding the war-torn South began. But perhaps more significantly, slavery had been outlawed, and African-Americans were recognized as full citizens of the US.
But not everyone welcomed the change. The Reconstruction era gave birth to such groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the White League—both of which were dedicated to white racial superiority. These organizations would ceaselessly target and terrorize Northerners, Republicans, and black people.
The most brutal example of this terrorism occurred in 1873, in Colfax, Louisiana. A hotly contested election in 1872 had seen Republicans retain control of the state. Southerners were furious that the Democrats had lost. And so, on April 13, 1873, nearly 10 years after the end of the Civil War, armed white supremacists formed a small battalion of around 300 men and assaulted the Colfax courthouse.
When they arrived, they fond it heavily populated with African-Americans and announced their intentions to attack. Armed with a cannon and other firearms, the attackers—with representatives from the KKK and the Knights of the White Camelia—pushed the defenders into the courthouse and set fire to it. The defenders did what they could, but when the white supremacists accidentally shot their own leader, things escalated even more.
African-Americans were killed indiscriminately—prisoners, defenders, and bystanders. Death toll estimates range from 50–150. Many of the dead were prisoners who were executed after the battle was already over. Only three white men were killed.
The Supreme Court addressed the incident in United States v. Cruikshank, deciding that they would leave state governments to deal with issues of racial aggression. Louisiana never arrested anyone.