An account of a little-known Reconstruction-era massacre, how it came about, and its influence on U.S. history.
The prologue tells the story of the Colfax massacre itself, when over 100 black men were murdered by white supremacists in Louisiana in 1873. The book then backtracks to the early days of the U.S., chronicling individuals and events that would later affect the situation in Colfax: the formation of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott decision, the racist attitudes of presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson, the passionate abolitionist Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, the Ku Klux Klan, and more. While some moments of historical import help put the Colfax massacre in context, others are overly detailed, and readers may wonder if they are necessary at all. Colfax comes up again nearly halfway through the text, with lawyer J.R. Beckwith’s fight for justice for the slaughtered. His efforts were actively thwarted by the U.S. government, leading to the creation of the Jim Crow South. Despite being overly long, this book shines a light on a shameful sea change moment in U.S. history, although the message of injustice is weakened by the positive presentation of the Homestead Act which forcibly removed Native Americans from their land. Though the book ends abruptly, readers will come away with a thorough understanding of the Colfax massacre and its place in America’s past and present.
Difficult and necessary. (glossary, bibliography, source notes, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)