The 1873 Colfax Massacre Crippled the Reconstruction Era | Smart News | Smithsonian – Out of fear that local Democrats might try to seize control of the Grant Parish regional government, which was almost evenly split between black and white citizens, an all-black militia took control of the local courthouse in April 1873. Soon after, a mob of more than 150 white men, most former Confederate soldiers and members of the Ku Klux Klan and the White League arrived and surrounded the courthouse, Bill Decker writes for the Lafayette Advertiser. After firing a cannon on the militiamen inside the courthouse on April 13, the two forces fired at each other until the black defenders were forced to surrender. But when they surrendered, the white mob murdered many of the black men, shooting at them and hanging some. Historians aren’t sure how many people died in the end, but while records show that the massacre resulted in the deaths of three white men, it’s estimated that anywhere from 60 to 150 African-Americans were killed.
“The bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era, the Colfax massacre taught many lessons, including the lengths to which some opponents of Reconstruction would go to regain their accustomed authority,” historian Eric Foner writes in Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. “Among blacks in Louisiana, the incident was long remembered as proof that in any large confrontation, they stood at a fatal disadvantage.”