Louisiana sugar cane laborers c. 1880
|Date||November 22, 1887|
|Location||Thibodaux, Louisiana, USA|
|Methods||Strikes, Protest, Demonstrations|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Thibodaux Massacre was a violent labor dispute and racial attack by whites against black workers in Thibodaux, Louisiana in November 1887. Although the number of casualties is unknown, at least 35 and as many as three hundred workers were killed, making it one of the most violent labor disputes in U.S. history. All of the victims were African American.
The massacre was the direct result of a three-week 1887 sugar strike organized against cane plantations in Lafourche, Terrebonne, St. Mary, and Assumption parishes. The strike was organized by the national Knights of Labor organization, who had established Local Assembly 8404 in Shreveport the preceding year. Every harvest season since 1880 had seen some labor action against the statewide Louisiana Sugar Planters Association (LSPA) cartel, organized by Duncan F. Kenner.
The 1887 strike was the largest, involving about 10,000 workers, a tenth of whom were white. In October they delivered demands to the LSPA that included an increase in wages to $1.25 a day, biweekly payments, and payment in currency instead of the "pasteboard tickets" redeemable only at company stores. The demands were ignored, and the strike began on November 1, timed to coincide with the critical "rolling period" of the crop, and therefore threatening the entire sugar cane harvest for the year.
The planters appealed to Louisiana Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery, also a planter. McEnery, declaring, "God Almighty has himself drawn the color line," called out ten infantry companies and an artillery company of the state militia and broke the back of the strike.
The displaced black workers and their families concentrated among supportive elements within Thibodaux, and the state militia withdrew.
Events in Thibodaux
State district Judge Taylor Beattie declared himself head of the "Peace and Order Committee" in Thibodaux, declared martial law, organized a local vigilante group, and decreed that blacks within the city limits would need to show a pass to enter or leave. Beattie was a cane planter, an ex-Confederate, an ex-slaveholder, and a former member of the Knights of the White Camelia.
After rising tensions over the course of two weeks, vigilantes closed the entrances to the city on the morning of November 22. The strikers resisted being boxed in and fired on two of the vigilantes, injuring both. This triggered three days of violence in which unresisting strikers and their families were executed, in town and in the surroundings woods and swamps. A black newspaper described the scene:
'Six killed and five wounded' is what the daily papers here say, but from an eye witness to the whole transaction we learn that no less than thirty-five Negroes were killed outright. Lame men and blind women shot; children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected. Those of them not killed took to the woods, a majority of them finding refuge in this city.
This account is the source for the casualty figure of 35. According to Rebecca Jarvis Scott, "No credible official count of the victims of the Thibodaux massacre was ever made; bodies continued to turn up in shallow graves outside of town for weeks to come." Another source describes local white residents privately admitting that more than 50 workers were murdered in Thibodaux. Casualties incurred during the associated strike suppression include "as many as twenty people" in one November 5 incident alone, in the black village of Pattersonville in St. Mary Parish.
Representation in other media
- Bell, Ellen Baker, Thibodaux Massacre (1887), KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, 15 September 2011, accessdate 2 January 2013
- Rebecca Jarvis Scott, Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery page 85
- James Keith Hogue, Uncivil War: Five New Orleans street battles and the rise and fall of ..., page 190
- Joe Gray Taylor, Louisiana, a History, American Association for State and Local History, page 135
- Encyclopedia of U.S. labor and working-class history, Volume 1 By Eric Arnesen, page 826
- Zinn, 2004; , retrieved March 27, 2009.
- Uncivil war: five New Orleans street battles and the rise and fall of ... By James Keith Hogue, page 191
- IMDb.com, Inc. (2010). "The Man Who Came Back (2008) - Full cast and crew". Retrieved 2010-07-03.
- IMDb.com, Inc. (2010). "The Man Who Came Back (2008) - Synopsis". Retrieved 2010-07-03.
- Rodrigue, John. Reconstruction in the Cane Fields: From Slavery to Free Labor in Louisiana’s Sugar Parishes, 1862–1880. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.