The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction
Charles Lane, Author Holt $26 (326p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8342-2
The Colfax Massacre, a buried episode in American history, took place on an Easter Sunday afternoon in 1873. Within four hours, at least eighty black American men had been brutally murdered by white vigilantes in Colfax, La. Journalist Lane’s groundbreaking and persuasive work illustrates this “pivotal event in the political and constitutional history of post–Civil War America” and its social, political and judicial aftermath. Full of illuminating detail, this well-paced account clarifies the controversial events that surrounded the massacre—the development of a community of freed slaves, politicians’ struggles and shenanigans, unchecked white vigilante intimidation and murder, the perpetrators’ trials and the Supreme Court decision that, in effect, left it up to individual states to protect the rights of African-American citizens. Lane provides succinct background (biographical, historical and geographical) on persons, politics and places. Lucidly written, thoroughly readable, carefully documented, and impressively coherent, Lane’s rendition of this “turning point in the history of American race relations and racial politics” ends a long silence in American history books. Students of American and African-American history will find it particularly valuable; fans of American history will find it a moving and instructive drama.
Reviewed on: 01/07/2008