The Colfax Massacre of 1873 was a violent incident in Colfax, Louisiana, where an estimated 150 to 300 African Americans were killed. The incident occurred during the Reconstruction era, following the end of the American Civil War, when the federal government was attempting to rebuild and reunite the country.
The Colfax Massacre began on Sunday, April 13, 1873, when a group of white Democrats attacked the Grant Parish courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana which was being defended by black citizen and their allies. The attackers were angry about the results of the 1872 election, in which a coalition of Republicans and Black Americans won control of the Grant Parish government.
The white attackers, estimated between 150 and 200, were well-armed. While the black defenders had only a few rifles and pistols. After hours of fighting, the black defenders were overwhelmed and fled the courthouse, which was then set on fire.
Many of the black defenders were captured and either killed on the spot or executed after being taken, prisoner. The exact number of casualties is unknown, due to those killed were disposed of by being thrown into the river, burned, or buried in mass graves.
Only three white supremacists were ever charged in the massacre. But, their convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court in the case U.S. vs. Cruikshank in 1875. This case set a dangerous precedent. In essence, the ruling stated the federal government could not prosecute individuals for violating the rights of African Americans. Removing the power of the government to prosecute white supremacists for crimes against Black Americans.
The Colfax Massacre was Louisiana’s bloodiest incident of the Reconstruction era, and it had a profound impact on the political and social landscape of the South. It demonstrated the willingness of white supremacists to use violence to maintain their power and authority over Black Americans, and it contributed to the establishment of Jim Crow segregation laws and practices that would persist for decades.