When 11 Italians Were Lynched in New Orleans


In 1891, 11 Italian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans.  It was the largest mass lynching in American history.  Now, the city and its African-American mayor will apologize for the incident.  Meagan Flynn is covering the story at The Washington Post.  A taste:

The mob assembled promptly at 10 a.m., crammed so tightly on the pavement that the streetcars couldn’t run.

Thousands of people, among them the most prominent businessmen, lawyers, merchants and politicians in New Orleans, marched in circles around a statue of Henry Clay. The crowd was “yelling itself hoarse,” bent on a kind of justice that would be called murder today but that The Washington Post and numerous other newspapers called “vengeance” in 1891.

The mob’s victims awaited in the Orleans Parish jail, all of them Italian immigrants or children of immigrants who had just been acquitted in the shooting death of the New Orleans police chief; others still awaited trial. To this day, the chief’s killer or killers have never been identified. But on the morning of March 14, 1891, despite the not-guilty verdicts, the mob seemed certain.

“When the law is powerless,” William Parkerson, the mob’s leader and mayor’s former campaign manager, yelled to the crowd, according to a 1991 New Orleans Times-Picayune article, “rights delegated by the people are relegated back to the people, and they are justified in doing that which the courts have failed to do.”

Once the speeches finished, The Post reported then, everyone stood still for a moment, quiet just long enough for one man’s voice to catch the agitated crowd’s attention: “Shall we get our guns?”

The verdict was decisive. That morning, anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 vigilantes armed with Winchester rifles, axes and shotguns broke down the door of the parish jail and trampled past the passive sheriff’s deputies until they captured 11 defenseless Italians and riddled their bodies with bullets. Two were dragged outside and hanged, one by a tree limb and the other by a lamp post.

Historians have called the massacre the largest mass lynching in American history. The vigilante mob escaped any consequence, and the city of New Orleans refused to take responsibility.

But now, 128 years later, the city is trying to make amends On April 12, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) is expected to apologize to the Italian American community for the infamous killings — a concession that Michael Santo, special counsel to the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy, said will shore up “long-lasting wounds” among Italians. The mayor is expected to issue a formal proclamation, according to the group. A spokesman for Cantrell confirmed the pending apology to the Associated Press on Sunday.

Read the rest here.

Puck Italians

Cover of Puck magazine on March 25, 1891

2 thoughts on “When 11 Italians Were Lynched in New Orleans

  1. I think two things that come to my mind.
    There are ideas, attitudes, hurts, prejudices and what not in us for which we have no identified root. They are carried down multiple generations, even when specific incidents are lost. So the fact that most people don’t know of this event doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be brought to light today, and discussed.
    As for the apology, at least it’s a public statement about a wrong and maybe someone will be nudged towards a more right regard of justice or fairness to a particular group of “others” they blame for some perceived problems.


  2. Certainly, a terrible event in our nation’s history. It should be remembered. (In fact, I believe the government paid 25,000 in reparations — real money in 1892 — to the families of those murdered by the vigilante mob.)

    But an apology? 123 years later? From people who had nothing to do with it, to people who were not affected by it and, indeed, likely never have heard about it? Michael Santo, the 63 year old gentleman who claims that this gesture will “shore up long-lasting wounds” among Italians, himself didn’t even know about the lynching until two years ago. Apparently, his wounds are quite fresh. His consciousness thus having been raised, he became an activist. And if this long ago, awful event is now part of his cause, more power to him.

    We should never whitewash our history, no matter how discomfiting a clear-eyed view of man’s inhumanity to man can be. But this incessant, ritual apologizing — Apology Chic — is silly. And trivializing. And who wants to take wagers that this forthcoming statement will work in all the trendy, identity-politics shibboleths now in fashion among those who continually seek out grievances which must be rectified, mostly via empty virtue signaling.


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