JULY 30, 1866

Credit: Harper's Weekly, Library of Congress

Black men, many of them veterans of the Civil War, were killed in New Orleans when they paraded outside the Louisiana Constitutional Convention in favor of their right to vote. According to the official report, a total of 38 people were killed and 146 wounded. Other estimates put the numbers even higher. 

“The whites stomped, kicked, and clubbed the black marchers mercilessly,” wrote Ulysses S. Grant’s biographer, Ron Chernow. “Policemen smashed the … windows and fired into it indiscriminately until the floor grew slick with blood. They emptied their revolvers on the convention delegates, who desperately sought to escape. Some leaped from windows and were shot dead when they landed. Those lying wounded on the ground were stabbed repeatedly, their skulls bashed in with brickbats. The sadism was so wanton that men who kneeled and prayed for mercy were killed instantly, while dead bodies were stabbed and mutilated.” 

This massacre and similar violence helped fuel the Reconstruction Act, breaking the South into military districts in 1866. Martial law was imposed on New Orleans, and city officials were removed from office for the roles they played in the massacre. The violence also helped fuel the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. 

No one was ever tried or convicted in the massacre.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.