1868 New Orleans Race Riots, Part 2

Riots broke out the next day, Sunday in adjoining parishes.

The Metropolitan police force, a new creation, came in for a round of criticism from the white newspapers. The Metropolitans were seen as all black, but in reality, blacks simply made up a large percentage of the force. Traditionally, for decades, Metropolitans were scorned in the same breath as carpetbaggers and scalawags. It was probably more nuanced than that. This author’s family was generally dedicated Confederates. But, one cousin practiced law during the 1870’s at a small law firm which advised and defended the Metropolitan police force.

In any event, many black members of the Metropolitan force refused to report for duty after the city-wide melee. Commentators of the time, outside of the Democrats, sympathized, noting that any Negro who left his home may not return. Gov. Warmoth was forced to ask  Federal troops to restore order. The concern was that the Federal commander, Gen. Rousseau, was a Democrat. See a piece about Gov. Warmoth here.

The following Monday, violence resumed. Cooler heads met with Gen. Rousseau. The Democrat leaders agreed they would call on their political clubs to refrain from violence until the election on Nov. 3. Apparently not receiving that message, some 3,000 white Democrats gathered and offered their services to the Mayor that night. They offered to patrol the city and enforce order. Again, cooler heads stepped up. The Mayor, the former, redoubtable Confederate general, Harry T. Hayes, and two other Democrat leaders spoke to the crowd. They urged the crowd to return home. They assured the white Democrats that Gen. Rousseau would keep order. Most of those listening did indeed return home. But, not all.

The Innocents were not done. Later that night, about 10 p.m., they were parading through the city with their captured trophies, one of the banners of the Republican clubs and captured Republican caps. It was a deliberate provocation intended for the Negro Republicans. Shots were fired from upstairs balconies. The Innocents returned fire. Edward Malone, a 36 year old native of Ireland and a member of the Innocents was killed. His body, retrieved later by the authorities, had six bullet holes and several cuts and slashes apparently inflicted by a meat cleaver.

The Innocents continued to seek revenge throughout the night, now joined by many whites. The federal troops could not be everywhere. They were not able to stop the attacks. Roaming bands of whites started to attack random homes of blacks. Whites broke into the home of a Dartmouth educated teacher, destroyed $1200 worth of furniture and school equipment, took jewelry and carried away cash. Other homes of prominent black Republicans suffered the same fate. Black barber shops, grocery stores and churches were similarly ransacked and destroyed.

Dawn on Tuesday, Oct. 27 did not see a respite from the violence. The Metropolitans were now thoroughly demoralized and were not present at all. The few federals for a city of 191,000 were not enough. Fighting centered on the French Market, Canal Street and on the levee. At the Innocents headquarters, the body of Edward Malone lay. Federal reinforcements arrived from Mississippi. White gangs conducted more attacks and invasions on Tuesday. Gen. Rousseau announced a prominent Democrat, Gen. James B. Steedman, would assume control if the Metropolitans. Even though, Gen. Steedman had only agreed to assume control for a few days, that announcement helped restore confidence in the much maligned police force. The violence did wane. The election took place a few days later, removing the impetus for strife.

In the end, six and perhaps seven whites were killed. Thirteen blacks or more were killed. The Democrats largely won the Nov. 3 election. The election day itself saw no violence and a few complaints of harassment. The governor admitted later that he advised many Republicans not to vote, because he did not believe they could do so safely. The whites could not accept that blacks, their former slaves, could now compete with them for votes. But, compete with them, they did.

See Smithsonian article on the 1868 riots here.

Melinda Meek Hennessy, “Race and Violence in Reconstruction New Orleans: The 1868 Riot,” Louisiana History, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Winter 1979), p. 77-91.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s