The Civil Rights Plank, No. 4

By June, 1873, the white citizens of New Orleans were weary of the Republicans fighting over patronage spoils. The African-Creoles simply wanted stability. These two groups formed the Committee of One Hundred. They called themselves Fusionists, for bringing together various parties. They arrived at policy platforms, known as the Unification Movement. They adopted ten resolutions. These resolutions included all the civil rights planks that had percolated for the past few years. Full integration of public accommodations and public amusement. Integration of public schools, restaurants, taverns and hotels. These planks essentially represent what would later be codified in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Among the men behind the Unification Movement was Harry T. Hays, of the famous Hay’s Brigade and one of Lee’s most reliable lieutenants. P.G.T. Beauregard, then in charge of the Louisiana Lottery Company, was one of the 100. Perhaps no one single person had as much influence in New Orleans as Gen. Beauregard. Conservative whites (meaning they were moderate in their views) from the Reform movement in 1872 were involved. The African-Creoles included Aristide Mary, Charles Roudanez, Edmund Rillieux, and others. These African-Americans had been squeezed out by Henry Clay Warmoth. The Unification Movement represented an opportunity for them to regain influence.

Lack of Support

But, the movement attracted little or no support outside of New Orleans. The Committee of 100 also included a few black politicians who owed much to the Republican party, then controlled by the Custom House ring. Within weeks, Gen. Beauregard felt it necessary to defend his position regarding integration of public schools and transportation. Fr. Abram Ryan, the Poet of the Confederacy and editor of the Catholic Morning Star and Catholic Messenger,  claimed Beauregard’s arguments were “lame.”

The Unification Movement pledged to have a meeting in July at which it would announce these political goals. The meeting came, but many of the leading voices did not attend. Gen. Beauregard did not attend. The attendance was mostly black. One Republican, more loyal to the Custom House ring, attended. He congragulated the whites sarcastically, for finally seeing the light regarding racial equality.

Racial Polarization

The Unification Movement flamed out within just a couple of months. In the end, white support was not deep. The 1870’s saw a rising focus on racial purity among some elite whites. The ancient Creole system of plaçage became embarrassing for the French Creoles. Plaçage was a long-time Creole practice of forming a relationship with a “free woman of color,” whether as a mistress or otherwise. Starting in the 1870’s, many well-known Creoles stated to find it embarrassing that they shared last names with prominent African-Creoles. The ascension of William P. Kellogg to the governor’s office further polarized racial politics. See this site for more about plaçage here.

George Washington Cable’s short story, “Belles Demoiselles Plantation,” with its mixing of the races, was published in Scribner’s magazine in April, 1874. Much of New Orleans found it offensive, even though plaçage had been an institution since the city’s founding. Dr. Nystrom suggests the Unification Movement was partly a desperate attempt by the conservative whites to retain control and also a throw back to a more tolerant time in New Orleans.


Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the Warr, Vol. 9 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 150-154

Pinchback and Badger, No. 3

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was not from New Orleans. He was not part of the African-Creole tradition of solid education and somewhat laissez faire attitude toward politics. He was a hard-nosed gambler from the Mississippi River. His father was a Mississippi planter and his mother was a freed slave. After the death of his father in 1849, he lead a hard-scrabble life. He worked as a steward on river-boats and as a part-time gambler. He learned from the notorious cardsharp, George Devol. When New Orleans was first occupied by the Union army, Mr. Pinchback made his way there and recruited a company of Native Guards. The Native Guards was the long-time militia composed of free men of color. They were then preparing to join the Union army.

But, after a year in Federal service, Pinchback resigned his commission. He went to Alabama, seeking political success. Not finding what he was looking for, he returned to New Orleans by 1867.

Pinchback’s light skin, impeccable manners and quality clothing helped him fit in well with the African-Creoles of New Orleans. See more about former Lt.-Gov. Pinchback here.

The Carpet Bagger

Like all African-Americans at the time, Mr. Pinchback supported Republican causes and politicians. He advocated for civil rights protections for blacks in New Orleans. He was never offended by Governor Warmoth, as some black leaders were. Warmoth was a scheming, ambitious, morally corrupt carpet-bagger, But, Warmoth was also successful. Pinchback likely appreciated Warmoth’s daring. Pinchback started a very successful factorage with a prominent African-Creole native of the Crescent City. Pinchback allied himself with Warmoth, perhaps to balance against the Lieutenant Governor, Oscar J. Dunn. Mr. Dunn was Pinchback’s chief rival for leadership of the black community in New Orleans. Unlike either Warmoth or Pinchback, Dunn was known as generally honest.

The Custom House Gang

The principal Republican rival to Warmoth’s power was a group known as the Custom House gang. One of their key leaders was Stephen Packard. Packard was the U.S. Marshall for New Orleans. His office was in the venerable Custom House building on Canal street. The Collector of customs was James F. Casey, brother-in-law to President U.S. Grant. Casey also officed in the Custom House. Those two Republicans, both ambitious for personal gain, gradually acquired more and more power. Eventually, Mr. Pinchback also allied himself with the Custom House gang.

The War Hero

At the same time, Algernon Sidney Badger was finding success as a leader of the Metropolitan police force in New Orleans. Badger, unlike Pinchback, served during the war with distinction. He was a Massachusetts native and African-American. He came to New Orleans with his Massachusetts regiment. He later transferred to a Unionist Louisiana cavalry regiment and did well. He was cool in battle and competent.

The Metropolitan police force was created by Gov. Warmoth to enforce his orders. He knew he could not rely on the Federal troops. The Metropolitans had members from all races, even though today, it is often remembered as solely African-American. It was designed to be a modern police force, with some modern innovations. Even if it was in effect a private militia for Governor Warmoth, it also represented advancements in the science of policing.

By 1877, Republican interests had changed dramatically. Some conservative whites had supported a moderate white, Francis T. Nicholls, for governor. He won. The Republican state legislators and Gov. Warmoth then set up a rival state Senate. Warmoth hid four of the state senators in the city, so he could control the quorum. Pinchback attended the rival state senate, to lobby for appointment as U.S. senator. Quickly realizing the situation, Pinchback, instead, talked with Warmoth and asked him how he would control the senate. Warmoth, apparently not seeing Pinchback as a threat, mentioned where he had stashed the four missing state senators.

The Bribes

Immediately, Pinchback obtained $8,000-16,000 per state senator from the Louisiana State Lottery Company. He persuaded the four state senators to come with him, with the inducement of bribes.

The Metropolitans by 1877 were much reduced from their prior prowess. Their numbers had been reduced by low morale and a skirmish with white citizens. But, they still had Superintendent Badger and a few trusted officers. Stephen Packard, now the rump Governor, ordered Badger, the acting Sergeant-of-Arms for the rump senate, to go to Pinchback’s mansion and bring back the absent four state senators.

Badger grabbed some of the remaining Metropolitans and proceeded to Pinchback’s mansion on First Street, the area known today as the Garden District. Badger still limped from the bullet wounds he received in the Battle of Liberty Place in 1874.

At first, no one answered the door. Eventually, Pinchback appeared, pointing a repeating Henry rifle and told Badger he did not think Badger would take anyone from his house. Badger threatened to assault the home. But, Badger reconsidered when he discovered a handful of White League citizens positioned behind the Pinchback mansion. Badger and his men withdrew. But, as they were leaving, the White Leaguers overtook them and arrested all but two of Badger’s men and took them to a nearby jail. Badger, a man universally respected by all who knew him, was left to make his way back downtown by himself. The man known for his integrity and physical courage lost to the man known for his lack of integrity.

Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the War, Vol. 9 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 36-38, 101-104, 180-182.

The Committee of 51 and Reformers, No. 2

In 1872, after all the fighting over the New Orleans carcass, the white Democrats were becoming agitated. Some had allied with the Custom House faction, in order to get rid of Gov. Warmoth. Dozens gathered in Lafayette Square, off Canal Street. The meeting included many carpet-baggers and black Republicans, as well. It devolved into a meeting of the anti-Warmoth faction.

The State Militia

The Custom House leaders approached senior white officers in the state militia. Packard (the Custom House faction leader) and his supporters suggested the militia attack the Metropolitans guarding the state house, so as to provoke a crack-down by Federal troops. Eugene Waggaman, the commander, rightly asked Packard how he could be sure the Federal troops would not arrive and arrest the militia under the recently passed Ku Klux Klan law? Packard simply looked at him with his hands in his pockets. Waggaman, a former officer in the Washington Artillery during the war, was suspicious of the Custom House gang. Too, it simply struck him as dis-honorable to attack a force, simply as a ruse. The militia turned down the Custom House gang.

Eventually, Gov. Warmoth won. The legislators at Packard’s saloon eventually found their way back to the state house. The state house was securely guarded by the Metropolitans and the state militia.

Meanwhile, the white Democrats were more and more upset about this breakdown of government and order. They were anxious to restore New Orleans to something like normalcy. Many of them sought a middle ground, somewhere between the reactionary white radicals and the Warmoth carpet-baggers.

A group of merchants, including many members of the new Boston Club, formed the Committee of Fifty-One. They held a mass meeting on the steps of City Hall four days after the close of Mardi Gras. Thousands attended. The Committee included 162 Vice-Presidents. The Committee included the head of Leeds Foundry, Charles Leeds, prominent lawyers and doctors. It included well-known Creole African-Americans. New Orleans was unique in the South in that it had a long tradition of freed blacks who were well-educated and well-travelled. These Creole Blacks similarly sought a more stable government. The Committee also included many working class whites. The Committee included Frederick Ogden Nash, who in just a few years will lead the whites at the Battle of Liberty Place. Edward D. White, the future Supreme Court justice also joined the group.

The Reform Party

The Committee adopted resolutions supporting a return to work. The resolutions tossed aside any “Lost cause” sentimentality. They called for the creation of a new party, the “Reform” party. They called for a convention to select candidates, regardless of color and previous political association. They adopted a platform lamenting that the lack of “political sympathy” between the black and white races of Louisiana had rendered her a “victim to the most frightful spoliation and robbery.” The party platform attacked the Warmoth regime. But, they did not address the issues of sharing transportation between the races or discuss the many white and black men then supporting the Warmoth regime. That was still an issue too sensitive.

Lt-Gov. Pinchback’s newspaper, the Louisianian, criticized the Reform party as hypocritical. They would seek black support, but would not share a carriage or trolley car with a black man. Still, this was the first movement toward something like equality. Similar movements occurred across the South, as whites tired of Federal occupation.

Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 118-120

Fighting for the Spoils, No. 1

By 1865 and the close of the Civil War, New Orleans had been occupied by Federal troops for three years. That time allowed many carpet-baggers, persons from outside the state seeking fortune, to infiltrate the city. Clay Warmoth was one such person. Former Lt-Col. Warmoth was sent to New Orleans during the occupation and stayed. By 1871, he was governor of the state, and not yet 30 years old. Gov. Warmoth made several enemies. Though he courted all factions, Republican, freed slaves, and former Confederates, it was another Republican, another carpet-bagger, who sought to elbow Warmoth side. Stephen B. Packard, a Union veteran with an undistinguished war record, secured appointment as the U.S. Marshall for New Orleans. Packard’s office was in the Custom House, a large, imposing granite building in the downtown area. Packard’s faction became known as the Custom House ring.

The Republican Party Convention

In the Summer of 1871, the two factions wrestled for control of the Republican party as the party convention approached. Warmoth, as governor, had his own semi-military force, known as the Metropolitan Police Force. The Metropolitans were a modern innovation in some respects, but they also answered only to Gov. Warmoth. They were a private militia. Marshall Packard had his own armed ruffians. The two competed for control and influence with the ward clubs all summer.

The Metropolitans Strike

At a meeting of the Tenth Ward Mother Republican club, the Metropolitans came in force, in civilian clothes. They occupied a large number of the seats, to prevent regular members from staying for the meeting. The meeting ended with a riot between the two factions. The Tenth Ward included many African-Americans. The Metropolitans who broke up the meeting and beat numerous attendees were lead by light-skinned Negroes. The Convention took place in August, 1871. Marshall Packard out-smarted Gov. Warmoth by holding the convention at the Custom House and arranging for Federal troops to provide security. The Metropolitans came to the conventions seeking to upset the proceedings. But, they were met by one well-manned gatling gun.

At the Republican convention, Packard tried to engineer a quorum in the state legislature which would impeach Warmoth. The plan collapsed only when Lt.-Gov. Dunn, a close ally of Packard’s, died. Some suspected foul play.

The Warmoth Faction is Arrested

The Louisiana state legislative session opened in January, 1872. Packard still hoped to impeach Gov. Warmoth,. A,B Pinchback, a prominent man of color was now the Lieutenant Governor. Lt.-Gov. Pinchback was a close ally of Gov. Warmoth. Warmoth engineered an invasion of the session to move aside the Speaker, George Carter, a close ally of Packard. Packard promptly swore out arrest warrants for Warmoth, Lt.-Gov. Pinchback, some dozen legislators and some of the key leaders of the Metropolitans.

The Warmoth faction, however, soon got themselves out of jail. Warmoth called in the Metropolitans to “guard” the state house and called up the state militia. The Custom House ring retreated to a saloon and organized a rival legislature. Such was Reconstruction politics in 1872 Louisiana.

For more about Gov. Clay Warmoth, see this site.


Justin A. Nystrom, New Orleans: After the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2010), p. 104-110.

Searching for the Bodies

After the Civil War, thousands of mostly Southern boys remained unburied. Edmund T. Corley, a farmer in East Texas (Shelby County), contributed four of his five of his sons to the cause. Two sons did not return home. He was 51 years old when the Civil War broke out. His means were modest. He owned one slave, a black girl, aged 13 years. One of the four brothers wrote a poem to his mother a few months before he was killed:

O, Mother, twas hate to leave you in age,

When the winds of winter were chilling your veins,

But, my country, it called me – I hasten away,

From my own native state and its fair verdant plan,


But, O, if we meet not this side of the tomb,

God grant that we meet on the radiant shore,

Where the bells of the great city joyously boom,

A welcome for soldiers where warfare is o’er.

Winslow Corley

Winslow Corley was killed a few months later in 1864 at the Battle of Atlanta. After the war ended, at the age of 56, Edmund went in search of his sons’ bodies. He traveled by horse back for several months. All he found was waste and destruction, and the starving, wounded and maimed of the war. Most Southern boys were not buried. Burying bodies after a battle was a relatively new innovation. In the Civil War, only Northern armies took the time to bury bodies of the fallen. And, even that, the Federals did not do well. Countless Southern families did exactly what Edmund did, they searched the battle fields for the remains of their sons, usually in vain.

PBS, “Finding Your Roots: County Roots,” originally aired Feb. 23, 2021

Christmas Remembrance, 1866

In the first year after the end of the war, most veterans still felt the wounds of war. It has been estimated that some 60,000 amputations were performed during the war. And, of course, apart from the physical scars, there were the unseen wounds. Many accounts and poems appeared in Southern newspapers remembering their days and hard times. The Charleston Daily News published one such poem on Dec. 25, 1866 remembering the fallen:

        Shall happy bells, from yonder ancient spires
	Send their glad greetings to each Christmas fire
	Round which the children play?
	Shall the day be celebrated
	With feast, and song, and dance, and antique sports
	And shout of happy children in the courts
	And tales of ghost and fay?
        How could we bear the mirth
	While some loved reveler of a year ago
	Keeps his mute Christmas now beneath the snow
	In cold Virginia earth?

The poem evokes a long-time nineteenth Christmas Eve tradition of simply sitting by the family hearth and telling stories, many of them ghost stories. Think A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. “Fay” refers to stories about elves and fairies.

Tracy L. Barnett, “Holiday Toasts and Homesick Rebels,” Civil War Monitor, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Winter 2019), p. 54.

Old Relationships, Part 8

What of the slaves who served the McHattons faithfully for years? Cuba and Spain had outlawed slavery long before the Mchattons arrived. Zell and Martha were free once the McHattons arrived in Mexico. The McHattons then moved to Cuba and purchased the sugar plantation that became their home. Zell and Martha were free in Cuba, as they were in Mexico. At the Cuba plantation, the family encountered bandits, a violent uprising by Chinese “coolies,” a hurricane and the more mundane hard work necessary to start a plantation in a strange country. Through all those adventures, Zell was right there, bravely defending the family.

James and Eliza tried to teach Zell to read and write. But, he resisted. Yet, Zell learned to speak Spanish better than James or Eliza. He became their interpreter. When Zell became a young man, Eliza noticed he was looking at women differently. She suggested he open a bank account, if he wanted to marry. She wanted to help Zell safeguard the money he had accumulated. Zell married and started a family. After some ten years in Cuba, James and Eliza returned to the United States. They came to miss the company of others who they could understand better and they missed their “fatherland.”

But, Zell stayed in Cuba with his family. Eliza and James helped him reach an agreed contract with the new owners of the plantation. Zell sent the McHattons letters every year, always written by one of the Spanish workers at the old plantation. He relayed news of the neighborhood and the plantation. And, he always signed his letters “Your devoted and faithful slave (esclavo).” Even then, the common expression was “Your devoted and faithful servant (serviento).” Eliza assumed the word “servant” did not express enough for Zell.

Zell died a few years later. Eliza was not shy in her book. She insisted he was no slave, but their faithful friend.

In the U.S., the McHattons helped Martha apply her accumulated savings to buy a house in Virginia, close enough for the McHattons, then living in New York, to visit Martha every year. Eliza would say after Martha’s passing that she was no slave but a companion who was a tender, faithful soul. And, she was their last connection to a long ago way of life.

Eliza McHatton-Ripley, From Flag to Flag (United Kingdom: Dodo Press 2009) (reprint), pp. 187, 189.

Be Safe.

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.

1868 Race Riots, Part One

After the war, how did the whites and blacks work things out? Or, did they work anything out?  In New Orleans, the federal soldiers had been in control for years. New Orleans also had a strong, vibrant freed Negro (to use the contemporary term) culture. For decades, many blacks had succeeded in business and had acquired first-rate educations. New Orleans, a major world port and the largest city in the South, was cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Prior to the Civil War, the freed blacks had their own militia, the Native Guards. The Native Guards had served with distinction in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Even before, the fall of New Orleans to the Yankees in 1862, the Native Guards were prepared to defend the city.

So, during Reconstruction, the blacks generally responded to white supremacy with considerable strength and skill. By 1868, there was an uneasy truce. The Metropolitan police had been created, which included many black policemen. Federal troops remained. But, many whites were, nevertheless, determined to diminish the black and Republican vote.

This was a time of political clubs. Groups formed their clubs generally based on their wards. They would hold barbacues and parade through the city advocating their candidate. The New Orleans blacks took to this mode of politics right away. They formed clubs named Warmoth Guards (for the Republican governor), Colfax Defenders (for the site of a massacre of black voters), Grant Invincibles, and Pinchback Zouaves (named for the well-known black Louisiana politician). These were the black Republican clubs.

The white citizens also had their political clubs, also generally formed along the ward or neighborhood lines. The white clubs were all Democratic. The largest club, limited to 1200 members, among the Democrats was the “Innocents.” The Innocents was named for a political club in Sicily. They had members who were Sicilian, Italian, Maltese, Latin Americans, Portuguese, Spaniards and American. The Innocents were conspicuous with their garb, a red shirt and red cap. They also had perhaps the most incendiary banner. Their banner depicted a black man on the ground about to be stabbed. Most whites and blacks of the time believed the Sicilians were hot-headed, stealthy, and prone to revenge.

The Democrats lost in the April, 1868 election. In the lead-up to the November, 1868 election, the clubs turned to violence. On Sept. 22, 1868, several of the black political clubs paraded through the streets. At Canal and Bourbon streets, there was a saloon and restaurant known as Dumontiel’s. It was frequented by wealthy white persons. The fracas likely started when a few whites cheered the Democrat candidate when the black clubs paraded by. Some blacks gave chase. The whites dashed into Dumontiel’s. The blacks followed. Entire Republican clubs entered. On an upstairs balcony, a white began to fire into the crowd of blacks. The blacks returned fire. The shooting spread. Many were injured, but just one black man was killed. Suddenly, the fighting ended.

Saturday night was a popular time for the political clubs to parade. Canal street is said to be the widest main street in the country. There is room for parades on both sides of the street. On Oct. 24, 1868, the Republicans, including the Grant Guards, Colfax Guards, Tenth Ward Club, Eleventh Ward Club, and others, were parading on one side, while the Democrat Workingmen’s club was on the other side. Several men and boys jumped from the center of the street, from the area known as the neutral ground, a tree-lined boulevard. They started firing into the Republican groups. The Republicans dropped their torches and ran. The blacks returned fire. But, they were surprised and got the worst of it. Seven blacks were killed. Five were members of the Republican clubs. One was unidentified and the seventh was a ten year old boy. The boy appeared to have been trampled by the fleeing crowd.

The blacks were furious. They went home to gather their weapons. By 11:30 p.m., large number of Negroes were in the streets attacking every white person they could find. A streetcar was stopped. One white passenger was severely injured by an axe. Other white passengers were stabbed or shot. A carriage maker was hacked to death by hatchets. A former Confederate officer and former policeman was shot to death. Federal soldiers eventually brought an end to the butchery.

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

Mary Custis Lee, Protester

Stereotypes never work. There are too many exceptions to justify any stereotype. Mary Custis Lee, eldest daughter of Robert E. Lee, did not fit the mold of her time. At a time when marriage prospects were slim after the Civil War, most unmarried young women were expected to stay home and care for elderly parents. She never married. There just were not many men her age who survived the war. Mary chose a different life. She spent decades traveling to Europe and other places.

Coming back to Virginia, passing through Washington, D.C., she had a large collection of bags. Thinking herself fortunate, she sat near the exit, at the rear of the railroad car. A new law had just been passed, effective in Alexandria, Virginia. The new law mandated that blacks, known as  “Negroes,” sit in the rear, near the exit. It was the first “Jim Crow” law passed in Virginia. The conductor explained to Ms. Lee her error, but she preferred to remain in her seat. She refused to move.

At the next stop, A Negro man got on board. The conductor again tried to Mary to move to the front. Again, she insisted she would stay. The conductor returned to Mary, trying to persuade her to move. He told her she would be arrested. Ms. Lee remained. Upon arrival in Alexandria, she was indeed arrested. People began to gather on the street, realizing who she was. In the post-war years of 1902, there were hundreds of Confederate veterans or family members in the city. On the way to the station house, the sidewalks were thronged.

The new Jim Crow seating law was not entirely popular among the white voters. It had been passed by James Caton, representative to the state legislature from Alexandria. Mr. Caton was described in a black owned newspaper as a “representative of the poor whites.” According to the Colored American, a Washington D.C. newspaper, the arrest of Ms. Lee stirred up discontent among the “better classes” of Virginia. The white newspapers, Alexandria and Washington, commented that the new seating law was working well. But, the Colored American expressed hope her arrest would lead to revocation of the new law. The editor believed the confederate veterans in Richmond would seek its reversal.

At the station house, gray-haired veterans surrounded Ms. Lee. The officer in charge was prevailed upon to release Ms. Lee with the understanding she would return the next day to face the charge. It was said that when Ms. Lee finally reached her destination in Alexandria, the home of a friend, she collapsed. Modern commentators suggest Ms. Lee was less interested in opposing a strange new law than simply annoyed that she was expected to sit apart from her trusted black maid. But, that seems unlikely. It was a major to-do for the name of a woman to appear in the newspapers of 1902 for any reason, much less for an arrest. The Colored American expressed sympathy for her plight, knowing she must have felt extreme embarrassment. The editor indicated he knew she was embarrassed, but appreciated her efforts. Ms. Lee was, said the Colored American, liberal regarding the rights of man. Meaning the newspaper knew she opposed these “petty racial animosities,” advanced by men of the “Caton stripe.”

More likely, the daughter of Robert E. Lee was aware of this new law and appreciated an opportunity to express her opinion. She likely did not expect to be arrested. According to one report, when she was brought to the doors of the station house, someone in the crowd protested against Ms. Lee being brought within. Ms. Lee responded that she did not believe the people of Alexandria would suffer her to be brought in as a prisoner.

In a time when women had few avenues for public discourse, Mary Custis Lee expressed her annoyance as she saw the opportunity. She was in the end, her father’s daughter.

For more info about this incident, see blog post here.

Washington Post, June 16, 1902, p. 4

Richmond Dispatch, June 14, 1902, p. 1

Washington, D.C, Colored American, June 21, 1902, p. 8