This week in history was a rather exciting one. From the founding of America’s first anti-slavery society to the Colfax Massacre, where as many as 150 black Americans were slaughtered – from Lincoln’s call for the black vote, to his assassination and death, this second week of April is writ large upon our national landscape. In was during these days that Confederates fired upon Fort Sumter, and both South Carolina and Louisiana passed state constitutions based upon equal rights.
Lincoln Recommends Voting Rights for Black Troops
In what would be his last public address, President Lincoln discussed Reconstruction, civil rights for black Americans, as well as voting rights for black soldiers. In the audience was the actor John Wilkes Booth. “That means nigger citizenship,” he was to have said to co-conspirator Lewis Powell. “That is the last speech he will ever make.” The speech can be read here. The CWDG write up about the day, here.
Confederates Fire Upon United States Fort Sumter
After United States forces refused to surrender their own fort, Confederates under orders from Jefferson Davis open fire upon Fort Sumter. Beginning at 4:30am, the bombardment would last two days with the troops under Major Robert Anderson finally surrendering. More here.
Surrendering Black US Soldiers Massacred at Fort Pillow
The Battle of Fort Pillow along the Mississippi River pitted the Confederate cavalry under General Nathan Bedford Forrest against mostly-black United States garrison troops. Outnumbered and defeated, the Confederates Massacred almost all who tried to surrender. In the words of Confederate sergeant Achilles V. Clark, a participant in the battle, writing just two days later: “The slaughter was awful – words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down.” The mortality rate of the Union garrison troops was nearly 50% – 31% of the white troops perished, while 64% of the black troops were killed. This week, we will be posting a fuller record of the battle, as told by three different Confederate sources.
Sixty Black Americans Slaughtered in Colfax Massacre
The Colfax Massacre is widely regarded as the bloodiest day of the Reconstruction period. Louisiana’s Colfax Parish had elected Republican officials, both black and white. The white Democrats called upon local (white) militias to take back the courthouse by force. While there had been a bit of fighting earlier in the month, it was on this day – Easter Sunday – that the true killing began. It was then that over 300 white men, including members of the KKK, stormed the Courthouse which was defended by about half as many black militiamen. Sixty blacks fled, were tracked down, and killed to a man. The remaining ninety or so remaining in the courthouse surrendered. During the surrender, one of the white leaders was shot – possibly by one of his own men. From that point on, all black prisoners were murdered. In the end, there were only three white fatalities, with as many as 150 black men killed. Though some whites were arrested, none were convicted. More can be read here.
North America’s First Abolition Society Founded
The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage was the lengthy name of America’s first anti-slavery organization. Founded at the Rising Sun Tavern in Philadelphia, its original purpose was to aide “free negroes” illegally held as slaves. They did what they could to find jobs for free blacks (and escaped slaves). In the 1780s, it changed its focus to pure anti-slavery, even electing Benjamin Franklin as its president. The early days also saw Thomas Paine as one of the founding members. A bit more can be learned here.
South Carolina Passes Equal Rights-Based Constitution
South Carolina had already passed a post-Civil War constitution in 1865. This, however, enshrined Black Codes, strictly limiting the rights of the state’s black population. Three years later, a new constitution was drafted and passed. This one opened public schools to all races, gave black males the right to vote, and even allowed interracial marriage. This constitution would last until 1895, when it was replaced by one requiring intelligence tests and property holdings to vote – all in an attempt to disenfranchise black citizens. More here.
The Death of President Lincoln
Though John Wilkes Booth shot the president the night previous, Lincoln lingered in an apartment across the street from Ford’s Theater until morning. An article that I composed about his death can be found here.
Slavery Outlawed in Washington DC through Compensated Emancipation
President Lincoln signed a law which ended slavery in the district – the only place, apart from the territories – the Constitution gave him the power to do so. This freed over 3,000 slaves, and paid the former owners for their “loss.” It also offered the newly-freed blacks $100 each if they decided to move to another country. More can be read here.
New Louisiana Constitution Banning Segregation Approved
Like South Carolina’s new constitution, passed a few days prior, Louisiana’s did away with the restrictive Black Codes. Black men became full citizens with full voting rights, as well as the right to hold office. It also opened public schools to all races. However, this new constitution lasted only until 1879, two years after anti-black Southern Democrats took over. They again restricted the black vote and initiated the Jim Crow era. More here.