On July 30, 1866—146 years ago today—New Orleans descended into racial violence that, by the end of the day, would leave an estimated 38 individuals dead and dozens injured.
Racial tensions, which were already high soon after the close of the Civil War, flared after African Americans were denied the right to vote. The enactment of the so-called “Black Codes” infuriated Republicans determined to secure citizenship rights for all Americans, and they ultimately reconvened the Louisiana Constitutional Convention in hopes of seizing control of the state government.
During a break in the Convention, violence broke out between armed white supremacists and African Americans marching in support of suffrage—and the African Americans were not prepared for the fight. Unarmed African Americans were attacked and murdered, and many law enforcement officials perpetrated the crimes.
The riot did not last long; it was suppressed the same day. However, an estimated 38 people died, all but a few of whom were African Americans. The city existed under martial law for several days.
The riot—and others like it—shocked the country and convinced many Northerners that firm action was needed to control ex-Confederates. After Republicans gained control of Congress that fall, they quickly put Reconstruction policies into effect.
To learn more, check out James G. Hollandsworth’s An Absolute Massacre: The New Orleans Race Riot of July 30, 1866 (Louisiana State University Press, 2001) and Gilles Vandal’s The New Orleans Riot of 1866: Anatomy of a Tragedy (The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 1983).
To read the Encyclopedia Britannica article, click here.
To view images depicting the violence, check out this page from the New York Public Library.
For an account printed in the New York Times on August 1, 1866, click here.
This was not the last riot New Orleans would face; another riot in 1868 left more than twenty people dead.
To learn more about Reconstruction, check out John Hope Franklin’s Reconstruction after the Civil War (University of Chicago Press, 1994) and Mark Summers’ A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction (UNC Press, 2009).