In Thibodaux, Louisiana, few people can agree on what happened the night of November 23, 1887. The events would become known as the Thibodaux Massacre and, according to John DeSantis’ book, The Thibodaux Massacre: Racial Violence and the 1887 Sugar Cane Labor Strike, “White vigilantes gunned down unarmed black laborers and their families during a spree lasting more than two hours. The violence erupted due to strikes on Louisiana sugar cane plantations. Fear, rumor, and white supremacist ideals clashed with an unprecedented labor action to create an epic tragedy.”
There is little consensus on anything about that fateful day: the number of dead bodies, though the official count was set at eight; where the bodies were buried, though folklore points to the grounds beneath Raymond Stafford Post 513 - the "Black" American Legion Hall; or, who shot first, though some have suspected Andrew Price, a former attorney, sugar cane planter, and congressman.
For many natives and residents of Thibodaux, the mere mention of the massacre brings shame, pain, and outright anger. That is, of course, if they've heard about it at all. Yet, in some ways, the Thibodaux Massacre can be credited with having spurred modern labor and civil rights movements, while simultaneously striking fear and intimidation that has paralyzed the town’s Black community for generations.
What we know for certain is that the power structure of Thibodaux remains largely influenced by a handful of families who have enjoyed generational wealth in a town of nearly 15,000 mostly white (60%) residents. We also know that, under the Donald J. Trump presidency, there was a sharp rise in violent hate crimes perpetrated by throngs of white nationalist and domestic terrorist groups. Despite a centuries-old problem where white Americans have used violence as a tool to control others, Black people remain resilient and hopeful. But, can a small town ever really heal its wounds and be fully resilient, if it never reconciles with its past?