NEW ORLEANS — The mayor of a Louisiana town where 30 to 60 black people were killed 130 years ago is calling for a moment of silence in November to honor those victims.
Thibodaux (TIB-uh-doh) Mayor Tommy Eschete (ESH-tay) plans to give a descendant of a man wounded in that violence a proclamation declaring this Nov. 23 as “1887 Commemoration Day.”
The mayor will present the proclamation to Sylvester Jackson during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Jackson’s great-grandfather, Jack Conrad, was wounded and Conrad’s 19-year-old son was killed when white mobs went door-to-door on Nov. 23, 1887, shooting unarmed blacks and some whites in violence that ended a monthlong strike by sugar plantation field hands.
The proclamation will say that the city condemns the violence and encourages continued efforts to explore the history to advance reconciliation, the mayor said.
Eschete said he hadn’t heard of the Thibodaux Massacre before he was told about it by John DeSantis, who organized The Louisiana 1887 Memorial Committee after his book about the incident was published late last year.
“I’ve been here 50 years and never heard diddly about it,” the mayor said. But he talked to other local historians who confirmed DeSantis’ account.
“I learned something, so hopefully this may shed a little light on an incident a lot of people don’t know about,” Eschete said.
The committee is raising money for an archaeological dig at what tradition holds to be the site of a mass grave of people killed that day.
The dig will cost at least $24,000. Fundraising is going slowly so far, but the committee got official nonprofit status last month, opening up the chance to apply for grants, DeSantis said.
Twelve students from Nicholls State University will design a social media campaign for the committee.
“We’ll have some students doing historical research and strategic planning. Others will actively be putting together a social media plan and crafting messages to use on that platform,” professor Nicki Boudreaux said. “Then we also hope to do a few oral histories and do some videos the students will be able to use and the committee will be able to use to spread information.”
DeSantis himself has been learning more about what happened in 1887 since the memorial committee held its first public meeting in May.
“I get emails from people telling me little snippets of family stories that were passed down, but they didn’t understand what it was,” he said.
For instance, he said, the mobs went farther afield across Thibodaux than he’d realized. He said a member of a white family about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) from the mob’s main focus told him that a relative had “passed down the story of a mob banging on their door, and they hid a black servant … ‘to save him from the bubbas.'”
DeSantis said a customer at a barber shop near the possible burial site told him, “You’re going to have a hard time finding them people. That’s where they used to bury the mules.”
“Which is horrific, when you think of the irony and implications: Mules were tools and the people were tools who were obviously no longer good for work,” DeSantis said.