The Opelousas Massacre in St. Landry Parish, La., has baffled historians over the years. From varying accounts, hundreds of Blacks were reportedly killed, because of their desire to join a local political group that included racist White Democrats. The Seymour Knights violently drove potential Black voters away from the Democratic Party, prompting White Republican reporter Emerson Bentley to write that Blacks should remain loyal to the Republican Party in local paper The Progress.
A school teacher by day, Bentley was beaten by a group of Whites as a result of his article, which some in the town saw as an affront to the powers that be. Black Republicans, looking to defend and find Bentley, gathered to confront the Knights and other Democrats with both sides armed for war.
It isn’t said who struck first, but it is known that the White Democrats had the numbers and weapons advantage. On this date in 1868, the groups squared off in town in the early morning.
As the battles raged on well in to the afternoon and evening hours, several Blacks were caught, shot, and some later executed for the uprising. The White militia forces drove the resistance in to neighboring swamps and captured or killed the opposition on sight, in most cases.
Twelve leaders of the Black Republicans who were seized were lynched the following day, which sparked a round of anti-Black violence and sentiment throughout the region. In the end, an estimated 150 to 300 Blacks were killed as a result of the race riot and an accurate number has yet to be determined even after years of research. Whites were also killed, with the numbers varying between 30 to 50 in most reports.
Although hard numbers cannot be confirmed, what is universally recognized is that Black lives were lost on that day as a result of voter and racial oppression.
As tensions rose in the South for decades after the massacre, the lack of justice and information about the standoff shows that care must be taken to preserve the African-American legacy for future generations.
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