Louisiana was the site of several white insurrections and race riots. We discussed the Coushatta Massacre and several others here on Black Then. Another such incident occurred two years prior in late September 1868: the Opelousas Massacre.
The Opelousas Massacre has its roots in attacks by the local white vigilance group, the Seymour Knights. These attacks were a result of Blacks wanting to join the Democratic Party. Upon until the 1960s, the party leaned heavily southern white. As expected, they are rejected by local whites and this prompted the attacks.
The local Republican newspaper, The Landry Progress, featured an article by school teacher, Emerson Bentley. In it, he went into the attack and noted it as a reason why Blacks should remain with the Republican Party. Bentley was known for being very involved in Opelousas’ Black community assisting with education and voting efforts.
For his trouble, Bentley was beaten in his class by a group of white men. He left the town shortly afterward and fled into the North. While news didn’t travel slowly at this time, details did and the belief was that Bentley had been killed. This prompted a response by armed Black citizens who marched on Opelousas.
The group’s numbers would die down some after it was revealed that Bentley wasn’t killed but fled the town. Gun laws restricted Black gun ownership meaning that the whites of the town had the firepower and numbers to quash an assault by the group. Following a brief firefight, the town’s whites capture twenty-nine Blacks. The prisoners are removed from their cells on September 29 and all but two were executed. Among them were twelve known Black Republicans.
The Opelousas massacre continued as white groups carried on with terrorizing the parish. Blacks were killed anywhere the vigilance groups found them. White Republicans were also targeted.
Republicans put the death toll at 200-300 Black people murdered. The Democrats contested this stating that only 25-30 were killed. This number included the prisoners killed. Between 30-50 white people were murdered in the massacre.
The Freedman Bureau launched an investigation into the Opelousas massacre. Its October report decided that the incident could be instigated by Blacks refusing to disarm. Lieutenant Lee noted that just five Black people were killed in the attack. Much lower than both parties’ estimates.