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The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  171 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
The untold story of the slaying of a Southern town's ex-slaves and a white lawyer's historic battle to bring the perpretators to justice

Following the Civil War, Colfax, Louisiana, was a town, like many, where African Americans and whites mingled uneasily. But on April 13, 1873, a small army of white ex–Confederate soldiers, enraged after attempts by freedmen to assert thei
ebook, 352 pages
Published March 4th 2008 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 2008)
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Sep 02, 2008 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs, Supreme Court afficianados
As a history major and attorney, I was more than a little surprised that the Colfax massacre and its aftereffects in the legal system had managed to escape my notice. This book recounts the horrific mass murder of 70-80 African Americans just after the end of the Civil War, placing the events in the context of the social and political atmosphere of the time. The author goes on to examine the attempt to prosecute the instigators, the resulting Supreme Court case, and its effect on Reconstruction ...more
Oct 21, 2012 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-history, politics
The most pertinent statement in this book appears in the epilogue - "The Confederate States of America lost the Civil War militarily and economically, but in the ways that mattered most to white Southerners--socially, politically, and ideologically--the South itself did not." Charles Lane begins his book with a narrative of what lead up to the Colfax Massacre and the Massacre itself. While this is a moderate portion of the book, he goes on to cover the attempts to arrest and bring to trial the p ...more
Dec 01, 2009 Jenny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books like this are hard to read. This details the true story of the Colfax Massacre at which about 80 black men were beaten, burned and murdered by a lawless mob of whites in Louisiana during Reconstruction. An event which resulted in the murderers going free, the end of enforcement of civil rights laws and protections for southern blacks, and the establishment of the violent rule of white supremacists in the South for almost the next 100 years.

It's a horrible tragedy that highlights depravity,
Oct 06, 2014 Allen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, a posse of white Louisianans attacked the black elected officials of Grant Parish, Louisiana. The black Republicans had taken refuge and fortified the Colfax courthouse along with most of the local black population, knowing that the attack was coming. They were overpowered and outgunned, and the whites eventually set fire to the courthouse to flush them out. Under a flag of surrender, the survivors were taken captive, then marched off in pairs and shot. Enough s ...more
Robin Friedman
Feb 25, 2014 Robin Friedman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On April 13, 1873, Easter Sunday, a white posse of about 150 killed over 60 African Americans in a small town in central Louisiana on the Red River in what became known as the Colfax Massacre. The U.S. Attorney for Louisiana, James Beckwith, brought prosecutions against some of the perpetuators under Federal laws enacted to enforce the Reconstruction amendments. After a mistrial, Beckwith retried the defendants and secured three convictions. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court which una ...more
Emilie Gruchow
May 13, 2015 Emilie Gruchow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Charles Lane organizes his interpretation of the 1873 Colfax Massacre, and its consequences for Reconstruction, around the second circuit court trial of the massacre’s perpetrators. Lane argues that the three Cruikshank trials (1874-1876) were critical events in Louisiana’s Reconstruction era. The failed federal case against the white supremacists of Grant Parish directly contributed to the loss of federal control and the ascent of mob rule after 1874. Of the three trials, the second circuit tr ...more
Feb 22, 2014 Kelley rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very difficult book to get into if you aren't necessarily familiar or don't really care about legal jargon, however it is necessary to tell the story.
There is a lot of background here and all of it is quite painful to recount. I think my mouth was hanging open for more than half this book just reading the horrendous things that happened. The entire story is so important to read and never forget... and reading such horrific things is just the way to not forget. I will say that this was
The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction
Charles Lane
African American History
266 pages
copyright: 2008
isbn: 0-8050-8342-1

Southern blacks viewed the three post–Civil War constitutional amendments as guaranteeing them equal protection under the law. Yet postwar dreams of equality would be dashed during Reconstruction. Much of that failure traces back to the Colfax Massacre. During Reconstruction, white supremacist groups such as the KKK used v
This book brought all the pieces home to me on why Reconstruction ended and Jim Crow began. I knew about the Rutherford B Hayes election and Plessy vs. Fergusson but didn't completely get the bigger picture and I definitely didn't know that civil rights rulings by the Supreme Court in the late 19th century were preventing improvement of laws now. One is that states primarily get to be a decision maker before the federal government which prevents laws from being implemented. I had never heard of ...more
Apr 26, 2009 Mia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2009, nonfiction
Not for those easily disturbed by true stories describing barbaric acts of violence and revenge. The details of the killings does underscore the discrepancy between the ideals of dispassionate "justice" and the realities that take place, as the results of debates around the 13th through 15th Amendments to the Constitution and the Enforcement Act ended up having drastic repercussions for states, especially those with majority African-American populations. I learned quite a lot -- not just about t ...more
Nov 06, 2011 Debra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobooks, history
How can a handful of men murder roughly 100, many at point blank range and get away with it?

Assuming a basic knowledge of the Reconstruction period, this details a mass execution of black freemen in Colfax LA 1873 - and perhaps more startling to those of us just hearing about this for the first time, a lack of conviction of the perpetrators at the federal and supreme court level s.
Aug 04, 2009 Brenda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the details are sometimes difficult to fully absorb, the book begins with a harrowing account of the Colfax Massacre and then describes the ensuing court cases that ultimately, along with the Compromise of 1877, lead to the end of Reconstruction. This is information worth knowing if one is to understand the racial history of this country.
Jul 01, 2008 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Book clubs during Black History Month
I had a superficial understanding on the state of black Americans after the civil war, and scant knowledge of the realities of the life the freed slaves faced for years. This book really gave clarity to the hardships endured by the freedmen, which didn't improve much for the next 100 years. A painful, sad saga, but a worthwhile read.
Disgusting what we, as human beings, do to other human beings....and get away with! This book has really peaked my interest in Civil Rights. Have another book on this massacre to read, and will be finding all the available sources given by the two books on the Colofax Massacre to read and study. A must read!!!
Very interesting read about how this case could have changed the outcome of Reconstruction. It makes me sad that civil rights could have gone in a different direction and created a South that would have given Blacks the right to seek justice for crimes committed against them.
Melih Onvural
Mar 30, 2013 Melih Onvural rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First time in a long time that I haven't been able to put a book down. A really excellent expose of the events that went into how Reconstruction ended in the US, and how local they started regardless of how national it ended up being.

Fantastic book for any history buff.
"The Betrayal of Reconstruction," is so fitting on this title. The story of the Colfax massacre is the embodiment of the failure that was reconstruction. Lane does an exceptional job taking technical legal issues and making it flow into an understandable work.
Glenn Robinson
Oct 14, 2012 Glenn Robinson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Incredible book. Well researched. A very sad event in the US history where Whites massacred Blacks and got away with it. From what should have been a slam dunk legal case got brought down by legal precedents and manueverings. Very suspenseful and told well.
Jan 17, 2009 Brent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An important story to tell and Lane's book is very well researched. However, it gets bogged down in detail at times. A note to Supreme Court fans: the book is more bout the massacre than the court case that stemmed from it.
Started out strong and got bogged down at the end....depressing story of the failure of the Federal government to support the changes they tried to initiate.
Not bad. Interesting read about the reconstruction period. Makes you think about how things could of been different. Non fiction
Jun 28, 2011 Rosemary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent look at Reconstruction and where it went wrong, focusing on the Colfax Massacre in Louisiana and the legal tangle that ensued.
It was well written and the author had enough depressing content to fill a book. The law was interesting and the history devastating.
Dec 30, 2012 William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative, but has a very "yankee" point of view.
Mary Hawks
Jul 19, 2012 Mary Hawks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a lot about this period. Heart-breaking.
Megan Burnett
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Timothy Beverly rated it it was amazing
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Charles Lane is an editorial writer for The Washington Post. A former editor of the New Republic and foreign correspondent for Newsweek, he has also covered the Supreme Court of the United States. He lives in the Washington, D.C. area."
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“Once the war was over, they reorganized the Democratic Party and announced in their 1865 platform, “We hold this to be a Government of white people, made and to be perpetuated for the exclusive benefit of the white race, and … that people of African descent cannot be considered as citizens of the United States, and that there can, in no event, nor under any circumstances, be any equality between white and other races.” 1 likes
“Negro voting rights were politically necessary for Grant and his party. Before the Civil War, the Republicans were exclusively a Northern party; but afterward, they would have to win elections in the South, state and federal, lest the Southern-based Democratic Party retake control of the federal government and reverse the Union victory. And the Republicans could not do that unless Negroes, their natural—and most numerous—constituency, were free to vote.” 0 likes
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