Heart of Louisiana: Colfax Memorial

A new memorial was unveiled in the small north Louisiana town of Colfax.
Published: Apr. 23, 2023 at 3:22 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 23, 2023 at 10:55 PM CDT

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A new memorial was unveiled in the small north Louisiana town of Colfax. It marks a racial massacre that occurred there in the 1870′s.

It was 150 years later, almost to the minute that a new memorial to a massacre was unveiled in the town of Colfax. Those killings by white supremacists in 1873 left nearly 100 black citizens dead. The Easter Sunday massacre was the deadliest one-day event of the post-Civil War reconstruction era.

“This day has been a long time coming,” said Gov. John Bell Edwards.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards helped dedicate the new memorial in downtown Colfax,

“Forna Hunter, Matthew Irwin,” said a woman.

The memorial lists the names of those killed and wounded and has a detailed account of the brutal killings. Two years ago, the state took down a historical marker that stood at the nearby courthouse since the 1950s that portrayed the mass killing as a riot, which “ended carpetbag misrule in the south.” The governor called the old marker false and offensive.

“And so every day that that marker would stay up, the state of Louisiana would be complicit in telling African Americans here in Colfax and everywhere else, stay in your place because if you don’t, this is what can happen. And for good measure, they put a score on it, 150 to three, it had to come down,” said Gov. Edwards.

The change in monuments followed a meeting two years ago of reverend Avery Hamilton of Colfax and retired Houston businessman, Dean Woods. Hamilton’s great-great-great grandfather was the first black killed in the massacre. and Woods’s great-grandfather was one of the white attackers. They were able to raise the $65,000 needed to erect the new memorial. Once you realize that your great-grandfather had been involved in this massacre, it took you a while to come to grips with that.

“This means a lot to me that we were able to not rectify what the men did back in 1873, but at least correct the history and hopefully educate a lot of people of what really happened 150 years ago,” said Dean Woods.

“I was determined that their names will be carved in stone and people are going to know that they lived their life mattered,” said Rev. Avery Hamilton.

Descendants of both the white perpetrators and black Colfax were here.

“He was wounded. That was my great, great-great-grandfather. I never was taught in school about it, but from my parents and grandparents, we were told it was something like you didn’t talk about,” said Dorothy Richardson Peters.

Jerry Hickman’s grandfather was one of the attackers.

“Younger generation should grow up knowing the truth of the matter,” said Jerry Hickman.

Several of the attackers were convicted of federal civil rights violations, but those convictions were overturned by the US supreme court in the US versus Cruikshank. That decision and others limited the ability of the federal government to enforce voting and civil rights for African Americans into the 1960s, two grandsons of Cruikshank were in Colfax.

“It allowed a considerable amount of racism to occur for the next hundred years,” said Doug Cruikshank.

“Hopefully, it heals people, and young people can advance forward with that knowledge,” said Steve Cruikshank.

“History was,” said Gov. Edwards.

And now a town that once hid from its past is telling a different story. the real story of its darkest day 150 years ago.

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