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The Thibodaux Massacre: An Interview with author John Desantis PT 2
On November 23, 1887, white vigilantes gunned down unarmed black laborers and their families due to strikes on Louisiana sugar cane plantations.
A future member of the U.S. House of Representatives was among the leaders of a mob that routed black men from houses and forced them to a stretch of railroad track, ordering them to run for their lives before gunning them down. According to a witness, the guns firing in the black neighborhoods sounded like a battle.
Author and award-winning reporter John DeSantis uses correspondence, interviews and federal records to detail this harrowing true story.
The Thibodaux Massacre: Racial Violence and the 1887 Sugar Cane Labor Strike
John, welcome back to Crime Capsule. Thank you again so much for joining us.
[00:00:06.710] - John
It's very good to be here then.
[00:00:09.290] - Ben
Where we left off last week, the seeds of the massacre of November 1887 had been sown in the years beforehand. We discussed the tensions after the Civil War. We discussed the conflict between the planter class and the laborers on the sugarcane plantations. We discussed strikes that had taken place in which these laborers were negotiating for higher pay and for more ownership and for better working conditions. But something happened in 1886. There were two words that would strike fear into the heart of everyone in the sugar parishes in Southern Louisiana, no matter where you stood on the class line or the color line. And those two words which would spell disaster for the entire region, were bad harvest.
[00:01:25.070] - John
[00:01:26.140] - Ben
[00:01:31.290] - John
Year 1886 was a disaster for the local sugar industry. And the weather there had been a very cold autumn when the growing began in the beginning of the year when they would first plant the crop, there was cold weather. The cane did not do well. And of course, the fortunes of the planters were dictated by what kind of a yield they would get from their sugar crops. And 1886 was one of the worst years on record. And this was particularly difficult for the planters because they had been building up slowly. They were finally starting to realize profits again. The sugar trade itself was settling, and they were able to reach markets. They were able to make some money. And so when 1886 came around, there was serious question among some of the planters as to whether they could survive financially with another year like that. And then, of course, we roll into 1887, and there was a tremendous amount of fear of what Mother Nature would do.
[00:03:23.470] - Ben
You describe St. Mary Parish at this time as and I'm going to quote you here the Fort Sumpter of the Sugar War. Explain what you mean by that.
[00:03:40.750] - John
St. Mary Parish, which lies to the west of Terra Bone in La Fuche, covers a huge area that today still, if you drive along highway 90 in St. Mary, there's just sugar cane growing all around you. And there was the start of a labor action that had occurred in St. Mary. And there were the underlying racial tensions, of course. And so what happened there was a conflict between planters and labor that resulted in deaths of strikers. The laborers had said, we're not going to work. We're not going to do this unless we come to some kind of term. And I called it before Sumter because it was really at that period the first blood, the first shots over the bow by a burgeoning labor movement. And there was great fear at that time that some of this would spread to surrounding parishes, this consciousness, because now we're looking at more than 25 years after the war, things had become kind of normal from the point of view of such an economy. And so there were rumors, there were labor actions and rumors of labor actions. And what was actually occurring was that. Right. In Tibado, there was a movement that was progressing without anyone really noticing.
By anyone. I mean, the people in that ruling class of planters, the planters.
[00:06:02.350] - John
But what you had was there had already in 1886, been an important labor movement from the Northern base, Knights of labor, and they were doing what they did before the AFL, before any of that. And there was a labor action by workers on the railroad in La Fuche. And it was a successful labor action. The railroad laborers were able to win important concessions. And this is in the context of organized labor kind of asserting itself throughout the country, but in particular down in that region, that's what was happening.
[00:06:57.240] - Ben
Yeah. Interesting to see that we kind of take organizing for granted in this day and age with the ease of technology, the speed of communication, the instantaneous ability to connect with a Union representative through phone or email or what have you. But in those days, you did not have those luxuries at all. I mean, you had to have in person meetings. And that really struck me in your account was because the Knights of labor, who had modeled themselves after the white Masons, were a secretish society. More importantly, they were a society where Blacks could meet without harassment, without intimidation. They were protecting themselves by meeting in secret.
[00:07:56.390] - John
And in this part of the world, if we look at South Louisiana, this little area there, black people had gotten very good at surreptitiously meeting. And of course, it was a segregated society, which made it that much easier for people to meet in secret, whether it was in the churches, whether it was in the Masonic Hall or very much in barbershops and barbershops were a big deal. Barber shops were a big deal because churches held a lot of people. And who knows who might have been listening in if you were having a meeting in a Church. And this is something that got was understood very much during the latter days, civil rights movement in the Barber shop, you know who's there. You see the faces of the people that you're talking with. And so if something goes wrong, if what you're planning gets betrayed, you know exactly who to come and talk to about it. So in Barber shops, in churches, in Mexicana halls, there were various types of meetings that took place. Now, one of the things the Nights of labor was very good at, it was also kind of one of the things that contributed eventually to its downfall.
But the Knights of labor did not have a strong central, like, top down organization. It was more of a concept. And the concept was put into motion at various places by local organizers. So the national leadership of the Nights of labor took a pretty much hands off approach to organizing that was going on in various industries in different parts of the country. And in the case of the railroad workers and Lafooch, that was certainly definitely true. So by the time you get to August, September, October of 1887, there were leaders who emerged, local leaders who were trusted within the black communities on the different plantations. Black communities then, of course, were the workers, the people who lived in the plantation, housing and so on. So rather than an outside agitator coming down from Philadelphia or someplace, you had people such as Junius Bailey, who had taught close to a generation of schoolchildren on the plantations. He was very respected. And so when he would network with people he knew and they talked to people who were on the plantations about what was being planned, there was credibility and there was trust. And that's very important because if you had some organizer from Philadelphia or New York who would come to these places and say, hey, I think you all need to not work and risk the homes you're living in and risk the livelihood such as they are that you have and stop working, go ahead and strike like these miners are doing or like these railroad workers have done.
People would have said, yeah, okay, go home. We don't want to hear any of this. But it was local trusted people who were spreading this message. And as you pointed out, this was at a time way before Twitter. And there's something I need to interject here in this point of the discussion. I've had to speak in many different places, of course, about the contents of this book, about the story that's told and one of the points that I have tried to drive home to people two things. First is that on the one hand, what was occurring this burgeoning movement in South Louisiana was not a race based movement. Racial solidarity, for example, was not a goal of the organizers. This strike that would occur was a strictly economic action. However, as the story unfolds, what we learn is that because of the prevailing culture, because of what was going on at the time, race definitely got interjected as a tool by the white establishment. And rates did become an issue as the clock ticked towards what would occur.
[00:13:54.090] - Ben
Well, let's get there. And we have to take a look at what happened in those weeks in late October into November, 1887. On October 27 of that year, the strike that has been sort of rumored to happen in Tibeto and surrounding area, it begins properly. The planters ignore the demands of the strikers and they declare repercussions. They call in the militia from the state, and they also start securing outside labor to make quota before all of the sugarcane is going to rot in place. Now, you noted Interestingly, that when they call the militia in, many of the members of that armed group were former Confederate veterans. You have William Pierce, you have PGT Boregard, and they are billeted in the courthouse in Tibeto. They even bring a Cannon and a Gatling gun. And, John, I just have to wonder whether it is not more dangerous to actually fire a Gatling gun of the Civil War era than it is to be fired at by a Gatling gun of the Civil War era.
[00:15:25.610] - John
That's a very good question, and I think that should have been worthy of the chapter itself. Yes. A strike was threatened. What the planters didn't realize because they didn't take the demand seriously. The demands were rather simple. There were some wage changes that were desired. Among those was a raise in hourly pay and also a differential because these sugar operations at the height of the work that was being done, these were 24 hours a day operations when things were rolling. So the strike begins occurring, organizers go to and this is in October go to various plantations, particularly in the Shriever area, right. Kind of where the La Foosh Terra Bone line is. And there were messages that were sent to the governor of Louisiana, who was himself a planter, and one in particular, which was a message that said, Help strikers on my place invoke your authority. And so that is what was done. And troops. There was a contingent of the state militia, and it's quite in its infancy in this form. They went by train with their horses and with their cattle and gun and with their troops, and they were installed in what is essentially downtown Tibeto.
Now, this strike had been spreading, and the workers had laid down their tools and said, no, we're not going to work, not until you meet our demands. And again, this is where that trust of the local leadership comes in, because these strikers believe that things would get better because of the actions they were taking. So the local judiciary went about issuing mass eviction orders, and these eviction orders were to be enforced by the state militia, which the militia travel to various plantations and under arms told workers, if you don't go and start working now, we are going to order you from this housing. Now, the housing I have to mention, these were the same cabins that were occupied by slaves 25 years earlier. But housing was part of the deal. Mostly there were itinerant workers who were living in some rooming houses, but primarily, especially on the big plantations, you had these cabins just as things had been before the war. And to the credit of the militia. And I have to say this, there were opportunities that they could have had to exact violence themselves, and they did not. All of the reports that I was able to review indicated that they all conducted themselves in a very soldier relief fashion, and also they resisted demands by the planters that the workers be marched into the fields at gunpoint.
[00:19:58.190] - Ben
You know, it really struck me as I read your account that moments like that confound the easy characterization of the actors in this particular story as good guys or bad guys. We tend to think of the labor organizers and the strikers as the good guys, the Davids against the Goliaths, right. And we think of the bad guys as the militia who are keeping everybody down. And yet what you have is that the General Pierce refuses to allow his militia members to police the strikers. As you say, they acted honorably towards them in those moments. The bad guys aren't exactly as bad as some folks would like to make them out to be, but neither are the good guys as sort of Noble and pure of intention as other sides would like to make them out to be. Right. You have the strikers themselves arming themselves, preaching revolt, informing vigilante groups to carry out violence on their terms. And so all of this is coming together in those weeks in November. What happened.
[00:21:29.910] - John
Was a declaration of martial law that was made not by the militia, but by Judge Taylor baby. Now, it's important to understand what's occurring at this point. The workers at all of these plantations in so many places, they were evicted and they gathered in Tibeto. This is a little tiny Tibeto. It's not that big of a place even today. So you had thousands of people who essentially, it was like a stream of refugees. They were sleeping under bridges. Some were able to get kept at homes of black families in back of town Tibeto. And the white populace of Tibeto saw this as an invasion. Now, as you point out, there was some sporadic violence, in particular when sugar houses continued operation, meaning where the work was actually done processing the sugar. There were instances of people we're going to assume this was strikers or supporters of strikers who fired on those sugar houses. And I might add, the workers were primarily black. So you had black strikers firing on black workers. But the arms that were being used were not the greatest in the world. There was not an intention on the part of the strikers.
And there was fear. And the fear was on both sides. White people felt that they were certain to be killed and their properties taken because there were so many black people in town at that point. And there were rumors of people being armed. And things that had happened years before were recirculated. Social media at that time was mouth to mouth. And for black people who were in Tibeto at the time, there was a very real fear that they were going to be hemmed in and potentially see violence visited upon them.
And this became really clear to them when Judge Baby ordered this Marshall Law and closed the entrances and exits of the town. There's only so many ways to get in or out of Tibeto. And there was a vigilance committee that was formed. And these were civilians who were deputized and they controlled who got in and who got out. There were a few sporadic moments of violence that occurred, but it was literally a city under siege.
[00:26:00.500] - Ben
so light the powder keg for us.
[00:26:09.210] - John
The state militia was gone. They had been withdrawn. There were not laws then to protect Guardsmen. And they were very much in fear of losing their jobs back home in New Orleans, those who had employment and so on. So the governor withdrew the guard. Some people have maintained that this was tactical, but I've never found actual proof of this. The guard was withdrawn. The locals were now in charge of the streets and by locals. I'm talking about white people. And at one particular entrance to the town road that we would look on today as highway 20, which leads from Terra Bone into La Fuche, there were some of these volunteers. They were serving as pickets, meaning they were serving as guards doing guard duty. Their orders were to make sure that nobody got in and that nobody left. The idea was to keep any outside agitators from coming in and so on. Well before dawn on the morning of November 23, two of these tickets, their names were Gorman and Molasses. They were doing their thing, standing around with their Enfield rifles. And shots rang out. Molasson was wounded. Gorman was wounded. Some people came to their aid and brought them to a nearby house for emergency medical treatment.
And that is when the alarm begins to sound. This idea of an uprising, this was an indication that, yes, that is what had occurred. The Blacks are revolting. They are going to take over Tibeto. The male populace of Tibeto. And I have to say this. If you were a member of any respected family in Tibeto, you were expected to guard the town against this threat, whether it was real or imagined. And so they took up arms. What happens at this point is that there is a door to door attempt to route strikers or people suspected of being strikers. And this was done not at all gently and not with an eye towards finding fact.
[00:29:09.040] - Ben
[00:29:09.750] - John
This was okay. We think this guy or this guy is involved in this strike. They are, to use the terminology that was very common at that time, idle Negroes people who were not working. That is when the shooting began.
[00:29:27.670] - Ben
I want to take us to Jack Conrad. You have incredible testimony from his daughter on page 134 of your book. You have sort of two long quotes from her about what happened to him in particular. And as you had said last week, I mean, Jack was not striking. He was working as an engineer on a local plantation for a Captain Whitehead, and he was a skilled paid laborer, and he just happened to be ill that particular season or month. And he was at home recuperating, not in any way involved in the protests and the organizing and the meeting. He was just at home ill, and yet he was subject to the chaos of that particular night. So if you just read Clarissa's testimony to us, those two sort of separate, separate passages on 134, I would really appreciate that.
[00:30:41.210] - John
Actually, I'd like to start with Reverend Rhodes. And these are all sworn statements that were taken a few years later, which we were able to locate in a file in the US National Arc.
[00:31:07.590] - John
There were several companies of white men, and they went around night and day shooting colored men who took part in the strike, said the Reverend T. Jefferson Rhodes of Tibeto's Moses Baptist Church, his words preserved on a handwritten after David on file at the US National Archives uncovered in 2016. I was an eyewitness to the shooting of my father by the regulators, said Clarice Conrad, placing the number of the mob at 50 or 60. He and my brother Grant and my uncle Marcelin Weldon and my mother and myself were all at home. The white men came to our house, and they saw my mother in the backyard emptying a tub, and they told her if they had any men in the house, to tell them to come out damned quick. Before mother could tell them to come out, my father and brother and my uncle, being attracted by the noise, stepped out. Jack Conrad himself that's Clarissa's father said he was sleeping when the violence came to his house and that the commotion woke him. I think there were about 50 or 60 men in the crowd, which was comprised entirely of white citizens. Who lived in and around Tibeto, Jack said.
When I opened the door, one of the mobs said, Crack down on him, and at that they went to shooting. Jack, his son Grant, and his brother in law, Marcelin were told to line up, and they began to run. I heard my uncle tell them he wasn't in it, Clarice Conrad said of Marcelin, and they said, Get back, you son of a bitch, and shot him down and kill them. My brother was back in the house and got behind a barrel, and the white men got behind the house and shot him dead. My father crawled under the house and they shot him under the house. He fell on his face when they shot him. After he fell on his face, I heard them say, he is dead now and let us go. My father was shot in both arms and was also shot in the breast. His collarbone was badly broken and some of the little bones came out. I know that my father was unarmed when the white men came and called him out.
[00:33:40.710] - Ben
Read that next little paragraph for us because it's important.
[00:33:45.030] - John
Jack Conrad named Tom Kemp and John Gallier, as well as Captain Whitehead, his employer, as being among the men who shot him. Whitehead, he said, did not appear to recognize him. The shooting continued.
[00:34:04.290] - Ben
Yeah, we'll call it there. It strikes me, John, we spoke about the intimacy of Southern violence, that it is rarely random. And yet in the chaos of this bloodlust, this Fury that overtook the white ruling class, armed to the teeth with their rifles and pistols, that they could not even recognize the men who were working on their fields as they were gunning them down. You write earlier in the book that the whites were acting as judge, jury, and executioner at this particular time.
[00:34:46.480] - John
Absolutely. And there's something I'd like to interject here, if I could, which is that prior to the work that got completed on the book, we continued running into problems of proof of things that occurred and so on. Once the book was published, there were some generational memories that were awakened. And one of the things and this is not in the book because it was knowledge I didn't have at that time, but I'll certainly share it with your listeners, which was that there were actually that core group that those narratives are talking about. Likely we're a core group of the best citizens of Tibeto who were under the belief that they were enough was enough. They wanted to protect their community, and so they engaged in this very Ham handed attempt at doing so. But there's evidence that came to the fore later that the violence was far more widespread geographically in Tibeto than we thought, and that actually there were mobs of people who joined in the violence who were not even part of this group of enforcers, as it were. But the violence just swept the community. We have since learned that residences near the courthouse, which is not where this violence was referred to, occurred, that mobs were just busting into houses and taking out black domestics who worked in some of those houses.
We know this because an incident like that was shared by a descendant of a white family living on that side of town who talked about how her ancestors had hidden a black domestic worker that was in their home. So for that person not to be a victim, as her ancestor had termed it, of the Bubbas, the violence just spread. It spread like wildfire. And so what we think at this point is that there were various waves of the violence that occurred. And you had the first wave, which was shortly after Molison and Gorman were shot and wounded. They both recovered. By the way, there were no reports that we were able to find anywhere of any further injuries to white people while this violence continued throughout the day.
[00:38:20.040] - Ben
Right. You said that the shooting was estimated to last several hours, three to 4 hours. And when the dust finally settled, the number of dead came to around 60 or 70, depending.
[00:38:41.970] - John
And that's a very important question because one of the first things people will ask me is, well, you know, how many people died and you have to have some kind of a measure. Right. And officially, there were eight recorded deaths. These were all black people. And we have the names of those individuals. However, various scraps of accounts of what occurred would indicate much higher numbers. Number one. Number two, I will say this, that certain accounts in the black press and the Republican press at that time also overestimated the number. There were estimates of several hundred dead. There's nothing that we found which would substantiate those numbers.
[00:39:45.660] - Ben
[00:39:46.360] - John
So based on the accounts that we examined, and we examined them very carefully of people who had taken diary entries at the time or who had written to their relatives elsewhere in the state, the number that I'm certainly comfortable with is around 60. The map seems to work.
[00:40:13.690] - Ben
Let's take a look at the aftermaths here. You write that within days of the massacre, the leading papers in Louisiana begin to weigh in. And what you really mean by that is that the late Reconstruction spin machine begins immediately. You have Judge Beatty, who is one of the participants in the massacre, even writing the official account of it in the Times Democrat of New Orleans, using the they started it defense.
The spin was tremendous. It's important to remember here that a number of the people who were telling the story of what occurred were people who were also intimately involved in the violence. The correspondence for the Tibeto newspaper, The Sentinel, was a former Mayor of Tibeto who had been a Confederate Sergeant. And he got to tell his story of what occurred. Certainly Taylor Baby, Judge Taylor Baby told his story. And Judge Baiti in the Times Democrat had said that he would not have done anything different. The shutdown of the town, the violence that occurred, white hands were bloodless to him because this was a matter of defending the community. And that's a narrative that has continued among some people to this very day. Once they were confronted with the fact that we on Earth, that they had people who actually said they'd never heard about it, we're saying once the book came out. Yeah, we heard about that. And this was a matter of self defense because the Blacks were perpetrating violence. And yet the only violence that we know of on that day was that shooting of Molasses and Gorman.
And there is still no clear proof of who fired those shots. So the story, as the official story, as it were, that ended up being told was that the Blacks had been moved to violence. The whites protected their community. And this was a good thing because when the dust settled, when the smoke cleared, everybody went back to work and the sugar crop for that year was saved. Therefore, the community was saved, and therefore, this was a good thing or that's the narrative that they imparted.
[00:44:53.120] - Ben
And that just speaks for itself. Now, where we left Jack was he had been shot by his own employer who didn't recognize him. He was faced down in the dirt underneath his own house where he had crawled. And yet he survives. He manages to get help to be treated for his wounds. And very quickly he is advised to leave the area. He realizes that his remaining there is going to be very precarious for him. And so he does leave the Tibeto area, and eventually he dies in 1897. He dies about a decade later in New Orleans. But this whole story, we owe to him because of what happened in 1893, a few years after the massacre and a few years before he died. Tell us what happened.
[00:46:03.570] - John
And I should point out that there were accounts and some mostly scholarly works. The strongest witness to what occurred up to that time, up to the work we did, was Mary Pew, who was a plantation woman. She was in the city that day, and she had written to her relations about what occurred. She was certainly no fan of the strike or of the strikers, but that's largely what we had by way of any credible presentation of fact. Now, what happened with Jack this account is a bit different. Jack, as we had mentioned, was a Civil War veteran. He was attached to the Union Army. And Congress had passed a law which said that if you were a veteran of the United States Army and had served in the war, that you would be entitled to an additional pension if subsequent to the war, you were injured, whether that was because of work you were doing or anything that was not your fault, say if you were doing some roofing work and were drunk and fell off a roof, well, tough.
[00:47:48.150] - Ben
Not that that has ever happened in coastal Louisiana.
[00:47:52.050] - John
Yes. No, of course not. Jack, being a Civil War United States Army veteran, was able to apply for this special pension. Now, in order to qualify for the pension, you had to give detailed descriptions with witnesses, if possible, of how you had suffered your injury. These injuries that Clarice describes had caused Jack problems from the get go after his recuperation, he had chronic breathing problems. He had upper body problems. He had taken gunshots in his upper body. So he applied for his pension. And nobody was investigating what happened in Tibeto. There was never an official investigation of that, but War Department investigators did go to speak to witnesses. Some of them were fellow veterans of Jack, some of whom got victimized in the violence or witnessed the violence. And then there were people like the local Minister that was interviewed. And so these accounts ended up in Jack's pension file, and that is where they remained, probably untouched in the United States National Archives in Washington for a very long time. I'd like to say that we were really smart in trying to uncover this, but it was total Kismet. What I was seeking to find out, not knowing that Jack was a victim of the massacre, but I knew that this young man, Grant Conrad, had been killed.
I was curious as to whether there was anything in Jack Conrad's pension file that would have mentioned his son Grant, simply because I wanted to know if he'd been named after Ulysses Grant. Yeah, I just wanted to see if there was some evidence of that. And I had contacted a researcher in DC who found the file and who told me, Mr. Desantis, this pension file you sent me to look at is like 200 pages. And within those 200 pages were the accounts of what happened in Tibetano.
And there was the story, not only from an eyewitness, but from an African American eyewitness. And here were missing pieces that had never been part of this historical puzzle. In fact, I was halfway I had a commitment to history press to write this book. I had told them from the get go, Look, I'll do what I can, but I've been investigating this for more than ten years, and I have never been able to find anything more than the records that are mentioned in the various scholarly works, some really good work that was done. But that's all I could match that research, I thought, and here was more detailed than had ever been made public. And there it was in that pension file, all because of a random question about Jack Conrad's son.
[00:52:01.740] - Ben
Yeah. I was struck by the reproduction you have of the kind of early forensic diagram of his injuries. You have an anatomical drawing from the front and from the side where somebody had to Mark the entry and exit wounds for the bullets that struck them in the collarbone and in the arms. And you look at this, and there's this sort of handwritten script detailing what happened in those moments. And here it is. Here's the proof. An examiner had to record those. And it's just a remarkable document that has survived well over a century to arrive in your hands. And what a gift.
[00:52:57.330] - John
Discovery of this material had a profound effect on me. And it seemed to me and I'm not trying to get terribly metaphysical here, but I've said this when I've spoken publicly about the events at different places, that when the dead are ready to speak, often they find some way of getting their message across. And I can't think of a better example of that than what happened with the Jack Conrad file.
[00:53:39.130] - Ben
The last questions that I have for you pertain to what's happening right now. We spoke last week of the politics of forgetting, the politics of silence. And I was struck by your account of a woman you met just on a front porch in Tibeto back in 2015 who, as you were canvassing the area, just kind of pulling people for their knowledge of the incident. This older black lady, she still today, would not share her knowledge because, quote, she was afraid she was going to get in trouble. And it just struck me in trouble with whom a century later. And yet that was her fear.
[00:54:38.210] - John
I was in a neighborhood in Tibeto, and as was my practice, if I was communicating with a black family in Tibeta, I would ask questions about have you ever heard about something really bad that happened here? And a lot of times people would laugh at me and say, okay, which incidents are you talking about? A lot of bad things happened here. And there was a family. They were gathered in their carport, as a lot of families here do, having a few sodas, a few beers, boiling some crabs. And I asked that question, and nobody knew what I was talking about. And that was the response I usually got when I asked about this. Under this carport on a little porch, some concrete steps that came down from the entry, from the carport into this house was an aged woman. She was sitting there. I didn't notice her at first. And all of a sudden she spoke up and she said, white people started firing into the houses. They shot the people. There were some, she said, that were on horseback. And I was flabbergasted. And I kind of got down on my knees so that I could be at eye level with her.
And I asked, Ma'am, could you please tell me how do you know this? Did your mother tell you this story or your grandmother? How do you know this? And she looked dead at me and she said, I ain't saying nothing else. I don't want to get in no trouble. And what this told me. And once we got more information and knew more about what occurred, the terrorism that had been visited on the people was so effective that it echoed almost a century and a half later. And we began to learn, both prior to the publication of the book, but also subsequent to that, that there were various clues. That certain issues involving race relations in pivotal could be attributable to what occurred on November 23, 1887. And it's aftermath. And it explained a lot of the silence that we encountered. This propaganda about the violence being the fault of people in the black community was so effective that descendants of black people who were living in Tibeto back then or were in Tibeto because they were exiled strikers. That terrorism resonated through generations. And the current generations did not necessarily know that. That was why.
But there were lots of things that we learned about certain behaviors, certain attitudes that indicated that this violence made very clear to these people who were under this yoke of oppression, who was in charge. And I should add that there was not another credible organizing of sugar workers as a labor force until the 1950s. And that was also a failed effort.
[00:59:04.350] - Ben
Last question I have for you, John. What hope do you have for Southern Louisiana. That it will one day be able to confront its history?
[00:59:24.590] - John
I think it's important to look at that question, yes, within the context of South Louisiana. But I think this is a question that resonates for the nation as a whole. And what I've learned over the years in terms of telling this story, but also telling others, finding pieces of hidden history, sometimes very much at ground level, very much often in the south, but not always. My personal belief at this point is that black Americans and white Americans are like a couple that's been watching a movie. And when they leave, their discussions about it are like two people who seen two very different movies. And the dialogue that has been missing. We've had a lot of sides, for lack of a better word, talking at each other, but we still do not have the dialogue that becomes an honest sharing of experience in safe environments where and I hate to put it this way, but white people in particular, not being able to come to an understanding of what has occurred in our history and these histories, as the events in Tibeto certainly teach us, these histories are not what's in books. It's what gets told to us from generation to generation by parents, by grandparents.
Until America and therefore, Louisiana is able to truly have this dialogue and honestly face its past, we are not going to be able to move forward into the present. And I say that despite the fact that there are some very good things that have occurred. We elected a black President, but that did not have a lot of effect on the way things are. And we certainly saw that in 2016 with the election of another President and what occurred later on. Now, as we are looking at attempts to silence history, when we look at the legitimization of taking whole chunks of history and eliminating them from that dialogue, we are getting further, I fear, rather than closer to the reckoning that we have to have in order for us to live as one community the way we were intended to.
[01:02:56.030] - Ben
Well, your work is a key component of that dialogue that you spoke about a moment ago and this book in particular is going to make it a lot harder to pretend that these things did not happen or to sweep them under the rug. I have a few friends in particular down here whom I would rather like to toss this sucker at them and have it hit them in the head so that they cannot ignore it. But we'll save that for another time. John, thank you so much for joining us. This has been a real privilege.
[01:03:35.450] - John
Thank you so very much and I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today. Bill.