130 Years After La. Massacre, Search for Bodies Begins

Up to 60 African-Americans were killed in Thibodaux in 1887
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 17, 2018 10:40 AM CDT
John DeSantis poses with the great-grandson of a Thibodaux Massacre survivor in 2016.   (James Loiselle/Courtesy of John DeSantis via AP, File)
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(Newser) – A patch of ground in southern Louisiana is being surveyed to see if it holds a mass grave from a Reconstruction-era racial massacre. Ground-penetrating radar and limited coring will be used during a survey Thursday in Thibodaux, where locals believe white mobs dumped the bodies of African-Americans they killed during a rampage on Nov. 23, 1887, the AP reports. The mobs were out to break a monthlong strike by sugar plantation field hands, many of them former slaves, who wanted a raise and cash instead of vouchers usable only at one plantation's company store. As tensions rose, a judge declared martial law. When violence finally erupted, white mobs went door to door shooting unarmed blacks, said John DeSantis, who wrote a book about the killings. An estimated 30 to 60 African-Americans are believed to have been killed in what became known as the "Thibodaux Massacre."

DeSantis created a committee including descendants of the massacre's victims, as well as descendants of Confederate and plantation families, to honor those victims and possibly find their remains. A Tulane graduate student, Davette Gadison, is in charge of the initial survey, though a geology professor will run the radar. Gadison's experience with mass graves includes excavating and analyzing remains of people killed during the civil war in Guatemala and doing similar work in the East African region called Somaliland. She will use ground-penetrating radar to look for disturbed earth on land now owned by an American Legion chapter built by African-American veterans during the segregated 1950s, and on a vacant lot next door to it. The building was erected over a city landfill. According to local lore, the same lot had been used decades earlier to dump the bodies.

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