Ever since I heard about the Opelousas massacre of 1868, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Also called the St. Landry or St. Landry Parish massacre, I asked friends of mine who, like me, grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana and were educated by public schools there. None of them had heard of it, including one who is a historian, although not of that particular subject. And that ignorance disturbs me on a very deep and personal level.
The first time I became aware of it was when I clicked on a tweet from the Equal Justice Initiative, an amazing civil rights organization based in Alabama. It featured a film by Jim Batt and Kim Boekbinder on the history of Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War, when Blacks, mostly freed slaves, were terrorized in the South even as the U.S. government attempted to secure their rights and safety before abandoning them in 1877. The short film, narrated by Tera DuVernay (Ava’s sister) and with illustrations by Molly Crabapple, was focusing on the rampant violence against Blacks when it brought up how, in Opelousas, Louisiana, in September 1868, an estimated 200 Black people were killed by white mobs over the course of a couple of weeks.