On November 23, 1887, the Louisiana Militia, aided by bands of prominent white citizens, shot and killed 30 to 60 unarmed striking Black sugar workers in what became known as the Thibodaux Massacre.
Black Louisiana sugarcane workers, in cooperation with the racially integrated Knights of Labor, had gone on strike at the beginning of November in 1887 over their meager pay issued in scrip, not cash. The scrip was redeemable only at the company store where excessive prices were charged.
Much of this history was documented through research by John DeSantis, author of The Thibodaux Massacre (History Press). The story of how he learned of and found accounts of the massacre in pension records is a history lesson in and of itself.
Years after the Thirteenth Amendment brought freedom, cane cutters’ working lives were already “barely distinguishable” from slavery, argues journalist and author John DeSantis.
With no land to own or rent, workers and their families lived in old slave cabins. They toiled in gangs, just like their ancestors had for nearly a century. Growers gave workers meals but paid famine wages of as little as 42 cents a day (91 cents per hour in today’s money, for a 12-hour shift).