November 23, 1887, recorded the Thibodaux Massacre which took place in Thibodaux, Louisiana. It all began when Black sugar cane workers determined to unionize for a living wage. The group had chosen to combine their slight power during the crucial harvest season. Their action was considered provocative, hence it sparked a disagreement that resulted in the Thibodaux Massacre.
The sugar cane workers protested the tough working conditions, long hours, starvation of wages with echoes of the bondage their ancestors had experienced during slavery time. They were paid as little as 42 cents a day with scrip which could only be used in plantation stores. To get things even worst, they were fed subsistence meals. Their frustration grew daily with their minds gradually ready to strike.
The sugar cane workers received some encouragement from one of the few labor unions to organize blacks “The Knights of Labor” to demand better treatment and $1.25 a day in cash. After several attempts by the Knights to organize the workers in 1874, 1880, and again in 1883 had been unsuccessful, they thought the results might be different in 1887.
The Knight urged them to wait until the rolling season was almost ongoing to suggest making a stand. As the rolling season arrived there was a thin window of time to harvest the cane. Planters were unable to attract enough strikebreakers from out of the area because of the low pay they offered.
Having this plan in mind, a 29 years old school teacher and then president of the Terrebonne chapter of the Knights of Labor, Junius Bailey, approached the sugar cane growers with the cutter’s demands. The growers then refused to negotiate, firing the members of the union on November 22. Strike by the rowers began for the next three weeks with an estimated 10,000 workers affected. The number remains the highest to incorporate in such action in the farming industry. The strike consequently affected four different parishes including St. Mary, Lafourche, Assumption, and Terrebonne.
However, the white troops got Thibodaux locked, going door after door to attempting to identify strikers. Movements were restricted with the demand to pass from each passing black in and out of the city.
On November 23, as morning broke, shots started ringing out from a cornfield and two white guards got injured. From that moment the massacre began. Governor Samuel D. McEnery, Democrat, and former sugar planter got persuaded by the sugar planters to release several units of the all-white state militia.
The militia as commanded by ex-Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, brought a .45 caliber Gatling gun while the paramilitary groups set up outside of the Thibodaux courthouse to form the first phase of defense. Both groups went door to door shooting any suspected strikers unlucky enough to cross their path.
The November 23 killing left approximately 60 people dead with bodies of many of the strikers dumped in unmarked graves. Those who luckily survived hid in swamps and woods and the massacre continued spreading.
Thibodaux Massacre was one of the deadliest episodes in United States labor history. The massacre also marked an end of any attempt for Black Farmers to unionize again until the 1930s. Statues were erected and public areas named after many involved in the unlawful killings. Workers including women and children went anonymous, their murders marked only by their loved ones. Sugar planter Andrew Price, who participated in the attacks won a seat in Congress in 1888.