Following the Civil War, Colfax, Louisiana, was a town, like many, where African Americans and whites mingled uneasily. But on April 13, 1873, a small army of white ex–Confederate soldiers, enraged after attempts by freedmen to assert their new rights, killed more than sixty African Americans who had occupied a courthouse. With skill and tenacity, The Washington Post’s Charles Lane transforms this nearly forgotten incident into a riveting historical saga.
Seeking justice for the slain, one brave U.S. attorney, James Beckwith, risked his life and career to investigate and punish the perpetrators but they all went free. What followed was a series of courtroom dramas that culminated at the Supreme Court, where the justices’ verdict compromised the victories of the Civil War and left Southern blacks at the mercy of violent whites for generations. The Day Freedom Died is an electrifying piece of historical detective work that captures a gallery of characters from presidents to townspeople, and re-creates the bloody days of Reconstruction, when the often brutal struggle for equality moved from the battlefield into communities across the nation.
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The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in the country, and judges the actions of citizens and governments alike on the basis of the Constitution. The Confederate States of America was formed by the states that seceded from the Union in 1861 and was dissolved in 1865. The State of Louisiana represents the oldest and at the time most settled portion of the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Reconstruction was brought to an end in 1877 as part of an informal deal through the Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes became President in exchange for a promise to remove federal troops from the Democratic South.