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The Day Freedom Died

The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction

Charles Lane

Holt Paperbacks

"Absorbing . . . Riveting . . . A legal thriller."—Kevin Boyle, The New York Times Book Review

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.

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 a riveting historical saga 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 Day Freedom Died
CHAPTER ONE"WHOLESALE MURDER"A cloudy evening was fading into darkness as the steamboat Southwestern approached the eastern bank of the Red River on April 13, 1873--Easter Sunday. The boat had reached a bend in the river where Captain Thornton Jacobs was certain he would find pine logs for his vessel's four hungry engines. The woodpile was about a mile north of Colfax, Louisiana.The Southwestern carried its own gangplanks: a pair of long wooden walkways which jutted like alligator teeth from the vessel's bow. Jacobs's crew had just lowered them when a young man charged out
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Praise for The Day Freedom Died

“One of the most memorable opening lines in English literature, from Ford Maddox Ford's novel The Good Soldier, is: ‘This is the saddest story I have ever heard.’ That could be the epigraph for Charles Lane's shattering account of the post-Civil War betrayal of African Americans and the bloody collapse of Reconstruction.”—George F. Will
 

"A highly impressive, deeply researched, engagingly written account of one of the lowest chapters in U.S. Supreme Court history."—David J. Garrow, author of Bearing the Cross

 

“If you want to understand twentieth century politics, you have to begin at the end of the nineteenth, when the battle lines were drawn not just over civil rights for African Americans, but over what kind of nation this country would become. It all starts here, with the unkept promise of Reconstruction, and Charles Lane has found the perfect narrative—meticulously researched and wonderfully told—to bring the story to life.”—Nate Blakeslee, author of Tulia


“Lane has unearthed a tragic story that shows the real strength of human character and courage, and delivers a riveting account of the bloody struggle for racial equality after the smoke cleared the battlefields in the post-Civil War South.”—Jan Crawford Greenburg, author of Supreme Conflict

“Charles Lane is one of the most astute observers of the Supreme Court. In this gripping narrative, he proves to be a first rate historical sleuth as well. With psychological and political insight, Lane unforgettably brings to life one of the most shameful episodes in American constitutional history.”—Jeffrey Rosen, author of The Supreme Court

“In page after riveting page Charles Lane brings to life a massacre and its legal consequences that have been forgotten, ignored, or papered over by history. You'll put this book down amazed at how much you didn't know about race, Reconstruction, and the courts, and profoundly grateful that Lane had both the curiosity and skill to so powerfully fill in the blanks.”—Dahlia Lithwick, Slate legal correspondent

“Brilliantly lays bare one of the most unknown but significant contributing events in the fatal collapse of Reconstruction. By transforming exhaustive historical research and detail into a dramatic portrayal of the high-stakes tug of war between racial, political, cultural, and sociological forces of the time, Charles Lane brings insight, urgency, and clarity to the Colfax Massacre. A vital and important contribution to our understanding of our country’s history.”—Lalita Tademy, author of Red River and Cane River

Reviews from Goodreads

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Charles Lane

  • Charles Lane learned about the Colfax Massacre case while covering the Supreme Court for The Washington Post. A former correspondent for Newsweek and editor of The New Republic, Lane has reported from Japan, Latin America, Europe, and southern Africa. His essays have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The New York Review of Books, and The Atlantic. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard and studied law at Yale. He lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

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    The Day Freedom Died

    The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction

    Charles Lane

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