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John DeSantis (1974), a veteran journalist in southern Louisiana's bayou country, has just published “The Thibodaux Massacre: Racial Violence and the 1887 Sugar Cane Labor Strike” (History Press, Charleston SC 2016). The book tells the story of what occurred on November 23, 1887, when white vigilantes gunned down unarmed black laborers and their families during a spree lasting more than two hours.
The violence erupted due to strikes on Louisiana sugar cane plantations. Fear, rumor and white supremacist ideals clashed with an unprecedented labor action to create an epic tragedy. A future member of the U.S. House of Representatives was among the leaders of a mob that routed black men from houses and forced them to a stretch of railroad track, ordering them to run for their lives before gunning them down. According to a witness, the guns firing in the black neighborhoods sounded like a battle. DeSantis uses correspondence, interviews and federal records to detail this harrowing, and largely unknown, true story. John, who grew up in Jackson Heights, appeared in several Mater Christi plays including "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Boyfriend."