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America’s Deadliest Mass Shootings, Part II

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Photo123373colfax

Here is another hate-crime mass shooting from history comparable to Orlando, with an even higher death toll:

Outgunned, the black defenders inside the trenches retreated to the courthouse. Others fled, many of them captured or killed by the whites. The quickest way to smoke the rest of them out, ex-sheriff Nash decided, was to set the two sides’ long-fought-over prize on fire, which his men did by hoisting kerosene-soaked cotton wads to the end of a bamboo fishing pole and forcing one of their black prisoners at gunpoint to take it inside. “You’re a good old n***r,” his former boss, William “Bill” Cruikshank, proclaimed (quoted in Lane’s The Day Freedom Died).

With the courthouse up in flames, its black defenders surrendered with handkerchiefs waving, but the whites kept firing. Their new goal: Kill every black person in sight. Among the three whites killed in the crossfire was the Fusionist instigator of the conflict, Jim Hadnot. The black defenders suffered far greater losses. In one ghastly flash, Alexander Tillman, in attempting to escape the fire inside the courthouse, was shot down, his dead body was beaten to a pulp, and his throat was slit.

As night fell, the whites of Colfax celebrated. Once again, they were back on top. Addressing the black prisoners who’d been caught fleeing during the battle, ex-sheriff Nash asked, “If we turn you loose, will you stop this damned foolishness?” But not even Nash could control the other whites now. “[H]ave you no better sense than to send them old n***s home?” one in the mob asked. “[If you do, you] won’t live to see two weeks” (quoted in Lane). At that Nash left the scene, a symbolic re-enactment of the action taken by the KKK’s first leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who, despite claiming to have killed two dozen Yankees personally during the Civil War, tried to disband the Klan for fear it was becoming too violent.

With Nash out of sight, Bill Cruikshank and others told the remaining black prisoners they were going to march them out two by two to spend the night in a temporary prison at the local sugar house, but when they commenced on foot, the white riders moved in along the line shooting their defenseless prisoners at point-blank range. Estimates vary, but according to Lane, anywhere from 62 to 81 blacks were killed between the initial fighting and the murder of prisoners in Colfax.

The long American history of violence against marginalized groups makes Donald Trump’s use of the most recent mass killing of members of a marginalized groups to justify systematic discrimination against marginalized groups even more appalling.

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