When Will New Orleans Apologize for the Italian Lynchings?
The popular trend of taking down Confederate statues and the resulting controversy and violence was put on steroids by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. And now this tactic has predictably attracted mentally-disturbed white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, Antifa anarchists, and outright communists.
However, Mayor Landrieu's virtue signaling only goes so far. For example, when will the mayor issue a formal apology to Italian Americans, who were the victims of one of the largest lynchings in U.S. history in 1891? Of course he won't, because that runs counter to his leftist narrative. Italians are now grouped in with "white oppressors," but in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they weren't considered "white" and certainly did not have so-called "white privilege."
Police chief David Hennessy had been investigating corruption on the New Orleans waterfront, at that time run by the rival Provenzano and Matranga families. On the evening of October 15, 1890, shortly before a trial in which Hennessy was to testify, he was struck down by gunmen while walking home. When asked who had shot him, Hennessy whispered, “The dagoes.” He died of complications the next day. (Historians today believe that Hennessy had unwittingly been caught amid rivalry between the two clans, both of which hoped to seize complete control of the lucrative port business.)
Hennessy had been a popular chief of police, and the population of New Orleans reacted to his death with shock and dismay. Local papers, led by the Times-Democrat and the Daily Picayune, ran a series of articles marked by lurid tales of the “Black Hand” and the “Mafia” – at that time a term unknown to most Americans.
Under public pressure, the New Orleans police arrested 19 Italians, effectively at random, who were held for several months without bail in the Parish Prison. Their trials early in the next year resulted in a series of deadlocks and mistrials, further infuriating the public. The press was quick to jump in. (Is this beginning to sound familiar?) A final trial at last acquitted most of the suspects. They remained imprisoned on other charges.
On March 14, the lynch mob, numbering in the thousands, gathered at the Henry Clay statue, which is now located in New Orleans' Lafayette Square. The mob was encouraged by New Orleans mayor Joseph Shakspeare, who gave a rousing speech and demanded that "we will teach these people (Italians) a lesson they will not forget." The mob, led by prominent local lawyer William S. Parkerson, proceeded to break down the door of the Parish Prison. Police offered little or no resistance. They shot nine men inside the prison itself, including J.P. Macheca, a shipping magnate and local Italian leader. Two other men were dragged out and hanged from lamp posts. One of them, Emmanuelle Pollizi, was mentally ill. The other, Antonio Bagnetto, was a fruit peddler.
Ironically, the two most suspect individuals being held, Charles Matranga and Bastiano Incardona, both of them active in the city Mafia, survived completely untouched. Most of the murdered men, historians today agree, were completely innocent.
A grand jury investigation failed to indict any of the murderers, though many of their names were well known. Parkerson continued his legal career, and Shakspeare, though voted out of office a year later, lived out his days unmolested.
The response by the American media of the time was largely one of approval. The murders caused a serious breach between Italy and the U.S., with diplomatic relations suspended for over a year. A payment of $25,000 to the dead men’s families healed the rupture. The lynchings triggered a decade of horror for Italian immigrants in the South, with repeated lynchings and riots in the Gulf area for the rest of the 1890s.
I submit that an appropriate atonement for this atrocity would be for Democratic Mayor Landrieu to apologize on behalf of the City of New Orleans and the Democrat in charge at the time, Mayor Shakspeare. In contrast to the left's insatiable appetite for statue removal, I propose that a plaque be added to the Henry Clay statue which clearly identifies it as the gathering place for the 1891 lynch mob.
To the chagrin of the race-baiting left, history is messy, not clearly defined, and consists of shades of gray rather than strictly black and white. It's interesting that groups now considered "white" were not classified as such not that long ago. The establishment have now transformed the victims of ethnic violence into their oppressors. As has been said, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The left clearly suffers from historical dementia.