Tuesday, May 1, 2012

1900: The story of Robert Charles in New Orleans

One killing scene

From the New Orleans Times Picayune, "1900: One of the bloodiest episodes of the Jim Crow era in New Orleans," on 4 October 2011  -- One of the bloodiest episodes of the Jim Crow era began with a scuffle. The confrontation between a black man and white police officers in July 1900 soon escalated into a shootout.

The incident touched off days of random attacks on black residents by white mobs and a deadly cat-and-mouse manhunt that ended when the suspect was cut down in a hail of bullets.

Robert Charles
Robert Charles

The incident began on the night of July 23, when police approached Robert Charles and his roommate as they sat on the steps of a home at 2815 Dryades St. As Charles stood up, an officer grabbed him. The patrolman beat Charles with his baton before drawing his gun. Charles also pulled a gun, and both men were wounded in the shootout.

Charles fled to his apartment at 2023 Fourth St. Early the next morning, several officers arrived at the home and approached the door. Charles emerged and shot two of them dead before fleeing again.

As the manhunt continued, angry mobs of white residents began terrorizing black residents, pulling some of them off streetcars and shooting them point-blank. Two black schools were burned.

Race riot, 1900

The Picayune denounced the mobs, saying they had specifically targeted women and the elderly.

Charles was tracked to a house at 1208 Saratoga St. on July 27. He fatally shot two officers who entered, and during the ensuing standoff he fired numerous rounds at the police and militia that surrounded the home. A fire was set to smoke Charles out, and when he emerged he was hit by a barrage of gunfire. His corpse was beaten and dragged through the streets.

In the end, seven white people, four of them police officers, were dead; lynch mobs killed at least a dozen innocent black people. (source: Times Picayune)

July 28, 1900, front page

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