Our View: Hidden history must be told
It is important to declare that the people of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, despite some difficult spots in our histories and whatever disagreements we may have over current events, are part of the one human family. We must never forget that we are this, even when controversial events generate emotional responses.
When a newspaper commits a large amount of space and resources to a particular story, it is an indication that the publication considers the topic to be of importance. So it is with our decision to tell the story of what has come to be called the Thibodaux Massacre, which historical accounts say involved the killing of as many as thirty if not more black people, many of them sugar cane workers engaged in a strike. The true number of dead will never be known. The perpetrators – and the historical record is clear enough, we believe, to label them that – were neither brought to justice by law or history.
One documented participant who later was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives had a school and a gymnasium named after him.
The larger issues regarding exploitation by the sugar industry of agricultural workers from the end of the Civil War through the lifetimes of many people living today have not been addressed.
Yet those workers in many cases lived under conditions little different from those of their enslaved parents, grandparents and great-grandparents. Blasé community acceptance of these realities and the historical pass Thibodaux community leaders were granted for the role they played in a slaughter based on rumors and isolated criminal acts are equally reprehensible.
The Times staff member who wrote today’s story has investigated the massacre’s long ago causes and current day spiritual and emotional effects for more than a decade, and we are proud to publish his work.
What readers may wish to know is why we have done so. When dust is swept out from under a rug where it has lived for more than a century some coughing and choking is bound to occur. We ask that any criticism of our story be made only after a thorough reading.
On several occasions this year we have written that a racial dialogue is needed locally and nationally. Results of the deep research and reporting that went into today’s story, reporting accelerated recently due to national events – have not been published by us until now. Some stories, no matter how much they may beg to be told, must wait for their proper time. We believe a unique opportunity exists today.
In crafting the final version we spoke with community leaders – those who would address the issues raised by the past – and even some people who are descended from people at that time who had historically verified ties to the shameful events of 1887.
During those dialogues we learned of Sen. Troy Johnson’s willingness to explore the potential of a resolution calling for volunteer academics to issue a report on behalf of Louisiana that will provide an official story, to what degree possible, of what happened in Thibodaux.
All families have secrets, but time and again we have learned that only when those secrets are discussed in the open, so long as the motives of those who seek to uncover them are pure.
We encourage Sen. Brown in his stated desire to have history told, in hopes that such action may be a first step toward healing, by providing a form of spiritual reparation to those long gone who have been wronged.
Also, we encourage anyone whose oral or written family histories can shed new insight on what occurred in 1887 to contact us and share what has been handed down. By speaking truth, all of us can be better, more productive human family members. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his 1963 Letter From The Birmingham Jail of those who then protested, we declare that those who expose past hidden injustice “are not creators of tension.”
“We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with,” Dr. King wrote. “Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience … before it can be cured.”