New Orleans plans to issue a proclamation on April 12 apologizing for the 1891 lynching of 11 Italian immigrants who were killed after acquittals in a police chief’s murder, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
The incident has been called the most deadly lynching in American history, even though African-Americans were—by far—the main victims of lynch mobs. In 1892, the federal government paid $25,000 in reparations to the families of the lynched Italian immigrants, according to the AP.
The lynchings stemmed from the ambush murder of police Commissioner David Hennessy in 1890 by four men. Hennessy reportedly blamed Italians as he died. Investigators arrested hundreds of suspects from among the approximately 30,000 Italian immigrants who lived in New Orleans at the time.
Of that group of suspects, 19 were indicted, and nine of them were tried in court. Jurors acquitted six of the men but were unable to agree in three of the case, as the other suspects remained in jail.
A mob decided to take matters into its own hands. The Jailers reportedly opened cell doors and told the men to run. Nine of them were gunned down and two other men were hanged.
The U.S. came under pressure from Italy after there were practically no consequences for the New Orleans officials who allowed the killings to take place. Italy demanded that members of the lynch mob face justice and that the government pay reparations to the victims’ families. Members of the lynch mob were never punished, but the government paid $25,000 to the families.
In December, the U.S. Senate in a historic vote unanimously approved a bill to make mob lynching a federal civil rights crime–after almost 200 failed attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation over a century.
The Senate bill underscored statistics supported by research compiled by Tuskegee University, that more than 4,700 people were lynched between the years 1882 and 1968, according to NPR. About 75 percent of the victims were African-Americans while “99 percent of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by state or local officials.”
“It is also worth noting that at least several thousand African-Americans and more than 400 Black Louisianans were lynched in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, while several dozen Italians were lynched,” author Michael Pfeifer said.
Will African-American families ever receive compensation for mob lynchings?