The image above, which depicts the 1891 scene on Canal Street in New Orleans surrounding the lynching of 11 men for the crime they didn’t commit, is why Italians don’t suffer the idea of reparations.
We worked hard to overcome many prejudices in this county–many still exist, but are cleverly disguised. Of course, Andrew Cuomo and Nancy Pelosi add nothing to ameliorating those dark days of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, when Congress passed and Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Act in 1924. Every Italian in America has heard the many stories of how their ancestors were treated as less than citizens and more as chattels.
In Louisiana, Italians learned the difference between a Planter and a Farmer; Planters owned Farmers, and the latter were shipped to plantations from Sicily to work the earth, when the newly-liberated slaves went north for a better life.
The urban immigrant was consigned to the work no one else would do. But their frugality lead to them building business, many still exist to this day. And much of their successes lead to great jealousy and a lynch mob in New Orleans.
Yes, the immigrants had stow-aways accompanying them. Many people called them the MAFIA or BLACK HAND. In reality, they were part of the “Stuppaggheieri” and the “Giardineieri,” which were two ancient warring Sicilian organizations, which were born out of the “Sicilian Vespers” of March 30, 1282, when a French officer raped a Sicilian bride on her wedding day, giving rise to the cry: ” MORTE ALLA FRANCIA ITALIA ANELA” (Death to all things French is the Italian Cry) or MAFIA.
The lynchings of the eleven innocent Italians of this day, 130 years ago, was a manifestation of the hatred the ruling class of New Orleans had for the immigrants. The immigrants were refused assimilation and thus stayed together in the part of the city known, ironically as the French Quarter. They build lives and families and were preyed upon by the so-called mafia and others. But they persevered and succeeded, despite tremendous adversary and odds.
Were there reparations for the murder of the eleven innocent Italians? Yes. But only $2,400.00 to their families and only after Italy threatened to blockade the mouth of the Mississippi. No one else received a dime, nor was it sought.
Those of you whom are not aware of this horrible tragedy which occurred in an American city, might ask why the eleven men were lynched. Ostensibly, it was for the assassination of the then-police chief, David C. Hennessy, who was killed in front of his house on the drizzly night of October 15, 1890. The eleven were scapegoats for the city’s elite who wanted to take control of the business which operated the docks of New Orleans–and they did.
So you might ask, “Who killed Hennessy?” My answer is this: who would have the freedom to storm an armed prison, breach the doors, kill eleven innocent men and suffer no penalty?
Think about it.
Reparations? No thank you. Let us live and work as Americans and we will be fine.
Remember the Eleven.