"Watching the Criminal Justice System... with a thousand eyes!"
CONTRIBUTED BY: JOSEPH BERNARDO
The Robert Charles Riots began when whites in New Orleans, Louisiana became infuriated after Robert Charles, an African-American, shot several white police officers on July 23, 1900. A manhunt for Charles began after he fled after an altercation with New Orleans police officers. The race riots lasted over four days and claimed 28 casualties, including Charles. Robert Charles came to New Orleans from Mississippi and was a self-educated, articulate activist. He believed in self-defense for the African-American community and encouraged African-Americans in the United States to move to Liberia to escape racial discrimination.
On the night of July 23, 1900, three white police officers, Sergeant Jules C. Aucion, Joseph D. Cantrelle, and August T. Mora, found Charles and his roommate, Leonard Pierce, sitting on a porch in a predominantly white neighborhood. After some police harassment, Charles and Mora drew their guns and exchanged shots. Although neither was killed, Charles fled to his residence for refuge. Later in the evening, the police interrogated Pierce to determine the location of Charles’ home. Upon the policemen’s arrival at his house, Charles fired his rifle in their direction, killing two officers, including the chief, Captain Day. While the rest of the officers sought cover, Charles fled the scene, leading to a police manhunt.
The next day, a crowd of white New Orleans residents gathered at the location where the policemen were killed and called for the lynching of Charles. Numerous events of lawlessness and civil unrest as mobs of whites roamed the city to terrorize the city’s African American community occurred over the next three days. On July 25, three African Americans were killed, 11 others were hospitalized and over 50 were injured. Exacerbating the rioting were local newspapers reporting that African-Americans were to blame for the unrest. Also, some African-Americans provided assistance to Charles while others were sympathetic because of the growing voting and civil rights restrictions in the city long known for its racial tolerance.
On July 27, the police and white vigilantes surrounded another house where Charles had taken refuge. An ensuing shootout occurred throughout the day between the men outside and Charles, who returned the fire. The police then decided to set the building on fire. As Charles attempted to escape the smoke-filled building, Charles Noiret—a Tulane University medical student who was assisting the police—shot and killed Charles. In anger, the mob of bystanders continued to beat and fire their guns at Charles’s body. By week’s end, Charles had shot a total of 27 whites, killing seven, including four police officers. The rioting ended when New Orleans Mayor Paul Capdeville deputized 1,500 special police and asked for assistance from the state militia
SOURCE OF THE AUTHOR'S INFORMATION: William Ivy Hair, Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976); Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984).
Bernardo, J. (2012, January 02) Robert Charles Riots (1900). Retrieved from
New Orleans, Louisiana, July 23-27, 1900: Riot: One of the most deadly southern race riots since Reconstruction unfolded between July 23 and July 27, 1900, in New Orleans, Louisiana. The violence erupted after Robert Charles, a member of the International Migration Society who was seething with anger over the 1899 lynching and mutilation of Sam Hose in Georgia, scuffled with a police officer. Resisting arrest Charles shot to death two policemen and wounded a third. As word of the shootings spread, mobs of whites, furious at the waves of black migrants from rural Louisiana who had descended upon the city in recent years, began attacking African Americans and their property throughout the city, demanding the apprehension of Charles.
As it turned out, Charles had evaded arrest with the aid of sympathizers in the black community who were angry at the increasing racial restrictions being more strictly enforced in a city long known for its racial tolerance. When the police finally cornered Charles, a deadly siege ensued. In the battle, Charles killed two more officers as well three other whites and wounded at least 19 more. After nearly 5,000 police bullets had penetrated Charles’ Saratoga Street hideout, officers tossed a burning mattress into the dwelling, forcing the fugitive into the open. The valiant Charles was brought down for good by the well-placed rifle shot of a Tulane University medical student on the scene assisting police.
Meanwhile, the rioting continued, resulting in the deaths of three more blacks and the destruction of the finest African-American school in the city. The violent rampage finally subsided the day after the killing of Robert Charles due to Mayor Paul Capdeville’s deputizing 1,500 special police and mobilizing hundreds of state militia. In terms of overall dead and wounded, Charles had killed seven whites, three of them officers of the law, seriously wounded eight others, and shot and injured another twelve. On the other side of the ledger, White mobs had murdered at least a dozen blacks, seriously injured at least 69 others. Five weeks after the riot, an African-American admirer of Charles, shot to death the black man who had led police to Charles’ final hiding place. Robert Charles was buried in an unmarked grave in potter’s field, resting in relative obscurity until his memory was revived by black activists in the late 1960s.