In 1900, three white police officers approached Robert Charles, a “suspicious negro”. Afterwards, nothing was the same.
On Monday, July 23, 1900, Robert Charles was pushed too far.
Charles lived in New Orleans in 1900. He was an advocate for blacks emigrating to Liberia to avoid the intense racial prejudice of the Deep South. The race relations in Louisiana at the time were growing increasingly heated. A New Orleans newspaper published an editorial which states, “[…] race war means extermination…Then the negro problem of Louisiana at least will be solved–and that by extermination.”
That is the reality of the hate and fear blacks lived with in the turn-of-the-century South. The Civil War was 35 years in the past— barely one generation.
On the night of July 23,1900, Robert Charles and his roommate were sitting on a porch in a predominately white neighborhood. Three police officers arrived to investigate the “suspicious looking negroes”. They claimed to be waiting for a friend. Robert Charles stood up, which the officers considered an aggressive action, and a fight ensued. Charles fought with Officer August Mora.
No one knows who shot first but Mora and Charles were both non-fatally wounded. Charles ran. He returned to his house. He wasn’t hiding, though; he was preparing.
When the police arrived at Charles’ house, he killed two of them, including the police chief. He escaped while the policemen were hiding.
Stoked by New Orleans newspapers, mobs of white New Orleanians took to the streets, demanding retribution for the slain police officers. Eventually, Charles was found and killed. His body was riddled with bullets then dragged into the street where a mob beat his corpse.
After Charles’ death, riots continued. A black school was burned to the ground. The man who informed police of Charles’ hiding place was killed by a Robert Charles admirer. In the end, more than ten people were killed and close to a hundred were wounded.
Why he should be remembered: Robert Charles exposed the ugly violence of the fight against Jim Crow in the Deep South. There were no peaceful marches or negro spirituals or rhyming couplets; this was fire and blood.
Read more about Robert Charles.
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