Reconstructing the Past
The New Orleans Riot of 1866
The New Orleans Riot, which occurred on July 30, 1866, was a violent conflict in which whites attacked blacks parading outside the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans, where a reconvened Louisiana Constitutional Convention was being held. The Radical Republicans in Louisiana had called for the Convention as they were angered by the legislature’s enactment of the Black Codes and its refusal to give black men the vote. Democrats considered the reconvened convention to be illegal and were suspicious of Republican attempts to increase their power in the state. The riot “stemmed from deeply rooted political, social, and economic causes,” and took place in part because of the battle “between two opposing factions for power and office.” Casualties were estimated at 38 killed and 46 wounded, most of them black.
The convention met at noon on July 30, but a lack of a quorum caused postponement to 1:30. When the convention members left the building, they were met by the black marchers with their marching band. On the corner of Common and Dryades streets, across from the Mechanics Institute, a group of armed whites awaited the black marchers. This group was composed of Democrats who opposed abolition; most were ex-Confederates who wanted to disrupt the convention and the threat of the increasing power of blacks in the state.
It is not known which group fired first, but within minutes there was a battle in the streets. The black marchers were unprepared and many were unarmed; they rapidly dispersed, with many seeking refuge within the Mechanics Institute. The white mob brutally attacked blacks on the street and some entered the building. Federal troops responded to suppress the riot, and jailed many of the white insurgents. The governor declared the city under martial law until August 2.