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Local author talks about his book “The Thibodaux Massacre”

February 9, 2017

Nearly one year after the official publishing date, journalist and author John DeSantis returned to Nicholls to discuss his book “The Thibodaux Massacre” on Tuesday night.

On Nov. 3rd 2016, DeSantis unveiled his book to the world in LeBijou Theatre. A few months later, DeSantis returns to the same spot for a discussion of the novel. The event was opened to the public as an event for African American History Month. At the gathering, the author gave an excessive summary of his book that he spent over 20 years and counting on researching and writing.

The book takes readers back to Thibodaux in November of 1887 when thousands of black laborers put down their tools and began to fight for fairer wages. Workers from many plantations in Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. Mary parishes went on a three-week strike as they requested one-dollar pay for their work. They did not anticipate the response to their actions, which was a racial attack by white vigilantes. The attack, against the workers and their families, were a series of shootings that took place for over two and a half hours. The number of people slain hasn’t been totally discovered just yet, but at least 30 people were murdered.

“One thing about this tragedy is that it is very easy for us to look at it and say that this is a terribly sad story, and the people involved were victims,” DeSantis said. “However, these people were much more than victims.”

The author first heard about the Thibodaux Massacre from a friend of his in 1995. Originally, it sparked an interest. Eventually, he became fascinated by the event he considered a page torn out of history. In 2015, at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., DeSantis wrote an article in the Houma Times on the Thibodaux event that took place in 1887. The History Press, shortly after, contacted DeSantis in hopes that he’d be interested in writing a book on the tragedy.

Some of the original research and groundwork began on Nicholls campus in the Ellender Memorial Library archives. During the discussion, the author credited Clifton Theriot, interim Director and Head of Archives and Special Collections at Nicholls Library, with helping find valuable information. Theriot discovered coroners’ reports on eight people directly involved in the tragedy. The information provided by the discovery is directly mentioned in the book.

It took some time to find other documents and evidence on the event. A year ago, when DeSantis finally held those eight names in his hand, he described it as holding onto something sacred. Ironically enough, he discovered the eight victims’ names mentioned in his book on February 6th 2016, which is one year and a day before Tuesday night’s discussion.

“I left the university that day, with a copy of the reports and a separate sheet of paper with the names on it, and headed to my home in Bourg knowing I had something very, very precious,” DeSantis said. “Those individuals waited a long time to for their names to be spoken.”

“The Thibodaux Massacre” is available now online and in selected bookstores.

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