Sicilians in North America commemorate the victims of the lynching in New Orleans

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"After 130 years, we want to remember one of the most tragic moments in the history of Italian emigration in the world: the lynching of 11 Sicilians in New Orleans." This is how Vincenzo Arcobelli, representative of the Confederation of Sicilians North America, as well as president of the Ctim and advisor to the Cgie, recalls the dramatic events of March 14, 1891, a "sad story, which has left an indelible mark on the Sicilian and Italian American community in New Orleans and the United States of America" for which "a public apology has arrived after 128 years".

As written by Patrizia Famà Stahle in "The Italian Emigration of Modern Times: Relations between Italy and the United States concerning Emigration Policy, Diplomacy and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment, 1870-1927" (Cambridge Scholars Publishing - 2016), it all began with the murder of New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy, who was ambushed on October 15, 1890 by four men near his home. Hennessy died and the Italians were blamed. In those years about 30,000 Italians lived in New Orleans and hundreds were arrested during the investigation that followed. Nineteen were indicted and nine tried in a trial that ended with six acquittals and jurors unable to agree in three cases.

The trial was very quick: it began in mid-February 1891 and ended on March 13, 1891. The verdict of not guilty against 8 of the 11 Italians was not well received. For a city that had been led to believe that these men were indeed guilty, it was a tremendous shock. The next day, a call to action was published in a local newspaper. A crowd of thousands on March 14, 1891, stormed the jail. Jailers opened the cell doors urging the men to escape, but nine of them were pursued and shot. Two others were hanged. Of the 11 dead, three had been acquitted, the jury was uncertain about three others, the other five had been indicted but not tried, as summarized by Charles Marsala, in a documentary on Sicilian immigration in New Orleans. Also according to Marsala, eight others managed to hide and escape.

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