CYBILS SENIOR HIGH NONFICTION: Unpunished Murder by Lawrence Goldstone


On Easter Sunday of 1873, just eight years after the Civil War ended, a band of white supremacists marched into Grant Parish, Louisiana, and massacred over one hundred unarmed African Americans. The court case that followed reached the highest court in the land. Yet, following one of the most ghastly incidents of mass murder in American history, not one person was convicted.

The opinion issued by the Supreme Court in US v. Cruikshank set in motion a process that would help create a society in which black Americans were oppressed and denied basic human rights -- legally, according to the courts. These injustices paved the way for Jim Crow and would last for the next hundred years. Many continue to exist to this day.

In this thoroughly researched volume for young readers, Lawrence Goldstone traces the evolution of the law and the characters involved in the story of how the Supreme Court helped institutionalize racism in the American justice system.


This wasn't the easiest book to read for several reasons.  First, massacres are never easy to read about because of their appalling nature.  Second, justice was never received.  And third, the court system allowed the murderers to go free, but basically opened the door to allowing them to treat black Americans however they wanted.  Goldstone starts by explaining what happened the day the massacre occurred.  He then flashes back to the end of the Civil War and the events that led up to that horrible day.  He covers the condition the South was left in after the war and the racist attitudes that still ran hot.  He talks about the fighting between the Radical Republicans who controlled Congress and President Andrew Johnson and how that led to the passing of the 14th and 15th Amendments and Reconstruction, all of which was designed to make black Americans equal citizens in the eyes of the law.  The problem was, too many people, both north and south, didn't want equality.  And while Reconstruction forced the South to go along with it for awhile, eventually Reconstruction ended leaving racism alive and well.  Goldstone returns to Grant Parish and provides the background that explains why the massacre (or the riot as the murderers called it) occurred.  He then moves on to the efforts made to bring the murderers to justice.  He provides a fascinating explanation for what happened and why it happened and the reasons the Supreme Court basically said the 14th and 15th Amendments couldn't be enforced by the federal government.

Frankly, it was appalling to read of the utter unfairness of what happened and the way murderers not only went free, but were allowed to retake control of the state governments throughout the South, which directly led to the Jim Crow laws that led to so much suffering for so many black Americans.  Goldstone does a good job of explaining things that are pretty complex in a way that teenage readers will be able to understand, especially those interested in politics and the court system.  This book is a very important one in that it tells a story that needs to be heard, especially as it's become crystal clear that racism isn't a problem of the past.


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