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‘Of Snakes and White Folks’
Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900 by William Ivy Hair

1976, Louisiana State University Press, 2016 pages

Robert Charles was a mixed-race man, described as a mulatto, who was born and raised in Copia [Indian for panther] County Mississippi, a hotbed of class warfare, where poor African Americans and poor European Americans sometimes organized against the “white” elite. This ruling class used old Civil War ordinance [small arms and artillery] to terrorize and kill voters of both races, mostly terrorizing “blacks” and shooting “whites.” Robert not only migrated to New Orleans, Louisiana, away from this coercive class construct, as did many African Americans seeking work in cities, but had also internalized a frontier gun fighting ethos, in which he once recovered a stolen weapon from a “white” train conductor.

One of the aspects of the New Orleans economy, where Robert Charles worked as a responsible laborer, was the fact that “white” elites used imported African American labor from the countryside to drive down wages for working class European Americans and expel them from some lines of work, such as working on steam freighters. According to the author, Hair, everything in Louisiana and Mississippi was about race and not class, and then, on every single page, his text refutes his own race assertions and demonstrates that things were mostly about class and politics, with race secondary, with race serving as both a wedge and a weapon in the hands of the ruling class. The lower classes were not segregated but lived in mixed-race areas with little history of racial violence, with Africans generally in the minority in a given area and certainly city-wide.

Robert Charles wanted some female companionship, had set his sights on visiting a mixed-race woman who could pass for white, with whom it appears he had an on again off again relationship. He packed a pistol for protection. A police man then tried to shoot Charles for loitering, which initiated a chain of events in which Charles killed 5 police officers, shamed and wounded others and was eventually besieged by up to 2,000 European American citizens who he fought like Rambo. It appears that Charles was essentially a hero against the police but that since the police were “white” and he was not, many European Americans took advantage of the resulting meltdown of law enforcement, as the NOPD unsuccessfully grappled with a single gunman, in order to beat and kill and terrorize African Americans who had been moved into New Orleans, by invitation of elite “whites” to displace European Americans from the unionized and non-union job markets. Negroes were generally terrified and running for cover while the various factions of “whites” fought over how the minority colored population, which was quite nuanced in New Orleans, should be treated. The NOPD was utterly corrupt and ineffective and was almost immediately supplanted by a militia force.

Friends and associates and simply neighbors of Robert Charles, who was declared “a fiend” but granted hero status by his hunters and killers, were hunted and persecuted in various ways. A nice photo study exists, alongside of a sketch of Robert Charles which demonstrates the following racial characteristics of the so called “black race” in New Orleans in 1901:

Overleaf Sketch:

-Charles as a mixed-race man

Group photo from page 110:

-1 West African man

-2 West African woman

-3 West African woman

-4 West African man

-5 West African man

-6 West African man with some Irish features

-7 Irishman or Scotsman

-8 West African man with some Irish features

-9 West African man

-10 Mixed Race man with dark skin and Scottish features

Below are some spicy phrases from the period newspapers:

“nigger dudes you can spare”

“the cap of ruin”

“the deed of the black fiend”

The most telling aspect of the sick, diseased idea of race-negating elitism that was the so-called doctrine of “white supremacy,” a creed of elitist, anti-working class, anti-masculine social negation which has remained misunderstood for my entire life, is brought clearly to light for the class politics it was, when it turns out that what was regarded by the “white” ruling class in the Southern United States as being Robert Charles’ worst crime against society, was the fact that he wanted to go back to Africa and be left alone. Charles had been involved in promoting “colonization” the settling of African Americans in Liberia. That fact that white supremacists of the Era of White Supremacy were most threatened by Charles, not for plugging some crooked Irish cops, but for promoting the free soil dream of returning African Americans to the land of their ancestors so that they could not be used by “white” elites as worker-pawns to put European Americans out of work demonstrates what the doctrine of White Supremacy was ever about; white supremacy was about “white” elites using “blacks” to keep most “whites” poor and then using the resulting animosity among poor “whites” as a tool of terror to keep “blacks” politically obedient.

Carnival of Fury starts out slow with a litany of political, class and race struggle in rural Mississippi, but ends up telling the story of a true American hero who fought to the death against the soul-drinking system designed to drain us all of who we are.

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