Violence and Retribution

From The New York Times:

Goodheart-popup Two centuries ago last month, a traveler making his way by boat down the Mississippi toward New Orleans would have come upon a ghastly sight: a severed human head rotting on the end of a pole. And no sooner would it vanish around a bend than another appeared along the levee. Then another, and another — and so on without respite for 40 long miles down to the city. What must it have been like to experience this? Did the horror build and build with each successive glimpse of those dreadful trophies? Or how many apparitions did it take — 10, 20, 100? — before they began to seem familiar milestones on the journey, ordinary features of the passing landscape? In a sense, those heads were totems of an all-too-commonplace aspect of the American scene: the landscape of slavery and white supremacy. Each one had been cut from the corpse of a black man killed for fighting to be free.

Early in January 1811, along the same riverbank, a small army of Louisiana slaves had briefly faced a small army of slaveholders. It was, as described in “American Uprising,” Daniel Rasmussen’s chilling and suspenseful account, the culmination of a signal episode in the history of American race relations. On a night just at the beginning of carnival season, black workers belonging to a planter named Manuel Andry broke into their master’s house armed with axes, machetes and sugar-cane knives. For Andry, surprised in his bedroom, it must have been the realization of every slaveholder’s worst fears. He managed to flee, but not before seeing his son Gilbert being hacked to pieces.

More here.