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Michael Santo, right, with the Order Sons & Daughters of Italy, reaches out to hug Vincenzo Pasquantonio, left, director of the Office of Human Rights and Equity for New Orleans, as New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell watches. Cantrell made a formal apology for the Italian immigrant hangings that took place in 1891. The mayor spoke on Friday, April 12, 2019.

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell recently issued a certificate of recognition regarding an event that happened in 1891 when Joseph Shakspeare was mayor. A mob of at least 5,000 gathered at the Henry Clay statue, marched to the prison, broke in, and killed 11 Sicilians. At no time did New Orleans police or prison guards attempt to stop the mob.

A leader of the mob was James D. Houston. Houston had been acquitted of the murder of Arthur Guerin in 1871. In 1885 Houston assaulted George Osmond, the editor of the Mascot newspaper, for writing a disparaging editorial about James’ brother, Judge W.T. Houston. Houston was acquitted for assault and attempted murder.

Local researcher Doug Casey’s work was used in the 1977 book by Richard Gambino titled “Vendetta.” HBO produced a movie with Christopher Walken portraying Houston as enacting a plan to obtain control of the New Orleans’ docks in 1891. The plot implies Houston framed Joseph P. Macheca and others for killing Police Chief Hennessy. Macheca was acquitted, thus allowing him to keep his stevedore business. Macheca was murdered by the mob the next day.

The City Council then passed an ordinance awarding New Orleans dock work to Houston’s newly formed Louisiana Construction and Improvement Corporation. Sicilians responded by leaving New Orleans. Mother Cabrini was sent to New Orleans in 1892 to help with relations and to care for the orphans of Yellow Fever.

Sal Perricone, author of “The Shadows of Nazareth” on New Orleans human sex trafficking, is writing a book on the lynching and noted that members of the White League organized the mob. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a legal brief in 2017 stating: that “in 1891 veterans of the White League Liberty Place battle openly lynched eleven Sicilian men and used the lynching as a way to raise money to build the monument.”

In early January 2019, Frank Stewart and I met with Cantrell on our plans for Victory Circle, honoring yellow fever efforts at Beauregard Circle, relocating removed statues to the Steamboat Museum, erecting a monument to the positive contributions of Italians, and the certificate of recognition requested by The Sons of Italy.

New Orleans-based sculptor Franco Alessandrini has designed an inspiring monument showcasing the Sicilian contribution to New Orleans in music, arts, literature, politics, economics, medicine, engineering, sports, and philanthropy. Honorary Italian Consul Frank Maselli commented that the event of 1891 has long given way to positive relations between the Sicilian community and the descendants of members of the White League. The Sicilian community has flourished in Louisiana and honors the work and contributions of our ancestors.

Charles Marsala

founder, Awe News

New Orleans