WEP Freedom Morning FCA Dixie Jo Jarchow

The nineteen men crowded into the jail cell, accused of killing a white police chief, David Hennessey. They stood shoulder to shoulder without enough room to sit or sleep and had stood all night. They acted with dignity as if a night in jail was nothing to them but Gaspare could smell the acid fear.

And no one was more afraid than he was. At fourteen years old, Gaspare fought to be a man like his father who stood next to him. His whole body trembled as he stood listening to the rumble of anger from a crowd outside the barred window. It came and went, each wave of noise grew louder until the walls shook with it.

Dawn hovered at the edge of the horizon; he felt it although he could not see it. If today was a normal day, he and his father would be on their way to the market to sell fruit. They missed one day of work already and now two. 

Yesterday, he and his father were acquitted of the murder along with four other men. Three additional men were cleared when the jury couldn’t decide. He didn’t understand “acquitted” but his father whispered it meant freedom. 

The rabble outside roared like an injured beast when the verdicts reached them. It was so loud that the judge couldn’t continue and they were herded back to the crowded cell.  As they scurried from the courtroom building through the alley and back to the jail, people screamed at them. He’d never seen so many people in his life. 

The anger on their faces made them look inhuman and they yelled horrible things. He wasn’t a “nigger” or a “brute.”  Where did these names come from?  He’d hoped to be released but the police said it was too dangerous. They said the mob outside numbered in the thousands. 

When he got to the door of the cell, he gasped for air and his breathing became ragged. His chest hurt and he stopped to catch his breath. Someone shoved him and sweat rose on his chest and face. He struggled to get out of the cell and his father held him, calmed him. Eventually, the darkness in front of his eyes faded and he was able to stand calmly.  

He  remembered when his father had told them they were going to the City of New Orleans for new opportunities. How excited he’d been. He and father sent money home each week, proud to care for their family back home. Would his mother be proud of him today, in a jail cell accused of murder?

The uniformed man closed the cell door but Thomas noticed he didn’t lock it. And why should he? They were all innocent of the murder. Yesterday, the police rounded them up like cattle at the market and didn’t tell them why or where they were going. Nineteen men were as many as could fit in the wagon or they would have taken more. A boom shook dust out of the ceiling down upon them as Gaspare and the men in the cell held their collective breaths. 

His father gripped his arm roughly and moved him out of the cell. He found a supply closet in the hallway and shoved him in, closing the door after him.  

Gaspare heard the screaming hoard streaming into the jail. The floors shook and he squeezed himself into a ball and prayed for his father and the other men.  His breath became labored.  This time there were no kind hands to hold him. His vision narrowed to a single point and he lost consciousness.

He woke in darkness and whimpered until he realized he was still in the closet. He cracked open the door and saw a pool of blood on the floor of the cell. He stumbled out of the jail, the only person in a serene world and made his way back to the tent where he and his father slept.

At the cross street, he saw them. Eleven of the men he’d shared a cell with, shared every day of life in America at the market. They hung from ropes, still in the cool morning.  They’d been beaten and their faces were barely recognizable. He saw his father, limbs at awkward angles and his face a red pulp. 

A woman walked past him and spit on the ground in front of him. “Dago,” she said.

The largest mass lynching in America was March 14, 1891 when 11 innocent Italian Americans, some already tried and acquitted were killed by an angry mob for the death of a police chief. Lynching is more brutal than hanging. In hanging, the neck snaps and death is instantaneous. In lynching, the person is pulled up from the ground, struggling for air and slowly suffocates.

As a result of the lynchings, Italy cut off diplomatic relations with the United States, raising rumors of war. Theodore Roosevelt, not yet president, wrote to his sister:  “Monday we dined at the Camerons; various dago diplomats were present, all much wrought up by the lynching of the Italians in New Orleans. Personally I think it rather a good thing, and said so.” The killing of David Hennessy introduced the word “Mafia” to the American public. Gaspare Marchesi, the boy who survived by hiding in the jail while his father was lynched, was awarded $5,000 in damages in 1893 after suing the city of New Orleans.[33]

In April, 2019, the mayor of New Orleans offered an apology.

Published by dixiejarchow

I'm the author of two published books under Daisy Jerico: The Love Thief and Sparks Fly, and three published as Dixie Jo Jarchow. I’ve proofread for the Surgeon General’s office, a physics textbook and a terra cotta textbook. My passion is to write and help others write. Write on! And have a normal life with GDP.

37 thoughts on “WEP Freedom Morning FCA Dixie Jo Jarchow

  1. What a raw, emotional, shocking story, Dixie, one based on fact. I’m struggling for something to say after seeing the sentencing of George Floyd’s killer. Maybe the tide is slowly turning when a white cop is sentenced to life for killing a black man. But how long the wait has been for freedom for so many of the world’s population.

    Thanks for writing this story which is so informative of a past, brutal history.

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    1. Thanks. I learned so much from this prompt. The same year, over 400 blacks were lynched with no country to protest for them. Irish and Asian faced the same prejudice and violence.

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  2. Hi Dixie – when I wrote my story … I didn’t have the details of Claude Clark’s painting … and of course as Denise mentions yesterday’s information … but this has really shocked me – I hadn’t thought about lynching being different – though of course I should have.
    Thank you for writing about this period of history … excellent, but so appalling a part of human history. I note you’ve brought it to light – albeit it seems to have almost vanished into historical obscurity …
    So interesting and informative … Hilary

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  3. Hi,
    It is amazing how many people don’t know of the barbarous crimes that have been committed in the United States to other people. I’m glad you based your story on facts that really happened. So many immigrants who came to the United States thought they were exempt from hatred and prejudices because their skin was light and their hair was different. But many of them discovered that that wasn’t so.
    Shalom aleichem

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  4. Mob violence is never a good thing, and it threatens all of us. These stories, this one, and others are a disgrace to this nation. I hope we can find our way beyond the darkness to a more compassionate world.
    Nancy

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  5. Powerful and hard hitting. It’s shocking how brutal and prejudiced human beings can be. As Denise says, maybe the tide is turning more than a hundred years from 1891. I hope the sentence handed down will be as exemplary and reinforce this justice. And that it will be built upon moving forward and not be a one off.

    Your flash fiction, rather true story, was informative, educational as well as absolutely gripping. Stellar use of the prompt!

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  6. Thank you for sharing this story. It is a part of history that never gets told. People really don’t know what role lynching has played in this country, both past, and present. Hangings were at one point about executing a sentence, lynchings have always been about hatred, no matter who’s doing it to who. Excellent entry.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a horrifying event. Racism and xenophobia are plagues. Thank you for sharing this story. It should never be forgotten.

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  8. I never knew that’s where the word Mafia originated.
    And to think, it started with people who the court declared innocent.
    Good use of the prompt.

    J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

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  9. Hi Dixie – this is so well written and reminding us of his history and that dreadful day, and time … I’m so pleased with your recognition … all the best – Hilary

    Like

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