New Orleans prejudice and discrimination results in lynching of 11 Italians, the largest mass lynching in United States history.

The lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans in 1891, the largest mass lynching in American history, was a terribly violent occasion that provoked an international crisis as Italy formally protested and demanded restitution to the families of the victims. It was the most extreme result of prejudice and discrimination. Virtually every newcomer ethnic group into this country has experienced a degree of discrimination, however, the New Orleans incident graphically illustrated the excessive cost that prejudice and discrimination could exact. The background to the event seemed simple enough. When the police commissioner of New Orleans was killed, suspicion fell upon eleven Sicilian immigrants who were put on trial but were declared not guilty.

A mob was incited to storm the jail in which the accused were incarcerated, to forcibly extract them, then shoot and lynch them. That there were several other Italians lynched in several locations during this era underscores the danger faced by newcomers under certain intemperate circumstances. Even minus the extremes it was not uncommon for Italian immigrants and their issue to face degrees of hostility and discrimination based largely on perceptions that they displayed ignorance, were lazy or detrimental to labor interests, practiced religious superstition, and most of all were inclined toward criminality. Well into the second half of the twentieth century furthermore, the antagonistic displays were, blatant, blunt, unsubtle, and unapologetic. Happily, much of this behavior has lessened; however, it would na´ve to believe that anti-Italian discrimination is a thing of the past, although contemporary discrimination is subtle, indirect and more likely to be manifest in omission and stereotyping.

from Harper's Weekly

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