In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Executive Editor for Acquisitions Rand Dotson writes about A Carnival of Fury: Robert Charles and the New Orleans Race Riot of 1900.
It is a common complaint of students in history classes that the events or issues being discussed have no relevance to their own lives or bearing on contemporary society. Such objections make illuminating the connection between past and present one of the most important functions of the historian. Exposing those links not only adds depth to discussions about the past, it also provides historical context to current events, allowing for a more sophisticated and balanced interpretation of issues relevant today.
On the LSU Press history list, a cogent example of that interaction is available in William Ivy Hair’s Carnival of Fury, a harrowing account of the life of Robert Charles, a black laborer in New Orleans, who 115 years ago fought back against unjustified police harassment in a series of violent gun battles that left two police officers dead and dozens of others wounded. Hair’s narrative provides insight into the prevailing racism, poverty, and hopelessness among African Americans in Jim Crow–era New Orleans that led to Charles’ desperate final act. In the aftermath, white rage over Charles’s actions prompted a riot against the city’s entire black community and resulted in several lynchings. To whites, Charles became a symbol of black lawlessness and disorder, but in the city’s African American community he emerged as a hero.
While Hair’s account of racial turmoil in New Orleans over a century ago is an extreme example, the circumstances and issues that provoked it clearly linger today. Those looking for links between the past and present would thus be well served by turning to Carnival of Fury, a masterful examination of the issues that generated one of the most violent and tragic episodes in American history.
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