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Abstract

This article examines the history of the Louisiana Sugar industry and the social movements of its field workers in the 1870s and 1880s. After the Civil War, the industry invested heavily in its mills in order to compete in the world market. Simultaneously since Emancipation, cane workers built a militant labor movement and engaged in a series of strikes to increase their influence. In 1887, workers’ strikes were met with a planter-led massacre in Thibodaux. The primary question I ask is, why did the labor struggles in 1887 end in a massacre? The two factors which caused the massacre were 1) the emergence of an organized and ideologically coherent planter elite compelled by competition to industrialize sugar whatever the cost, and 2) the presence in 1887 of a uniquely united and institutionalized working class resisting their replacement and relegation to an irrelevant surplus by machines and skilled white workers. This work contributes to the understanding of the 1887 strike as a specific turning point in Louisiana’s history by identifying what was uniquely at stake. I primarily use three sources to conduct the analysis. They are local newspaper articles and editorials, the sugar industry journal The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, and government agricultural and manufacturing censuses.

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