“A story like this can become galvanizing, powerful in the broader official historical memory,” Blight said. “Or it can be essentially suppressed.”
“It never became part of official memory because the memory of the Reconstruction years that did become official, did make it into the textbooks, did make it into the political conversations, was an opposite kind of memory.”And if there was any violence, the story always was that it was necessary to stop this rule by black people who weren’t prepared to do it or rule by Yankee carpetbaggers who came down to exploit the South. So much of that is not accurate. So much of it is about who gets to control the story.”
For all the drama and historical impact, the massacre wasn’t a story that those still living in Colfax ever heard much about.
Editor Maxwell said he learned about the event not in school, but from his grandmother.
Hamilton said he didn’t hear the story in school either, even after he began to attend a newly integrated public elementary school in the early 1970s.
“There may have been individual homes where elderly persons shared it with their families, but it wasn’t taught in schools,” Hamilton said. “There was one time when I heard some older blacks talking about it in church. That happened once
“Growing up here, it was nothing that was really talked about in the Black community, except what we knew from the sign at the courthouse, which is inaccurate.”
That historical marker, either by design or coincidence, was erected just as the modern civil rights movement began to take shape. Lane researched the marker’s origins.
“It just began with a few locals saying, ‘We ought to have a maker,’” Lane said. “The people who wrote the text for that marker were three people in Colfax who were all local amateur historians.”
Writer Keith said she found two groups that hoped to deal with the marker’s message. One group is composed of African Americans determined to have the marker removed. Attempts to contact a representative were unsuccessful.
The other group, which included Hamilton and Maxwell, became the Red River Heritage Association. The idea was to keep the marker for its own historical value and develop an interpretive center.
And when the association began meeting in 2006, Maxwell said, “it was the first time we could sit down and discuss it with each other.”
“I met some good friends, some honest people, Mr. Maxwell being one of them,” Hamilton said. “And I learned some things. There are some whites willing to look honestly at the situation.”
Ultimately, the association’s efforts failed for lack of funds.