Skip PBS navigation bar, and jump to content.
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS


About the Film

Forty Acres and a Mule
Plantations in Ruins
Black Legislators
Northerners in the South
Access to Learning
Slave to Sharecropper
The Negro Question
In God We Trust
White Men Unite
State by State

Teacher's Guide

  spacer above content
White Men Unite: Primary Sources

Back to section

  The First-Class Men of Our Town | Proposing Security for the Future
  With the White People, Right or Wrong


 
 

With the White People, Right or Wrong

Called to testify about murderous violence in Louisiana, white planter B. W. Marston explained the attacks by pointing to widespread poverty among whites, and his sense that Northern exploiters, led by Freedman's Bureau representative Marshall Twitchell, had arrived to tyrranize him and others in the planter class. In Marston's view, Twitchell was working "to organize the freedmen element against the interests of the white people." Marston condoned violence as a means of restoring the pre-war social, economic, and political climate.

Coushatta, Louisiana, June 7, 1876

The campaign of 1874 opened... The cotton-worm had destroyed the crop again. The people were very much impoverished. I remember speaking on one occasion to Captain Twitchell and telling him I believed this country was suffering more today than it ever had since it had been a country. I know it was very hard with me and every one I could hear from to get along....

All the paying offices of the parish have been held by strangers from abroad, who have been put in, I suppose, through the influence of Mr. Twitchell...

[He] called on me at my private residence, and we had a long conversation on the state of affairs. Among other things, I recollect telling him distinctly... that if he proposed to rule these people with a rod of iron he could not do it; that these were American people, and they would never be made serfs of... I told him that my planting interests were such that I did not want any excitement... I wanted him to understand that I would always go with the white people of our country right or wrong, because I would not place my judgment against them; that I was one of them and would share their fate...

[My] proposition was this; that he would guarantee us a reform government, and as a guarantee of that government give the bona-fide residents of this parish one-half of all the offices, his party could take the other half, and we would have no political excitement during the campaign of 1874... My object was reform, and to avoid a war in this parish, which was approaching. Twitchell remarked, "Well, it is very natural that the minority should wish to be represented." That is all that was done about that proposition...

Mr. Twitchell controlled everything connected with the affairs of this parish. There was no doubt about that. He controlled the tax-collector's office; his brother was tax-collector. He was leader of this country. There was no doubt but that everything was done that he wanted...

I consider the assessment of 1873, for which we held him responsible, as one of the most tyrannical things that ever happened. I consider him a tyrant, because he has been representing these people and has betrayed them; because he held the position of state senator; president of the school board; president of the police jury; controlled the tax collector's office, and was everything connected with the affairs of the parish... took the money paid for taxes for his own use, and settled with himself; and if that is not tyranny in America; there is no tyranny anywhere.

If I should take Mr. Twitchell's position and undertake to organize the freedmen element against the interests of the white people... I would not be as safe as if I should undertake to organize the white element. If I were to make incendiary speeches and collect the Negroes in the night like it was done here before the riot, when one of the most respectable citizens in this community was shot in the back, I do not think I would be safe in this country, because these people are Americans, and they will defend themselves as quick as any other people in the world. If they suppose a man is coming here for incendiary purposes, they will deal with him promptly...

There is a very severe feeling against Mr. Twitchell among these people... Republicanism or democracy has nothing to do with it; it is from the fact that these people believe they have been plundered by him, and their property has been attempted to be confiscated by him; that he has undertaken his way to make a serfdom of this country.

Excerpts from Testimony of B.W. Marston Re: The Coushatta Affair. House Reports, 44th Congress, 1st Session, No. 816, 645-727.

  BW Marston  
page created on 12.19.03
Site Navigation

Reconstruction: The Second Civil War
About the Film | Forty Acres and a Mule | Plantations in Ruins | Black Legislators
Northerners in the South | Access to Learning | Slave to Sharecropper | The Negro Question
In God We Trust | White Men Unite | State by State | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1997-2004 PBS Online / WGBH



Reconstruction: The Second Civil War American Experience

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: