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Two Men Unite to Memorialize the Victims of Colfax Massacre

Rev. Avery Hamilton and Dean Woods are two men from different backgrounds who have come together to honor the legacy of the Colfax Massacre, a dark event in American history that occurred in 1873 in Grant Parish, Louisiana. The massacre, which resulted in the deaths of over 60 Black men who were asserting their constitutional rights, has largely been forgotten in the mainstream historical narrative.


Avery, a Black man and the great-great-great grandson of Jesse McKinney, the first man killed in the massacre, is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Colfax and grew up in Colfax without knowing about his family's history or the events that took place there. It wasn't until he was 35 years old that he learned about the massacre from one of his cousins. Shocked by what he heard, Avery began to research the history of the massacre and its aftermath.


Dean, a white man in Houston and the great-grandson of Bedford Woods, a man who participated in the massacre, grew up in Louisiana without knowing about his family's connection to the event. It wasn't until he read a fictional account of the massacre in a book that he began to research the true history of what happened.


Both Avery and Dean were appalled by the way the massacre had been whitewashed in the historical record. In Colfax, there was a "historical marker" that claimed the event was a "race riot" put down by white men, three of whom lost their lives in the battle. This narrative was false and offensive, and Avery and Dean both knew that something needed to be done to set the record straight.


Avery, along with several others, had been working to have the marker removed for years, but their efforts had been unsuccessful. When Dean learned about the marker, he began an independent effort to have it removed.  He contacted Mandi Mitchell, the Assistant Director of the department in charge of historical markers, the Louisiana Economic Development department, and she agreed to help remove the marker.  Through Ms. Mitchell’s discussions with the Grant Parish Police Jury, the marker was removed in May of 2021.


But Avery and Dean didn't want to stop there. They knew that more needed to be done to honor the memory of the Black men who had been killed in the massacre and to educate people about the true history of what had happened. They decided to form the Colfax Memorial Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to memorializing the victims of the Colfax Massacre and promoting the educational opportunities of Black students in Grant Parish.


The Colfax Memorial Organization has several goals. First, they are creating a physical memorial to the victims of the massacre. Working with the city and the Kansas City Southern Railroad Company, the memorial will be installed just off Eighth Street behind the stage used for the pecan festival.  The memorial will dedicated and unveiled on April 13th, and Avery and Dean hope it will serve as a place of remembrance and reflection. Second, they want to continue to raise funds so they can provide scholarships to deserving Black students in Grant Parish.  Interested individuals may make donations by sending a check to the Colfax Banking Company made out to the Colfax Memorial Organization.


In the end, the story of Avery and Dean is a story of two men who have come together across racial and historical divides to honor the memory of those who were unjustly killed in the Colfax Massacre. It is a story of two men who are trying to make a difference in their community and in the world. And it is a story that reminds us of the power of friendship, perseverance, and the human spirit.

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