On July 27, 1900, Robert Charles was killed by a white mob during a campaign of racial terror that would become known as the “Robert Charles Riots.” Four days earlier, Charles — a laborer in the city — and another man were sitting on the stoop of a friend’s home in what is now Central City. Two white policemen approached the men, and began harassing them for “looking suspicious.” A fight broke out, during which Charles shot and killed the two policemen and escaped down the street. During the ensuing manhunt, white vigilantes burned Black-owned homes and businesses, shot Black streetcar riders, and attempted to lynch innocent people suspected of the killings. Eventually, word got out that Charles was hiding in a home at 1208 South Saratoga Street (seen at the corner of this historic photograph from 1955.) After a long gunfight with police, Charles was killed, and his body was mutilated. A white mob would go on to burn down the historic Thomy Lafon school in Central City, which was referred to at the time as “the best Negro Schoolhouse in Louisiana.” Ultimately, more than 60 Black New Orleanians were injured or killed during the week of violence. Today, the site of Charles’ killing on Saratoga Street is a barbecue restaurant. In 2020, the city unveiled a historic marker on Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard commemorating those who lost their lives during the riots.
Historic photograph taken from the Charles L. Franck / Franck-Bertacci Photographers Collection; sourced from the Louisiana Digital Library. Research and present-day photo by Jack Gillespie