One July week in 1900 an obscure black laborer named Robert
Charles drew national headlines when he shot twenty-seven whites --
including seven policemen -- in a series of encounters with the New
Orleans police. An avid supporter of black emigration, Charles
believed it foolish to rely on southern whites to uphold the law or
to acknowledge even minimal human rights for blacks. He therefore
systematically armed himself, manufacturing round after round of
his own ammunition before undertaking his intentionally symbolic
act of violent resistance. After the shootings, Charles became an
instant hero among some blacks, but to most people he remained a
mysterious and sinister figure who had promoted a "back-to-Africa"
movement. Few knew anything about his early life.
This biography of Charles follows him from childhood in a
Mississippi sharecropper's cabin to his violent death on New
Orleans's Saratoga Street. With the few clues available, William
Ivy Hair has pieced together the story of a man whose life spanned
the thirty-four years from emancipation to 1900 -- a man who tried
to achieve dignity and self-respect in a time when people of his
race could not exhibit such characteristics without fear of
reprisal. Hair skillfully penetrates the world of Robert Charles,
the communities in which he lived, and the daily lives of dozens of
people, white and black, who were involved in his experience. A new
foreword by W. Fitzhugh Brundage sets this unique and innovative
biography in the context of its time and demonstrates its relevance
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