Sicilian Culture

The People, The History, The Culture

Timeline of Sicily:
New Orleans, Louisiana

During the mid to late 1800's large numbers of Sicilians came to the United States and settled in New Orleans where there were the most opportunities for work in the cotton, vegetable and fish markets. New Orleans had the largest population of Sicilians at this time.

At one point in tome, the chief of police in New Orleans was David Hennessey.  He had been investigating the murder of an Sicilian immigrant which was the result of a vendetta, or family fued of two large Sicilian familes (for reference, there is a movie by the same name, Vendetta, which was made in 1999 and stars Christopher Walken) which gives a fairly accurate account of what happend.

Hennessey's investigation lead him to learn more about their culture and the secrets of this vendetta.  But, the members of this Sicilian neighborhood felt that he was prying and becoming involved with a matter that was strictly the business of the Sicilian people, the vendetta, and had no room for local authorities. He had created intense problems for members of both sides of the vendetta and he was murdered by a handful of assasins while on a witch hunt one night.  

A dozen or more Sicilian immigrants were charged with his murder, beaten, tortured and thrown in jail.  The Ambassador of Italy came in and intervened calling the whole situation a great miscarriage of justice and human rights.   In court, they were all dismissed of charges regarding the murder.  

Other members of politics and power in New Orleans were enraged and demanded a vendetta of their own upon hearing about the court's verdict.  Many non-Italian citizens came in great mobs and entered the market, knocking over tables, beating and clubbing innocent merchants, women and children.  They proceeded to the jail where the suspects were still being held in spite of the fact that they were found not guilty.   They were beaten shot dead and lynched, hung in public and shot at again.  

This was the largest masscre of immigrants in US History (not to forget the Indians, who were not immigrants but natives).  Some condemed the act, and some praised it, immigrants have always been looked down on in any culture, in any country and even today -- President Theodore Roosevelt called it "a good thing" -- but it was President Harrison who disapproved and got Congress to award the families of the victims $25,000.

Let's not be naive nor insensitive here.  Yes, the police chief was murdered for doing his job.  Should he have realized that this was an internal matter between decades of fighting between two tribes and left it as a matter of "an eye for an eye"  and left it alone? Perhaps, but he should not have been killed.  Many argue that this is the first instance of the mafia in US history, again, perhaps, but the fact remains that the murder of Hennessey's death was unsolved.  Additionally a dozen or more Sicilian immigrants were murdered and/or persecuted, quite possibly innocent.  We all know the scenario "round up the usual list of suspects" usually the trouble makers but not always the guilty of any particular crime.  It is called a scapegoat and this is the most brutal an unjust incidents in American history and should be put in the hall of shame along with the masscres of Native Americans and the Japanese who were rounded up during World War II and put in "concentration" like camps just because they were Japanese and lived in this country during wartime.  The next step is not too far from genocide, it is, a mini-holocust which was never justified.



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