From 1868, elections in Louisiana were marked by violence, as white insurgents tried to suppress black voting and disrupt Republican Party gatherings. The disputed 1872 gubernatorial election resulted in conflicts that ran for years. The "White League", an insurgent paramilitary group that supported the Democratic Party, was organized in 1874 and operated in the open, violently suppressing the black vote and running off Republican officeholders. In 1874, in the Battle of Liberty Place, 5,000 members of the White League fought with city police to take over the state offices for the Democratic candidate for governor, holding them for three days. By 1876, such tactics resulted in the white Democrats, the so-called Redeemers, regaining political control of the state legislature. The federal government gave up and withdrew its troops in 1877, ending Reconstruction.
Jim Crow era
Dixiecrats passed Jim Crow laws, establishing racial segregation in public facilities. In 1889, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment incorporating a "grandfather clause" that effectively disfranchised freedmen as well as the propertied people of color manumitted before the war. Unable to vote, African Americans could not serve on juries or in local office, and were closed out of formal politics for generations. The Southern U.S. was ruled by a white Democratic Party. Public schools were racially segregated and remained so until 1960.
New Orleans' large community of well-educated, often French-speaking free persons of color (gens de couleur libres), who had been free prior to the Civil War, fought against Jim Crow. They organized the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens Committee) to work for civil rights. As part of their legal campaign, they recruited one of their own, Homer Plessy, to test whether Louisiana's newly enacted Separate Car Act was constitutional. Plessy boarded a commuter train departing New Orleans for Covington, Louisiana, sat in the car reserved for whites only, and was arrested. The case resulting from this incident, Plessy v. Ferguson, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896. The court ruled that "separate but equal" accommodations were constitutional, effectively upholding Jim Crow measures.
In practice, African American public schools and facilities were underfunded across the South. The Supreme Court ruling contributed to this period as the nadir of race relations in the United States. The rate of lynchings of black men was high across the South, as other states also disfranchised blacks and sought to impose Jim Crow. Nativist prejudices also surfaced. Anti-Italian sentiment in 1891 contributed to the lynchings of 11 Italians, some of whom had been acquitted of the murder of the police chief. Some were shot and killed in the jail where they were detained. It was the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. In July 1900 the city was swept by white mobs rioting after Robert Charles, a young African American, killed a policeman and temporarily escaped. The mob killed him and an estimated 20 other blacks; seven whites died in the days-long conflict, until a state militia suppressed it.
Throughout New Orleans' history, until the early 20th century when medical and scientific advances ameliorated the situation, the city suffered repeated epidemics of yellow fever and other tropical and infectious diseases.