Lynching of Italians

While the vast majority of lynching happened to Blacks, during the 1800s and early 20th century, Italian-Americans were the second-most common target of lynchings. On March 14, 1891, 11 Italian-Americans were lynched in New Orleans after a jury found them not guilty in the case of the murder of a New Orleans police chief. David Hennessy.


New Orleans, 1891

The fate of numerous Italian Americans was no different than that of other ethnic groups targeted by lynch mobs. The most infamous lynching of Italians occurred on March 14, 1891 in New Orleans. This event claimed eleven victims and was one of the largest multiple lynching in American history. The catalyst for this tragedy was the unsolved murder of popular city police superintendent David Hennessy. Hennessy’s murder led to a roundup of the “usual suspects” — in this case Italians. Those detained, immigrants from Sicily and the southern portions of Italy — possessed swarthy complexions and were viewed with suspicion and contempt by the white protestant elite ruling New Orleans. Akin to Negroes, Italians were “not quite white” and subject to a racial prejudice only slightly subtler — mingled with a baseless and deliberately orchestrated Mafia scare associating most Italian Americans with a vast criminal organization that did not exist in the New Orleans of that era.

The morning of March 14 was bright and sunny. By ten o’clock, a crowd of thousands was gathered by the Parish Jail, with many of them shouting, “Yes, yes, hang the dagoes!” The prison was soon attacked by a carefully selected band culled by the mobs’ leaders comprised of about twenty-five well-armed men. With battering rams ringing in their ears, the prisoners were both trapped and doomed. In the prison yard where several Italians were clustered together at one end, the hit squad of lynchers opened fire from about twenty feet away. More than a hundred rifle shots and shotgun blasts were fired into six helpless men, tearing their bodies apart. When the firing stopped, the squad inspected their victims. A man saw Pietro Monasterio’s hand twitch and yelled, “Hey, this one’s alive!” “Give him another load, “ another gunman answered. “Can’t, I ain’t got the heart.” Then one of the men walked up to the body, aimed a shotgun point-blank, and literally blew the top of Monasterio’s head away. Someone laughed. There were two or three cheers. One or two men turned their faces away, looking sick.

So it went. Joseph P. Macheca, Antonio Scaffidi, and Antonio Marchesi were shot while turning to face their pursuers. Marchesi was struck in the head by a bullet. As he raised his right hand to shield himself a shotgun charge blew off and went on to disintegrate the top of his skull. Yet he did not die until nine hours later, lying all the time where he fell.

More gunmen found Manuel Polizzi. Sitting on the floor in a corner of a cell, muttering to himself. Dragged by five men into a corridor he was shot two or three times while staring with wild eyes at nothing in particular. Antonio Bagnetto was found in another cell, pretending to be dead. He too was shot. Several of the men’s corpses were displayed to the mob outside the prison and hung on lampposts for all to see. Witnesses said that the cheers were nearly deafening.



New Orleans prejudice and discrimination results in lynching of 11 Italians, the largest mass lynching in United States history.

David Hennessy


Dark Legacy

Five years ago, while researching the Italian-American experience, filmmaker Heather Hartley stumbled onto one of the uglier episodes in American history: the lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans in March of 1891. Like most Americans, Hartley, assistant professor of communications at Penn State, had never heard of the incident. Intrigued, she resolved to make it the focus of a short film.


Guns, Goats, and Italians: The Tallulah Lynching Of 1899

Irate Italians Over New Orleans Lynching Discussed in N.Y. 1891

Lynching of Italians & The Largest Lynching in the USA

Barack Obama – Italian style Lynching  (video)


Films, Articles and Books

Linciati: Lynchings of Italians in America (2004).



 Based on a true tale of power, corruption and murder, Christopher Walken stars in the story of the largest lynching in American history, VENDETTA. Fleeing the famine in Sicily, thousands of Italian families come to America, building their businesses on the docks and in the marketplaces. To the wealthy businessmen and their political cronies it seems like an invasion of property that has to be dealt with. It will be dealt with in New Orleans. Seeking to wrest control of the docks from the Macheca Family, cotton dealer James Houston (Walken) and a ruthless cabal of businessmen orchestrate the murder of one of their own. Nineteen Italian men are arrested for the murder including the heads of the most important families in New Orleans. Nine will be put on trial- but their lives aren’t balanced on the scales of justice. Their lives are in the hands of an angry mob, marching toward the prison gates, enraged, embittered, and armed. View more information.


Gov. Foster of Louisiana Reports that Three of the Men Were Naturalized

Rioters breaking in to parish prison during anti-Italian lynchings in New Orleans – 1891


Teddy Roosevelt’s public image was excellent but let’s looks at his private life. Some people say that he only publicly invited different people but that he otherwise hated them. Others say he was racist and anti-Semitic, even anti-Italian when he wrote to his sister that the lynching of seven Italians was good! Nobody knows the exact truth. Nobody ever will.