NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It, the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, a fiery massacre during the Reconstruction grieves the nation, plus the Civil Rights Acts of 1968 reaches the half-century mark.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, 420 years ago this week, Calvinist Protestants gain freedom to worship in Catholic France, at least for a while. Here’s Paul Butler:
AUDIO: Medieval French music
AUDIO: Signing edict
PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin with April 13th, 1598. After 36 years of civil war, France’s King Henry the Fourth signs the Edict of Nantes, bringing an official end to the conflict between French Catholics and Protestants.
The edict grants limited political and religious rights to the French Calvinist minority—known as the Huguenots.
Henry the Fourth was born a Catholic, but raised a Protestant.
AUDIO: Battle sounds
He barely escaped the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre on his wedding day in 1572. But after fighting the Catholics for 20 years, Henry willingly converts to Catholicism in order to become sovereign of France.
AUDIO: Church bells
His conversion angers many of his Protestant allies, but Henry extends an olive branch with the Edict of Nantes.
AUDIO: Writing the edict
The decree guarantees Protestants “freedom of opinion,” equal rights in matter of education, and equal access to public responsibility and office.
AUDIO: French Huguenot hymn
But the freedoms are not complete. While Huguenots are allowed to worship, they must do so in a limited number of approved towns and must still pay a tithe to the Catholic church.
Huguenots enjoy relative peace until 16-80 when widespread persecution begins again under Louis the 14th, who revokes the Edict of Nantes.
Next, April 13th, 1873, 145 years ago this week: a Louisiana massacre shocks the nation.
Following the close of the Civil War, many bitter, Southern white Democrats sought to restrict the rights of former slaves. Some groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, went even further, systematically terrorizing both sympathetic Republicans and African-Americans throughout the South.
The conflict came to a head in Louisiana during the 1872 election for governor.
The black population in Colfax, Louisiana, was nearly 50 percent. Fearing Democrats might try to seize control of the government, they formed a militia and holed up around the courthouse. Soon after, members of the KKK and the White League surrounded them and attacked with a small cannon. Author LeeAnna Keith describes what happened next: audio courtesy of C-SPAN and the Carter Presidential Library and Museum:
KEITH: What ended up happening was that the white people set the courthouse on fire. As people tried to extinguish the fire from the inside, those people were shot. As people began to vacate the building, also those people were shot.
In the end, the white mob murdered more than 60 blacks. Nearly 100 members of the mob were indicted, but in the end, only nine were found guilty of violating the 14th and 15th Amendments.
And finally, 50 years ago on April 11th.
JOHNSON: Members of congress, members of the cabinet, distinguished Americans and guests…
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The legislation prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing.
JOHNSON: In the Civil Rights Act of 1968, America does move forward and the bell of freedom rings out a little louder.
The civil rights bill had passed the Senate a week earlier, on the same day of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. The House however seemed hesitant to act, so President Johnson argued that it would be a fitting tribute, saying he wanted it on his desk before King’s funeral.
After limited debate, the Fair Housing Act passed on April 10, and Johnson signed it the very next day.
JOHNSON: We have come some of the way, not near all of it. There is much yet to do.
The bill was the last major act of legislation of the civil rights movement. Despite the law, housing segregation remained a common practice in many areas of the United States for decades.
That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.
(File/United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division)