In June 1870, the residents of the city of New Orleans were already on edge when two African American women kidnapped seventeen-month old Mollie Digby from in front of her New Orleans home. It was the height of Radical Reconstruction. The old racial order had been turned upside down and black men now voted, held office, sat on juries, and served as policemen. Nervous white residents fearing impeding chaos pointed to the Digby abduction as proof that no white child was safe now that slavery had ended and the South had been "Africanized." Newspapers opposed to Louisiana's biracial Reconstruction government stoked those fears by reprinting rumors that the stolen Digby baby had been sacrificed in a Voodoo ceremony on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Louisiana's twenty-eight year old Reconstruction Governor Henry Clay Warmoth, in turn, hoped to use the kidnapping to prove that his newly integrated police force, trained in the latest investigative techniques from Boston and New York, could solve the crime.
He offered a huge reward for the return of Mollie Digby and the capture of her kidnappers, and his police chief put his best Afro-Creole detective, the dashing Jean Baptiste Jourdain, on the case. The Associated Press sent the story out on the wire and newspaper readers around the country began to follow the New Orleans mystery. Leads poured in from across the Gulf Coast and from as far north as Ohio and New York, and Jourdain became the first black detective in the United States to make national news. Interest in the story only grew when police and prosecutors put two strikingly beautiful Afro-Creole women on trial for the crime and a tense courtroom drama unfolded against the backdrop of a yellow fever epidemic and the momentous events of Reconstruction in the South. A stunning work of historical recreation, Michael Ross's The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case is the first full account ever written about an event that electrified the South at one of the most critical moments in the history of American race relations.
Ross brings the era back to life, leading readers into smoke filled concert saloons, Garden District drawing rooms, sweltering courthouses, and squalid prisons, and he uses the Digby kidnapping, investigation, and trial to offer important new insights into the complexities and possibilities of the Reconstruction era.
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc