By Linda Fatta Ott
The State of Mississippi and City of Vicksburg honored five Italians who were lynched just across the Mississippi River in Tallulah, La., on July 20, 1899. Five Italian men who owned grocery stores in town, were seized by a mob of local residents and publicly hanged. The men honored are Giuseppe Di Fatta, Francesco Di Fatta, Pasquale Di Fatta, Giovanni Cerami and Rosario Fiduccia. Three of the men were brothers and all were related.
On Friday, March 19, 2021, a Mississippi State Historical Marker was dedicated at their burial site at the Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Miss. Antoinette Fatta Helton, Linda Fatta Ott, and Deborah Helton Flores—descendants of Giuseppe Di Fatta—sponsored the Historical Marker to ensure the men will never be forgotten. Ott, Giuseppe’s great-granddaughter, officiated the ceremony and other family members participated. Father Rusty Vincent of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Vicksburg blessed the burial site.
“Giuseppe’s son, Nicolo Di Fatta ‘Nick Fatta’ anguished over the fact that his father did not receive a proper Catholic burial,” said Ott, Nick’s granddaughter. “Nick passed away in Houston in 1967 and his family knows he too can finally rest in peace. Nick would be very proud of this ceremony and what the marker represents.”
More than 60 people gathered for the dedication ceremony to honor the Italians who were victims of this horrible crime. The descendants of the victims, Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Tallulah Mayor Charles Finlayson, fellow Italian Americans, historians, and friends gathered at the gravesite to show respect for the men and to hear the story of what led up to the horrible deaths these men faced. Cynthia Savaglio, a University of Tampa Assistant professor who wrote a screenplay about the Tallulah lynching, was asked to speak and present the truth of what led up to the murders. After the lynching event in 1899, American Newspapers and magazines wrote incorrect information in an attempt to justify the actions of the lynchers. The truth has finally been told and the victims have been vindicated.
All five Italians emigrated from Cefalu, Sicily, to Louisiana in hope of making a better life for their families. Sadly, they were the victims of racism and murder at the hands of the men they served in their grocery stores in the town of Tallulah. The event triggered an international incident with Italy; the fact that those men who performed the lynchings were never brought to justice caused anger and tension between Italy and the United States. President William Mckinley vowed to make the incident a priority and to bring the men responsible to justice. However, that never occurred. In the President’s December 1899 state of the union address, he stated in part:
For the fourth time in the present decade, question has arisen with the Government of Italy in regard to the Lynching of Italian subjects. The latest of these deplorable events occurred at Tallulah, Louisiana, whereby five unfortunates of Italian origin were taken from jail and hanged.
Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi recently wrote a letter to Giuseppe’s family regarding the monument for Giuseppe, Francisco, Pasquale, Giovanne and Rosario. He stated, “This state historical marker will ensure that Mississippians will remember their names so that we will never repeat the tragedy of the past.”
The Mayor of Cefalu, Rosario Lapunzina, also wrote to the family in which he sincerely and wisely stated: “In today’s world, there are too many signs that the terrible history of the tenth and twentieth centuries can be repeated, and that racism, prejudice and human stupidity are now a daily occurrence. For this reason, each of us has the duty to educate young people in the values of solidarity, acceptance and respect.” (Translated from Italian to English)
The victims’ families believe this Historical Marker will serve as an acknowledgment of the wrong doings that occurred 122 years ago and a step forward to healing. Certainly, the five Italians shall never be forgotten.