Failure of American Civil War and Reconstruction

I’ve read much about the Civil War and some about the Reconstruction that followed, and now I’ve read the book Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family by Gail Lumet Buckley.1 The Civil War gave African Americans, who I understand prefer to be called blacks (though Buckley frequently calls them by the alternative name, Negros), their freedom from Southern slavery (13th Amendment to Consititution), as well as citizenship (14th Amendment to Constitution) and, for male blacks, the right to vote (15th Amendment to the Constitution); however, as the result of the Compromise of 1877 which made Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the president, because he agreed to end reconstruction forcing blacks from voting booths for the better part of a century,13 and giving white Southerners the power to do everything they could to stop blacks from equal protection under the law, using state laws and law enforcement:

  1. To keep blacks segregated with Jim Crow laws and other means.
  2. To make it very difficult for Blacks to register to vote by creating voter registration tests.
  3. To scare blacks from using their right to vote, killing them when necessary with support of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK), and support of these activities by law enforcement.
  4. To use every means possible to limit black people’s access to the same quality of education and job opportunities as afforded to whites.

It’s so disturbing to me that these activities happened, some of which I have detailed below, excluding most of the events after the early 1960s (unless otherwise noted these facts are from The Black Calhouns1). As a result of these events blacks came to see themselves as humans marked by their skin as someone to be ‘hunted, hanged, abused, discriminated against, kept in poverty and ignorance’, all to prove to the white man that he was superior:

  • Starting in the 1870’s, Birmingham, Alabama was built with free black convict labor ‘slaves’ who were bought to work in iron and coal mines to live in horror from multiple daily beatings and with very little food.
  • In 1881, Tennessee adopted the first Jim Crow law requiring blacks to use separate railway carriages from whites, and this was quickly followed by many other state laws that “kept blacks isolated, oppressed, impoverished, uneducated, liable to lynching, and still working without fair recompense” as they did as slaves. 1
  • In 1883, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 which barred discrimination in public accommodations and on public conveyances on land and water, and prohibited exclusion of blacks from jury duty, was declared unconstitutional.
  • Between 1883 and 1896, 1280 blacks, including women and children, were lynched, and in 1892, Ida Wells-Barnett started keeping statistics of the killings of blacks, later documented by the NAACP3 and others8.
  • In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld both Jim Crow laws and white supremacy in Plessy v. Ferguson stating it was “powerless to eradicate racial instincts or abolish distinctions based on physical differences.”
  • In 1897, James Weldon Johnson, from Jacksonville, Florida’s free black colony and educated at Atlanta University, was given the Florida bar exam, when one of white examiners refused to admit a black man.
  • Between 1890 and 1910, 200,000 blacks left the South to get away from the Jim Crow laws, fear and violence in the South, and settle in mostly cities in the North where they could vote and have legal recourse against attacks.
  • In 1898, white supremacists stormed Wilmington, North Carolina, destroying black-owned businesses, killing blacks, and forcing a coalition of black and white politicians to resign from elected positions.14
  • By the beginning of the 20th century, slavery was romanticized in movies and songs.
  • In June 1906, the new Governor of Georgia, M. Hoke Smith stated: “Legislation can be passed which will … get rid of 95% of the Negro voters.”1
  • On September 24, 1906, four black assaults on white women were reported as rapes, which later proved false, but triggered a race war in which black-owned businesses were burned or smashed, some black men, women and boys were killed, including black barbers and their white clients who were beaten to death; trolleys and streetcars with black men and women were attacked and some beaten to death, and, finally at midnight, the governor called out the militia, but rioting did not stop until 2 AM on Sunday, when killing continued in black suburbs through Sunday, with a police riot against black people in Brownsville, Georgia, and in this riot, police actually arrested 24 white rioters some who were sentenced to the maximum time on the chain gang.
  • On October 1, 1906 (the following Sunday), blacks prepared to fight with weapons from their homes on Houston Street in Atlanta where a mob was marching to ‘clean out the niggers’, and when shots were fired the mob with torches and clubs broke.
  • In 1915, racially biased silent movie Birth of a Nation was released with black-faced actors portraying blacks “as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women” and the KKK as an importance force to protect white supremacist values, likely reenergizing the KKK2 and triggering increases in the number of lynchings at a time.1
  • In 1916, the Atlanta Board of Education wanted to stop providing seventh grade for black children and to build a new high school for whites, while eighth grade was ended in 1914 and no high schools were provided for blacks either though blacks could pay tuition at Atlanta University to provide a high school education to their children, and as a result a protest was planned on the ABE meeting date, but this date was moved earlier when the ABE learned of the protest, yet a petition was submitted demanding more modern grammar schools as well as continued 7th grade; a few days later the ABE dropped its plans to terminate provision of 7th grade and agreed to float a bond for improved schools and then the ABE decided to spend no bond money on black schools.
  • In 1917, the worst race riot in U.S. history happened in East St. Louis when whites worried that blacks could steal the election and take white jobs at the striking Aluminum Ore Company, with whites stirring up racist feelings by publishing false stories about black crimes including rape and when rumor circulated that a black man had killed a white man, the riot started during which (1) black homes were burned with residents shot as they ran out, with reports of a baby taken from an escaping mother to toss it back into the flames, (2) blacks were lynched, and (3) blacks were dragged off of streetcars to be killed, while cameras were smashed and the National Guard did nothing but to encourage mobs.
  • Also in 1917, the New York Age publication stated “they would allow no nigger to wear a uniform that a white man was bound to honor.”
People responsible for the majority of lynchings were never persecuted for the crime
  • In April 1919, Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States,1889-1918 was published by the NAACP detailing the locations of 2,522 blacks killed by lynching mobs, a total of 78.2 percent of the total number of mob lynchings throughout the U.S. and most of these in the South,3 what Mark Twain called “The United States of Lyncherdom”.1,4
  • In May 1919, a newly widowed and pregnant Mary Turner, whose husband had been one of 13 men killed in manhunt to avenge a white man’s death, threatened to have her husband’s murderer’s arrested, had herself lynched by tying her ankles, hanging her upside down, and setting her on fire with gasoline, but before dying the killers split her abdomen open and crushed the fetus that was soon to be delivered.
  • In 1930, Southern school districts spent $44.31 on each white child, but only $12.57 on each black child.
  • In the 1930’s, government relief was distributed by the states, so any blacks in the South did not get a fair allocation.
  • In 1931, 9 Scottsboro boys were accused of raping two white girls, and though the girls later told the truth that they had not been raped by these boys, it wasn’t until 1950 before the last Scottsboro boy was freed.
  • In 1943, the U.S.A., the South, had three race riots, very bloody affairs, especially for blacks.
  • In 1944, black Missionary colleges were failing due to diminishing Southern state support.
  • In 1946, a sign posted on a black church read “The first nigger to vote will never vote again”, an indication of the extreme violence in the South after the war associated with voting rights, e.g., Maceo Snipes, a black veteran and only black to vote in Taylor County, Georgia, was shot the day after the election of 1946, and many more examples exist.5
  • For many years, playing sports, like baseball and football, in many city parks in the South was denied to blacks.
  • Also, blacks were rarely given roles in movies because Southerners refused to attend movies that included blacks.
  • And never call a black ‘Sir’, ‘Madam’, ‘Mr.’, ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss.’

Even in the North there were racial insults to blacks (again, unless otherwise referenced, these facts all come from Black Calhouns1):

  • In 1863, even before the end of the Civil War, blacks were lynched by Irish mobs, and the Colored Orphan Asylum was put to torch while orphans remained in the building.
  • In 1900, a race riot erupted in New York City in which blacks were assaulted as they returned home from work by white street gangs with 60 people injured, mostly blacks, and no action was ever taken against police involved in riot.6
  • In much of the early 20th century, whites, even immigrants were hired before native blacks, and American labor unions did not accept black members.
  • In 1908, riots at screenings of the Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries heavyweight boxing match may have caused producers to keep blacks out of their movies.
  • In 1910, the ‘Black Peril’ hysteria meant that blacks, with few exceptions like Bert Williams, could not be actors in the theatre district, nor could they attend plays or restaurants in the theatre district, forcing talented blacks to perform only in Harlem, at venues like The Lafayette.
  • In 1917, the Fifteenth New York, a black regiment, was not allowed to join the “Farewell to Little Old New York” parade involving the ‘Rainbow Division’ because black was not a color of the rainbow.
  • Between 1930 and 1939, 119 blacks were lynched.
  • In 1933, 25.4% of urban blacks were on relief.
  • In 1934, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) rejected pleas to integrate blacks, but the AFL kept separate black and white unions.
  • Also in 1934, Blumstein’s department store in Harlem formed the Harlem Merchant’s Association to ensure that only whites were hired as employees.
  • In 1935, blacks rioted about police brutality and racial hiring practices.
  • In 1936, the Nazis claimed their racist practices were based on those in the U.S.A.
Blacks being pulld out of trolleys
  • On June 20, 1943, a race riot began and lasted three days in Detroit after rumors that a black woman and her baby had been thrown off a bridge, and that two white women were raped and murdered by blacks, causing whites to start the riot pulling blacks out of cars, buses and movie theatres to attack them, and blacks returned the violence by smashing white-owned stores in their black ghetto, with 25 blacks killed, 17 by police, and only 9 whites killed
  • On July 12, 1951, the Chicago race riot started when a bus driver, a veteran, tried moving to an apartment in Cicero, Illinois causing whites to smash apartment windows, and set fire to furniture.
  • Before the civil rights supreme court decisions in the 1950s and legislation in the 1960s, about 22 unions discriminated against blacks.

Other racial issues were tied to Federal government decisions (again, unless otherwise referenced, these facts all come from Black Calhouns1):

  • In 1917, blacks could not serve as soldiers, but instead were given manual labor jobs as long as they didn’t carry a firing weapon; however, blacks could fight non-white Filipinos, Mexicans and Indians, but not whites.
  • In 1919, the 369th Infantry Regiment, previously the Fifteenth New York that became attached to the French Army, a.k.a., the “Harlem Hellfighters”, were the most highly decorated American unit, but U.S. government made sure the French did not mention the 369th in postwar documents, while disallowing this unit from marching in victory parades in France.
  • In the 30’s and beyond, Federal policies, like policies created as part of the New Deal, when implemented in the South by racist administrators, the poor are denied of their assistance, including social security, such that blacks came to know the New Deal as the ‘Dirty Deal’.
  • Also in 1935, the NAACP stopped supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt because he would not support an antilynching bill, which his Southern Democrat supporters did not want, even though Eleanor Roosevelt, his wife wanted him to support it.
  • In 1939, racists were hoping a bill called the Greater Liberia Act to send blacks back-to-Africa would be passed, but it did not because Democrats including Roosevelt, needed white Southern support more than black votes.
  • In April 1948, Eisenhower testified against desegregation of the military stating that segregation was required to maintain unit cohesion.12
  • Later in 1948, the southern Dixiecrat faction of the Democratic party was created to counter Truman’s effort to gain civil rights for blacks, but Truman still won the 1948 election.
  • In 1962, James Meredith, a black man, tried to register at the University of Mississippi, and all white school, resulting in riots with two dead, 100s wounded, and many arrested for which President Kennedy called on the National Guardsmen and other forces to allow James Meredith to complete his registration.11
  • On May 11, 1963, bombings targeting blacks in Birmingham, Alabama thought to involve the KKK and the Birmingham police triggered a riot in which blacks burned businesses and fought police after which President Kennedy put 18,000 soldiers on alert saying “the people who’ve gotten out of hand are not the white people, but the Negroes by and large,” saving his face with white Southern voters.9
Black non-violent protester, John Lewis being beaten by police.
  • On March 7, 1965, after the fatal shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson on February 26th by Alabama State Trouper James Fowler, a civil rights protest march by blacks in Selma led by recently deceased and extensively honored Congressman John Lewis, then president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in coordination with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), during which protesters including Lewis were clubbed giving Lewis a fractured skull among 55 other injured blacks who were treated at local black hospitals, with the day now being called ‘Bloody Sunday’.10

Between 1953 and 1965, the NAACP had their Fight for Freedom eventually obtaining Supreme Court decisions and Federal legislation, culminated by the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1965 that would eventually lead to a reduction in racial discrimination and increased efforts at desegregation. Though the U.S. Bill of Rights and this CRA of 1965, were and still are resisted by many white Southerners now frequently labeled white supremacists who continue to work to elect Federal, State and Local government officials, including the President of the United States, some progress has been made, while a systemic racism still exists throughout the U.S., and especially in law enforcement organizations, as witnessed in 2020 by killings like George Floyd, and further substantiated by the killings of an additional 163 blacks by police in 2020.7

Will this country ever look back, make amends by correcting the systemic racism in this country, and provide restitution to blacks for all that whites in the U.S.A. have benefited from for 400 years?

References

  1. Buckley, Gail Lumet. Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25779651-the-black-calhouns.
  2. The Birth of a Nation.” In Wikipedia, January 4, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Birth_of_a_Nation&oldid=998180574.
  3. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918. New York : National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Office, 1919. http://archive.org/details/thirtyyearsoflyn00nati.
  4. Twain, Mark. “The United States of Lyncherdom,” n.d. Wikisource. Accessed January 5, 2021. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_United_States_of_Lyncherdom
  5. Buckley, Gail Lumet.1 pages 336-338.
  6. Mack, Will. “The New York City Race Riot (1900).” Accessed January 5, 2021. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1900-new-york-city-race-riot-1900/.
  7. “Police in the U.S. Killed 164 Black People in the First 8 Months of 2020. These Are Their Names. (Part II: May-August).” Accessed January 6, 2021. https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/black-people-killed-by-police-in-the-us-in-2020-part-2/.
  8. BlackPast. “Lynchings in The United States Since 1865.” Accessed January 6, 2021. https://www.blackpast.org/special-features/lynchings-united-states-1865/.
  9. “Birmingham Riot of 1963.” In Wikipedia, October 28, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Birmingham_riot_of_1963&oldid=985905184.
  10. Encyclopedia of Alabama. “Bloody Sunday.” Accessed January 7, 2021. http://encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1876.
  11. Editors, History.com. “James Meredith at Ole Miss.” HISTORY. Accessed January 7, 2021. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/ole-miss-integration.
  12. Allen, John R. “Like Truman’s Military Desegregation Order, Leadership against Racism Starts at the Top.” Brookings (blog), July 26, 2019. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2019/07/26/like-trumans-military-desegregation-order-leadership-against-racism-starts-at-the-top/.
  13. Snyder, Timothy. “The American Abyss.” The New York Times, January 9, 2021, sec. Magazine. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/magazine/trump-coup.html.
  14. “Wilmington 1898: When White Supremacists Overthrew a US Government.” BBC News, January 17, 2021, sec. US & Canada. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55648011.

Author: T.P. Caruso

Retired from a healthcare and biomedical research career and now enjoying connections with anyone interested in history, geneology, healthcare, leadership or consciousness.

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