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Statues With Limitations: Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past week I have written a number of articles about what happened in Charlottesville and I have promised to write something about the Confederate Monument controversy. Last night I posted an article about that controversy in light of one particular monument in Colfax, Louisiana, the site of one of the most brutal massacres committed in the name of White Supremacy in our nation’s history. I do hope that you read it and share it. 

Likewise I have I have posted quite a few articles and links to articles regarding what happened at Charlottesville and the subsequent debate about removing Confederate statues on my Facebook and Twitter pages. 

Today I am beginning a two part article dealing with my thoughts on the monuments themselves. This section is more of a background article before part two which will deal with my thoughts about the monuments themselves in the broader context of them, as well as other monuments not necessarily connected with the Confederate monuments. 

First, as to the Confederate Monuments, my comments are not meant to impugn the lives of people’s ancestors. My family on both my paternal and maternal sides fought as members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry on the side of the Confederacy even though their part of Virginia officially sided with the Union. One of them, the family patriarch on my paternal side was a slave holder who after the war refused to swear his allegiance to the United States and probably was a member of White Supremacist groups after the war. There is no doubt of what he fought for, and the fact that he was a traitor and remained a traitor to our country. I don’t know as many details about the maternal side except they were part of the same regiment, except that they were not subject to conscription and as such all volunteered willingly to fight against the United States. For that is a problem, I find it hard to honor their military service because it was against the United States. There are no records that I know of, no letters that they wrote which say what they thought, and they are not “mentioned in dispatches” (the manner in which the Confederate Army honored soldiers) for any particular gallantry, in fact the history of the regiment mentions that my paternal family patriarch deserted in February of 1865. 

I do draw a distinction between the kinds of men that served in the Confederate Army. In particular I make a distinction between those that were eager volunteers for the Confederacy and those who were unwilling conscripted in the Confederate Draft beginning in early 1862 because the Confederate Army could not get enough willing volunteers. These men were drafted, often against their will. Most had no means to pay for a substitute or did not have political connections. Interestingly one of the notable exemptions to the Confederate Draft were the men who were exempted  because they owned more than ten slaves or worked for someone that owned more than 20 slaves. This was known as the Twenty Slave Rule, which modified in Draft Law of 1864 to 15 slaves. As you can imagine many poor Whites who owned no slaves found the rule to be quite unjust, but privilege is just that, quite unjust. 

As a result the conscripts were frequently abused by the willing volunteers and frequently deserted. When found, most were summarily executed following a Drumhead Trial. As the war became more desperate, deserters were summarily exectuted without trial. Hundreds of deserters from the Army of Northern Virginia were executed in the last months of the war by the direct order of Robert E. Lee simply because they were trying to go home to their families who had been displaced by the advance of Sherman’s army in Georgia and the Carolinas. These men were victims of the war and secessionist leaders as much as anyone. If you read some of their letters they are heartbreaking. 

Those who volunteered to serve the Confederate cause, especially men who had been officers in the United States Army or Navy no-matter their reason for serving the Confederacy, their gallantry as soldiers, battlefield heroics, leadership skills, or tactical brilliance were traitors to the United States. Yes they were Americans, and many had served honorably before the Civil War, but that makes them no less traitors. After the war a good number of the survivors reconciled with the Union, opposed the growing myth of the Lost Cause, and took no part in subsequent violence or in implementing discriminatory measures against the now free Blacks. Among the most prominent of these men were Lee’s lieutenants James Longstreet, Richard Ewell, John Mosby, and Billy Mahone. I have no doubt that A.P. Hill would have joined them had he not been killed in action at the end of the war, and following the war his widow opposed Jubal Early and other proponents of the Lost Cause. Robert E. Lee himself did reconcile and opposed the use of the Confederate flags, uniforms, and monuments. I will explore Lee’s actions before, during and after the war in another article that I have already started to draft. 

Interestingly, very few monuments, except those on battlefields are dedicated to these men in the South, except from Robert E. Lee who ironically wanted no part of them. Nor are there monuments in the South to Southern officers who remained loyal to the Union during the war including Generals Winfield Scott, George Thomas, John Buford, John Gibbon, Montgomery Miegs, and Admiral David Farragut. 

Likewise there is another class of men who have to be considered when dealing with the Monument Controversy. These were the political leaders whose actions led directly to the deaths of three quarters of a million men, including hundreds of thousands of Southern men, and the destruction of much of the South. How even the most devoted Southerner who wants to honor their soldiers can tolerate monuments to these leaders in their back yards is beyond me. These were also the men who ensured that every state legislature made sure that the primary reason they gave for secession in their various articles of secession was preserving and expanding slavery, while maintain white superiority. As Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens noted in his Cornerstone Speech:

“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

There is a final group that needs to be considered. These were Confederate veterans, including notables like General Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as men who did not serve in the war who joined paramilitaries that terrorized and killed newly free blacks. There were others who established the Black Codes which were pre-Jim Crow laws that placed many former slaves into a form of slavery by other means, imprisoning them and making them forced laborers on plantations, and businesses, many owned by Northerners. 

Racism and slavery was at the heart of the war, and it was not just a Southern problem. Many Northern businesses and banks had a strong financial interest in slavery, and there was a strong anti-war, pro-Confederate movement in the North that fully approved of slavery, the post-war Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Likewise there were many Northerners who were just as racist before, during and after the war. There were and are still are many Sundown Towns in the North and states that were never a part of the Confederacy. In no way can Northerners be fully excused from the crime of slavery, nor can they be absolved of being as racist any pro-slavery Confederate or Jim Crow proponent. Some of these men have monuments built in their honor which likewise should be examined if we are going to talk about the Confederate monuments. 

As to the monuments themselves, the vast majority were erected after the Plessy v. Ferguson case that legalized the Jim Crow Laws and empowered the movement to disenfranchise blacks, to fire them from positions in Federal and State governments, and to use violence against Blacks to keep them in line. Almost all of the monuments which were erected between 1895 and 1930 were put up not to honor the men who served but to remind Blacks of their status. The same is true of the next major surge of monument building which occurred during the Civil Rights movement, again to demonstrate to Blacks that they were subordinate to Whites, and many of these monuments were erected in places where no Confederate soldiers came from, and others which commemorate men who committed terrorist acts and murder against Blacks in the years after the war. In many case these monuments are located in cities and towns that are heavily African American. Two of these are no far from where I live in Norfolk and Portsmouth Virginia. They have different histories which I think leads to a discussion about their context. 

So, that is some of the background. I’ve written a lot about slavery, secession, and Jim Crow and will put some of those articles out again, and tomorrow I will have my proposal on what I think should be done with the various monuments. This will take into the context each type of monument and how to respectfully deal with them and how people feel about them, both opponents and supporters. In looking at what I wrote here the series may well be more than two parts. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

A Monument to Murder

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of the Confederate Monument controversy I am posting a part of one of my book drafts regarding the Colfax Massacre. This event occurred eight years after the Civil War ended when hundreds of heavily armed men from the White Liners, a White Supremacist movement in Louisiana attacked the town of Colfax on Easter Sunday 1863. There are monuments to the murderers, one which I have included in this article.

When it comes to the monuments everything depends on context. Since the vast majority of the monuments were placed in the aftermath of Plessy v. Ferguson during the height of the Jim Crow Era, and many others as a reaction to the Civil Rights Movement there is no doubt that those that erected them intended them to be symbols which reminded Blacks of their inferior place.

I am in the process of writing a number of articles dealing with the monuments.  This is not because I am trying in any way to denigrate the lives of ordinary Confederate soldiers, many of whom were drafted against their will beginning in 1862 because there were not enough volunteers. Many of those conscripted soldiers died in hopeless battles and others when they attempted to desert from the Army of Northern Virginia to help their families when Sherman’s Army marched through Georgia and the Carolinas, were summarily executed on the orders of General Robert E. Lee.

Likewise this is not an indictment of men who men who were gallant soldiers who in volunteering to serve alongside their friends and fellow townspeople fought for a abhorrent cause, as many of them didn’t see their fight in that manner. If you read their letters and correspondence on can see a number of different reasons that they fought, some were true believers in the Confederacy and Slavery, but others were not. But to be sure their leaders did understand.

In the case of the Colfax massacre, some of the men involved were former Confederate soldiers, while others either never served or were to young to serve in the war. But at Colfax they were not soldiers, they were terrorists. In this case the heritage is hate. Interestingly the historical marker on the site terms in a “riot” not a massacre or act of terrorism and in blames in on “Carpetbagger misrule.”

So anyway, that is why the context of the various monuments matters. You’ll see more over the next few days, but this is something that matters more than a meme, more than a false comparison of being on a slippery slope to removing the statues of George Washington and other Founding Fathers who owned slaves.

Here is the excerpt from my book.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The violence against Southern blacks escalated in the wake of the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and with the increasing number of blacks being elected to office in some Southern states during the elections of 1872. In Louisiana a Federal court ruled in favor of Republican Reconstruction candidates following a Democrat campaign to interfere with the vote, which included attacks on polling sites and the theft of ballot boxes. As a result the Louisiana Democrats “established a shadow government and organized paramilitary unit known as the White League to intimidate and attack black and white Republicans.” [1]

The White League in Louisiana was particularly brutal in its use of violence. The worst massacre committed by the White League occurred Easter Sunday 1873 when it massacred blacks in Colfax, Louisiana. Colfax was an isolated nondescript hamlet about three hundred fifty miles northwest of New Orleans. It sat on the grounds of a former plantation whose owner, William Calhoun, who worked with the former slaves who were now freedmen. The town itself“composed of only a few hundred white and black votes” [2] was located in the newly established Grant Parish. The “parish totaled about 4,500, of whom about 2,400 were Negroes living on the lowlands along the east bank of the Red.” [3] Between 1869 and 1873 the town and the parish were the scene of numerous violent incidents and following the 1872 elections, the whites of the parish were out for blood.

White leaders in Grant Parish “retaliated by unleashing a reign of terror in rural districts, forcing blacks to flee to Colfax for protection.” [4]The blacks of parish fled to the courthouse seeking protection from a violent white mob following the brutal murder of a black farmer and his family on the outskirts of town. The people of Colfax, protected by just a few armed black militiamen and citizens deputized by the sheriff took shelter in the courthouse knowing an attack by the White Supremacists was coming.  As the White League force assembled one of its leaders told his men what the day was about. He said, “Boys, this is a struggle for white supremacy….There are one hundred-sixty-five of us to go into Colfax this morning. God only knows who will come out. Those who do will probably be prosecuted for treason, and the punishment for treason is death.” [5] The attack by over 150 heavily armed men of the White League, most of whom were former Confederate soldiers, killed at least seventy-one and possibly as many as three-hundred blacks. Most of the victims were killed as they tried to surrender. The people, protected by just a few armed men were butchered or burned alive by the armed terrorist marauders. It was “the bloodiest peacetime massacre in nineteenth-century America.” [6]

The instigators of the attack claimed that they acted in self-defense. They claimed that “armed Negroes, stirred up by white Radical Republicans, seized the courthouse, throwing out the rightful officeholders: the white judge and sheriff” and they claimed that the blacks had openly proclaimed “their intention to kill all the white men, they boasted they would use white women to breed a new race.” [7]The claims were completely fabricated, after sending veteran former army officers who were serving in the Secret Service to investigate, the U.S. Attorney for Louisiana, J.R. Beckwith sent an urgent telegram to the Attorney General:

“The Democrats (White) of Grant Parish attempted to oust the incumbent parish officers by force and failed, the sheriff protecting the officers with a colored posse. Several days afterward recruits from other parishes, to the number of 300, came to the assistance of the assailants, when they demanded the surrender of the colored people. This was refused. An attack was made and the Negroes were driven into the courthouse. The courthouse was fired and the Negroes slaughtered as they left the burning building, after resistance ceased. Sixty-five Negroes terribly mutilated were found dead near the ruins of the courthouse. Thirty, known to have been taken prisoners, are said to have been shot after the surrender, and thrown into the river. Two of the assailants were wounded. The slaughter is greater than the riot of 1866 in this city. Will send report by mail.” [8]

Federal authorities arrested nine white men in the wake of the massacre and after two trials in which white majority juries were afraid to go against public opinion, three were “convicted of violating the Enforcement Act of 1871.” [9] None were convicted of murder despite the overwhelming evidence against them and even the lesser convictions enraged the White Supremacists in Louisiana who had employed the best lawyers possible and provided them and the defendants with unlimited financial backing. Assisted by the ruling of Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Bradley, who had a long history of neglecting Southern racism, white Democrats appealed the convictions to the Supreme Court.

The attack, and the court cases which followed, notably the judgment of the Supreme Court in United States v. Cruickshank which dealt with the appeal of the men responsible for the Colfax Massacre led to a “narrowing of Federal law enforcement authority” and were “milestones on the road to a “solid” Democratic South.” [10] The decision of the court in United States v. Cruikshank was particularly perverse in its interpretation of constitutional rights and protections. The court ruled in favor of the terrorists and declared that “the right of the black victims at Colfax to assemble hand not been guaranteed because they were neither petitioning Congress nor protesting a federal law. Assembling for any other cause was not protected.” [11] The Cruikshank decision amounted to a Supreme Court endorsement of violence against blacks, and made it “impossible for the federal government to prosecute crimes against blacks unless they were perpetrated by a state and unless it could prove a racial motive unequivocally.” [12] Northern politicians and newspapers, reeling under the effects of the stock market crash of 1873, which had denounced the massacre just a year before now ran from the story and from support of African Americans. A Republican office holder wrote, “The truth is, our people are tired out with this worn cry of ‘Southern outrages…. Hard times and heavy taxes make them wish the ‘nigger,’ the ‘everlasting nigger,’ were in hell or Africa.” [13] Racism and race hatred was not exclusively the parlance of the South.

In the wake of Justice Bradley’s reversal of the Colfax convictions whites in Grant Parish engaged in brutal reprisals against blacks, leading to many murders and lynching’s, crimes which law enforcement, even that favorable to the rights of African Americans were afraid to prosecute for fear of their own lives. Louisiana’s Republican Governor, William Pitt Kellogg wrote Attorney General Williams blaming the violence on Bradley’s ruling, which he wrote, “was regarded as establishing the principle that hereafter no white man could be punished for killing a negro, and as virtually wiping the Ku Klux laws of the statute books.” He added that with the Army leaving the state that his government and other Reconstruction governments would fall, “if Louisiana goes,” Kellogg wrote, “Mississippi will inevitably follow and, that end attained, all the results of the war so far as the colored people are concerned will be neutralized, all the reconstruction acts of Congress will be of no more value than so much waste paper and the colored people, though free in name, will be practically remitted back to servitude.” [14] Governor Kellogg could not have been more correct.

In the years that followed many of the men involved in the massacre and other murders before and after were hailed as heroes, some, including the leader of the attackers, Christopher Columbus Nash were again appointed to office in Colfax and Grant Parish and blacks were reminded every day of just what they had lost. On April 13th 1921 the men who committed the massacre were honored with a memorial in the Colfax cemetery honoring them as “Heroes… who fell in the Colfax Riot fighting for White Supremacy.” In 1951 the State of Louisiana Department of Commerce and Industry dedicated a marker outside the Courthouse which read: “On the site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three White men and 150 Negroes were slain, this event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of Carpetbag misrule in the South.”[15] That marker still stands, there is no marker commemorating the victims.

Other massacres followed across the South, aimed at both blacks and their white Republican allies. In Louisiana the White League had some 14,000 men under arms, in many cases drilling as military units led by former Confederate officers. A White League detachment southwest of Shreveport “forced six white Republicans to resign their office on pain of death – and then brutally murdered them after they had resigned.” [16] This became known as the Coushatta Massacre and it was a watershed because for the first time the White League targeted whites as well as African Americans. The violence, now protected by the courts ensured that neither would last long in the post-Reconstruction South and that the freedom of African Americans in those states would amount to a cruel illusion.

In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant including comments about the Colfax massacre and the subsequent court decisions in his message to Congress. Grant was angry and wrote: “Fierce denunciations ring through the country about office-holding and election matters in Louisiana…while every one of the Colfax miscreants goes unwhipped of justice, and no way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous crime.” [17]President Grant, the man who so wanted to help African Americans attain the full measure of freedom, was unable to do more as the Congress and Courts took sides with the Southern insurgents.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.151

[2] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.312

[3] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.42

[4] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[5] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.91

[6] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.493

[7] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.11

[8] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.22

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.494

[10] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.251

[11] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.314

[12] Ibid. Goldfield American Aflame p.494

[13] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.213

[14] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.217

[15] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died pp.261-262

[16] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 185

[17] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.228

 

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We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In a few days we as Americans will be celebrating the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. As the day approaches I’ll be writing more reflections on what it means even as I intersperse some articles on the Battle of Gettysburg, a victory that helped ensure that the Union would survive and that helped to pave the way for the understanding that the Declaration must be understood in its universal sense. In a day like ours where many localities, states, and even the Federal government appear to be working to limit those rights, often based on the religious beliefs of a powerful, well-funded and militant minority of conservative Christians, this all the more important.

For me it is the truth both of a concept of Liberty which must continuously be advanced or expanded, and the still imperfect embodiment of that concept in the land that it was born. The authors of the declaration wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…”  Eighty-seven years later while dedicating the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg noted that the new nation was “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

Lincoln understood from the reality of war, and the statements of European leaders that the whole concept of a country being founded on a proposition like this, not race, not class, not religion, not station in life, was bound to be opposed, and was incredibly fragile. He confronted a rebellion which based itself on the belief that African Americans were less than equal, in fact subhuman and deserving of being enslaved by a superior race. Likewise, there were those in Europe who cheered the rebellion and believed that it proved that such experiments were doomed to failure, a belief that is still widely held, but more often by American elites than others.

But like it or not, the proposition that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights; a concept so imperfectly practiced by the very men who drafted it and those who followed them, still is right. That proposition was universalized as a political philosophy by Abraham Lincoln, is the basis of all hope for humanity. Tyrants, despots, dictators, terrorists, religious zealots of every sect filled with messianic visions, as well as madmen all desire to trample this proposition. Some desire to believe that those rights can simply be maintained by the power of a Constitution, but unless the people who swear to uphold that Constitution are dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal that very Constitution can be perverted and used to enslave people, as it was by the men who drafted the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Fugitive Slave Laws, and the Supreme Court decisions in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson cases ruled that African Americans were less than equal as human beings, and therefore not entitled to the same rights and liberties as were white people. It is the same constitution and laws that were used to deny citizenship and rights to Chinese immigrants until 1942, that were used by the government to interment native born Japanese American citizens in concentration camps during the Second World War, which drove Native Americans off their ancestral homelands, massacred them by the tens of millions, and placed them on reservations without any rights of American citizens until 1924; and which denied suffrage to women until 1919, and denied basic civil rights to LGBTQ people until recently; rights that in many states are still denied by state legislatures. But without equality, freedom is an illusion.

Judge Learned Hand, perhaps the best qualified man ever to not serve on the Supreme Court wrote,

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of othe men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.” 

That is why the proposition in the Declaration which was universalized by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address is still of the utmost importance. It is why it must be fought for, especially when politicians like Donald Trump and others threaten its very existence, and whose followers see it as only as Liberty for themselves and their interests. That proposition is under duress today, there are millions of followers of Trump and the demagogues who would deny Liberty to others based on race, religion, ethnicity, economic status, gender, or by them being LGBTQ. But, Liberty is a perilous thing, but once that proposition of Liberty dies in our hearts, there is nothing that can save it, no constitution, no law, no court; and those who place their trust in it the demagogues will find that they will eventually lose their Liberty as well.

In 1858 Lincoln spoke in Chicago, and in that speech he linked the common connection of all Americans share, even recent immigrants, through the Declaration. It was an era of intense anti-immigrant passions, the American Party, which sprang from the Know Nothing movement which founded upon extreme hatred of immigrants, and Roman Catholics, and violence against them, had run former President Millard Fillmore for election as at their candidate in 1856 following the collapse of the Whig Party.

In opposition to this party and movement  Lincoln proclaimed that immigrants, “cannot carry themselves back into that glorious epoch and make themselves feel a part of us, but when they look through that old Declaration of Independence, they find those old men say that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,… That is the father of all moral principle to them, and they have a right to claim it as if they were blood of the blood, and flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are. That is the electric cord in the Declaration that links the hearts of patriotic and Liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world.” 

Lincoln was absolutely correct, it is that love of freedom, liberty, and equality that echoes in the Declaration, and it is still a revolutionary idea. We hold these truths to be self evident…

As a historian I cannot get away from this. Whether it is in my study of European history, particularly the Weimar Republic and the Nazi takeover, or the American Civil War, especially the times I visit the Soldier’s Cemetery at Gettysburg and talk about the Gettysburg Address with my students. The breadth of my experience, having visited Dachau and Bergen-Belsen, having watched the unadulterated adulation of crowds of Germans chanting Sieg Heil!,  having grown up in this country at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and having walked so many battlegrounds where American men have died fighting such tyranny makes me all too sensitive to why this proposition is so important.

That is why the quest for the fulfillment of that proposition is something that cannot be given up, it is in the words of Lincoln, “it is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who have fought for have thus far so nobly advanced. That it is for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead should not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 

For me it is this proposition, the proposition mocked by the elites of Europe, the proposition that any republic founded on such a proposition was doomed to fail, this proposition that says “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal” is what Independence Day is about. That is why in my remaining service to this country I will rededicate myself to seeing that “new birth of freedom” is fulfilled for every American.

That may seem a pipe dream to some people, and even impossible to others; but it is what far too many of the men and women who served before me gave the last full measure of devotion to duty to bring to fulfillment. Learned Hand was right, if Liberty dies in our hearts, no law, no constitution, no court, can save us.

Have a great Independence Day and please remember it is not about the day off, the picnics, or displays of military might, it is about that proposition; the one that is so easy to forget, the proposition that all men are created equal.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Robert Smalls and Freedom

Robert Smalls 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am going to be busy the next couple of days working on some things for my literary agent that hopefully will help my book Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era move towards publication. So for the next few days I will probably post very short articles of re-runs of older ones. This is an article that with a few minor changes that I posted here a year ago, and since today is the 155th anniversary of the act I thought it would be a good time to re-post it. I hope that you enjoy it. 

There are some people and events that are important but get swept up in broader historic events and today we remember the anniversary of an act of daring that led to freedom. This is the story of Robert Smalls, a slave in Charleston South Carolina. Smalls was hired out to work with the money going to his master. He worked in a number of jobs, but as a teenager fell in love with the sea. He went to work as a slave worker on the city’s waterfront where he started as a common dockworker, became a rigger, a sailmaker, and finally a wheelman, which basically was a ship’s pilot, since slaves were not permitted that title. Even so his abilities and knowledge of Charleston harbor well well known and respected by ship owners. 

The CSS (later USS) Planter 

When South Carolina seceded and the Confederacy went to war, Smalls was assigned as wheelman of the CSS Planter, a small and lightly armed transport. On the night of May 12th and 13th of 1862, Smalls took advantage of all three white officer’s absence ashore, by putting into effect an escape plan he had worked out with the other slave crew members of Planter. Smalls and seven other slaves got the ship underway, with Smalls donning the captain’s uniform and a straw hat similar to the captain’s. In the darkness the ruse was perfect, no Confederates ashore suspected anything as Planter stopped to pick up the escaped slaves family members at another wharf before Smalls sailed out past the range of the Confederate shore battery guns to surrender to the USS Onward. Smalls present the U.S. Navy with the ship, her cargo, which included four artillery pieces intended for a Confederate fort in the harbor, but more importantly a Confederate code book and charts showing the location of deadly undersea mines and torpedoes that had been laid in the harbor. 

Smalls quickly became a hero. Congress voted him and his crew the prize money for the ship, and he met with Secretary of War Stanton to argue the case that blacks should be allowed to serve. Smalls’ story helped convince Lincoln of allowing African Americans to serve in the United Staes forces. Smalls served as a civilian pilot working for the Navy and and the Army, serving in numerous battles. He was the pilot for the experimental ironclad USS Keokuk when that ship was heavily damaged by over 90 hits at Charleston. He was responsible for getting the ship safely out of range of the  Confederate batteries before she sank, thus saving many crew members. 

He then was reassigned to the USS Planter, now assigned to the Army. The ship got caught in a crossfire between the Union and Confederate forces and Planter’s captain ordered the ship to surrender. Smalls objected, knowing that any African American caught serving Union forces would not be treated as prisoners of war, but either returned to slavery or executed by order of the Confederate Congress. Smalls took command of the vessel and steered her out of harm’s way. He was appointed Captain of the ship and was present for the ceremonial raising of the American flag over Fort Sumter in April 1865. Smalls was the first African American to command a ship in the service of the U.S. Military.

After the war Smalls got an education and when the 14th Amendment was passed ran for office, serving in the South Carolina legislature and as a member of Congress. He fought against changes to the 1895 South Carolina Constituion that disenfhchised African Americans and codified the Jim Crow laws which had be upheld by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. 

In 1889 Smalls was appointed U.S. Collector of Customs in Beaufort and served in that office until 1911. He also was director of a black owner railroad, and helped publish the black owners Beaufort Standard newspaper. He died in 1915 at the age of 75. 

Small’s courage and his fight for freedom, as well as others who did so should not be forgotten. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy

The Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage: The XIV and XV Amendments and Ulyesses Grant’s Fight Against the KKK

14-amendment

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my continued series of articles pulled from my various Civil War texts dealing with Emancipation and the early attempts to gain civil rights for African Americans. This section that I will cover for the next few days deals with the post-war period, a period marked by conflicting political and social desires for equality, justice, revenge, and the re-victimization of Blacks who had so recently been emancipated.

I hope that you find these helpful.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Passage of the Fourteenth Amendment

The situation for newly emancipated blacks in the South continued to deteriorate as the governors appointed by President Johnson supervised elections, which elected new governors, and all-white legislatures composed chiefly of former Confederate leaders. Freedom may have been achieved, but the question as to what it meant was still to be decided, “What is freedom?” James A. Garfield later asked. “Is it the bare privilege of not being chained?… If this is all, then freedom is a bitter mockery, a cruel delusion.” [1] The attitude of the newly elected legislatures and the new governors toward emancipated blacks was shown by Mississippi’s new governor, Benjamin G. Humphreys, a former Confederate general who was pardoned by Andrew Johnson in order to take office. In his message to the legislature Humphreys declared:

“Under the pressure of federal bayonets, urged on by the misdirected sympathies of the world, the people of Mississippi have abolished the institution of slavery. The Negro is free, whether we like it or not; we must realize that fact now and forever. To be free does not make him a citizen, or entitle him to social or political equality with the white man.”  [2]

Johnson’s continued defiance of Congress alienated him from the Republican majority who passed legislation over Johnson’s veto to give black men the right to vote and hold office, and to overturn the white only elections which had propelled so many ex-Confederates into political power. Over Johnson’s opposition Congress took power over Reconstruction and “Constitutional amendments were passed, the laws for racial equality were passed, and the black man began to vote and to hold office.” [3] Congress passed measures in 1867 that mandated that the new constitutions written in the South provide for “universal suffrage and for the temporary political disqualification of many ex-Confederates.” [4]  As such many of the men elected to office in 1865 were removed from power, including Governor Humphreys who was deposed in 1868.

These measures helped elect bi-racial legislatures in the South, which for the first time enacted a series of progressive reforms including the creation of public schools. “The creation of tax-supported public school systems in every state of the South stood as one of Reconstruction’s most enduring accomplishments.” [5] By 1875 approximately half of all children in the South, white and black were in school. While the public schools were usually segregated and higher education in tradition White colleges was restricted, the thirst for education became a hallmark of free African Americans across the county. In response to discrimination black colleges and universities opened the doors of higher education to many blacks.  Sadly, the White Democrat majorities that came to power in Southern states after Reconstruction rapidly defunded the public primary school systems that were created during Reconstruction.  Within a few years spending for on public education for white as well black children dropped to abysmal levels, especially for African American children, an imbalance made even worse by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson which codified the separate but equal systems.

They also ratified the Thirteenth and the Fourteenth Amendments, but these governments, composed of Southern Unionists, Northern Republicans and newly freed blacks were “elicited scorn from the former Confederates and from the South’s political class in general.” [6] Seen as an alien presence by most Southerners the Republican governments in the South faced political as well as violent opposition from defiant Southerners.

The Fourteenth Amendment was of particular importance for it overturned the Dred Scott decision, which had denied citizenship to blacks. Johnson opposed the amendment and worked against its passage by campaigning for men who would oppose it in the 1866 elections. His efforts earned him the opposition of former supporters including the influential New York Herald declared that Johnson “forgets that we have passed through a fiery ordeal of a mighty revolution, and the pre-existing order of things is gone and can return no more.” [7]

Johnson signed the Amendment but never recanted his views on the inferiority of non-white races. In his final message to Congress he wrote that even “if a state constitution gave Negroes the right to vote, “it is well-known that a large portion of the electorate in all the States, if not a majority of them, do not believe in or accept the political equality of Indians, Mongolians, or Negroes with the race to which they belong.” [8]

When passed by Congress the amendment was a watershed that would set Constitutional precedent for future laws. These would include giving both women and Native Americans women the right to vote. It would also be used by the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended the use of “separate but equal” and overturned many other Jim Crow laws. It helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965, and most recently was the basis of the Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v. Hodges, which give homosexuals the right to marry. Section one of the amendment read:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” [9]

Even so, for most white Southerners “freedom for African Americans was not the same as freedom for whites, as while whites might grant the black man freedom, they had no intention of allowing him the same legal rights as white men.” [10] As soon as planters returned to their lands they “sought to impose on blacks their definition of freedom. In contrast to African Americans’ understanding of freedom as a open ended ideal based on equality and autonomy, white southerners clung to the antebellum view that freedom meant mastery and hierarchy; it was a privilege, not a universal right, a judicial status, not a promise of equality.”  [11] In their systematic efforts to deny true freedom for African Americans these Southerners ensured that blacks would remain a lesser order of citizen, enduring poverty, discrimination, segregation and disenfranchisement for the next century.

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Ulysses S. Grant and the Fight against the Insurrection, Terrorism and Insurgency of the Ku Klux Klan, White Leagues, White Liners and Red Shirts

But these measures provoked even more violence from enraged Southerners who formed a variety of violent racist organizations which turned the violence from sporadic attacks to what amounted to a full-fledged insurgency against the new state governments and African Americans. Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan engaged in terroristic violence to heavily armed “social clubs” which operated under the aegis of the state Democratic Party leadership in most Southern states. Under the leadership of former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest whose troops had conducted the Fort Pillow massacre, the Klan’s membership throughout the South “was estimated at five hundred thousand.” [12] The majority of these men were former Confederate soldiers, although they were also joined by those who had not fought in the war, or later those who had been too young to fight in the war but even belatedly wanted to get in on the fight against the hated Yankee and his African American allies. As the shadowy organization grew it became bolder and more violent in its attacks on African Americans, Republican members of the Reconstruction governments, and even Southern Jews. The Klan spread to every State in the South and when Congress investigated in 1870 and 1871 they submitted a thirteen volume report on Klan activities, volumes that “revealed to the country an almost incredible campaign of criminal violence by whites determined to punish black leaders, disrupt the Republican Party, reestablish control over the black labor force, and restore white supremacy in every phase of southern life.” [13]

KKK-Nast

Allegedly organized for self-defense against state militia units composed of freed blacks they named themselves “White Leagues (Louisiana), White Liners or Rifle Clubs (Mississippi), or Red Shirts (South Carolina). They were, in fact, paramilitary organizations that functioned as armed auxiliaries of the Democratic Party in southern states in their drive to “redeem” the South from “black and tan Negro-Carpetbag rule.” [14] These men, mostly Confederate veterans “rode roughshod over the South, terrorizing newly freed slaves, their carpetbagger allies, and anyone who dared to imagine a biracial democracy as the war’s change.” [15] The unrequited violence and hatred by these men set the stage for the continued persecution, murder and violence against blacks and those who supported their efforts to achieve equality in the South for the next century. In truth the activities of the Klan and other violent White Supremacist groups offer “the most extensive example of homegrown terrorism in American history.” [16]

Throughout his term in office Johnson appealed to arguments used throughout later American history by “critics of civil rights legislation and affirmative action. He appealed to fiscal conservatism, raised the specter of an immense federal bureaucracy trampling on citizens’ rights, and insisted that self-help, not government handouts, was the path to individual advancement.” [17]

Ulysses S. Grant succeeded Johnson as President in 1869, and unlike his predecessor, he was a man who believed in freedom and equal rights, “For Grant, freedom and equal rights were matters of principle, not symbolism.” [18]Grant ordered his generals in the South to enforce the Reconstruction Act and when the Ku Klux Klan attempted to stop blacks from voting Grant got Congress to pass the “enforcement Act, which made racist terrorism a federal offense.” [19] He created the Justice Department to deal with crimes against Federal law and in 1871 pushed Congress to pass a law known as the Ku Klux Klan Act and sent in the army and federal agents from the Justice Department and the Secret Service to enforce the law.

Grant’s efforts using the military as well as agents of the Justice Department and the Secret Service against the Klan were hugely successful, thousands were arrested, hundreds of Klansmen were convicted and others were either driven underground or disbanded their groups. The 1872 election was the first and last in which blacks were nearly unencumbered as they voted until the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.

However, Grant’s actions triggered a political backlash that doomed Reconstruction. The seminal moment in this came 1873 when General Philip Sheridan working in Louisiana, asked Grant for “permission to arrest leaders of the White League and try them by courts-martial” [20] for their violent acts against blacks and their seizure of the New Orleans City Hall in a brazen coup attempt. The leak of Sheridan’s request sparked outrage and even northern papers condemned the president’s actions in the harshest of terms.

Apart from the effort to support voting rights for African Americans Grant’s efforts at Reconstruction were met mostly by failure. Part of this was due to weariness on the part of many Northerners to continue to invest any more effort into the effort. Slowly even proponents of Reconstruction began to retreat from it, some like Carl Schurz, were afraid that the use of the military against the Klan in the South could set precedent to use it elsewhere. Others, embraced an understanding of Social Darwinism which stood against all types of government interference what they called the “natural” workings of society, especially misguided efforts to uplift those at the bottom of the social order…and African Americans were consigned by nature to occupy the lowest rungs of the social ladder.” [21]

Southerners knew that they were winning the political battle and continued their pressure in Congress and in the media to demonize supporters of Reconstruction as well as African Americans. Southerners worked to rig the political and judicial process through the use of terror to demoralize and drive from power anyone, black or white, who supported Reconstruction. By 1870 every former Confederate state had been readmitted to the Union, in a sense fulfilling a part Lincoln’s war policy, but at the same time denying what the war was waged for a White led governments aided by the Supreme Court increasingly set about reestablishing the previous social and political order placing blacks in the position of living life under slavery by another name.

The Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment

Slavery had been abolished, and African Americans had become citizens, but in most places they did not have the right to vote. Grant used his political capital to fight for the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote. It was one of the things that he remained most proud of in his life, he noted that the amendment was, “A measure which makes at once four million people voter who were heretofore declared by the highest tribunal in the land to be not citizens of the United States, nor eligible to become so…is indeed a measure of grander importance than any other act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day.” [22]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Foner A Short History of Reconstruction p.30

[2] Ibid. Lord The Past that Would Not Die pp.11-12

[3] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.54

[4] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 178

[5] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.162

[6] Perman, Michael Illegitimacy and Insurgency in the Reconstructed South in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.451

[7] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.121

[8] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.232

[9] _____________ The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution retrieved from https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv 29 June 2015

[10] Ibid. Carpenter Sword and Olive Branch p.93

[11] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.92

[12] Lane, Charles The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction Henry Holt and Company, New York 2008  p.230

[13] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.171

[14] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 178

[15] Ibid. Jordan Marching Home p.118

[16] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.171

[17] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.116

[18] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died:  p.2

[19] Ibid. Lane The Day Freedom Died p.4

[20] Ibid. Langguth, A.J. After Lincoln p.314

[21] Ibid. Foner Forever Free pp.192-193

[22] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant’s Final Victory: Ulysses S. Grant’s Heroic Last Year DaCapo Press, Boston 2011 pp.78-79

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The Rollback and the Response: Jim Crow to Civil Rights

KKK-Nast

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I have a revised section of my Cicil War text “A Great War in an Age of Revolutionary Change.” I have being doing some final touches on it before I start working on final edits before seeking a publisher. I think it is important and timely in a day when state legislatures throughout the “Old South” are passing laws that seek to restrict voting rights against minorities and the elderly in order to diminish their political power, or to pass legislation designed to discriminate against LGBTQ people based solely on religious dogma. 

In such a world it is important to remember what happened to African Americans after Southern Whites reclaimed power following the collapse of Reconstruction.

Have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Supreme Court, Congress, the Presidents as well as state governments systematically rolled back the rights of African Americans after Reconstruction ended. The Courts were the first to do this and once they had set the precedent were followed by the now Democrat controlled Congress and President Grover Cleveland. In 1883 “the Civil Rights Act of 1875, outlawing discrimination against Negroes using public facilities, was nullified by the Supreme Court, which said: “individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the amendment.” The Fourteenth Amendment, it said, was aimed at state action only. No state shall…” [1] Associate Justice Joseph Bradley who had so eviscerated the Enforcement Act again played his hand in overturning a law that he despised on principle. He had written when Grant first signed the act in 1875 “to deprive white people of the right of choosing their own company would be to introduce another kind of slavery…. It can never be endured that the white shall be compelled to lodge and eat and sit with the Negro. The latter can have his freedom and all legal and essential privileges without that. The antipathy of race cannot be crushed and annihilated by legal enactment.” [2] In writing to overturn the Civil Rights Act of 1875 Bradley wrote that such laws were made African Americans a “special favorite of laws” and ignored the fact that in most of the country blacks were indeed not a favorite and were in fact still the subject of discrimination, segregation, political disenfranchisement, systematized violence, murder and lynching.

The actions of the court and alliances between Northern corporations and Southern landowners led to even more discrimination and disenfranchisement for blacks, “From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement” [3] which furthered the black codes into what we now call the era of Jim Crow.

For years after the Supreme Court’s Cruikshank decision blacks throughout the South attempted to vote despite intense opposition from Southern whites and armed bands of thugs. But with White Democrats now in charge of local government and “in control of the state and local vote-counting apparatus, resistance to black voting increasingly took the form of fraud as well as overt violence and intimidation. Men of color who cast Republican votes often found later that they had been counted for the party of white supremacy.” [4]

In 1896 the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the black codes and Jim Crow laws. That ruling established the “separate but equal” doctrine and ushered in an era of de jure segregation in almost all arenas of life including education, transportation, entertainment and health care. The limited social equity and privileges enjoyed by blacks, not only in the South, but in the entire nation were erased by the stroke of the judicial pen. The justices ruled on the concept that the Constitution only guaranteed or protected a people’s political rights in the social arena that African-Americans could not interact with whites and assumed their racial inferiority.

Not all on the Court agreed with these rulings. One of them was Associate Justice John Harlan, who was a former slaveholder. Harlan dissented in the Court’s majority decision to overturn the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and also in Plessy v. Ferguson. In the case of the Civil Rights Act ruling Harlan insisted “our Constitution is color blind” [5] and wrote a strongly worded opinion:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.” [6]

As eloquent and as correct as Justice Harlan’s argument was, it was not sufficient to turn the tide of the new Court backed segregation laws. Harlan “was fighting a force greater than the logic of justice; the mood of the Court reflected a new coalition of northern industrialists and southern businessmen-planters.” [7] The “separate but equal” measures approved by the Court majority in Plessy v. Ferguson led to the widespread passage of Jim Crow laws, not only in the South but in other areas of the country. The Jim Crow era took nearly a century to reverse, and “only began to disappear with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.” [8]

In order to get around the Fifteenth Amendment state governments in the South employed a strategy of subterfuges to suppress the African American vote. Along with the ever present threats of voter intimidation from armed White Supremacist groups, the states complicated the processes of voter registration and voting in order to make it nearly impossible for blacks to vote and into political oblivion. “Redeemer” governments in the post-Reconstruction South through the use of literary tests and poll taxes, the later which required people to pay in order to vote. The literacy and educational requirements mandated that “perspective registrants to “interpret” a section of the state constitution, and enacted standards which few blacks could fulfill, such as limiting registration to those whose grandfathers had voted.” Of course few blacks could meet the latter requirement as their grandfathers had been slaves and ineligible to vote. The laws were so devious that “when a journalist asked an Alabama lawmaker could pass his state’s understanding” test, the legislator replied, That would depend on entirely on which way he was going to vote.” [9]

These court decisions and legislation strengthened racism and discrimination against blacks, “effectively excluding blacks from public places, from the right to votes, from good public education, and so forth.” [10] The Plessy ruling was a watershed. Southern legislators, now unencumbered by Federal interference passed “state laws mandating racial segregation in every aspect of life, from schools to hospitals, waiting rooms to toilets, drinking fountains to cemeteries…segregation was part of a complex system of white domination, in which each component – disenfranchisement, unequal economic status, inferior education – reinforced the others.” [11]

For decades future courts would cite Plessy and Cruikshank as well as other decisions as precedent in deny rights to blacks. It would not be until 1954 when the Supreme Court overturned Plessy and the “Separate but Equal” Jim Crow laws in Brown v. Board of Education. Brown was a watershed for it deemed that separate schools were “inherently unequal.” The reaction across the South, especially Mississippi was stunned shock, disbelief and anger. “A Mississippi judge bemoaned “black Monday” and across the South “Citizen’s Councils” sprung up to fight the ruling. [12]

Mississippi led the way in disenfranchising black voters through the use of voter qualifications that would eliminate most blacks from the rolls of voters. In 1895 the state legislature passed a measure that would “technically apply to everybody but actually eliminate the Negro without touching the white.” [13] The move was in open defiance of the Fifteenth Amendment and resulted in tens of thousands of black voters being dropped from the rolls, in most cases under 5% of black voters who had been eligible to vote in 1885 remained eligible in 1896. Mississippi was rewarded in 1898 when the Supreme Court in Williams v. Mississippi that “there was no reason to suppose that the state’s new voting qualification were aimed specifically at Negroes.” [14] “In 1900 blacks comprised 62 percent of Mississippi, the highest percentage in the nation. Yet the state had not one black elected official.” [15]

Violence was used with great effect and between 1880 and 1968 approximately 3,500 people were murdered or lynched throughout the South. In 1892 alone 235 blacks were lynched “and throughout the decade, whites lynched an average of 150 southern blacks per year.” [16] This had become a far easier task and far less dangerous for the perpetrators of violence against blacks as Supreme Court “interpreted black people’s other constitutional rights almost out of existence.” [17] Since the court had “limited the federal government’s role in punishing violations of Negro rights” this duty fell to the states, which seldom occurred, and when “those officials refused to act, blacks were left unprotected.” [18]

The effects of these actions were shown in the number of African Americans in elected office. In 1869 there were two African American United States Senators and twenty black members of the House of Representatives. After Reconstruction ended these numbers dwindled and “the last black left Congress in 1901.” [19]

One of these was the case of United States v. Harris where the federal prosecutors had indicted “twenty members of a Tennessee lynch mob for violating section two of the enforcement Act, which outlawed conspiracies to deprive anyone of “equal protection of the laws.” However the Court struck down section 2 because the “lynching was not a federal matter, the Court said, because the mob consisted only of private individuals.” [20]

Many Southern states, especially Mississippi continued to tighten Jim Crow throughout the first half of the twentieth century. “In 1922 a new Jim Crow law kept up with the times by segregating taxis. In 1930 another new law prohibited “publishing, printing, or circulating any literature in favor of or urging inter-racial marriage or social equality.” [21] Not only were physical barriers being erected, but thought and free speech was now illegal if one supported equal rights.

martin-luther-king-jr

This remained the case until the 1960s when during the Freedom Rides when Mississippi again became a battleground in the Civil Rights movement. In 1961 James Meredith, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, became the first black to ever be admitted to the University of Mississippi. His admission was fought by the university, Mississippi politicians including U.S. Senator James Eastland, Governor Ross Barnett, numerous congressmen and state representatives, and a populace that threatened violence and even war if the Federal government or courts order them to comply. Governor Barnett spoke for many when he made a statewide television address in September 1961 “We must either submit to the unlawful dictates of the federal government or stand up like men and tell them ‘NEVER!’” [22] He then called for the arrest of any federal officials who attempted to hold a state official for defying federal court orders. Backed by federal court orders to admit Meredith, and by the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy called Barnett on September 24th.

“Governor,” Kennedy observed, “you a part of the United States.”

            “We have been a part of the United States, but I don’t know whether we are or not.”

            Are you getting out of the Union?”

            “It looks like we are being kicked around – like we don’t belong to it.”

            Back to specifics again, Kennedy ended the talk with a typical crisp wrap-up. “My job is to enforce the laws of the United States.” [23]

The resultant conflict nearly came to violence as thousands of Mississippians, whipped into an anti-black and anti-federal government frenzy by their elected leaders, radio, and television and newspaper commentators and supported by the KKK, the John Birch Society and other groups mobilized to fight the “invasion.” Eventually a deal was reached to admit Meredith on September 30th. As Meredith entered the campus he was protected by Federal Marshals and Border Patrol officers, as well as the State Police, which had just a few hours before been deployed to keep Meredith and the federals out. Despite this thousands of people ringed the campus, and the Confederate Battle Flag was raised over the Civil War memorial on campus. The rioters uttered death threats and assaulted anyone who supported Meredith. Members of the press, even southerners, faculty members and civilian supporters were beaten, bricks, stones and bottles thrown, tires of federal vehicles slashed. Finally the marshals themselves were attacked and eight injured, forcing them to deploy tear gas to protect themselves and the State police withdrew.

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James Meredith being escorted to Ole Miss

Eventually U.S. Army MPs and mobilized National Guard units were called up and battled Molotov cocktails that were being thrown by the anti-integration protests to relieve the beleaguered marshals and border patrolmen. The troops finally cleared the campus and ended the riot. During the riot 160 marshals were hurt, some 28 of who were wounded by bullets fired by the protestors. The next morning with Meredith admitted to the university a local clergyman saw the Confederate flag still flying and “with firm step, he strode out to the pole, loosened the halyard and lowered the Confederate flag.” [24]

The battle to integrate Ole’ Miss was over. Meredith graduated peacefully in August of 1963 and by then Mississippi abandoned its defiance of Federal authority, but many in the state still protested the admission as well as the later passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Violence still occurred and even intensified at times as the Civil Rights movement, now led by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior made headway. King wrote in the Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

“One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” [25]

In South Carolina, which had fought integration in the courts outgoing Governor Ernest F. Hollings read King’s letter and knew that he had been on the wrong side of history. The Democrat Governor realized that the handwriting was on the wall, and that South Carolina was different than Mississippi. Hollings knew that South Carolina’s racism was the old aristocratic type, which gave more value to an orderly society. As such Hollings told the legislature:

“As we meet, South Carolina is running out of courts. If and when every legal remedy has been exhausted, the General Assembly must make clear South Carolina’s choice, a government of laws rather than a government of men. As determined as we are, we of today must realize the lesson of once hundred years ago, and move on for the good of South Carolina and our United States. This should be done with dignity. It must be done with law and order.” [26] When Clemson University admitted its first student later in the year, there was no violence.

Hollings later remembered that for years he had supported and enforced the Jim Crow laws in his state. However, King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail changed him, it was for him a moment like the Apostle Paul on the Road to Damascus. He admitted, “as governor, for four years, I enforced those Jim Crow laws. I did not understand, I did not appreciate what King had in mind… until he wrote that letter. He opened my eyes and set me free.” [27]

More violence would occur in Mississippi and other states during the 1960s. During the Freedom Rides, students and educators came from around the nation to the state to help register blacks to vote in 1964. This brought generations of barely concealed hatred to the surface. Bruce Watson in his book Freedom Summer wrote:

“In Mississippi’s most remote hamlets, small “klaverns” of ruthless men met in secret to discuss the “nigger-communist invasion of Mississippi.” They stockpiled kerosene, shotguns, and dynamite, then singled out targets – niggers, Jews, “nigger-lovers.” One warm April night, their secret burst into flames. In some sixty counties, blazing crosses lit up courthouse lawns, town squares, and open fields. The Klan was rising again in Mississippi. Like “White Knights” as their splinter group was named, the Klan planned a holy war against the “dedicated agents of Satan…determined to destroy Christian civilization.” The Klan would take care of your business, a recruiting poster said. “Get you Bible out and PRAY! You will hear from us.” [28]

Eventual the violence of these people led to the killings of three of the organizers, Michael Schwerner, James Cheney and Andrew Goldman were killed by a group of Klansmen led by members of the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Department on June 21st 1964. The resultant search for their bodies and the subsequent investigation transfixed the nation and led to the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.

After he left office, Ulysses Grant gave an interviewer a sober assessment of Reconstruction’s failure. Grant concluded that at the end of the war what the South really needed was a benevolent dictatorship until it could be fully reintegrated into the Union. Instead the South remained defiant and using subterfuge mixed with targeted violence wore down the will northerners to fully pursue and implement Reconstruction. He told the interviewer:

“Military rule would have been just to all… the Negro who wanted freedom, the white man who wanted protection, the Northern man who wanted Union. As state after state showed a willingness to come into the Union, not on their terms but upon ours, I would have admitted them. The trouble about the military rule in the South was that our people did not like it. It was not in accordance with our institutions. I am clear now that it would have been better to suffrage, reconstruction, State governments, for ten year, and held the South in a territorial condition. But we made our scheme, and we must do what we must with it.” [29]

Grant was correct in his analysis. The policies enacted by the North in 1865 that were considered benevolent were seized upon as signs of weakness in the defeated South. The leaders of the South knew that the Republican Party was a coalition and worked to push the fault lines of the Republicans until they broke, and they were successful. The Confederacy may have lost the war in a military and economic sense, but in the “ways that mattered most to white Southerners – socially, politically, and ideologically – the South itself did not.” [30] Grant died in 1885 hailed throughout the nation, but knowing that he was unable to secure the new birth of freedom, that he and his friend Abraham Lincoln and so many others had fought for in the Civil War.

The example of Reconstruction’s failure shows that in order to secure peace that military victory must be accompanied by the political will to ensure that the avowed goals of that victory are secured after the war in ensuring a just peace. In retrospect, a harsh peace and a long period of nation building may have benefited the nation more than botched reconstruction, but as Grant noted “our people did not like it.”

Southerners may have lost the shooting war, but they could not and would not accept the peace. By successfully wearing down the will of the people of the North and exploiting the fissures in varying components of the Republican Party, they succeeded in winning the things most important to them in regard to race relations and White Supremacy.

After the war, White Southerners resorted to all means to reverse their military defeat through political, social, economic and judicial means and “justice was sacrificed for the unjust peace ushered in by “redemption” of the South, a peace marred by Jim Crow, poverty and lynching.” [31] Most Northern leaders, politicians, the media and the clergy failed to appreciate this until it was far too late, and hindered by President Johnson’s opposition failed to win the peace in the South when they had the best chance. They failed to appreciate that even after the shooting is often that “there is a need for further threats, and indeed action, because postwar disorder and even chaos will have to be address, and victorious allies are always likely to squabble over the spoils of victory” [32] as certain was the case in the divided Republican Party of the Reconstruction era. By the time Ulysses S. Grant was elected President many in the North were already tiring of Reconstruction and African Americans and when he resorted to harsh yet effective means of quelling violence and enforcing the laws many, even in his own Republican Party rebelled, ensuring the former Confederates of a political and social victory that took nearly another hundred years to end, if indeed it is truly ended, a proposition that I think is ludicrous as for many the Civil War is not over.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.57

[2] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.253

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[4] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.251

[5] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.58

[6] LaMorte, Michael W. School Law: Cases and Concepts 9th Edition 2008 Allyn and Bacon Inc. 2008 p.300

[7] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States pp.204-205

[8] Ibid. Huntington Who are We? p.54

[9] Ibid. Goldfield Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History p.197

[10] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.252

[11] Ibid. Foner Forever Free p.208

[12] Ibid. Watson Freedom Summer p.46

[13] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.22

[14] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.23

[15] Ibid. Watson Freedom Summer p.41

[16] Ibid. Goldfield Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History, Updated Edition, p.206

[17] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.253

[18] Ibid. Langguth After Lincoln p.338

[19] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.200

[20] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.253

[21] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.25

[22] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.139

[23] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.159

[24] Ibid. Lord The Past that Wouldn’t Die p.231

[25] King, Martin Luther Letter from a Birmingham Jail 16 April 1963 Retrieved from https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html 15 September 2016

[26] Bass, Jack and Nelson, Jack The Orangeburg Massacre Mercer University Press, Macon and Atlanta 1984, 1996 & 2002 pp.11-12

[27] Ibid. Goldfield Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History, Updated Edition, p.74

[28] Ibid. Watson Freedom Summer p.12

[29] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.254

[30] Ibid. Lane The day Freedom Died p.254

[31] Ibid. McPherson The War that Forged a Nation p. 191

[32] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.14

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Rebels and Racism in Gettysburg 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Gettysburg is hallowed ground for all who love this country. It is the site of a defeat which ended any hope for a Confederate military victory, and at which Abraham Lincoln spoke of a new birth of freedom. It is a place that veterans of both sides began to gather both to remember their service and comrades but also to promote reconciliation between the North and the South. 

But it has also become a place in recent years for neo-Confederates to gather, not to remember the new birth of freedom, but to arrogantly defile the site by spewing hate, proclaiming racism, while openly speaking of their hatred of the United States and love of the late Confederacy. Some drive around town and in front of the Soldier’s Cemetery in large and loud pickup trucks, sometimes blaring their horns, while flying large 3′ x 5′ Confederate Battle Flags flying as if to mock the Union soldiers buried there. 

It is also interesting to note that many of these openly racist people are not from the South, nor do they have southern roots. They simply tend to be racist and anti-government and gather around the flag of the Confederacy.  I remember having a beer with a man from upstate New York in a bar a year or so ago who said he was the chaplain for a Confederate reenactment unit (in uniform) and went on to discuss his hatred for the United States, as well as African Americans, and other non-white American citizens. Likewise on another visit an older couple who said they were from Georgia listened to me talk with my students in the Soldier’s Cemetery, and when I was finished with reading the Gettysburg Address, the man made sure that he told me that all people were not created equal. 

But let me be clear, there are also Southerners who love this country very much, who when they come to Gettysburg to remember their fallen ancestors, do so with a reverence which is perfectly in keeping with the desire for reconciliation of the Southern veterans as who returned to Gettysburg in the decades after the war. 

I was walking by one of the gift shops in town and noticed a t-shirt on display. The shirt was adorned with the Confederate Battle Flag and and the words “I will not be reconstructed and I don’t give a damn!” 

To some that may seem like a simple snarky statement. However, when you understand what the phase really means it should leave you cold. In 1866 it became part of the lyrics of a song called Oh, I’m a Good ole Rebel, a song that has been recorded numerous times in the years since it was written. 

It was a phase used by Southerners after the Civil War who opposed the process of reconstruction, opposed all civil rights for blacks, and pushed for the return of white rule, which they achieved in 1877 when Reconstruction ended. At that point nearly every hard fought for right of African Americans was reversed, suppressed, or made so difficult to use as to be effectively revoked. Those rights would not begin to be restored until 1954 when the Supreme Court issued the Brown v. Board of Education decision which overturned the  Plessy v. Ferguson ruling of 1894. This ruling declared that the segregation laws and Black Codes of the Jim Crow era were unconstitutional. It took another ten years for Congress in the face of heated opposition to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. 

But among segregationists those rulings were reviled. Governors fought to keep African Americans from entering segregated public schools and universities, civil rights workers were attacked and sometimes killed, civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr were assassinated. Alabama governor George Wallace, who in his 1963 governor’s inauguration address proclaimed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” ran on a segregationist platform in the 1968 election and won 13.53% of the popular vote. He won Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, while collecting 45 electoral votes. Interestingly enough, the demographics of Wallace’s supporters, heavily white male and lesser educated, were very much like those of current GOP nominee Donald Trump. 

But I digress, yet the fact of the matter is that the open proclamation of the phrase I will not be reconstructed on a shirt displaying the flag of the republic that Confederate Vice President Alexander said, was founded on the superiority of the white race and subordination of the negro as slaves. They are the words of the KKK, the Red Shirts, and the White Leagues who used violence and terrorism to intimidate blacks and any of their white supporters. 

So a a historian I will not attempt to silence those people’s free speech rights, as repugnant as I find them to be. But have to call their words what they are, a call for the return to Jim Crow and worse. They are meant to intimidate people, and I find that message evil, in fact it goes against everything that makes America great. Maybe those who say they will “make America great again” should take heed to the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and realize what really makes America great instead of spewing the hate of those who fought the propositions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at every turn, even to begin a bloody civil war. 

So until tomorrow have a great Monday.

Peace,

Padre Steve+


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