Preserving white privilege in the Deep South … was it worth the price?


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[From Charles who writes a lot about the South. Jan]

The Reconstruction Era is that period immediately following the American Civil War, generally considered the period from the end of the war until 1877 (about one decade). Reconstruction ended when Republican Rutherford Hayes won the 1876 presidential election. Essentially, Reconstruction ended when the federal government withdrew occupation troops from the defeated South and ceased protecting the rights of blacks to exercise their rights as citizens, essentially allowing the southern states to enact Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise and dis-empower black citizens.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was passed by Congress in 1867. The Fourteen Amendment was intended to to grant citizenship to recently freed slaves.

Section 1. 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.

The Fifteenth Amendment was passed three years later (in 1870) and was intended to protect the rights of black citizens and former slaves of the United States:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

A number of other laws were passed 1860s and early 1870s to protect the rights of former slaves in the South, such as anti-discrimination laws that gave Negroes the right to enter contracts and buy property. In 1875, a Civil Rights Act outlawed the exclusion of Negroes from hotels, theaters, railroads, and other public accommodations.

At first, blacks voting in large numbers, particularly in the early 1870’s Two Negro members were elected to the U.S. Senate (Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce, both from Mississippi), and twenty black Congressmen were elected to the U.S. House of Representative (eight from South Carolina, four from North Carolina, three from Alabama, and one each from the other former Confederate states. But something happened with the end of Reconstruction in 1877 … the number of black Congressmen began to dwindle rapidly, until the last black representative left Congress in 1901.

The Compromise of 1877 did not do what the white ruling class in the South wanted, which was to restore the old order in the South, but it did insure the dominant position whites held in politics by promising them that the federal government would no longer interfere in matters of race policy. In return, southern leaders (Democrats) agreed to support the Republican leadership of President Rutherford Hayes and to, essentially, abdicate control of the federal government to the north, and control of the South’s resources to northern economic interests. The South agreed to subjugate itself to northern dominance, but only if white dominance over blacks in the South was not interfered with. It was a devil’s bargain for both sides.

By the turn of the 20th century, all the southern states had written prejudice into their laws. New constitutions and new statutes formalized the disenfranchisement (poll taxes, literacy tests, property qualifications) and enforced segregation of Negroes. The Reconstruction Era was over. The Northern railroad/banking/industrial interests assumed control over the fabulously rich coal and iron resources of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia.

The South essentially chose to give up control over its resources, and its future economic prosperity, in order to preserve the white-dominance of its society. How’s that working out today, 145 years later?

Charles Aulds

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