Running Head: RECONSTRUCTION 1 African American Reconstruction Amanda Madison HIS 204 Aimee Thibodeaux Sept 17, 2012
RECONSTRUCTION 2This essay will discuss slavery and how African-Americans worked to end slavery, segregation,discrimination, freedom, and isolation. This essay will also discuss what led to the civil rightsimplementation, how it was carried out along with its leaders, and how African-Americansovercome the struggles and stereotypes as an African-American.Racial segregation was a system derived from the efforts of white Americans to keep AfricanAmericans in a subordinate status by denying them equal access to public facilities and ensuringthat blacks lived apart from whites. During the era of slavery, most African Americans resided inthe South, mainly in rural areas. Under these circumstances, segregation did not prove necessaryas the boundaries between free citizens and people held in bondage remained clear. Furthermore,blacks and whites lived in close proximity on farms and plantations and geographical isolationmade contact between neighbors infrequent. However, free people of color, located chiefly incities and towns of the North and Upper South, experienced segregation in various forms. By thetime the Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) that African Americans were notU.S. citizens, northern whites had excluded blacks from seats on public transportation and barredtheir entry, except as servants, from most hotels and restaurants. When allowed into auditoriumsand theaters, blacks occupied separate sections; they also attended segregated schools. Mostchurches, too, were segregated. Reconstruction after the Civil War posed serious challenges to white supremacy andsegregation, especially in the South where most African Americans continued to live. Theabolition of slavery in 1865, followed by ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868)extending citizenship and equal protection of the law to African Americans and the Fifteenth
RECONSTRUCTION 3Amendment (1870) barring racial discrimination in voting, threatened to overturn the barrierswhites had erected to keep blacks separate and unequal. Yet the possibilities of blacks sharingpublic conveyances and public accommodations with whites increased during the period after1865. Blacks obtained access to streetcars and railroads on an integrated basis. Indeed, manytransportation companies favored integration because they did not want to risk losing blackbusiness. African Americans did gain admission to desegregated public accommodations, but racialsegregation, or Jim Crow as it became popularly known, remained the custom. (The term JimCrow originated from the name of a character in an 1832 minstrel show, where whites performedin black face.) Passage by Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which barred racialdiscrimination in public accommodations, provides evidence of the continued presence ofsegregation and the need to rectify it. The law lasted until 1883, when the Supreme Court of theUnited States declared the statute unconstitutional for regulating what the justices consideredprivate companies, such as streetcars and entertainment facilities. By this time, the interracialReconstruction governments had fallen in the South and the federal government had retreatedfrom strong enforcement of black civil rights. With white-controlled governments back in power,the situation of southern blacks gradually deteriorated. To maintain solidarity and removepossible political threats, white southerners initiated a series of efforts to reduce further AfricanAmerican citizenship rights and enforce Jim Crow. The Supreme Court’s 1883 ruling in the CivilRights Cases spurred states to enact segregation laws. Between 1887 and 1892, Alabama,Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky,Tennessee, and Virginia refused equal access to African Americans on public accommodationsand transportation. These laws forced blacks to sit in the back of the bus, on separate cars in
RECONSTRUCTION 4trains, and in the balcony at theaters, for example. From this period on, segregation became arigid legal system separating the races from cradle to grave—including segregated hospitalfacilities, cemeteries, and everything in between—no longer tolerating any flexibility in theracial interactions that had previously existed. Why did Jim Crow become entrenched in the 1890s? The third-party Populist uprising ofthat decade threatened conservative Democratic rule in the South. Many of those blacks whocould still vote, and the number was considerable, joined the Populist insurgency. To check thispolitical rebellion and prevent blacks from wielding the balance of power in close elections,southern Democrats appealed to white solidarity to defeat the Populists, whipped up anti-Negrosentiment, disfranchised African Americans, and imposed strict de jure (by law) segregation. In contrast with the South, in the late 1880s and early 1890s, Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio,Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New York all adopted laws thatprohibited racial discrimination in public facilities. Yet blacks encountered segregation in theNorth as well. Rather than through de jure segregation, most northern whites and blacks lived inseparate neighborhoods and attended separate schools largely through de facto segregation. Thiskind of segregation resulted from the fact that African Americans resided in distinctneighborhoods, stemming from insufficient income as well as a desire to live among their ownpeople, as many ethnic groups did. However, blacks separated themselves not merely as a matterof choice or custom. Instead, realtors and landlords steered blacks away from whiteneighborhoods and municipal ordinances and judicially enforced racial covenants signed byhomeowners kept blacks out of white areas.
RECONSTRUCTION 5 In 1896, the federal government sanctioned racial segregation, fashioning theconstitutional rationale for keeping the races legally apart. In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, theSupreme Court ruled that a Louisiana law providing for “equal but separate” accommodationsfor “whites” and “coloreds” did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the FourteenthAmendment. In its decision the majority of the court concluded that civil rights laws could notchange racial destiny. “If one race be inferior to the other socially,” the justices explained, “theConstitution of the United cannot put them on the same plane.” This thinking, which acceptedthe idea that whites were superior to blacks, derived from scientific judgments of the time thatlight-skinned people had greater intelligence and a higher degree of civilization than darker-skinned groups, opinions that also fueled U.S. imperialism in the 1890s. Although the Supreme Court inscribed the doctrine of “separate but equal” into law, inpractice this did not happen. Local and state authorities never funded black education equally nordid African Americans have equal access to public accommodations. To make matters worseafter the 1890s, nearly all southern blacks lost their right to vote through measures such as polltaxes, literacy tests, and the white primary. For the next fifty years racial segregation prevailed,reinforced by disfranchisement, official coercion, and vigilante terror. In addition, starting in1913 with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who had close ties to the South, the federalgovernment imposed racial segregation in government offices in Washington, D.C. (a policy thatwould not be reversed until the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s). Thebedrock of Jim Crow began to crack after World War II. The war had exposed the horrors ofNazi racism; non-white nations in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia struggled to end colonialrule; and scientists no longer accepted the notion of superior and inferior races. In 1948,President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order desegregating the armed forces, thus
RECONSTRUCTION 6reversing a longstanding practice. In 1954, the Supreme Court justices in Brown v. the Board ofEducation reversed Plessy and decided that legally sanctioned racial segregation was inherentlyunequal and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nevertheless, the Brown ruling signaledonly a first step, and it took another decade and a mass movement for civil rights for AfricanAmericans to tear down the racist edifices of segregation in the South. The symbols of the JimCrow past—“Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs—are found mainly in antiques stores,museums, photographs, and documentaries. Now that an African American has been electedpresident of the United States, segregation seems as outmoded and distant a practice as watchingblack and white television. The first question to ask is when did racial segregation begin? The importance of thisquestion helps in gauging the potency and endurance of racism as a feature of American history.If segregation began very early in the nation’s history, this suggests that racism is embedded inthe very fabric of American society and culture and is something extremely difficult to eradicate.The evidence points in this direction. Before the Civil War, free Negroes in the Northencountered segregation in schools, public accommodations, and the military. In 1849, theSupreme Court of Massachusetts in Roberts v. City of Boston held that the state could requireseparate and equal schools for Negroes without violating the right of equality in theMassachusetts Constitution. Segregation continued to exist after the Civil War and spread to the South once slaveswere emancipated. Still, it is one thing to confirm that segregation persisted following slavery, asevidenced by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and another to assess its strength.What seems unique about race relations from the 1870s to the early 1890s was its porousness:
RECONSTRUCTION 7segregation was not as rigid then as it later became. Moreover, blacks still had the right to voteand could wield influence in public affairs. This changed in the 1890s, as the decisive role of thefederal government in contributing to the establishment of hardcore segregation in the South.Thus, Jim Crow did not come about just through individual acts of prejudice but requiredgovernment intervention from the North as well as the South. Without the official approval of theSupreme Court in Plessy, the southern states would not have had the constitutional power toenforce Jim Crow. Only when the federal government took action after World War II in what hasbeen called “the Second Reconstruction” did segregation fall, thereby highlighting the criticalposition Washington, D.C. played in preserving and then dismantling Jim Crow. Despite complicity from the North, the harshest and most long-lasting forms ofsegregation occurred in the South. Why were white southerners so adamant in maintainingsegregation? Students should come to recognize that segregation was part of the system tosubjugate African Americans and affirm their status as inferior people. Southern whitesconsidered this system of vital importance because of the vast majority of African Americanslived in the South in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Separate was never equalnor was it meant to be. Segregation was intended to debase African Americans, strip them oftheir dignity, reinforce their inequality, and maintain a submissive agricultural labor force. Thesouthern United States from the 1890s through the 1960s was similar in many ways to SouthAfrica during its Apartheid Era. In addition, Jim Crow can be viewed as a system of “diseasecontrol.” Segregation quarantined blacks to prevent them from infecting whites with the socialand cultural impurities associated with “inferior” African Americans. White men establishedsegregation to keep black men from having sexual relations with white women. Viewingmiscegenation as the ultimate threat to the perpetuation of their superior racial stock, they often
RECONSTRUCTION 8resorted to lynching black men for allegedly raping white women. In doing so, white men notonly reinforced their control over blacks but also white women. They sought to maintain thevirtue and chastity of their wives and daughters, reinforcing their patriarchal roles as husband,father, and ultimately guardian of their communities. However, it can be debated whether thereal issue was sexual purity or power, for many white southern men both during slavery and JimCrow actively pursued clandestine sexual relations with black women, Segregation grew out of fear and a desire to control. Nevertheless, this fear ofmiscegenation, whether real or imagined, reinforced Jim Crow. White southerners were adamantabout maintaining school segregation, particularly in the early grades, because they did not wantlittle white girls to socialize with black boys, which might lead to more intimate relations as theyturned into teenagers and young adults. Fear of sexual contact also applied to other areas, and this the most interesting one thatrelates to department store lunch counters. Why were blacks allowed to make purchases in storeslike Woolworth’s and even stand on checkout lines next to whites, but they could not eat at thelunch counters that lined the inside walls of these stores? the difference between the two is todiscern that sitting down to eat was seen as a social activity that in the racialized South hadsexual connotations, whereas walking around a store or standing in line did not have the samemeaning. How did African Americans respond to Jim Crow and did they view separation andsegregation in the same way? Comparing the two should reveal that for the most part AfricanAmericans did not oppose separation so long as it was voluntary. Following the Civil War,blacks formed their own schools, churches, and civic organizations over which they exercised
RECONSTRUCTION 9control that provided independence from white authorities, including their former masters.African Americans took great pride in the institutions they built in their communities. Blackbusinessmen accumulated wealth by catering to a Negro clientele in need of banks, insurancecompanies, health services, barber shops and beauty parlors, entertainment, and funeral homes.African Americans as diverse politically as Booker T. Washington in the 1890s, Marcus Garveyin the 1920s, W.E.B. DuBois in the 1930s advocated that blacks concentrate on promoting self-help within their communities and develop their own economic, social, and cultural institutions.Ironically, one of the unintended side effects of racial integration in the second half of thetwentieth century was the erosion of longstanding black business and educational institutions thatserved African-Americans during Jim Crow. Students can then see that in contrast to voluntary separation and self-determination,segregation was coercive and grew out of attempts to maintain black subordination and second-class citizenship. Sanctioned by the government, Jim Crow demeaned African Americans, deniedthem equal opportunity, and assigned them to the margins of public life. If African Americansoverstepped Jim Crow’s boundary lines they were forced back by law and, if necessary, throughretributive violence. How did African Americans challenge segregation and white supremacy? In other words,when did the Civil Rights Movement begin and what did it seek to accomplish? These arequestions that historians still debate. Begin with World War II, when African Americans began a“Double V” Campaign—victory against totalitarianism abroad and racism at home. Thecontinued migration of blacks to the North and West gave African Americans increased votingpower to help pressure presidents from Harry Truman on to pass civil rights legislation that
RECONSTRUCTION 10would aid their family, friends, and neighbors remaining in the South. At the same time, southernblack communities organized and mobilized. A new generation of leaders, many of them militaryveterans or black college graduates, challenged Jim Crow and disfranchisement. Black womenhave often been ignored as a significant force behind the Civil Rights Movement, with the focuson the men who led the major organizations. However we should emphasize the role of motherswho permitted their children to face the dangers of integrating schools, daughters who readilyjoined protest demonstrations, domestic servants who walked miles to work to boycottsegregated buses, and churchwomen who rallied their congregations behind civil rights. Finally,what did African Americans strive for in eliminating segregation? Usually integration is wronglyinterpreted as an end in itself or an attempt by blacks to assimilate into white society. It is mostimportant to understand that for blacks integration was a tactic, not a goal. For example, AfricanAmericans sought to desegregate education not because they wanted to socialize with whitestudents, but because it provided the best means for obtaining a quality education. Blacksconfronted Jim Crow to defeat white supremacy and obtain political power—the kind that couldresult in jobs, affordable housing, satisfactory health care, and evenhanded treatment by thepolice and the judicial system. Rather than erasing their pride in being black or expressing adesire to be like whites, African Americans gained an even greater respect for their race throughparticipation in the Civil Rights Movement and their efforts to shatter Jim Crow. In 1955, C. Vann Woodward published The Strange Career of Jim Crow. Woodwardreflected the optimism following the previous year’s Brown decision by arguing that segregationwas not as inherent to southern society as previously believed. He demonstrated that not until the1890s did southern whites institute the rigid system of Jim Crow that segregated the races in allareas of public life. Woodward pointed out numerous instances during and after Reconstruction
RECONSTRUCTION 11when blacks had access to public accommodations. Woodward’s research suggested thatsegregation might be eradicated through simple changes in public policies, reversing those thathad created it in the not-so-distant past. Woodward’s book spawned a number of other studies both challenging and modifyinghis thesis. Many of these appeared as the South waged massive resistance to combat the effortsof the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s and early 1960s, suggesting the depth of whiteracism and the difficulty of overcoming it. In North of Slavery (Litwick,1961), Leon Litwackfound that even before the Civil War free northern Negroes encountered segregation in schoolsand public accommodations, the kind of discrimination they would face in the South afterslavery. Accordingly, segregation had a longer pedigree than Woodward had argued, and ittranscended the South and operated nationwide. Joel Williamson’s After Slavery: The Negro inSouth Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861-1877 (1965) examined race relations in thePalmetto State and found Woodward’s interpretation wanting. Williamson concluded that freedblacks encountered segregation soon after emancipation. He asserted that specific laws were notnecessary to keep the races apart because segregation was maintained de facto. He discoveredthat most white South Carolinians did not accept racial equality and intended to adoptsegregation as soon as blacks gained their freedom from slavery. Howard N. Rabinowitz did not focus so much on the timing of segregation as on its form.In (Litwick, 1961), Leon Litwack argued that racial segregation appeared as a substitute forracial exclusion. Thus, in the post-emancipation South freed blacks gained access for the firsttime to public facilities such as public transportation and health and welfare services.
RECONSTRUCTION 12Accordingly, segregation should not be perceived as a punitive measure but as a means ofextending services, albeit separate and unequal, to African Americans. To summarize, historians generally agree that de facto segregation both preceded andaccompanied de jure segregation, but that racial interaction in public spheres was less rigid thanit became after the 1890s. Whatever its form, however, Jim Crow was always separate and neverequal; it constituted a means for reinforcing black subordination and white supremacy. Whateverthe exact beginning of segregation, southern whites shared a broad consensus for preserving it. Itrequired a mass, black-led, Civil Rights Movement, combined with the power and renewedwillingness of the national government, to overthrow Jim Crow.
RECONSTRUCTION 13References:Joel Williamson’s After Slavery: The Negro in South Carolina during Reconstruction, 1861-1877Litwick, (1961) Leon Litwick, North of SlaveryC. Vann Woodward 1955 The Strange Career of Jim Crow