Refuting the Lost Cause: Black Reconstruction by WEB Dubois

The Civil War was all about SLAVERY, not States Rights

The South may have lost the Civil War, but as the Civil War faded into history as many Confederate and Union veterans passed away the South fought another war that it was able to win in first decades of the twentieth century, the war of history.  The South was able to convince many of the Lost Cause myth, that somehow the Southern causes was a noble cause, that the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery, that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, and that Southerners were benevolent masters whose slaves accepted their lot in life happily.  Furthermore, the history of Reconstruction where blacks gained civil liberties and voting rights equal to whites was seen as a disaster, that blacks showed themselves to be totally incapable of citizenship, utterly incapable to hold public office, manipulated by corrupt Yankee carpetbaggers and traitorous scalawags.

One of the first historians to challenge this view was WEB Dubois.  Dubois earned his PhD from Harvard and was a distinguished member of the ten per-centers, those blacks who through their education would be able to lead their race to a better place in American society.  His history, Black Reconstruction, argued that blacks were able to make great strides during Reconstruction.  Although Reconstruction faced daunting problems, great strides were made in race relations, education, public health, and in establishing fair and just governments across the South in spite of the rising racial violence caused by the KKK and similar groups, often aided by Southern sheriffs.  These gains were reversed by the Redemptionists after the end of Reconstruction, robbing the blacks of their voting rights, allowing the South to build the Jim Crow system of racial violence and discrimination and subjugation that would last until the Civil Rights era.

Although Eric Foner’s recent book, Reconstruction, is now seen as the premier history of the period, in many ways Dubois’ book, Black Reconstruction, is more interesting to read.  Although Foner’s book takes the same approach as Dubois’ book, explicitly praising Dubois’ book as helping to change the history of the history of Reconstruction, Dubois’ book is a more interesting read because of the perspective he brings to the book as a black leader in the early pre-World War II days of the seminal civil rights struggles.   Also, in the last part of the book Dubois traces the history of the separate regions of the South during Reconstruction, and these separate histories are difficult to tease out from Foner’s strictly sequential book.

WEB Dubois’ Black Reconstruction book also has more personal stories than Foner, and since his personal perspective is so moving, sometimes we will quote him directly.  We also encourage you to read our blogs on the Yale lectures of this period in American history, and listen to these lectures on YouTube, as they also repeat many touching personal stories:

http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/category/slavery/

http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/category/civil-war-and-reconstruction/

http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/category/civil-rights/

A detailed history of the histories of Reconstruction, demonstrating how they reflect the prejudices of the times in which they were written, is found both in the 1992 Introduction by David Lewis, and in the last chapter written by WEB Dubois, The Propaganda of History.

BLACK RECONSTRUCTION

In the pre-Civil War South black slaves were bought and sold roughly for the price of a new car in today’s dollars.  The total value of all the slaves in the South was nearly as valuable as the total value of the land in the South.  Often plantation owners went deep in debt to buy the slave labor needed to harvest the cotton and other crops.  Only a few planters owned much of the land and the slaves, the planters who owned three million of the four million slaves in the South were only seven percent of the population.  Many of the whites who did not own slaves worked in the slave society as overseers, drivers, dealers, or merchants or professionals who served the planters.[1]

Slavery was successful in America long after slavery was abolished in Latin America.  America was a more forgiving temperate climate, slave-masters were able to breed slaves much like they bred livestock to increase their wealth.  Black women were paired with hardy black men to improve their stock of strong and able workers.  Black women were held either as willing concubines to their white masters, or they were raped.  Black women slaves were property, rape of black women slaves was not a crime.  All children of black women slaves were the property of their white masters.  Their white master could, and often did, sell the black children to slave dealers who shipped them to other Deep South states, and their parents were never able to contact them again, as they never knew where their eventual slave home would be.

A Southerner wrote: “In the (upper states) as much attention is paid to the breeding and growth of Negroes as to that of horses and mules.  Further south, we raise them both for use and for market.  Planters command their slave girls, married and unmarried, to have children; and I have known a great many Negro girls to be sold off because they did not have children.  A breeding woman is wrth from one-sixth to one-fourth more than one that does not breed.”[2]

WEB Dubois writes that “the South turned the most beautiful section of the nation into a center of poverty and suffering, of drinking, gambling and brawling; an abode of ignorance among black and white more abysmal than in any modern land; and a system of industry so humanly unjust and economically inefficient that it is had not committed suicide in Civil War, ti would have disintegrated of its own weight.”[3]

THE GENERAL STRIKE, CHAPTER IV

The South feared that someone like John Brown would bring about a great slave insurrection.  This slave insurrection would eventually come after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves would rush the Union lines, many of them taking up arms against their former masters as Union soldiers.  Many of these stories are told in these Yale lectures:
http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/stories-of-how-slaves-helped-the-union-win-the-civil-war-yale-lecture-notes/

These fears of slave insurrections were irrational, nine of ten slaves could neither read nor write, and most were isolated on country plantations.  But they could hear the guns of the Union Army, and long before that there were chattering about the approaching Union Army.  Those slaves who slaved for the Confederate Armies looked for their opportunity to bolt to the Union lines.  Slavery softened when women and a few men ran the plantations while most men served as soldiers.

In the beginning of the war the generals often sent the slaves back to their masters, sometimes allowing their masters behind their lines to claim their slaves.  But as the war progressed more and more slaves were held as contraband of war who worked for the Union forces.  As the war drug on, after the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves crossed the Union lines in droves.  In New Orleans the Union Army generals put these freedmen to work on captured plantations where they worked much harder than they did when they were plantation slaves.  In the Outer Bank of the Carolinas the freedmen were granted farms of their own.  In Mississippi the Union divided the conquered territory up into districts with Negro sheriffs and justices.[4]  As more and more slaves fled to the Union lines, the plantations became harder and harder to maintain, especially since many of the men were fighting in the Confederate Army.

THE COMING OF THE LORD: CHAPTER V

Dubois’ subhead reads: “How the Negro became free because the North could not win the Civil War if he remained in slavery.  How arms in his hands, and the prospect of arms in a million more black hands, brought peace and emancipation to America.”  To the slaves the Civil War was truly the Coming of the Lord, the long and tortuous walk to the Promised Land.  For generations the slaves dolefully sung the songs of the Negro spirituals:
Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land,
Tell old Pharaoh, To let my people go:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vf6jBP4YXwo

In the beginning of the war Lincoln said, “If I could save the Union with freeing any slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do that.  What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it would help to save the Union.”  Nobody in the North had any quarrel with the South retaining slavery in the South, but few in the North supported extending slavery further into the territories, and few in the North supported the Fugitive Slave Law.  The Free Soil Party was the predecessor to the Republic Party, northern laborers on free soil did not welcome unfair competition to slaves who were paid no wages.

To the black slaves of the Confederacy, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation announced the Coming of the Lord.  This was issued under Lincoln’s war powers, only the slaves in  those states in rebelling states would be freed, without compensation.  Although the English merchants favored the Confederacy, the workingmen vigorously support the Union cause once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.[5]

The freedmen did not escape discrimination after they fled to the Union lines.  Some generals were hesitant to use them as soldiers, though many Negro fighting units proved to be quite brave and determined.  Many freedmen served as spies and scouts.  At first the Negroes were paid less than the white Union soldiers, though this was evened out eventually.  Some Union generals were wary of training Negroes as officers to lead the colored troops.[6]

Once Lincoln addressed the colored soldiers in the field: “Let me say God has made you free.  Although you have been deprived of your God-given rightsby your so-called masters, you are now as free as I am, and if those that claim to be your superiors do not know that you are free, take the sword and bayonet and teach them that you are, for God created all men free, giving to each the same rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But when the Confederates captured black Union soldiers, they were either executed or cruelly re-enslaved.  Confederate soldiers felt that fighting against colored troop offended their honor.[7]

One historical fact has not changed since the Civil War, the mere mention of Black Lives Matter stirs up great soul-rotting anger and hatred.  WEB Dubois says that “of all that most Americans wanted, this freeing of the slaves was the last.  Everything black was hideous.  Everything Negroes did was wrong.  If they fought for freedom, they were beasts; if they did not fight, they were born slaves.  If they cowered on the plantations, they loved slavery; if they ran away, they were lazy loafers.  If they sang, they were silly; if they scowled, they were impudent.”

Dubois continues, “The bites and blows of a nation fell upon them.  All hatred that the whites after the Civil Ware had for each other gradually concentrated itself on the Negroes. They caused the war, they, its victims.  They were the cause of wasted property and small crops.  They had impoverished the South, and plunged the North into endless debt.  And they were funny, funny ridiculous baboons, aping man.”[8]

LOOKING BACKWARD, CHAPTER VI

Dubois’ subhead reads: “How the planters, having lost the war for slavery, sought to being again where they left off in 1860, merely substituting for the individual ownership of slaves, a new state serfdom of black folk.”[9]

These attitudes persist until the present day.  The states of the Confederacy have the lowest wages, the worst poverty, the lowest unemployment benefits, the worst indigent health care system, the worst funded public education system, and are the states that most actively suppress the black vote.

Reconstruction is in three phases.  In Presidential Reconstruction under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, lenient terms enticed the Southern states back into the Union.  However, the South overreaches, enacting black codes so harsh that they effectively re-enslave the free blacks to their former masters, denying blacks any rights as citizens.  This backfires on the South, outraged Northern voters strengthen the position of the Radical Republican Congressmen, who gain a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress.  The South is placed under military rule, new civil rights legislation is passed, and policies that benefit free blacks are enforced.  The Southern states are forced to approve the Reconstruction Amendments that compel the states to grant citizenship, due process of law, and the right to vote to all citizens.  But there is mass resistance, the Ku Klux Klan and similar white supremacy bands spring up, terrorizing the South in their night rides and burning crosses, lynchings become commonplace.  The Panic of 1873 causes a deep recession, Northern public opinion tires of the endless struggle against the old Confederacy, leading to the final phase, Redemption.  Federal troops are withdrawn from the South and  the Southerners are free to rule as they see fit, Jim Crow laws are passed denying blacks their civil liberties and their ability to live a normal life with a decent paying job.  The KKK and other night riders step up their lynchings to intimidate blacks, in some cases violently overthrowing legitimately elected local governments.

During Presidential Reconstruction President Johnson pardoned most of the lower level Confederate officials and the large planter class, and restored to the planters the lands that had been confiscated and sometimes deeded to black farmers.  Very few black freedmen received the forty acres and a mule during this time, though some would later receive this as homesteaders in succeeding years.

Immediately after the war there was a great deal of uncertainty on how  the planters could persuade the black freedman to help bring in the crop, especially due to the hostility between the planters and freedmen.  Sometimes cash wages were paid, but many planters did not have enough cash to pay wages.  Many planters were skeptical that free Negro labor could ever be profitable.  Sometimes the planters compelled the blacks to work the fields anyway, though the old system of overseers whipping gangs of negroes quickly disappeared as the Freedmen’s Bureau got involved.  Secret organizations like the Ku Klux Klan rose up to terrorize the black freedman.  Both planters and poor whites joined the KKK, they both developed a sense of camaraderie by their persecution of the black.[10]

WEB Dubois includes long excerpts from a report on the status of Reconstruction for President Johnson by Carl Schurz.  Some of these excerpts include:
“Wherever I go” I hear Southerners admit that “they are unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all.  Men who are honorable in their dealings with the with neighbors, will cheat a NEGRO WITHOUT feeling a single twinge of their honor.  To kill a Negro, they do not deem murder; to debauch a Negro woman, they do not think fornication; to take the property away from a Negro, they do not consider robbery.  The people boast that when they get freedmen’s affairs in their own hands, to use their own expression, ‘the niggers will catch hell.’”

“The slave system in Virginia has exhausted the able-bodied laborers; I have been informed that twenty thousand of that class were annually sold from Virginia; consequently, a very large portion of the colored population there is composed of the aged, infirm, women and children, and the planters being freed of the obligation of supporting them is really a great relief in the present poverty of the people, a relief to their former owners.”

“It is a simple fact, capable of indefinite proof, that the black man does not receive the faintest shadow of justice.  In nine cases out of ten within my observation, where a white man has provoked a affray with a black and savagely misused him, the black man has been fined for insolent language because he did not receive the chastisement in submissive silence, while the white man has gone free.”

A former Mississippi slaveholder wrote: “General Chetlain of Mississippi tells us while he was in command on nine counties there was an average of one black man killed every day, and that in moving out forty miles on an expedition he found seven Negroes wantonly butchered.  General Thomas of the Freedmen’s Bureau tells us that on average two or three black men are killed daily in Mississippi; the sable patriot in blue (black Union soldiers) as they return, are the objects of especial spite.”[11]

WEB Dubois writes this: “the Black Codes (passed by the Confederate states) were deliberately designed to take advantage of every misfortune of the Negro.  Negroes were liable to be enslaved under the guise of vagrancy and apprenticeship laws; to make the best labor contracts, Negroes must leave the old plantations and seek better terms; but if caught wandering in search of work, and thus unemployed and without a home, this was vagrancy, and the victim could be whipped and sold into slavery.  In the turmoil of war, children were separated from their parents, or parents were unable to support them properly.  These children could be sold into slavery, and ‘the former owner of said minor shall have the preference.’  And even then, the Negro must make their appeal to a jury and judge who would believe the word of any white man in preference to that of any Negro on pain of losing office and caste.”

“The Negro’s access to the land was hindered and limited; his right to work was curtailed; is right of self-defense was taken away, when his right to bear arms was stopped; and his employment was virtually reduced to contract labor with penal servitude as a punishment for leaving his job.  And in all cases, the judges of the Negro’s guilt or innocence, rights and obligations were men who believed firmly, for the most part, that the Negro had ‘no rights which a white man was bound to respect.’”[12]

LOOKING FORWARD

Although Eric Foner’s recent books on Reconstruction are the best readable histories of this era, my personal recommendation is to read WEB Dubois’ book on black reconstruction first.  Foner’s books on Reconstruction have so much detail that it can be difficult to see the forest since you are lost in the trees.  Also, Foner usually writes his history chronologically, whereas Dubois is only loosely chronological, organizing his history thematically.  Also, Dubois writes his history on Black Reconstruction from his perspective as a black historian highlighting black history, which is a very valuable perspective, since the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, and since the Reconstruction struggles centered around the question of whether blacks could be citizens and office holders and be equal to whites.

In the middle chapters describing the substantial progress that was achieved during the Reconstruction years, Dubois has separate chapters describing the politics of South Carolina; Mississippi and Louisiana; Alabama, Georgia, and Florida; and the border and frontier states.  Each chapter describes the politics differed in these regions.  Dubois also devotes an important chapter to the development of public education under Reconstruction.  Dubois’ project was to show how both black and white Republicans were able to enact significant reforms and administer the government with competence, while admitting that state governments in that era suffered from corruption.  Since many of these reforms were reversed during the Redemption era when the white supremacist Confederates regained political control, I am not going to review these in this blog.

In the last years of the Civil War the Freedmen’s Bureau was established and renewed periodically through the years of Reconstruction.  Though hamstrung by lack of resources, much was accomplished.  WEB Dubois writes: “Twelve labors of Hercules faced the Freemen’s Bureau: to make as rapidly as possible a general survey of conditions and needs in every state and locality; to relieve immediate hunger and distress; to appoint state commissioners and upwards of 900 bureau officials; to put the laborers to work at regular wage; to transport laborers, teachers and officials; to furnish land for the peasant; to open schools; to pay bounties to black soldiers and their families; to establish hospitals and guard health; to administer justice between man and former master; to answer continuous and persistent criticism, North and South, black and white; to find funds to pay for all this.”

The Freedmen’s Bureau was able to found many schools and public hospitals, and with difficulty encourage freedmen to work for contract wages.[13]  However, its efforts met with massive resistance from Southerners, the Freedmen’s Bureau required the backing of the Union Army to accomplish its many missions.  A Congressional Report stated that the Freedmen’s Bureau is “almost universally opposed by the mass of the population, and exists in an efficient condition only under military protection, while the Union men of the south are earnest in its defense, declaring with one voice that without its protection the colored people would not be permitted to labor at fair prices, and could hardly live in safety.  The also testify that without the protection of the US troops Union men, whether from the North or the South, would need to abandon their homes.  The feeling of many towards the emancipated slaves, especially among the uneducated and ignorant, is one of vindictive and malicious hatred.  This deep-seated prejudice against color is assiduously cultivated by the public journals, and leads to acts of cruelty, oppression, and murder, which the local authorities are at no pains to prevent or punish.”[14]

WEB Dubois includes a chapter on how a public education system was founded and strengthened during Reconstruction.  He includes this quote by Booker T Washington: “Few people who were not” there can really understand “the intense desire which the people of my race showed for education.  It was a whole race trying to go to school.  Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn.  As fast as any kind of teachers could be secured, not only were day-schools filled, but night-schools as well. The great ambition of the older people was to try to learn to read the Bible before they died.”[15]

When Lincoln was assassinated his Vice President, Andrew Johnson, ascended to the Presidency.  At first his fellow Republicans were hopeful.  Johnson was from the border state of Tennessee and has often railed against the ruling planter class in his speeches and conversations.  Indeed, he refused to offer blanket pardons to wealthy planters, but after they applied individually he quickly granted nearly all of them pardons anyway.

However, Johnson had very little knowledge of Negroes, and shared many of the racial prejudices of Southerners, viewing Negroes as lazy and not fit to govern himself, fearing that the Negroes “might be tempted to lawlessness and insurrection.”[16]  He restored to most planters their property that had been seized during the war, revoking the land titles given to any blacks on this confiscated land.

The problem was that Johnson was an avowed racist, and his opposition to the Civil Rights legislation and his slack attitude towards the Southern states angered the Northern electorate.  If the South was truly defeated, why were they behaving like they won the war, why did they insist on passing the Black Codes that kept the freed blacks in a state of bondage?

The Republican majority in Congress was strengthened in the mid-term elections of 1866, before the Southern states had been readmitted to the Union.  The Radical Republicans held a veto-proof majority in Congress, overriding the many Johnson vetoes of Civil Rights legislation.  Johnson so angered Congress that he was impeached by the House, and was one vote short of having the Senate affirming his impeachment by the required two-thirds majority.

Johnson’s racism can be seen in his third annual message a few months prior to the House voting for impeachment proceedings.  Johnson’s proclamation sound similar to Taney’s decision in the Dred Scott Case that helped bring about the Civil War.  “It is the glory of white men” to have built on this continent a great nation.  But it must be acknowledged that “Negros have shown less capacity for government than any race of people.”  “Wherever they have been left to their own devices they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism.”[17]

RECONSTRUCTION CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

Before a Confederate state could be readmitted to the Union, they had to pass the  three Civil War Amendments.  Dubois’ history draws heavily on congressional testimony and debates, and he relates some of the draft proposals considered for these amendments.  All three amendments explicitly gave Congress the right to enforce this through appropriate legislation.

The Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was passed in the last year of the war. [18]  But the Radical Republicans feared that if the Southern states were readmitted to the Union without the blacks having the right to vote that the South would dominate Congress even more thoroughly than before the Civil War, since freed blacks would count as a whole person whereas slaves counted as three-fifths a person for purposes of congressional representation in the House and Electoral College.[19]

The Fourteenth Amendment has several clauses.  It states that everyone born or naturalized in the United States are citizens, including ex-slaves.  The rights in the original Bill of Rights were thought to apply to the federal government, but this amendment stipulates that these rights should also apply to the states.  This section of the amendment reads, “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.”  This amendment has generated many lawsuits in many areas of the law up to the present day.[20]

Although the Southern states reluctantly passed the Thirteenth Amendment, all Southern states with the exception of Tennessee initially rejected the Fourteenth Amendment.  As a consequence, in early 1867 Congress divided the South into five military districts to be occupied by an insufficient number of Union troops.  The generals in these districts were permitted to use the civil courts to enforce the laws, but they also had the option to govern through military commissions.[21]

By this time the politics allowed Congress to pass the Fifteenth Amendment, which states that “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.”[22]

To counter the continuing violence by Southerners opposing the enforcement these amendments, President Grant requested and Congress passed the Ku Klux Klan enforcement law of 1871.  The KKK cases clogged the courts, but it was difficult if not impossible to convict anyone under these statutes in the South.[23]  By the end of Reconstruction, the Republican governors were reluctant to call up the militia to enforce the Civil Rights laws for fear of starting a race war.[24]

WAS WEB DUBOIS A MARXIST?

There is no denying that WEB Dubois occasionally uses Marxist labels in Black Reconstruction, there are several chapters titled the Black Proletariat in this state or that.  Certainly you can argue that the Civil War evolved into a class struggle between Southern whites and blacks.  Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that encouraged black slaves to abandon their plantations and flee to the Union lines, and many blacks were inducted as soldiers into the Union Army late in the war.  Many historians credit blacks with playing a major role in helping the Union win the Civil War.  His refusal to disown the Marxist worldview, at least symbolically, was a major reason for this estrangement from the NAACP and his exile in Ghana in the last years of his life.

However, Dubois never encouraged blacks to attempt to overthrow the government by violent means, for the simple reason that blacks were never permitted to own firearms of any kind during the Jim Crow and Redemption eras.  This is in contrast with Nelson Mandela in South Africa, where it was easier to smuggle in weapons and explosives, and where the blacks were an overwhelming majority of the population.  We explore the issue of whether Mandela was a communist in these blogs:

http://www.seekingvirtueandwisdom.com/category/nelson-mandela/

BACK TO SLAVERY, CHAPTER XVI

Northern support for the military occupation of the South to force the Civil Rights reforms on the stubborn southerners, to battle the Ku Klux Klan and their night-riders intent on terrorizing and lynching negroes, to protect the teachers and other Freedmen Bureau officials from assault and murder waned as it became clear that this resistance, ironically termed as the Redemption of the South, could last decades.  There were never near enough federal troops occupying the South to extinguish the lynchings and lawlessness directed against the negroes, and after the Financial Panic of 1873 fewer and fewer Northerners were willing to station more and more federal troops to protect the negroes.

The election of 1876 was especially brutal.  If the election had been a fair election the Republicans would have won the election.  But in the Deep South the election was anything but fair, there was widespread violent intimidation of negro voters, in some counties the KKK seized and destroyed the contents of ballot boxes containing the results of heavy Republican turnout.  The instances where hundreds of Negroes were murdered were more numerous than in prior elections.  Congress was called on to resolve the disputed elections in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina.  A compromise was reached, the Republican Rutherford Hayes would be awarded the disputed electoral votes, in return federal troops would be withdrawn from the South, ending Reconstruction.[25]  Since local law enforcement officials belonged to the KKK, this meant that Negroes were totally helpless, since the Negro was free and not the property of a white man, their lives were literally worthless in the eyes of most white men.

Just as the KKK used the Christian imagery of burning crosses, pretending to be knight riders as the rode lynching and looting and assaulting negroes, their houses, and their property to protect white honor and white women from depredations.  The South named this period their Redemption from the Northern occupiers who really sought to enforce Christian behavior towards their poor and most vulnerable black citizens.

Dubois’ subhead reads: “How civil war in the South began again, indeed had never ceased; and how black Prometheus bound to the Rock of Ages by hate, hurt an humiliation, has his vitals eaten out as they grow, yet lives and fights.”  Dubois continues: “The civil war in the South which overthrew Reconstruction was a determined effort to reduce black labor as nearly as possible to a condition of unlimited exploitation and build a new class of capitalists on this foundation.  The wage of the Negro, despite the war amendments, was to be reduced to the level of bare subsistence by taxation, peonage, caste, and every form of discrimination, in open defiance of the clear letter of the law.”

An eyewitness tells a Senate Committee: “Some planters held back their former slaves on their plantations by brute force.  Armed bands of white men patrolled the country roads to drive back the Negroes wandering about.  Dead bodies of murdered Negroes were found on and near the highways and byways.  Gruesome reports came from the hospitals, reports of colored men and women whose ears had been cut off, whose skulls had been broken by blows, whose bodies have been slashed by knives or lacerated with scourges.  A veritable reign of terror prevailed in many parts of the South.”

Dubois then retells many more incidents of lashings and looting and terrorizing of Negroes who were both helpless to retaliate and who could not find any justice.  There were ten times to a hundred times more murders of Negroes than white men.  Colored churches were burned, the houses of colored men were burned, their crops and livestock and farm tools were destroyed.

Often the entire community was forced to be complicit in this terror.  This Congressional testimony tells us that in South Carolina there were “organized bands of armed ‘regulators’ who make it their business to traverse these counties and maltreat Negroes with any avowed definite purpose.  They treat the Negroes horribly, sometimes maiming them, cutting of their ears, etc.  When two citizens testified against them they were instantly compelled to flee the county, barely escaping with their lives.  The citizens are bound in honor not to testify against these regulators, so only the Negroes can offer evidence against them.”[26]

The South began building the Jim Crow system of black codes to oppress and subjugate the Negro, starting with legislation that disenfranchised the Negro, denying him the right to vote.  The Democratic Party rules were changed so only white men cold join the party, which meant that the White Democratic primary elections were the only elections that mattered, since the Republican Party would be the minority party for generations.

Many public hospitals and public schools founded by the Freedmen’s Bureau were either starved for funds or closed outright.  Between twice and ten times more funds were spent on a white student than black students.  Black men were imprisoned for loitering.  Many southern states leased out their convicts to the highest bidder to mines and plantations.  A white woman writes: “These prisoners are herded together, regardless of age, confined at night in shackles, sometimes housed in box cars, packed like sardines in a can.  During the day all are worked under armed guards, who stand ready to shoot down any who attempt to escape from this hell on earth.”  Bloodhounds track down any who escape, “they are severely flogged and placed in double shackles.”

Dubois writes, “While all instruments of group control, police, courts, government appropriations, were in the hand of whites, no power was left in Negro hands.  If a white man is assaulted by a white man or a Negro the police are at hand.  If a Negro is assaulted by a white man, the police are more apt to arrest the victim than the aggressor; if he is assaulted by another Negro, he is in most cases without redress or protection.”

Dubois writes: “In many districts Negroes were afraid to build decent homes or dress well, or own their own carriages, bicycles or automobiles, because of possible retaliation on the part of the whites.”[27]  In some regions all the teachers were dismissed, partially replaced by Southerners, in some regions the schoolhouses were burned down when Reconstruction ended.[28]

How was the black man able to survive the Jim Crow and Redemption eras?  Dubois answers in this history in 1935: “Had it not been for the Negro school and college, the Negro would, to all intents and purposes, have been driven back into slavery.  His economic foothold in land and capital was too slight in ten years of turmoil to effect any defense or stability.  His Reconstruction leadership had come from Negroes educated in the North, and white politicians, capitalists and philanthropic teachers.  The counter-revolution of 1876 (Redemption era) drove most of these, save the teachers, away.  But already, through establishing public schools and private colleges, and by organizing the Negro church, the Negro had acquired enough leadership and knowledge to thwart the worst designs of the new slave drivers.  They avoided the mistake of trying to meet force by force.  They bent to the storm of beating, lynching and murder, and kept their souls in spite of public and private insult of every description; they built an inner culture which the world recognizes in spite of the fact that it is still half-strangled and inarticulate.”[29]

[1] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction (New York: The Free Press, 1935, 1962, 1998), pp. 32, 41.

[2] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 35, 44.

[3] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 53.

[4] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 57-82.

[5] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 84-89.

[6] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 99-103.

[7] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 112-113.

[8] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 125.

[9] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 128.

[10] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 129-131.

[11] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 136-142.

[12] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 167.

[13] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 223-225.

[14] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 312.

[15] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 641-642.

[16] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 259.

[17] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 341.

[18] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 207-208.

[19] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 265-266.

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

[21] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 331-332.

[22] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fifteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

[23] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 683-684.

[24] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 690.

[25] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1876_United_States_presidential_election

[26] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 670-676.

[27] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 694-701.

[28] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, pp. 646-647.

[29] WEB Dubois, Black Reconstruction, p. 667.

About Bruce Strom 127 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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