Hidden History: The Invention of Segregation

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Episode 20: The Invention of Segregation

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

According to Ayers, Reconstruction had led to the natural development of public schools, poorhouses, orphanages for for newly freed Black citizens who lacked access to such services under slavery.

The first laws ordering public separation of Blacks and Whites applied to rail travel. Although nine states introduced laws separating Black and Whites on trains between 1887 and 1891, the term “segregation” wasn’t introduced until the 20th century. The railroads welcomed the laws to avoid incidents of Black passengers being accosted, assaulted and/or expelled by White passengers. Especially after one Black family won a lawsuit against the railroad for mistreatment.

Other forms of legally enforced segregation tended to accompany industrialization and urbanization. New cities tended to be segregated faster than older cities, as they purposely planned for separate facilities (eg streetcars, swimming pools for Black residents).

According to Ayers, one of the oddest features of racial segregation laws was that it only separated Blacks and Whites in public places. Extremely close (even intimate) interactions between Blacks and Whites were permitted in private settings, such as homes, and in male-oriented venues, such as bars, racetracks, boxing rings and brothels.  According to Ayers, the motivation for racial separation was in large part a backlash against the populists (see The People’s Party: How the South Gave Birth to Populism) and the threat of poor tenant farmers launching a new biracial coalition. Oddly, another strong motivation was sexual, ie the stated fear of white lawmakers that Black and White strangers comingling in public spaces might feel sexually attracted to one another.

Between 1890-1910, the South experienced their first significant out-migration of Black males and families seeking good paying jobs. Black sociologist and activist W.E. Dubois noted a significant break-up of Black extended families starting in the 1890s, as young adults left their sharecropping families to seek work in towns or in the North. Many elderly Black parents were left abandoned.

The film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/invention-segregation

Just to let people know I’m moving to Substack and Telegram after several readers informed me I’ve been censored from WordPress Reader feed. The link to my Substack account is https://stuartbramhall.substack.com/. The link to my Telegram channel is https://t.me/themostrevolutionaryact I’ll continue to publish on WordPress as long as I’m able, but if my blog suddenly disappears you’ll know where to find me.

The Landscape of the New South: Factories, Terrorism and Return of the Democratic Party

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Episode 18: The Landscape of the New South

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

Ayers starts this lecture by discussing the terrorism, consisting of intimidation, assaults, lynching and homicide inflicted by the Ku Klux Klan and related groups against both Black and White Republicans during Reconstruction. Support for the Republican party waned quickly when it became clear federal Republican officials could do nothing to protect their southern Republican supporter. By the late 1860s, most of the South had returned to Democratic leadership.

States with the largest Black populations (Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Florida) remained under Reconstruction (and occupied by federal troops) the longest (see Stuff Your Never Study in School: Reconstruction and the Freedman’s Bureau). However by 1876 (when the last federal troops withdrew from the South) only South Carolina and Louisiana remained under Republican control.

In 1876 the Democratic presidential candidate Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote to Republican Rutherford Hayes. Because several southern states submitted two different electoral vote tallies of electoral votes, the election was decided in Congress. As a compromise, Congress awarded the presidency to the Republican Hayes and simultaneously withdrew the last federal troops from South Carolina and Louisiana (allowing all southern states to return to Democratic control). This allowed the South to essentially nullify the 14th and 15th amendment* in the 1880s and 1890s.

The post-Reconstruction period was one of massive industrialization and economic expansion for the South. The expansion of Southern railroads led to the blossoming of southern “railroad towns” and “general stores.” The latter provisioned small farmers now that most grew cotton (which could always be sold at a profit), instead of basic foodstuffs.

Because the South had very few banks, most southerners turned to landowners and general stores for credit. The main collateral they used was a lien on the next cotton crop.

The South also saw a surge in manufacturing, with the construction of numerous iron, lumber, textile and turpentine, sugar and tobacco processing plants. There was also a big expansion in coal mining to power southern industrial development. Owing to low wages, southern entrepreneurs always had ready markets for their cheap iron, cloth, coal, lumber, turpentine, sugar and tobacco.

In this lecture, Ayers also relates the history of the development of Coca Cola by Atlanta patent medicine salesman Dr John Pemberton.


*The first Coke formula was based on coca leaves and cola nuts, both powerful stimulants.

Can be viewed free with a library card on Telegram.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/landscape-new-south

Just to let people know I’m moving to Substack and Telegram after several readers informed me I’ve been censored from WordPress Reader feed. The link to my Substack account is https://stuartbramhall.substack.com/. The link to my Telegram channel is https://t.me/themostrevolutionaryact I’ll continue to publish on WordPress as long as I’m able, but if my blog suddenly disappears you’ll know where to find me.

Stuff You Never Study in School: Reconstruction and the Freedman’s Bureau

Reconstruction Plans - Reconstruction Era

Episode 17: Reconstruction and the Freedmen’s Bureau

A New History of the American South

Dr Edward Ayers (2018)

Film Review

As I never studied Reconstruction in school, I found this lecture particularly valuable.

After the 1864 election, Republicans controlled the House and Senate by large majorities. Although most northerners wanted to bring Union troops home, Republicans considered ongoing military occupation essential to protect former slaves and to prevent former secessionists from resuming power.[1] Following the ceasefire that officially ended the Civil War, riots occurred in Memphis, New Orleans and other cities in which police and other whites (in some cases led by the Ku Klux Klan [2]) brutally assaulted and killed former slaves and burned their homes.

Ayers credits the Freedmen’s Bureau (1865-1872) for the most significant benefits of Reconstruction. During its operation it started 3,000 public schools, as well as assisting both landowners and former slaves in negotiating contracts enabling the latter to work for wages as free laborers.

During the 1866 midterm elections, Democratic President Andrew Johnson undertook an extremely controversial campaign tour in which he (as a former slave owner) boasted about his vetoes of civil rights legislation, mass pardons of former Confederate officials and their return to high level offices in state and federal government. This strategy backfired, resulting in a ferocious popular backlash, as well as Republican gains in Congress, as well Republican victories in all governors races and Republican control of all state legislatures.

The 1866 Civil Rights Act was the first law to define US citizenship and to guarantee equal protection under the law for all citizens. Johnson vetoed it, and Congress overturned his veto for the first time in US history. In the same year, both houses of Congress also approved the 14th Amendment (ratified by states in July 1868). In addition to granting automatic citizenship to all US-born persons, it also granted equal protection to all citizens and voting rights to all male[3] citizens. This amendment also provided for states abridging these voting rights to experience a decrease in congressional representation.

In 1867, Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Act, which placed the states of the former Confederacy under military rule (except for Tennessee, the only southern state to ratify the 14th Amendment and be readmitted to the Union). To be reaccepted into the Union, the other former Confederate states had to rewrite their constitutions accepting the 14th Amendment.

Congress also gave itself the power to convene special sessions,[4] as well as passing the Tenure of Office Act. This law made it illegal for the president to fire federal officers confirmed by the Senate. In 1868, after Johnson fired the Secretary of War, he became the first president to be impeached (followed by his acquittal in the Senate).

Despite their new legal rights, the majority of former slaves struggled to make a living in the Reconstruction South. In 1870 the final four states (Virginia, Mississippi, Texas and Georgia) were readmitted to the Union. Troops remained in the South until 1876.

In 1869, Congress approved the 15th Amendment (ratified in 1870) which  prohibits the federal government and each state from denying or abridging a citizen’s right to vote “on account of race color or previous condition of servitude.” According to Ayers, the primary rationale for the amendment was the large number of northern voters who didn’t agree with Black suffrage.


[1] Democrat Andrew Johnson granted pardons to most former Confederate leaders.

[2] The KKK was founded in 1863.

[3] Suffragettes who had campaigned tirelessly for abolition were extremely angry when the 14th Amendment essentially denied them the right to vote.

[4] To avoid a recurrence of the power vacuum occurring after Lincoln’s assassination when they were in recess for seven months.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

https://pukeariki.kanopy.com/video/reconstruction-and-freedmens-bureau

Just to let people know I’m moving to Substack and Telegram after several readers informed me I’ve been censored from WordPress Reader feed. The link to my Substack account is https://stuartbramhall.substack.com/. The link to my Telegram channel is https://t.me/themostrevolutionaryact I’ll continue to publish on WordPress as long as I’m able, but if my blog suddenly disappears you’ll know where to find me.

The Netflix Version of Reconstruction and the Great Northward Migration

The Fight for America Episode 2

Netflix (2021)

Film Review

Episode 2 briefly covers Civil War Reconstruction, and the immense progress freed slaves made when federal troops occupied the South. This included the construction of a large number of public schools. The latter served both Black and white students, in many cases the first time poor Southern whites enjoyed access to pubic education. It also saw the election of a large number of African Americans to local and national office.

Once federal troops withdrew, white Southerners restored former slaves to a state of servitude via Black Codes, Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism (ie lynching, firebombing, extrajudicial assassination, etc).

Moreover the Supreme Court ruled against Southern Blacks who sued for their right to equal protection (against arbitrary loss of life, liberty or property) under the 14th Amendment.

In the 1873 Slaughterhouse case, the SCOTUS ruled US citizens had to look to state governments for the privileges and protections guaranteed under the 14th Amendment.

In the 1876 Cruikshank case, the SCOTUS ruled the 14th Amendment doesn’t protect US citizens from violence inflicted by private citizens (eg lynching).

In the 1883 Civil Rights case, the SCOTUS ruled the 14th Amendment doesn’t protect US citizens from discrimination by private businesses.

In the 1896 Plessy vs Fergueson case, the SCOTUS ruled state segregation laws constitutional so long as Black citizens were offered “separate but equal” facilities.

KKK terrorism, combined with increasing northern industrialization would lead to a mass migration of southern Blacks to norther cities seeking factory jobs. In many cities, they found that mob violence against African Americans was just as dangerous as in the South.

In 1909 journalist and educator Ida Wells founded the NAACP as part of her tireless campaign to end lynching and white mob violence.

In this episode, filmmakers also examine the origins of southern Lost Cause ideology, which holds the South won a noble victory by “defeating” federal Reconstruction efforts. According to filmmakers, this ideology is celebrated in the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, the 1939 film Gone with the Wind and a host of highly controversial Confederate monuments in all the confederate states.

The Incredible Tragedy of the Civil War

Gallery

Death and the Civil War Directed by Ric Burns (PBS) 2012 Film review This PBS documentary explores the unprecedented level of casualties during the US Civil War and its effect on future federal and military policy. The Civil War was … Continue reading

A Novel About Jim Crow

some singSome Sing, Some Cry

By Ntozake Shangi and Ifa Bayeza

St Martin’s Press (2010)

Book Review

Some Sing, Some Cry is a novel tracing seven generations of a fictional African American family from slavery to the election of Barack Obama. The authors are sisters and the first half of the book is based on family oral history.

The novel’s matriarch originates from on an island off the coast of South Carolina and takes the name of a prominent plantation owner who has fathered children by both her mother and herself. The family are forced off their land when Reconstruction ends, migrating to Charleston.

The first half of the book is the strongest, with its poignant depiction of family members being stripped of their newly won freedoms as Jim Crow laws ban them from most occupations. To a large extent, the plot revolves around complex prejudices within the African American community against family members with darker skin. In one instance, the plantation owner kidnaps an light-complected male child and raises him as his heir. In another a “bright-skinned” uncle passes as Irish to evade trade union rules that ban Negroes.

The novel’s main focus is the role newly freed slaves played in the development of modern American music. The reader gets the strong sense that many Mayfield family members turned to working in minstrel shows, music halls and clubs when Jim Crow laws banned them from other occupations.

The sections dealing with the great northern migration, Harlem renaissance and birth of ragtime and jazz are also quite riveting. I came away with a totally new insight into the African American origin of the dance crazes of the “roaring twenties,” eg the “Charleston” and the “Black Bottom.”

This was also my first exposure to the extreme discrimination African American soldiers faced during World War I. Unlike white troops, they weren’t issued gas masks. Forced to improvise, they covered their faces with urine soaked rags to protect themselves against mustard gas.

Reclaiming Our History

plutocracy

Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States

Scott Noble (2015)

Film Review

As German philosopher Walter Benjamin famously stated, “History is written by the victors.” In the US, most history books are written by and for the corporate oligarchs who run our government. Plutocracy is the first documentary to comprehensively examine early American history from the perspective of the working class. Part II (Solidarity Forever) will cover the late 19th Century to the early twenties. The filmmaker is currently seeking donations to complete the project. If you’d like to help, you can donate to their Patreon account.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at Plutocracy

Plutocracy starts with Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, the insurrection of Massachusetts farmers against the courts and banks that were fleecing them of their meager wealth and property. Similar rebellions in Rhode Island and Virginia would cause leading US bankers, merchants and plantation owners to organize a secret convention to create a central government and standing army. Each of the 13 original states, which in 1787 were still independent and sovereign, sent delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Instead of revising the Articles, as authorized by their state legislatures, the delegates closed the meeting to the public and voted to replace them with a federal constitution. The latter substantially limited the freedom and power of state legislatures and ordinary Americans.

Plutocracy moves on to cover the massive Irish immigration of the mid-nineteenth century and the appalling squalor so-called “white Negroes” lived in. During the 19th century, 80% of babies born to Irish immigrants died in infancy.

The film touches only briefly on the Civil War, describing laws that enabled robber barons like John Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and Cornelius Vanderbilt to evade the Civil War draft by paying a poor person $300 to replace them.

It offers a detailed depiction of post-Civil War Reconstruction, which coincided with the 1871 Paris commune and saw blacks collaborating with poor whites to establish the South’s first public schools and hospitals. This was in addition to the election of numerous former slaves to judgeships and legislative positions.

Their eagerness to return Negroes to productive status on plantations led northern industrialists to pressure Congress to end Reconstruction by removing the federal troops protecting the rights of former slaves. It also led to their passive acceptance of unconstitutional Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism. The chief aim of both was to prevent poor backs and whites from associating with one another.

The federal troops withdrawn from the South were redeployed in genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and Mexicans. By the end of the 19th century, not only had Mexico ceded half their territory to the US (including California, Texas, Utah, Nevada and parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Montana – in the 1984 Treaty of Guadalupe), but US corporations enjoyed de facto control of all land remaining under sovereign Mexican control.

Stripping the Native Americans and Mexicans of their land in the West, readied the US for the rise of the robber barons of industry (Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie and Vanderbilt) and a corrupt system of federal and local government run entirely by bribery and patronage.

The corruption and squalid living conditions of the late 19th century would give rise to militant trade unionism, socialism, anarchism and populism. Plutocracy depicts the Pullman and similar strikes in which strikers were brutally beaten and killed by Pinkerton’s Detectives and other goons hired by industrial bosses, as well as national guardsmen and, on several occasions, federal troops.

The film opens with a poignant depiction of the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest labor uprising in US history. It’s the largest armed uprising since the Civil War, involving 10,000 coal miners. Denise Giardini memorializes the Battle of Blair Mountain in her 1987 novel Storming Heaven.


*Rockefeller and Morgan had a relative monopoly on the banks, Carnegie on steel and Vanderbilt on the railroads.

 

1941: The Year Slavery Finally Ended

Slavery by Another Name

PBS (2012)

Film Review

This shocking documentary reveals how virtual slavery persisted in the South for 80 years after the Civil War and the enactment of the 13th amendment. This involuntary servitude, based on Jim Crow laws and illegal debt slavery, allowed Southern factories, railroads, mines and plantations to use former slaves as a captive workforce. Prior to 1941, the federal government largely turned a blind to these activities, owing to the economic importance of free labor in the industrialization of the South.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, Congress imposed a period of radical Reconstruction on the South. Enforced by federal troops, it ensured that newly freed slaves enjoyed the right to vote and other civil liberties they were guaranteed under the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment.* The 1500 or so black politicians elected to Reconstruction governments established the first free public schools (for white and black students) in the South.

Jim Crow Laws and Convict Labor

Reconstruction ended in 1875. When a pro-Southern majority took over Congress, control of Southern states and communities reverted to the wealthy elite which had run the slave plantations. Thanks to a loophole in the 13th amendment (see below), all the former slave states quickly established a system to lease convict labor to private companies and plantations. The Jim Crow laws they passed made blacks subject to arrest for petty misdemeanors, such as walking along the railroad tracks, speaking in a loud voice in front of white women, spitting, loitering and vagrancy (all blacks were required to carry proof of employment at all times).

Following their arrest, Southern prisons hired these men (one-third were boys under 16) out to plantations and private companies for $9 a month. Small towns would conduct large police sweeps at cotton picking time or when coal companies were recruit miners.

Working conditions were far worse than under slavery. Companies had no incentive to keep black workers healthy and safe – workers who died were easily replaced. Death rates, especially in the coal mines, were extremely high – roughly 30-40% per year.

Debt Slavery

Even more Southern blacks were enslaved through illegal debt peonage schemes, which used real and fictitious debts to force them into involuntary servitude. This was based on a totally corrupt legal system in which unscrupulous law enforcement officers collaborated with bent magistrates and justices of the peace. Deputy sheriffs would take blacks into custody, claiming they owed them money. Without a shred of proof, their magistrate friends would throw them in jail. The same deputies would then “buy” and resell them at a profit to private companies and plantation owners.

In the early 1900s a federal grand jury investigated Alabama for debt peonage, illegal under federal law, and returned a number of indictments. Although most were dropped, two of the worst offenders sentenced to federal prison. Concerned about potential ramifications for American industry (the world’s largest corporation US Steel owned the Birmingham coal mine that employed convict and debt-based labor), President Teddy Roosevelt pardoned both of them.

Sharecropping Also Illegal Under Federal Law

Sharecropping was another form of illegal debt peonage. Forced to borrow their living expenses from plantation owners who charged 50-90% interest, sharecroppers had no hope of ever repaying their debts. Worse still, state law prohibited them from leaving the plantation with unpaid debt. Those who tried were arrested and brought back.

The Early Role of the NAACP

All this began to change in the early 1900s with the steady migration of Southern blacks to the North, as well as the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. The latter actively campaigned for anti-lynching laws, as well as stronger enforcement of federal laws banning debt peonage and convict leasing to private entities.

Progress was incredibly slow. By the early 1930s, there were still 4.8 million blacks in the South. Most were caught up in some form of involuntary servitude.

It would the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December for Franklin Roosevelt to mandate aggressive prosecution in all cases of involuntary servitude. His primary concern was that Japan would seize on America’s horrific treatment of African Americans for propaganda purposes.


*13th amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
14th amendment: (Sec 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.”
15th amendment (Sec 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.”