A while ago I saw someone ask, somewhere on Facebook, “But what have whites done, since the Civil War, to prevent blacks from succeeding? Why do we owe them anything?” So I got to work, thinking I’d write a post in which I’d neatly sum up, chronologically, all the ways whites have worked to systematically exclude blacks from the American dream.
Yes, obviously slavery, before and during the Civil War. But anyone who thinks that once slavery was over, everything was hunky-dory, has either had no history lessons to speak of, or wasn’t paying attention. After the Southern states capitulated, the Union Army stayed in the South for another eleven years to ensure that all enslaved people were indeed freed and that they were paid for their labor from then on, and treated fairly and equally in general. Public programs like public education and public healthcare were set up, and the army oversaw elections. African Americans voted and ran for office and a few African Americans became mayors, senators, congressmen. This period is called the Reconstruction.
But as soon as the Union Army left in 1876, the white Southerners came up with the Black Code, laws that ensured white supremacy and white power over blacks. Different states had different laws or more or less severe versions, but the following are some of the most common: Any black person who could not prove he was employed and had housing would be arrested and “rented out” until he had paid off the exorbitant fine; apprentice laws allowed for the “hiring out” of young children and orphans as free labor; some states didn’t allow blacks to own land; they were excluded from certain jobs and trades; they were not allowed to own firearms; they could not testify in court against a white person; and interracial marriage was a crime. In short, these were laws and rules that returned Southern society to how it was before the Civil War in every way but slavery.
Jim Crow: from 1877 (end of Reconstruction) to the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Acts were passed into law. The public programs set up during the Reconstruction were severely cut the moment the federal officials left in 1876. Laws were enacted that segregated blacks from whites in all areas of society, laws that made it illegal for blacks to leave their job (they were forced to sign one-year contracts) or the state they had been enslaved in, laws that required blacks to be able to spell better than their hick white counterparts if they wanted to vote, and apart from laws, white supremacist organizations like the KKK and employers also effectively intimidated most black folks into staying away from the polls. In late June, 1946, Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo, in a public radio address, called on
every red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi to resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls in the July 2 primary. And if you don’t know what that means, you are just not up to your persuasive measures.
All these laws were justified by the overarching Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Their bullshit line was that they didn’t see blacks as unequal, but rather as “separate but equal”. And although the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) guarantees equal protection under the law, regardless of race, in reality blacks could not count on it. Between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States, that we know of, that is. Of these murdered people 3,446 were black. Many of the white people who were lynched were killed because they helped blacks.
It’s a myth that segregation was a Southern thing, and that it, too, ended, in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Acts. Many whites want to believe that everything’s been hunky-dory since then. No more segregation, equal rights for all, so any disparity between whites and African Americans now must be … what? … must be due to African Americans being lazy, or dumb, or because of cultural differences? What?
When I started researching individual Jim Crow laws, like segregated housing, I realized that this was going to take more than one post. So in the following posts I will discuss several ways African Americans have been disadvantaged, not just during slavery, not just during Jim Crow and not just in the South. The next post will deal with housing, and I have to say, I was gobsmacked half the time while I was reading about the deliberate government policies that led to the current situations in America.
A note on the side: In these posts I’m primarily focused on African Americans because I started researching this in response to the question on Facebook by Mr. Clueless. (But at least he asked.) Also, it fits in with some research I’m doing in a different area. In many cases my findings apply to other ethnic minorities as well. I might take on each minority separately in some way in the future, but I can’t make any specific promises at the moment.
- 14th Amendment to the US Constitution (Web Guides : Primary Documents in American History). – Washington : Library of Congress. – https://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?ollId=llsl&fileName=014/llsl014.db&recNum=389
- Black Code. – Encyclopaedia Britannica. – https://www.britannica.com/topic/black-code
- History of Lynchings. – NAACP. – http://www.naacp.org/history-of-lynchings/
- Jim Crow Law / Melvin I. Urofsky. – Encvclopaedia Britannica. – https://www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law
- Plessy v. Ferguson. – Justia. – US Supreme Court. – https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/163/537/case.html
- Reconstruction / Eric Foner. – Encyclopaedia Britannica. – https://www.britannica.com/event/Reconstruction-United-States-history
Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo’s Legacy of Hate / Pierre Tristam (Candide’s Notebooks). – Common Dreams. July 17, 2007. –