AFAM 162: African American History: From Emancipation to the Present
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African American History: From Emancipation to the Present
AFAM 162 - Lecture 3 - Reconstruction
Chapter 1. Introduction: The Reconstruction Era [00:00:00]
Professor Jonathan Holloway:
Mississippi planter to a Freedman’s Bureau official. The language is what the language is. “Let me find some way or give me some way that I can punish these people so they’ll do the work that I need them to do.” We can see in this quote how politics, labor, and free will are intertwined. These are the themes for this week, this week being beginning of the second week of lectures, although we’re meeting on Friday. We’ll be looking at the way politics, and labor, and free will are in the mix, as it were, throughout this particular era. We’re moving this week from the very end of the Civil War, 1865 to about 1877. Well, at least for this lecture, excuse me, the period known as Reconstruction. Now when thinking about Reconstruction, the general attempt by the Union or by the United States to bring the Union back together, when we think about Reconstruction, it’s really important to understand that we’re talking about an evolving set of ideas, an evolving set of political strategies. Now I’m simplifying things when I say it, there’s no doubt about it, but there is a real element of improvisation during this era, an experimentation as the country, at the federal level to the most local level, is trying to figure out how to heal the wounds of division.
Chapter 2. Chronology of the Reconstruction Era [00:02:12]
I want to map out for you the basic chronology of this era and then we’ll be, I’ll be moving forward in this chronology and then working backwards again back to 1865. So November of 1864, Lincoln’s reelected. By April of 1865 he’s assassinated. Before he dies, however, and after his reelection, he starts working on plans to complete emancipation. He had already made the proclamation, the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1863, but he was concerned that after the war there might be attempts to see or to interpret the Emancipation Proclamation as merely a wartime resolution and not something permanent. And for Lincoln the die has been cast now. He’s gotta find a way to make emancipation permanent. And so he starts working with Congress and other individuals for the passage of what would become the Thirteenth Amendment for the Constitution–to the Constitution. The first of three so-called Reconstruction Amendments.
The Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery. Again, making sure that the Emancipation Proclamation is more than just a wartime measure, that it would emancipate those people who are legally still kept as slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation. So looking directly at this slide, you’re going to see Lincoln’s assassinated in 1865. Excuse me. At the end of 1865, The Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery is passed. You enter into phase of Presidential Reconstruction followed by Radical Reconstruction. Then you have the two other Reconstruction Amendments, the Fourteenth, establishing the lines of citizenship and guaranteeing due process, the Fifteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote that would not be mitigated based on your race or previous inservitude, and by 1877, withdrawal of Northern troops, the end of the Reconstruction. I want you to get this down in your notes so you understand the chronology that I’ll be going back over for the rest of this particular lecture.
So Lincoln’s reelected, he’s building a plan, advocating a plan that would turn into the Thirteenth Amendment, calling for a complete end of slavery in the United States. Things aren’t looking good for the South. It seems that the North is going to win the Civil War. Even before Lincoln’s assassinated, he seems pretty certain that’s going to be the case. And so several central questions, now that the tide has turned in this way, simply have to be addressed. And these are the questions that are really the–I’ll be spending the lecture addressing. And the questions might seem kind of strange to you, but as you’ll see, they’re rather relevant to the ways in which whites and blacks are responding to this new era in U.S. history.
“What does one do with blacks now they’ve been emancipated? How will they be controlled?” I use that language very intentionally. “Who will do the work and how will the South survive the upheaval?” What I want to do–this is an incredibly complicated era, and I’ve always been struggling with the right way to tell this story. What I want to do for the rest of the lecture is tell the narrative mainly from a standpoint of high politics, electoral, formal processes and legislatures, for instance, and then I want to go back over the same time period looking at the social history, what’s sort of happening on the ground. So it’s giving you the heads up, we’ll be looping back over–going back to 1865 and starting over in a sense, looking at these different narratives to address these questions. “What do you do with blacks, how are they going to be controlled, who will do the work, and will the South survive the upheaval?”
Chapter 3. A Narrative Account of the Reconstruction Era [00:06:37]
Now before Lincoln is killed, he starts trying very aggressively to figure out the best way to reunite the country after the war. He proposes a ten percent plan. It’s called “The Ten Percent Plan.” And it is a–the elements of the plan involve a pardon to all Southerners, except for Confederate leaders, they could not be excused. A pardon would be given to all Southerners who took an oath of loyalty to the Union and supported emancipation. Once ten percent of a state population, we’re talking white males, once ten percent of the state population agrees to this idea, signs this loyalty oath, a new government could be formed. Anti-slavery activists, Congressional radicals, people are just staunch supporters of the Union efforts saying, “This is way too lenient, we have spilled too much blood just to say if ten percent of the South goes along with this plan, everything will be forgiven.” The plan goes nowhere, and Lincoln is assassinated.
Andrew Johnson takes office and develops a plan and a series of measures that taken together are capturing what we call “Presidential Reconstruction.” The basic terms of Presidential Reconstruction say that a general pardon is given to the white South, except for Confederate leaders, just like Lincoln’s plan, but Johnson’s is different. He says, “We will pardon everyone except for Confederate leaders and wealthy planters.” Johnson was a man of the people, coming from farming roots, working very hard, and saw that moneyed land-owners, plantation-owners, were a real source of many of the problems in the South. So the pardon to the white South, except for Confederate leaders and wealthy planters, required the end of slavery, and then it would let the South set up it’s own governments. And the thinking was that the white yeoman farmers–since the white planters, the wealthy planters, would not be allowed to be the leaders, that white yeoman farmers, people working sort of hand-to-mouth and scraping by, they would be the one who would take control of these governments and restructure the society more along sort of I would say agrarian class sympathetic lines.
Plan moves forward, and Johnson could not have been more wrong about what would happen. He thought that there would be a new egalitarian ethos in the South, and what happened is that once the whites take over office, they begin to answer the set of questions I posed at the beginning of the class, in terms of what to do with blacks, with a rather curious set of answers. They enacted the so-called “Black Codes.” I’m going to skip over the Black Codes for the moment, save that for the social history part of the lecture. But they enact the Black Codes. The answer under Johnson that the white governments in the South provide does not look a whole bunch better than slavery for many African Americans.
The Republicans in Congress, people who’ve been staunch anti-slavery advocates, are horrified at Johnson’s plan. Lincoln’s was way too lenient, Johnson’s was stricter, but it didn’t change the social order, as it turns out. And so Congress, the Republicans in Congress, they now control the Congress, sets about fighting Johnson at every turn. Johnson has a plan, Congress overrules it. Johnson vetoes Congress’s decision, Congress beats back the veto. I mean, the government is just locked in this battle at the federal level on all manner of issues. During this period of federal inside battling, I suppose one could call it, Republican-controlled Congress pushes through the first Civil Rights Act in 1866, it pushes through the Fourteenth Amendment delineating the terms of citizenship and due process. Due process is something you’ll be hearing–being incredibly important for freedom struggles as we move forward in this class. And threatened–the Congress threatens South’s representation in Congress if blacks were denied the right to vote.
Southern states, seeing the handwriting on the wall about the fact that Republican-controlled Congress, which is a Northern Congress, sees these terms and just rejects them. Congress gets tough and ushers in a series of reforms that become known as “Radical Reconstruction” or “Congressional Reconstruction,” they are the same thing. Congressional Reconstruction and Radical Reconstruction.
Professor Jonathan Holloway: Bless you. So Johnson has a chance to make a difference in Reconstruction. From 1865, with Lincoln’s assassination, to 1867, that two years of experimentation. Congress says, “Forget about it, we’re taking control here,”–through sheer numbers–and enters the longest phase of Reconstruction, Congressional Radical Reconstruction, from 1867 to 1877. And it is a radical change. Under this new Reconstruction plan, the South is divided into five military districts. These districts are controlled by Northern and Republican governments. There is quite literally a military occupation of the South by federal troops.
Congress pushes through the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, guaranteeing blacks, and this is black males, please understand, guaranteeing them the right to vote. If you’d been a slave, it doesn’t matter. If you’re black, it doesn’t matter. You have the right to vote. After this amendment passes, you start seeing a period in the eras of different Reconstructions, of incredible positive change for many African Americans–not all, but many. And that change often comes through–you can mark it by the dramatic increase–well, increasing from zero to anything is dramatic, I suppose, but the dramatic increase of blacks holding office. You start seeing black men holding office at the local level, being elected to maybe a town council let’s say, in some places being located the local sheriff, which is really quite astonishing, through state governments and into the federal government. In Congress, and in the House of Representatives, and in the Senate.
The change in representation that there are blacks in government at all levels is astonishing on many levels. What is even more astonishing, I’ll repeat this fact in about ten weeks or eleven weeks, is that the number of black elected officials in the federal government, House of Representatives and Senate, blossoms during this era, at the end of Reconstruction, which I’ll start talking about in the next lecture, that those numbers start to evaporate, and the numbers do not return as far as federal representation of blacks coming from the Southern states. It does not return until Bill Clinton is elected President. This is a radical change, and it is so radical it could not be sustained, as we’ll see. But for the moment, in 1870 through 1877, at the level of politics, electoral politics, it seems there is a real opportunity for change as far as representation–the local, the state, the federal level. All of these changes, federal occupation–military occupation of the South, setting very aggressive terms about how the Southern governments could be reformed and readmitted to the Union, having blacks hold elected office, all of these changes tear at the social fabric of the South.
What I want to do for the next bit is to start looking at these changes sort of on the ground. Trying to help us understand the ways in which things had shifted fundamentally for whites and African Americans at the moment of the end of the Civil War. Now as I eluded earlier to the question “What are you going to do with blacks?”–The central question of the era is what one does with blacks springs out of the fact that freedom meant different things to different people.
Freedom meant liberation for blacks, and that part is obvious certainly. For whites, at that moment of liberation, those who had slaves from small, you know, small slaveholding households, two or three slaves to plantations, it means an immediate loss of labor. For blacks and whites it means an immediate sense of profound instability in the social fabric. In a very curious way, it means for blacks in more dangerous situations–dangerous moment. Slaves’ bodies…
Professor Jonathan Holloway: [laughs] It’s alright. Okay. Slaves’ bodies had value, literal value. You were property. If you did something–if someone thinks you did something wrong, black person offends a white person’s sensibilities, and a white person decides to strike me, hit me, hurt my body or something, that white person has damaged property that belongs to somebody else and they had to make restitution. After the end of the Civil War, black bodies were, from a financial standpoint, they had no value. Now I remember actually making this statement during a public lecture at a library during a series of lectures in San Diego and someone got very upset with me. Everybody has value. I mean yes, everybody does have value, but I’m talking of literal dollars and cents. Black bodies don’t have value after the moment, the end of slavery, and you can do what you want to with them. Freedom, you can’t discount it’s important for African Americans, the moment of liberation. But profound instability you can’t ignore either.
Now since the Southern economy is devastated after the war, during the war and after the war, since there’s the loss of labor that is profound, white planters want a quick return to plantation labor, you gotta get crops in from the field. And they understood that we don’t have slaves anymore, but there’s gotta be a way to get gang labor reorganized, have an overseer. At the same time black–white planters want this, blacks who have been working on these plantations for example, they’ve gotta find a way to put food on their table, but they want to have economic autonomy, be it land ownership. They want to have their own farms. White farm-owners want blacks to sign labor contracts to commit themselves to work on the farms. Blacks reject this saying they expect the federal government to help them out. They expect the federal government to redistribute land. So you have these really intense conflicting expectations that are directly related to conflicting senses of what freedom meant. And if you look at some of these items on the screen here, I’ll start talking about them, you’ll start seeing where these expectations come from and why they would be so conflicted and complicated.
Chapter 4. 1865: The Establishment of Black Codes [00:20:12]
Now we’re back in 1865. Johnson is the president and he wants to see the Southern economy back on track and wants blacks back to work immediately. The question is how to do it. He allows Southern governments to reestablish themselves under Presidential Reconstruction guidelines, and once they do, a lot of these white governments start answering the question what to do with blacks and establish Black Codes. Now Black Codes were a series of state-level laws aimed at answering the question what to do with this newly freed population. There was one–there wasn’t a single set of Black Codes, they ranged broadly. Some are more strict than others, but they are just taken together a series of legal concepts that are seeking to create a new labor system that essentially put blacks back to work.
Now you look at the codes, you’ll see they authorize blacks to acquire property, something blacks certainly wanted. It authorized blacks to marry, something they were not allowed to do when they were slaves. It authorized blacks to make contracts, sue and be sued, testify in court against other blacks, mind you. All of these things are essentially brand new, so the Black Codes on the surface, at first glance, seemed to be a way of trying to give blacks some citizenship rights they didn’t have before. But look a little more closely, you’ll also see many other guidelines that make it clear that the Black Codes are about labor stabilization.
Now I’m lumping all of these things together here. Some state codes required all blacks to have an annual proof of one year labor contracts. Basically you had to sign up saying, “I’m going to work this plot of land at this plantation, I’m going to work in this shop for the next year, and I won’t leave.” If you leave the job, you sign that contract, you leave the job before the year is up, you will lose all wages that you had earned up to that point. And you might be subject to arrest by a white citizen. And notice, I’m not talking about the white Chief of Police or Deputy, be arrested by a white person walking down the street who says, “You know, you’re not working the way you should be working. You clearly should be on that labor contract, and what are you doing here?”
Some Black Codes would say that blacks couldn’t steal labor or else they risked a five hundred dollar fine, I mean a ridiculous amount of money. Now stealing labor, that could be interpreted as not working hard enough. Or that could be interpreted as when you’re working this plot of land, saving a little bit of that part for yourself. Not maximizing the return on the investment, essentially, that white property-owners had made. If you steal labor you could be fined five hundred dollars. In other states blacks were forbidden to rent land in urban areas. The notion was if you have them closer to a city, you might have critical masses developing of African Americans who are property owners, or at least renters. They might be able to develop their own economic opportunities through informal networks, essentially allowing blacks to rent property in towns gave them too much autonomy, the fear was.
Black Codes forced black women back on farms. This way they would not be seen in public spaces. This was all for the good of the woman, this is for the black women, they should really be in their natural habitat. This would’ve been the language of the day, by the way. Black Codes regulated sexual behavior. You could not dress a certain way, you could not be out at a certain hour. Black Codes would address vagrancy, idleness, rude gestures, mischief, preaching the Gospel without a license and so on. I mean, incredibly vague. If you’re just kinda hanging out, you could be in violation of a Black Code. If you’re up to no good, being mischievous, violation of a Black Code. And all of these could lead to fines or involuntary plantation labor.
Black Codes forced apprenticeships on black minors–black young people, not miners, minors. They would have to work without wages. It’s mainly orphans or children of poor parents. Many of the Black Codes said that they could–blacks could not hunt or own weapons. This is a very important limitation, because in the rural South, you shot your food. But the idea was, “If we start giving blacks guns, they may not shoot food, they may shoot us.” So blacks can’t hunt or own weapons. So you take all these things together, and again, I’ve lumped many different state’s Black Codes here, it’s clear that while everyone wants the Southern economy back on track, I mean everybody does, there’s no rational way of justifying doing it via the Black Codes. And so fairly soon after their being established, sometimes in less than a year, these Black Codes are declared illegal and are eliminated. So we’re talking about a very–a brief moment in time. This sort of underscores the notion of we’re at a period of improvisation and experimentation, “We’ll try this until we’re told it doesn’t work any longer.”
Chapter 5. Sharecropping: A New Labor System [00:26:14]
In the place of the Black Codes, a new labor system develops. This one was much more focused–much more explicitly focused upon labor instead of all the morality issues that you see in the Black Codes. And this new labor system, that becomes incredibly successful for what it was, is called sharecropping. Sharecropping revolves around credit. The whites own the land, the tools, the seed, but they didn’t own the labor. That’s what blacks controlled. So blacks could use the land, the tools, and the seed, but they did not get paid in cash. Instead they would rent the white’s property and their tools, etcetera. And in order to get the seed, they’d have to go to the company store for their purchases. And the store would be sort of like Durfee’s, you know, exorbitantly priced.
Professor Jonathan Holloway: So, you know, if a bag of seed on the market–I’m making up the numbers here, might have cost one dollar, at the company store maybe it’s three, three credits, three units, or something like that. So sharecroppers would pay for their food, their seed, etcetera with their shares, their portions of the crop that they were growing and later harvesting for the landowner. At the end of the year when the crop in question, let’s just say it’s cotton, which it would’ve been for a tremendous amount of the system, when the cotton is taken to market, the cotton that black sharecroppers had planted and harvested, they would not be able to go to market with the cotton crop. The landowner would go there, or his business manager, and he’d sell the cotton at the market rate. Then he would come back and make a declaration of how much he was able to get for this, settle the accounts privately with the landowner, and the landowner and labor then settled their accounts. And then a funny thing happened.
Almost inevitably, at the end of the year, after the planting cycle, when the crop came–was sent to market–and they came back with the money for it, they looked at the balances, and blacks owed money to the sharecropper, Every year. Let’s just say, again making up numbers, that if I’m a sharecropper and I spent a thousand dollars at the company store to buy all the–rent the equipment or buy the seeds or whatnot for my plot of land, I get this amazing crop, it goes off to market, come back, and the guy said “You know what? I was only able to get nine hundred dollars.” I now owe a hundred dollars to the landowner. What this meant was I’m stuck, because it is illegal to skip out on your debts. So the sharecroppers are required to go back to work for the same person in an attempt to eliminate the debt. So you have another–and the cycle just keeps repeating itself, you never get out of debt, you’re always working the land. What this meant is that, you know, maybe you aren’t being whipped by an overseer, but you are in perpetual servitude, as far as your labor and debt is concerned, to the landowner. You can’t escape it. Sharecropping works like a charm. It really begins in earnest in the mid-1860s or the later 1860s, it is still popular in the South through the 1940s. Only with systematic mechanization of farms do you have sharecroppers being relieved of that particular economic cycle.
Chapter 6. The Freedmen’s Bureau [00:30:04]
So white attempts to answer the question of what one could do to get blacks back to work, revolved around various attempts, whether it’s through the Black Codes or the sharecropping system, they revolved around various attempts to get–to recreate slavery, but with a different name and a slightly different nature. As I mentioned before, black–I mean, thinking about freedom from the black’s perspective also meant labor instability. This is why the Black Codes are so Draconian, this is why there’s such emphasis on you can’t escape debt. This was a way to control blacks. Now remember, blacks had expectations too after the Civil War was over. They wanted their freedom, they got their freedom in the literal sense, there’s no doubt about that. But there were also expectations about land ownership, that they would have land they could work themselves, and there were expectations the federal government would be the entity to help blacks navigate their arrival to full citizenship rights and property ownership. And these expectations grow out of The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, and out of Field Order Fifteen.
The Bureau has established, The Field Order’s enunciated, Black Codes enacted, all at the same moment, so these are overlapping narratives. Expectations about land, access to it, grows from Union General Sherman’s seemingly apocalyptic march to the Sea, in which he burned his way through and across the South, and while doing so issued the famous Field Order Fifteen, which declared that in part–declared in part that coastal land between Charleston, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida was from this point on for blacks. If Congress had accepted this promise, or acted upon this promise, excuse me, it would’ve given over land to roughly about two hundred thousand African Americans. The Field Order, declared in 1865, doesn’t redistribute land, but there is the expectation that the government is going to do so through the likes of violence perhaps, with General Sherman, or through an orderly attempt at giving assistance, and that’s through the Bureau of Freed Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, more often known as the Freedmen’s Bureau.
The Freedmen’s Bureau was established in March, 1865. It takes a while to get itself up and running. It’s organized under the General–the Union General Otis O. Howard–that’s why Howard University’s named after this man, he gave his land to the university. The Freedmen’s Bureau had the task of providing food, shelter, and medical aid for the destitute. That’s blacks as well as whites. It had the duty of providing education for freed people. To say that there was an educational system for blacks is ludicrous up to this moment in time. It’s also kinda ludicrous after the fact, but they were working on it. The Freedmen’s Bureau establishes free labor arrangements in former plantation areas. Essentially it’s charged with trying to help blacks develop an economic system where they could sign to do work and contract, but they had freedom in doing so. And the Freedmen’s Bureau is charged with securing justice for blacks in legal proceedings.
The Freedmen’s Bureau record on this front is mixed at best. You know from Field Order Fifteen that it’s the potential of returning or giving all this land to blacks doesn’t really happen. Freedmen’s Bureau, they’re talking about, you know, famous “Forty Acres and a Mule” ideology. The Freedmen’s Bureau is in control of, at one point, eight hundred and fifty thousand acres of property, that instead of being transferred to poor whites and to blacks, is transferred back to the original property owners. So these white planters lost their land in the war, and after some sorting out, they got their land right back. The notion of establishing wage labor contracts, that blacks are not going to be working for a year like in the sharecropping system that would’ve developed, but they would be paid wages, doesn’t work. So the Freedmen’s Bureau doesn’t distribute land like it promised it would, fails in establishing wage labor contracts. But it does do something really remarkable in that it starts establishing schools. Now again, these schools would not be on par with white schools, not by a long shot. But again, when you start from zero, any change is a radical change. So from 1865, the moment it was founded, to 1869, three thousand new schools for blacks, these are shacks essentially, are established.
So the Freedmen’s Bureau seems to at least on one level be doing something right, making a real change. But by 1872, it’s gone as well. It collapses. So it leaves us with a mixed record. The record of Radical Reconstruction, in fact, for much of the 1870s is mixed. The North is growing increasingly weary of Southern intransigents, incredible resistance to these kinds of changes. Southerners are tired of the Northern presence and were angry at having new state constitutions written under Republican-controlled governments that, as far as white Southerners were concerned, gave away way too much in terms of the rights and citizenships to black men. This period of sorting out, of radical changes at the electoral level that are highly positive for African Americans, there’s no debating that, that are of mixed success on the ground for the great majority of African Americans–but clearly it’s better to be free than slave, despite all the dangers that are incumbent with it.
It is a period of incredible stress, and resentment, and of different ways in which whites try to assert control. “What are we going to do with these blacks? Whose going to control them?” One of the first answers was the establishment of The KKK, The Ku Klux Klan, established in Tennessee in 1866. You didn’t need the Klan prior to emancipation, but as far as many whites were concerned, you needed something like the Klan after. Klan members would go after white Northerners who were holding elected office, would threaten them with assassination and assassinate some of them, would go after, you know, Jews and Catholics, and certainly went after blacks as well. Klan forms in 1866, but remember this is a period of military presence from the North and the South, and under General Grant, the Klan is wiped out within two years. For a while. But even though the Klan is wiped out, you can see through this era, 1865 to 1877, rising tides of resentment, chaffing by white Southerners, rising tides of–I guess one might just say impatience by black Americans in “When are we going to have real change?” And real change did come, but not in the way that African Americans had hoped.
In 1876, it’s the Presidential election, the two men left standing are Samuel Tilden, the Democrat, and Rutherford B. Hayes, Republican. Tilden wins the popular vote, but not– the electoral vote was unclear because the results from the Southern states were so contested. Sounds like recent history in fact. A compromise though is reached, that Hayes, the Republican, would secure the Presidency, but only if he promised to withdraw federal troops from the North–excuse me, from the South–end the military occupation, let the Southern states all come back into the Union. Hayes accepts the deal–the North again was exhausted by all the struggle. And with this famous compromise of 1877, Reconstruction ends.
Now with the end of Reconstruction, we get a new period of American life generally referred to as “Redemption.” When the white South shall rise again, they will redeem themselves. And I’ll be talking about Redemption in the next lecture. But I want to turn now from a moment of high politics–or discussion of high politics and a discussion of social history, sort of life on the ground, to take a moment to look at some other types of–some primary sources that helps us understand what I’ll just call “the Political Culture” of the moment.
Very famous image, “What miscegenation is. What we are to expect now that Mr. Lincoln is reelected.” Talking 1864 now. I mentioned in the first lecture, you know, nation states declaring their cultures, and the ideologies, and their myths on their currency. Well, you can see it as well in political posters, certainly political cartoons. And this is a–represents a kind of theme we’re going to see a fair amount in this course. Just like the currency of exalted white womanhood. And in this case, a caricature, a very dark-skinned caricature of an African American man. Caricature as being of black males, as you probably already know and will certainly know more, very alive and well during this period and certainly even to today in different ways, something we’ll talk about later on in the course. But a broadside talking about “This is what we’re going to expect now that Lincoln’s been reelected. All hope’s been lost. White women and black men will connect in this sort of way.”
Now this one I think is interesting ‘cause often the notion is that black men are assaulting white women, but in this case, you have–her arm is wrapped around, not in seeming protest. Be that as it may, the notion of black and white mingling in this sort of way was a profound threat. This is 1864. Now I talked about the Freedmen’s Bureau and the work that it was assigned to do. It’s there to establish wage labor contracts, and try to help navigate land redistribution, it seemed at first, and try to help provide basic assistance and education to African Americans. Well, on the political campaigns in 1866, after the Freedmen’s Bureau has been established, you start seeing representations–again another very famous poster. Representations of what Reconstruction actually means, the Freedmen’s Bureau, or what–excuse me, the Freedmen’s Bureau means. “The Freedmen’s Bureau, an agency to keep the Negro in idleness at the expense of the white man, twice vetoes by The President and made a law by Congress. Support Congress and you support the negro, sustain the President and you protect the white man.”
Another caricature of an African American in tatters, ‘cause he doesn’t really need to be dressed so he doesn’t really care, barefoot, idle, happy as can be. The white man looking on, working very hard, trying to earn his keep, do the right thing. Now, aside from this being a very famous poster, sort of capturing the sentiment or resentment about the Freedmen’s Bureau being there to assist the lazy African American, this is also important to highlight the ways in which these narratives appear in surprising places and ways, or at least, ways that we today might think are surprising.
This is a campaign ad, not in Alabama, not in Mississippi, but in Pennsylvania. It’s an ad sort of regarding an election in 1866 pitting John Geary, Republican, against Hiester Clymer for the governorship of Pennsylvania. Clymer’s saying, the Democrat, is saying, “If you support Geary, you’re supporting this. Black idleness.” From the same campaign–and this is dramatic I think, pretty dramatic as well, but you see the notion of caricature and ideals of white beauty but in a different sort of way in the same campaign, another broadside. Pretty direct here. Clymer’s platform is for the white man. Geary’s platform is for the Negro. Read the platforms. Again, if you’re supporting Geary, represented here by the grotesque representation of a black male, if you’re representing Geary, you’re representing all of those things that are wrong about excess, idleness, illiteracy, sexual aggression, all of these things that are associated with black male, especially in this case, black male behavior. If you support Clymer, you support someone whose educated, whose refined, whose disciplined.
So we go from this image, which is sort of a grotesquery, very busy, lots of different texts and representations, to this one that’s cleaner as it were, more upfront about his representations, to in 1868–these are typical, these are not exceptional advertisements. In 1868 in the Presidential–Democratic Presidential Primary–New York Governor Horatio Seymour who was the Governor of the state during the New York City draft riots and who did not pursue the draft rioters, the Irish who burned parts of the city and attacked and killed people and attacked the military, he didn’t punish them, which–and he’s a Republican now, and people thought that he was a traitor to the Union army—or to the Union–in support of the Confederacy.
Anyway, New York Governor Horatio Seymour is running with Francis Blair from Missouri for the Democratic nomination. And they announce their ticket, couldn’t be more simple. Our motto, “This is a white man’s country, let white men rule.” So you see a range of images here that have been popularly distributed. Pennsylvania race for Governor, Presidential primary, again a northern Governor, in this case represented on the Presidential part of the ticket. A language, a visual language, and sometimes just flat-out words of course, making it clear that this era of transition is not an easy one, that there’s intransigents in all different corners and all different regions from different perspectives.
And if you’re thinking I’m over-reading these things, let me just show this last image that sends a message to Northerners who are coming down to save the South, take over the South, occupy the South–carpetbaggers, people who would load up their things in a bag from the North, come down to the South and set up a government, set up a business and take advantage of Southern resources, certainly a lot of them did. The South had an answer for these people, and you would see posters up on, you know, plastered onto a tree or a wall that would simply say this.
This is the nature of this visual conversation, if you will, of this moment in time, a period of tremendous sorting out, a period it seems of incredible possibility and hope, as far as the elected realm is concerned for African Americans, a period much more complicated on the ground for African Americans and for poor whites certainly, a period of growing or sustaining intransigents by white elected officials in the South, and a period where white elected officials in the North aren’t quite certain about this whole period, this whole idea of trying to reconstruct the Union along these terms. The answers that I posed at the beginning of the class were answered–the questions I posed at the beginning of the class were answered through these narratives. And we’ll see some more answers when we resume class the next session and talk about Redemption. Thank you.
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