tv Reconstruction and Jim Crow Laws CSPAN April 27, 2021 9:08am-9:56am EDT
>> join in the conversation for ross douthat, sunday at noon eastern on book tv's in-depth. visit c-spanshop.org to get your copies of ross douthat's books. next on american history tv, historian henry louis gates talks about reconstruction which lasted from the end of the civil war until 1877. the amendments passed during this time to promote equality for african-americans and the subsequent jim crow laws and other measures used in southern states to re-establish white supremacy. the national constitution center hosted this event. >> ladies and gentlemen, welcome upstairs at the national constitution center.
[ applause ] >> you heard the passion of professor gates downstairs, so we're going to jump right into this conversation. the one thing i have to say, i think you can tell it is urgently important to bring as many school kids as possible to come see that incredible exhibit. [ applause ] and that is why i'm thrilled that last week dr. william hite, the superintendent of the school district of philadelphia sat with me and announced that the school district and the constitution center are launching a program to bring tens of thousands of philly school districts to the constitution center every year. >> wow. [ applause ] >> we're calling it the constitutional ambassador's program. we're going to go seek support and those great kids are going to start the experience in their
classroom, come see that civil war exhibit and see the constitution center and connect to classrooms around the country using our virtual constitutional exchanges for hour-long conversations about the conversation, moderated by a judge or a master teacher. >> wow, that's great. >> it's an amazing project and we're so excited to share it with you. all right. professor gates does need no introduction. he is author of this best-selling book which is the companion book to the path breaking series which has just run on pbs, the book is superb. it tells the story with more vivid detail and more powerful images than i've seen before of how the promise of reconstruction, which we saw in the gallery, was brutally thwarted by the south and the
heroic efforts of african-american intellectuals and others to try to resurrect that promise. we're going to jump right into the conversation. before we start, we're going to see a clip from the series, let us watch it now. >> most of us know that our country fought a civil war in the 1860s. but less is known about what came afterward. the chaotic, exhilarating and devastating period known as reconstruction. >> did you ever study reconstruction in school? >> no. >> a paragraph or two. >> we never really studied it. >> i didn't learn anything about reconstruction. >> reconstruction was our shining moment. it's the second founding of our country. >> overnight, people who had been defined as property take leadership positions in the south. >> this is an incredibly heady moment. kind of like barack obama becoming president. >> but those black folks had no idea of the cliff they were
heading towards. >> reconstruction produced a violent backlash, a racist backlash. >> i want us to tell the truth about our history, not to punish america, i want to liberate us. we can't get to liberation if we don't acknowledge what we've done. >> it's our town now! >> do you believe that we as a nation are still undergoing the process of reconstruction. >> you might say it never ended. we're still trying to come to terms with the consequences of the end of slavery in this country. >> this is a chapter of your history that's been misrepresented and misunderstood. it's time that we acknowledge the true story and complete the work of reconstructing america. [ applause ]
>> thank you. thank you. thank you. i want to correct one thing you said. you said that every school child in philadelphia should see this exhibition, every school child in america should see this exhibition. >> absolutely. >> this is the most amazing exhibition about reconstruction that i've ever seen. i learned things on our tour that i had never seen the different drafts of the three reconstruction amendments. thank you to members of the board and all the people who support this marvelous center for making this education possible. because we never really have dealt with the issues raised by reconstruction. >> thank you so much for that. i learned so much from that interactive too. i'll ask you what you learned, but also what you want americans to know about those reconstruction amendments themselves, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment.
>> the 13th amendment abolished slavery. and most people know it now because of the documentary, who didn't know it before. we were raised to think the emancipation proclamation abolished slavery, and of course, i didn't. maybe half a million formally enslaved people were able to get behind union lines and gain their freedom before the end of the civil war. but the institution of slavery was only abolished by the ratification of the 13th amendment. the 14th, as you said so eloquently, the equal protection clause and birthright citizenship. they were trying to figure out what is the status of these people who have been property for a quarter of a millennium.
that's 1868. and finally the ratification of the 15th amendment, which effectively gave black men the right to vote. it said that race could not be used to prevent or prohibit any american from voting. but what's very curious about the 15th amendment is that black people in the south who had been formally enslaved and free in the 10 of the 11 confederate states got the right to vote the year before. it was a surprise to me when i started doing research for what became our series and it's a surprise, i think, for most of you. if you were a former slave or had been free in the south, it was one of the four reconstruction amendments that gave black men the right to
vote. and that was the -- what we call the first freedom summer. the freedom summer of 1867 when 80.5% of all eligible black men in the 10 of the 11 confederate states registered to vote. but here's the kicker, you know how we demonize the south as opposed to the north, and we have a fantasy that there was no racism in the north. if you were free, i descend from three sets of free negroes, as we have said, two sets were free by the outbreak of the american revolution. the third set on my father's mother side were free in 1823. they lived 30 miles from where i was born. i have a tremendous amount of stability in my family. it's now in west virginia, but it was in virginia at that time.
so and my fourth grade grandfather actually fought in the american revolution. because of him, my doctor are members of the sons of the american revolution. go figure. [ applause ] not exactly a predominantly black organization, you know what i'm talking about? so hold this in mind, west virginia becomes a state and joins the union in the middle of the civil war. it becomes a state june 20th, 1863. my -- and they had -- my free negro ancestors had cousins in winchester, virginia. those cousins who had been enslaved got the right to vote three years before my free ancestors get the right to vote because in the north, black men could only vote in the five new
england states and in the state of new york, if you satisfied a $250 property requirement. isn't that amazing? that is so shocking, but it is true. and even when west virginia became a state, they refused to give black men in west virginia -- there ain't that many black people in west virginia today. we're only talking about a handful of people. they refused to give them the right to vote. it was those four reconstruction acts that really laid the groundwork for citizenship and for the right to vote. now, i first studied reconstruction -- i didn't study it at allnvty in high school int virginia. but i studied it at yale. my sophomore year, i took a course, afro american history.
we were afro americans at the time. and the professor who went onto get a pulitzer prize for his biography had us read w.e.b. du bois book. it challenged the dunning school of historians at columbia university and they were part and parcel of the mythology of reconstruction being a dismal failure and embarrassment to the historian of the american democracy. and du bois took on the dunning school. and the chief consultant to our series, it's ironic that he's our leading reconstruction historian at columbia university. it's almost as if -- i think he's about to publish his 10th book on reconstruction on the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments which will be set out in
december. it's a personal mission for him to refute the racist claims made by the dunning school, his own predecessors in the history department at columbia and set the record straight. so mcfeely had us read du bois's book and a book by rayford logan. he was the third or the fourth black man to get a ph.d. in history. but he wrote a book called the betrayal of the negro. and it's about the period immediately following reconstruction. reconstruction people argue about it. but generally acceptedxg8+ 1865 to 1877. du bois' bookends in 1877. logan's book begins in 1877. and that is the period of the
rollback to reconstruction. it takes a while to roll it back. black men had an enormous amount of power. black people were in the majority. south carolina, mississippi, louisiana, almost in a majority, florida, alabama, and georgia. florida, alabama and georgia. there were 16 black men elected to congress between 1870 and 1877, including two united states senators. in south carolina, speaker of the house, secretary of state, one of the great moments of the film -- i go to jim clyburn's office and he has all the reconstruction congressmen on his wall and he could do a whole black history lesson. but systematically, step by step, the redemptionist, the former confederates
disenfranchise as black men. what are you going to do? 13th, 14th, 15th amendments are ratified. you can't get rid of them. but you could go around and starting in 1890 with something called the mississippi plan, there were state constitutions which then unfolded over the next 16 years in each of the former confederate states. and that's when they established poll taxes, literacy tests, comprehension tests that only a law professor could possibly understand. how want to know how dramatically effective these state constitutional conventions were? louisiana, in 1898 before they state constitution convention, had 130,000 black men registered to vote. the new constitution was ratified in 1898. by 1904 that number of 130,000 black men registered to vote had been reduced to 1,342.
there were 2,000 black men elected to office during the reconstruction period. the last reconstruction congressman, george henry white, bids farewell to the congress in 1901. and there wouldn't be another black man elected to the congress until 1929 when oscar dupriest is elected from chicago. all of those black people took part in the great migration. went from mississippi to chicago north and because of the 15th amendment, they had the right to vote. and so they vote a northerner into the congress. so for my introduction in reconstruction was coterminous with an introduction to its roll
back. that's why we made a four-hour series. the first hours are about reconstruction, the great heights that black people achieved just out of slavery, and this great moment when lincoln's desire for a new birth of freedom was realized, our first experiment with interracial democracy. and it was greeted by the rise of white supremacy. i said that the 13th was ratified december 6th, 1865. the ku klux klan was invented september 1865. there were eight massacres, major, between 1866 and 1876 starting in memphis, ending in hamburg, south carolina, and 1876. so this was not an untroubled period. the ku klux klan hearings and all of these volumes are online
now and you can read them. that's the closest that we've come in this country to a truth in reconciliation commission. when grant sent troops to suppress the ku klux klan. and they asked all of these black people who had been victimized by the ku klux klan. black women were raped, they were threatened, bribed, beaten to keep them from voting because they had so much power. and i think that the manifestation, the expression of all that power, not only scared the daylights out of the former south, as you might except, right, but i don't think the north was ready for all that black power either. because the north was complicit with the roll back of reconstruction. certainly you could see signs by 1872. 1873 is the first great depression in the united states. it's called the pandemic of
1873. but until the great depression starting in the 1929, it was called the great depression. looking around saying do we really need to protect these slaves. aren't they free? can't they stand on their own feet? how are you going to enslave people for a quarter of a millennia and except them to stand on their own feet after a mere 12 years. but that's exactly what happened. the compromise, the presidential election 1876, deadlocked. in 1877 the compromise -- one of the agreements the few remaining federal troops protecting black people's right to vote would be withdrawn and black people would be on their own. and the supreme court was complicit.
black people basically had a funeral at a big church in washington, 1883, right after the supreme court said that the civil rights act of 1875, which established equality, social equality, it was called then. black people could ride in streetcars, stay in hotels, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. the supreme court said that was unconstitutional. and frederick douglass, blanch k. bruce, the first black graduate of harvard, all gathered in the church and the church was packed just like this. and langston spoke. it was -- they just said, how could the country do this to us? how could they abandon us? how could they throw us to the wolves in the way that they have done? it was -- du bois said famously, if you want to think about the rise and fall of black freedom,
the slave went free, stood a brief moment in the sun, and then moved back towards slavery again. and that is the history of the rise and fall of reconstruction. [ applause ] >> thank you for the most riveting and incredible moving account of the rise and fall of reconstruction. you have the funeral that african-americans held for slavery after the civil war and another funeral was held for reconstruction after the civil rights decision is stunning. you have this picture in the book of the first colored senators and representatives in new york and then and what is so incredible about what you just said was how central the right to vote was. now i understand why frederick douglass said that the right to
vote was the most important of the group and why the e vis ration of the right to vote was the core of redemption. tell us more about how the racist redemption based backlash eviscerated the right to vote through supreme court decisions, through terrorist violence and through discriminatory laws like poll taxes and literacy tests? >> this lithograph is from 1872. it's famous. it's called the first colored senator and the u.s. representatives. and, you know, that during the depression, the federal riders project sent writers to interview former slaves. people who would have been very, very young by the end of the civil war. still alive in the 1930s. in these very small, often they were former homes occupied by
slaves on plantations, right? they found, you know, grease-covered, faded copies of that 1812 lithograph. you know the way people -- you go to a black home. there's jesus and martin luther king, yeah? now there's jesus, martin luther king and barack obama. they had that lithograph. and i studied that -- the history of that lithograph. three of those men were born free. and we tend to forget -- robert brown elliot was born free in liverpool. there was so much action, so much excitement about reconstruction that elliot shows up in boston, he's part of the british navy. born three in liverpool, educated, he's part of the british navy. shows up in boston. hears about all this opportunity
in south carolina, goes to south carolina, richard harvey cane had been moved to revitalize mother emmanuel. you all know mother emmanuel because that's where the nine martyrs were so horribly murdered that day. a great entrepreneur starts a black newspaper and hires elliot to work for him. and then elliot runs for the sate legislature and then for the congress. when richard greener graduates from harvard in 1870, endless opportunities, does he go to new york? does he go to boston? stay in boston? does he go to philadelphia? no, he goes to charleston, south carolina, because that's where the action was. we can't imagine that today. you can't imagine how much promise and energy and optimism. think about it. think about what that was like if you had been enslaved up to
1865. endless horizon. boom, within 12 years, all gone. it's just horrible to contemplate. i often -- i was born in 1950. i often think -- oliver, i'm sure you do too. what it would be like to be black with the same capacities that we have now. you wouldn't have gone to oxford. i wouldn't have gone to cambridge, i wouldn't have gone to yale. we would not have had those opportunities. and i can imagine the heartbreak. when you read the speeches made that day at that church in 1883 and douglas went to lincoln hall three days later and made another speech about the betrayal of the negro. and you ask, why would they do this?
well, what remained the leading export from the united states through the 1930s? cotton. somebody had to pick that cotton. and you were moving from an economy where the labor was free, right? as performed by slaves. and it needed to be replaced to maximum profits with a form of, what, neo slavery. sharecropping, vagrancy laws, you saw three black men, four black men on the street, they could be arrested, put on the chain gang. you know those images of chain gangs, that's where they call come from. between 1889 and 1930 or so, 3,700 black men are lynched in the name of -- many, not all, many accused of rape, raping
white women. isn't that curious in lynching was a trope that was invented as part of a larger white supremacist rhetorical superstructure. one of the fascinating things that i figured out when we were making the series, and particularly when i was writing the book, was this was the time of america's first social media war. it was a battle between these confected images of black people as thieves, liars, venal, deras nated, sambo art we all it. every chapter is followed by a visual essay comprised of these
horrible images which we all have seen. it's call memorabilia now. but black skin, thick, red lips, wide eyes with black pupils and wild hair. chickens, black people eating watermelons, black people, male and female in every exaggerated form through which you can represent a human being, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of these images are produced after the fall of reconstruction and particularly in the 1890s. why in the 1890s? technological accident. you can widely distribute four color images in advertisements, trade cards, postcards, posters on games. it was possible for a middle
class white family from the time your alarm clock went off, because these images were everywhere. you would hit an alarm clock and you would see sambo staring at you in the alarm clock. you go to have breakfast, and your tea cozy was a sambo images, your cups had sambo images on them. what's one of the favorite parlor games, ten little niggers, that was one of the favorite parlor games in america at that time. everywhere a white person saw the image of a black person, it was of a sambo, it was of this racist caricature. the whole point was to create a sub limb mall effect.
they want to find the stereotype as an already red text. think about how brilliant that is. an already read text. what does that mean, i can look at you, you're black, i don't see you. i see sambo. i see aunt jemima. i know exactly who you are. because the society as confected an image superimposed on who you really are. and you are forced to live up to or down to -- however you might want to put it, that racist image of yourself. what do black people do, they fought back with their own concept called the new negro. the talented, the educated black people say, all right, well, we can't win this war. maybe what you're saying is true about the uneducated black people. but we are educated, refined, the concept starts in about 1890. we used to think -- i wrote the
book, it said it started in 1894 and a scholar wrote to me said, no, it started? 1877 and i got the essay. now it starts in 1877. but the point is, they fought back this concept of sambo with the concept of the new negro. and the new negro was everything that the so-called old negro wasn't. du bois even globalized the new negro, w.e.b. du bois first man to get a ph.d. from harvard in history. du bois curated the negro exhibit and he took 363 photographs of black people, many of whom were not even visibly black because he wanted to show the genetic diversity of the african-american community
and they're all, of course, upper class black people. he's trying to defeat this racist image that had been created by the redemptionist movement with the rise of white supremacy. it was true in art. it was true in novels. it was true in folklore. even if you read joel chandler harris' tales. and he had a lot to preserve traditional black folk tale. times he's put words in their mouth like, our people don't need the right to vote, or we don't need all that education. that's a real mistake. a waste of emergency. it was true in the social sciences and it was true at the racial science. you know about the science of eugenics. louie agassi, a person who claims that they're a descendent is suing harvard for using
those. but agassi was a professor, he was a stone-cold racist. all of these were related, literature, science, politics, in order to put the genie back in the lamp. and it was devastatingly effective. [ applause ] >> could it have been otherwise? if the courts had ruled differently, if the election had come out the other way, if the compromise of 1873 hadn't happened, could it have come out otherwise? what were the grounds of hope and tell us about the title of the book as well and the song that inspired it. >> one time i asked -- i'm on board the aspen institute.
and madeleine albright and condi rice are both on the board. it was about the time when president obama was opening up cuba, that door was opened about five minutes and then it was shut again. my wife happens to be cuban and -- a cuban citizen and a historian. now i can go as a family member so nobody can stop me. so i asked madeleine and walter isakson gave me the first question. they were debating, whatever they were debating. and i asked them, which is more important in terms of -- i used cuba add an example because it was contemporary, giving people the right to vote or giving them economic freedom, right? and predictably as you might imagine, condi said one person, one vote first. don't open up cuba unless
everyone can vote. madeleine said, economic opportunity. economic independence. you give them that, the middle class will rise and sooner or later they will demand their rights. of course, we can see this in china now and a couple other places. i went to china in 1993. there were a billion bicycles. i went back ten years later and there were a billion bmws and i couldn't breathe, either. it was like being in a time machine going back to london in the dickens time. i used to wonder -- remember that booker t. washington speech that i cited downstairs when he was, economics is more important than politics. we're willing to forego the right to vote.
if we can develop economically. we can be indispensable to the society if a person, a tradesman, a tradeswoman, a craftsman, craftswoman, is indispensable, why would you disrim nate against a brick mason or whatever it might be. that was booker t. washington. but he was opposed to frederick douglass who said the most important thing was the right to vote. so i used to -- and i love teaching. that's my day job. and i taught a course on reconstruction and redemption. my ph.d. is in english. i teach in the english department and the department of the african-american studies. this was about the concept of the new negro leading up through the harlem renaissance. so i asked the students to play
with this. give me a scenario where booker t. washington is not an uncle tom, make a case for booker t. washington, and a lot of people do. they'll say, look at china, right? if black people had developed economically, but what washington was training people for was not really going to put them in leading strong positions within a soon to be 20th century economy. he was training them more for a 19th century model of -- you know, industry and trade. and many of the lynchings, many of the lynchings, though, they were in the name of a black man attempting to rape a white women, when ida b. wells started investigating them in 1892 and other people investigated,
including walter white in the 1920s, it turned out it was economic competition. ida b. wells' best friend had a grocery store, a market and across the street was a white man's. and they -- kids were playing marbles, black and white kids. they got into a fight. it led to this huge conflict and the guy who was jealous of the black man ignited the community in memphis to lynch the man who very well educated man, who had started that store with a couple of his partners. and that example repeated itself throughout the south at the heart of these so-called lynchings. could economics -- if black people had gotten 40 acres and a mule, right, you all know about 40 acres and a mule, spike lee's production company is called 40
acres and a mule, that would have been a radical transformation in property ownership. big plantations would be divided up into 40-acre plots, given to the former slaves. it actually was tried. in the georgia sea islands, liberated by the union army early in the war, there were plantations that were divided up and black people were given parcels of land to develop. the person who single handedly rolled back that policy was andrew johnson. and andrew johnson sent the first head of the freed man's bureau and a here of the civil war to those black people lufg living on those sea islands to tell them that they had to give the land back to the former masters who had enslaved them.
that's horrible. that was a horrible thing. so they never had a chance to own land. never -- i think by 1900, 20% of the african-americans in the south owned some kind of land. and that was not enough to create a middle class that would have sufficient economic clout to make a real difference. but without the ballot, those economic rights could not be protected. so in the debate between condi and madeleine, in terms of black americans following the civil war, the most important thing that could have happened to change the fate of interracial %■ was protecting the black man's right to vote. and only men could vote, of course, is why i said black men. and the people who were trying to roll back the civil war
understood that that was the vulnerable point. if we could takeaway their right to vote by intimidating them, discouraging them, threatening them, killing them, raping them and after 1890 taking it back through these dubious state conventions, then we could put them back on the plantation. then we could call them -- they were slaves by another name. and that's what they did. and not only that, starting in 1894, they even published guides to textbooks, guides to textbooks about the civil war and reconstruction. mildred rutherford lewis, i
taught my graduate course, her book called the measuring rod had 20 principles. if any book that a librarian was considering purchasing or a teacher was considering using in the classroom, if any of those books violated any one of these 20 principles, the order was, don't buy it, don't use it, don't teach it. you know what was in there? the civil war was fought to free the slaves. jefferson davis, any book that said anything bad about jefferson davis, you couldn't do it. that the slaves are mistreated, hasn't been happy in their condition, you couldn't do it as a book. her common core was to the lost cause. that was the beginning of the lost cause mythology that culminated in physical form with all of those confederate
monuments. not literally every one but were built in the 1890s or in the early years of the 20th century. they were the physical manifestation of redemption, of the rise of white supremacy. when you -- when i heard about the murders at mother emmanuel church, at first i thought that anybody who would pray with nine black people, including the preacher, i did the last interview with the reverend, as it turns out. anybody who would pray with the people on wednesday night at a prayer meeting for an hour and then systematically kill them just had to be purely deranged. it must be an act, an unfortunate sad act by someone who was suffering from insane mental condition. but he was a white supremacist. he knew what he was doing.
he picked the church because it was the heart of the black community in reconstruction. and he was quoted as saying, they're stealing our women, they're taking our job opportunities. you know, the same kinds ofm>wrs and heinous accusations that the nazi's made about jewish people in the 1930s. that is the logic of white supremacy or the ill lodgic, that's why if it can happen with the black people so close to the civil war in which now historians estimate 750,000 americans died. if it can happen then to us, to our ancestors, it can happen anywhere and it can happen again. and that's why we have to be vigilant. that's why i did this series.
online at cspan.org. or listen live on the free cspan radio app. weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on cspan3. tonight an p evening of presidential economic addresses. it's customary for a newly elected president to be invited to address a joint session of congress early in their term. on the eve of president biden's first address we'll feature speeches from four predecessors. starting with president reagan on inflation and interest rates, two economic issues at that time. watch tonight at 8:00 eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on cspan3. executives from intel corporation and ford motor company were asked to testify at
a senate finance hearing on the u.s. tack code. they also talked about the need to strengthen the supply chains. the committee is chaired by senator ron wyden of oregon. >> thank you all, and this is the first of three hearings this week in the senate finance committee. and we're now going to -- i'll have opening statement and then senator crepen will have an opening statement and as an introduction to our five witnesses we'll turn to our colleague to introduce mr. black. the finance committee has worked hard the past year to tackle the public health and jobs crises brought on by