Did White Northerners Abandon Reconstruction?

Update: After you finish reading this post check out Brooks Simpson’s thoughtful response to Gordon-Reed’s essay.

One of the most common tropes embraced in reference to the post- Civil War period is the idea of a ‘white Northern retreat from Reconstruction.’  For many, the shift occurred during the mid to late 1870s for a number of reasons, including the threat of labor strikes, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny or the realization that the South’s racial problems could only be solved locally. Reconstruction’s abandonment followed significant gains on the civil rights front from the passage of three constitutional amendments to military intervention that led to black political action. The white North’s abandonment of Reconstruction points inextricably to missed opportunities and our own inability to deal honestly with deep racial problems. Continue reading “Did White Northerners Abandon Reconstruction?”

Welcome to 1864

This morning I was reminded that today is the first day of the sesquicentennial of the War in 1864. As I alluded to this past spring, it is going to be very interesting to see how the final sixteen months of the war will be commemorated and remembered. There are practical issues of funding, but there is also the turn that the war itself took in 1864. Those of us on the education/public history side of things will have to think long and hard about how we engage the public about some of the more important and challenging issues of the war. Continue reading “Welcome to 1864”

Racist Images and Messages in Jim Crow Era

The next episode of PBS’s The African Americans airs on Tuesday night.

The African American in antebellum times was, as the stereotype held, reliable, faithful, hardworking, malleable. Indeed, one entrusted one’s children, one’s property to such people. Now, of a sudden, the African American becomes demonized, a threat, a lascivious beast roaming the countryside of the South, people loosed by the end of slavery and now upon us like locusts.  Well, this was an absurdity. — David Levering Lewis

Elbert Guillory Gets Right With Lincoln and the Republican Party

It’s always interesting to watch politicians distort the past for their own purposes.  This week Elbert Guillory decided to switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party. As he explains in this short video, he did so based on his understanding of the broad political history of race. Why he only recently came to some of these realizations goes unmentioned, but here are a few highlights. According to Guillory “the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as an abolitionist movement.” It was the Republican Party that gave blacks rights of citizenship during Reconstruction. Democrats have always been on the wrong side of the history of race. Most importantly, “they were the party of Jim Crow.” Guillory praises Dwight D. Eisenhower as the champion of the Civil Rights act of 1957.” Somehow he forgot that it was a Democrat from Texas who pushed for the final passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964.

Ultimately, Guillory’s break with the Democrats is based on a rejection of the notion that only big government can improve the lives of Americans.  But isn’t much of the history of freedom for African Americans the result of government intervention? Setting aside the important role that blacks played in securing their own freedom didn’t the government intervene directly during the Civil War to free slaves? Finally, wasn’t Reconstruction itself the most extreme example of government intervention during the postwar period before the 1930s? Wasn’t it Southern Democrats who wanted to be left to sort out their affairs without federal intrusion. Continue reading “Elbert Guillory Gets Right With Lincoln and the Republican Party”

Beyond the Civil War and Reconstruction With Jonathan Holloway

Many of you have viewed the Open Yale Course on the Civil War and Reconstruction taught by David Blight.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to take a survey course with one of the nation’s most respected Civil War scholars.  I am currently making my way through Professor Jonathan Holloway’s course, African American History: From Emancipation to the Present.  Below is the first lecture.  [Interested in the American Revolution? Check out Joanne Freeman’s course.]