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.]

First African American Senator From the South Since Reconstruction

Congratulations to Republican Congressman Tim Scott, who was tapped by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley to fill the seat vacated by outgoing Senator Jim DeMint.  Scott is the first black Senator to serve from a Southern state since the era of Reconstruction:

Scott hails from the Palmetto State’s staunchly conservative 1st District, which stretches along along the southeastern coastline and includes both Charleston and Myrtle Beach. In 2010, he defeated councilman Paul Thurmond, son of segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, to win the GOP’s congressional nomination. In November he won re-election with 65% of the vote. His ascension to the Senate may help the Republican Party rebrand itself after an election in which just 7% of African Americans backed Mitt Romney. The son of a single mother who worked as a nurse’s assistant, Scott clawed his way through high school and earned a partial football scholarship before becoming the wealthy part-owner of a real estate agency — the kind of bootstrapping personal narrative that conservatives believe can resonate with more middle and lower-class voters. In his remarks today, Scott praised his mom for his success. “I am thankful for a strong mom that understood that love sometimes comes at the end of a switch,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

In related news, a school board in Texas has banned the Confederate flag from Hays High School following a racial incident.

William Mahone and the Readjusters to the Rescue

Illustration of a White Member of the Readjuster Party Cajoling a Black Man to Vote

Looks like the Virginia General Assembly has been busy with resolutions about the Civil War era.  Last week I shared Sen. Henry Marsh’s resolution that would set aside a day to honor Abraham Lincoln and today I bring to you another resolution sponsored by Marsh that would honor black Virginians, who served in state government during Reconstruction.  The Senate committee approved the resolution and incorporated it by voice vote into SJR 13 Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1867-1868, recognizing African American representatives. The committee substitute was ordered printed and the resolution will now advance to the floor of the Senate.  I assume that for many Virginians this resolution makes more sense than one meant to honor Lincoln.  I tend to agree, but this resolution distorts a crucial moment in the state’s history.

Our standard narrative of Reconstruction goes something like this:  After the war the southern states were forced to re-write their state constitutions to conform to the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.  In many of these states these changes were imposed by occupying federal armies.  Between 1865 and 1877 African Americans enjoyed a brief window of civil rights and political privileges that would not be seen again until the civil rights era of the 1950s and 60s.  The Compromise of 1877 left the southern states once again in control of their own futures and quickly instated a series of Jim Crow laws that left their African American population disfranchised and reduced to second class citizens.   In short, the black population was abandoned by the federal government.  This narrative has become so deeply embedded in our collective memory (at least in our textbooks) that we tend to assume that the end of Reconstruction led inevitably to Jim Crow.

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God Is Definitely a Republican

This is a very strange history documentary hosted by Matthew and Laurie Crouch.  The show, including the over-the-top set is a cross between the 700 Club and Joel Osteen Ministries.  Mrs. Crouch is clearly playing the Tammy Fay Baker role, who along with her husband sit and nod in agreement.  Actually, she looks as if she is high as a kite.  David Barton offers a rather unusual analysis of Reconstruction that I will get to in a moment.  You can watch the entire series here – not that I recommend it.

Barton’s interpretation of Reconstruction basically comes down to pointing out that everything positive that happened relating to race relations and civil rights during Reconstruction and through the 1960s occurred because of the Republican Party.  The Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan, overturned legislation passed during Reconstruction, and resisted the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s.  There is a bit of truth in much of what Barton has to say about the importance of slavery, the role of black Republicans during Reconstruction as well as the role of the Democratic Party in overturning much of the post-war legislation.  However, Barton seems to think that the Republican Party of the 1860s and 70s is the same Republican Party of today.  According to Barton, the KKK was started by Democrats to “whack Republicans.”  Of course, Barton makes no mention of why blacks throughout much of the South transitioned to the Democratic Party in the 1930s, the Dixiecrat movement in 1948 or the fact that the president who pushed both landmark pieces of civil rights legislation was a Democrat.