Monday, March 14, 2016


As you may know we are in the Sesquicentennial years of American Reconstruction.  What lessons can we learn from this part of our history?

George Santayana’s most famous quote is probably “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Yet, the history of our species tends to show the same mistakes and atrocities in a never-ending stream.  However, the problem is no just failure to remember, it included twisting history to justify whatever the person believes.  In prior posts I have explored the “Lost Cause” delusions about race, slavery and the Civil War.  These distortions have been rejected by most and all of the leading Civil War historians.  These delusions include the arguments that the slaves weren’t really as  bad off as the abolitionists contended, that the South didn’t want to fight but was tricked into it by a blood-thirsty Lincoln, that the Civil War was really about state’s rights and nothing at all to do about and slavery, etc.  For more on this see E. H. Bonekemper’s The Myth of the Lost Cause, and/or William C Davis’ “The Lost Cause,” or this article on Wikipedia,

I have lived in Texas most of my adult life (with stints in Ark and Tenn.) and still hear this hogwash from people today.  Another delusion I thought had perished was the twisting of the history of Reconstruction, one of the most violent and repressive periods in American history.
I came across a New York Times article about a woman from Texas who is running for a seat on the State Board of Education.  Her views are far-far right, but the focus here is only on her views of Reconstruction.  Although she condemned the Ku Klux Klan in one posting, she wrote positively of its roots, writing that it started “as citizens trying to fight back against a corrupt government when there were corrupt officials or no officials at all to keep law and order in the rural areas.”

Where did that delusion come from?  Eric Foner, is one of the most highly regarded historians who has written on the Civil War and Reconstruction.  His book Reconstruction, touches on this issue.  This is the main, but not only source for the commentary below.

In the Preface to his book he notes the white-supremacist view of Reconstruction found in many books.    Foner focuses mainly on the works of Professors William Dunning, John W. Burgess, and their students. According to those authors,  when the Civil War ended the white south accepted the immorality of slavery and stood ready to do justice to, and integrate blacks into society. The main problem was that blacks were not fit for the political rights that the North had forced the South to grant them (e.g. 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments).  Blacks were viewed as child-like and incapable of understanding and being educated.  Ignorant and corrupt blacks allied with carpetbaggers and n-lovers oppressed honest whites who were forced to fight back.   Whites were subjected to “savage tyranny” (p.609). The Klan helped protect whites from blacks who were vicious animals and would rape and impregnate white women, mongrelizing the superior white race.

On p. 609 Fonder writes that a small group of historians in the early 20th Century (Dunning and Burgess) and their students began twisting the history of Reconstruction based on the thesis of white supremacy and black unfitness.  Foner calls this the “everlasting shame” of the “nation’s fraternity of professional historians”.  One of these historians called black suffrage “the greatest political crime ever perpetrated by any people.”
Another historian commented on the impact of this twisted history, arguing that it “froze themind of the white south” against outside pressures for reform, eliminating segregation and restoring the vote to blacks. Many also appear to have been frozen in the theory of white supremacy.
One need only look at Southern resistance to integrating schools and universities to see that mentality in action.

Although there were abuses by all sides during Reconstruction, there is little doubt that the Klan (aided by white law-enforcement), during this period was primarily a terrorist organization using violence, including murder against blacks and their white supporters to enforce white supremacy (See Foner, pp. 119-24, 203-4,  425-444).  The Klan and their allies used every opportunity to disarm blacks and their white allies either by force or by gun prohibitions in the Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws.  In his book Gunfight, Prof. Adam Winkler wrote: ( 

It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt.” he said. “The KKK began as a gun-control organization. Before the Civil War, blacks were never allowed to own guns. During the Civil War, blacks kept guns for the first time – either they served in the Union army and they were allowed to keep their guns, or they buy guns on the open market where for the first time there’s hundreds of thousands of guns flooding the marketplace after the war ends. So they arm up because they know who they’re dealing with in the South. White racists do things like pass laws to disarm them, but that’s not really going to work. So they form these racist posses all over the South to go out at night in large groups to terrorize blacks and take those guns away. If blacks were disarmed, they couldn’t fight back.”
 Lynchings and massacres were not unusual events. This is the reality of the Klan during Reconstruction.

















1 comment:

  1. I got out of the Army in May of 1958. Hung out in Panama City, Florida until I entered FSU in the fall. Seeing some of the bottom-rung whites in "Pannymaw", I figured that if they didn't have Negroes to look down on, they'd commit suicide. All groups seek some sort of pecking order so they have somebody to hold in contempt, same as our self-styled Elites in the upper echelons of government, banking and industry.

    IIRC, the Dred Scott decision declared the Negro as 2/3 of a person. Many believed that if it were full citizenship as a full-fledged person, Negroes were legally entitled to firearms. No idea if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were.

    I figure that in the KKK costume, the hats are form-fitting.