4: Experiments in State Politics
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S2: Welcome to our Reconstruction Academy, our Slate Plus podcast about the history of reconstruction in America. I’m Rebecca Onion, a Slate staff writer, and this is Jamelle Bouie, who’s Slate’s chief political correspondent. Hi, Rebecca. So today we’re gonna talk about black political pushes, the patient during Reconstruction, which is something that we sort of got into a little bit with our episode about local politics. We’re gonna talk about political participation, sort of broadly understood. So this goes beyond suffrage, although suffrage is a key aspect, obviously, of what changed her by people during the period. We’re talking about the emerging idea that black people could and should act collectively, hold office, enforce laws and set policy.
S3: How did this new landscape build on efforts? Black people who were enslaved and free had made before the war to participate in politics? And how did white people in the north and the south react to the entry of black people into formal political life? So later in the show, we’ll be talking to historian Kate Maser, who writes about politics and free people to ask her some of these big questions for a few reasons.
S4: We picked South Carolina as our case study for this topic. South Carolina had a very large black population, percentage wise, about 57 to 50 percent black and a large free population, mostly around Charleston. It’s also a very interesting case because during reconstruction, South Carolina elected more black officials than any other state. It was the only state to have a black majority legislature during that time. Six black men served in Congress from South Carolina. There are black lieutenant governors of blacks, a treasurer, a black secretary of state, and a black judge who sat on the state Supreme Court. Jonathan Jasper. Right.
S3: So just to remind you guys what we have been doing with the series so far, we’ve been looking at these big themes of experimentation. So obviously this episode is about political experimentation. And then within that theme, we’re looking at that case studies and we’re reading sort of separate readings and then talking to each other about what we found out. So I read this week when we’re getting ready for this episode was part of Thomas Holt’s 1977 book, which is called Black Over Way Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction 1970 title and also part of the edited 2000 collection At Freedom’s Door, African-American Founding Fathers and Lawyers and Reconstruction in South Carolina. And then Jamal read Primary Source, which we’ll get to a little bit later in the conversation. A prostrate state that what it’s called? Yes.
S5: A prostrate state, yes.
S3: By James Sheppard Pike. And we’ll obviously talk more about that in a bit. But I found the the whole reading super interesting because it’s obviously a corrective. You know, it’s part of the 50s through 70s, I think, effort to sort of strike back at the idea that reconstruction was a huge failure full of, you know, corruption and misguided freedoms given to black people and to whole is looking at the way things went in South Carolina and sort of trying to write back against what people, mostly white historians, had been writing earlier in the century. So this is sort of the story that we outline when we were talking about the the way the very first year at the end of the war, right after the war sort of evolved in 1866, there was sort of a northern backlash to the degree to which states like South Carolina had begun to drift back into the control of the planter in the Confederates. So Congress began, you know, refused to see. So, again, Congress is radical Republican, refused to see the elected representatives in South Carolina, you know, who were sort of planter X Confederate types, or at least within their control, and also demanded the black codes be rescinded. And then, of course, in 1867, Congress passed the first of the Reconstruction Acts. And among the things that changed the scene in South Carolina was that the Reconstruction Act decreed that black men could vote on the question of whether or not a state should have a constitutional convention. And also on the question of how that constitutional convention would be, you know, who would be the delegates and how it would be organized. So that was sort of the catalyst for freedmen to start organizing within the framework of the Republican Party in South Carolina. So here’s where something that was a little familiar to me came into play. So there was a big sort of split between urban black Republicans from the eastern part of the state and rural counties and people who’d been born in the rural counties who were born enslaved. And at this time, people from the eastern part of the state start to make an effort to organize union leagues in the rural counties. So the union league. So that something familiar to you, Jamal?
S6: Yes. The union leagues were more or less sort of Republican Party organizations like local grassroots Republican Party organizations.
S7: Yeah. And I find them sort of singular.
S8: I don’t know. You know, if you think about how to teach people who, while they may have been political in various ways, have sort of been kept ignorant about national politics, you know, how to lift that ignorance in a way. The Republican idea of union leagues is, you know, I can’t think of another example like it.
S6: So I you know, I know what union leagues are. But like, what did they do specifically? Were they just religious organizations that, you know, got people together and said you could vote for Republicans? Or were they, as you as you’re suggesting, kind of organizations that were basically like inculcating democratic norms and to people like how to actually be a citizen?
S3: I think both you know, here are the facts about the political situation, but also here are the facts about how government work. So the relationship between the state and the federal government, you know, the rights that people have and don’t have those kinds of civics. You can maybe call them civic cloth ends. Right. And in the part of the Stephen Handbook that we read this week, we read Part of a Nation Under Our Feet Again, which we have returned to a couple of times. You know, he he wrote and hole. also wrote that the union leaks were the cause for sort of a lot of distress among the the plant, your class or, you know, sort of white, white Democrats in the South, because they kind of couldn’t believe that black people could have politics or could vote Republican for their own interests. Sort of like out of their own volition. And so the union league kind of came in for a lot of criticism for being kind of like an indoctrination space.
S6: In a way, it makes sense that the planters would think fice. And I I mean, my guess would be that many more people than the planters thought it, because there wasn’t really any precedent like just intellectually for I think a lot of Americans to accept that black people could be political or have political interest.
S8: Right. I mean, it’s it’s racism, you know? Yeah.
S3: The idea that they are sort of being asked to do something that operates on like a higher plane than where they’re operating or something that there is there is this like incongruity or something to it. And that it could and actually there’s no way it could actually be natural. And Holt mentions it even, you know, as late as the 20th century. There’s two historians, Simkins and Woody, who have a 1932 book that for a long time is sort of like the the book about South Carolina during Reconstruction, what they call the union league, a machine for making the black person into, quote, the emotional and intellectual slave of the white radical, unquote.
S6: It’s interesting how similar that sounds to say Jim Crow, your accusations that civil rights leadership were pawns of communist white communist radicals.
S8: Oh, yeah. Mm hmm.
S6: And to add one more example of this, a piece of rhetoric you see quite off. And actually in American politics today, is this idea that because black Americans vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party, they existant some sort of poll Democratic plantation in that they’re kept there of without their own volition by a sort of dishonest Democratic, presumably white Democratic politicians.
S8: Right. And you can see that even when Trump said during the election, you know, vote for me, why do you have to lose? You kind of the argument that the Democratic Party hasn’t done anything, which, you know, you could debate over whether more could have been done.
S4: Well, not just that. The Democratic Party hasn’t done anything with that. Black voters are. Black voters are voting mindlessly.
S7: Yes. Yeah. That’s just it.
S9: So I think at this point in the history of what happened in South Carolina, a good idea to talk about the book, The Prostrate State, which is what Jamal read for this week.
S10: Yes. Precious State is a fascinating book in that it is a contemporary sort of anti reconstruction account. But first, it’s worth a little background. It was written by James Sheppard Pike, born in Maine in 1811. He was the chief Washington correspondent and associate editor for The New York Tribune in his pre-Civil War and pre reconstruction career. He was fiercely anti-slavery and a radical Republican. He supported black suffrage and the disenfranchisement of ex confederates. But before his tour of South Carolina and this would be after the war, he had become disenchanted with the Republican Party. And he actually posed Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 in Grant’s re-election campaign. And after that campaign, after Grant won re-election, he took this tour of South Carolina in 1873, in 1874. And this became that book that’s worth a little additional background here. I will sort of quote a bit from the famous story and John Hope Franklin on the prostrate state who noted that what is important about this book and what it reveals about its author, Pike, is that while Pike was anti-slavery and a radical Republican, Pike’s anti-slavery beliefs were motivated less by sympathy for African-Americans or any kind of racial egalitarianism, and more out of a belief that slavery as an institution was giving myself undue power and kind of keeping me wholly United States back. And that once slavery was abolished, Pike did not have all that much sympathy for black Americans.
S9: Yeah, I think that’s so important to remember is the percentage of abolitionists before the war who had positive views of black people was pretty low. And it’s interesting to see that there’s sort of like a number of ex abolitionists to act this way during reconstruction. But Pike seems like probably that the ultimate example of that, right.
S11: So what’s in this book? How is it constructed? What’s the talking about? What topics does he cover?
S12: So the book is constructed almost like a very long op ed on which each chapter kind of heading a separate argument about not just South Carolina, but reconstruction. So the first chapter is titled A Black Parliament Humiliation of the White Society Bottom Side Up. The second chapter, the Negro as legislature with which looks at black Americans in the hotel and legislature and sort of deduces their qualities from there and also kind of ties back to that first chapter essentially about how black Americans are unable to to do the job of governing.
S10: And in the first I mean, in this first chapter, you kind of pretty. You can pretty quickly see where Piketty driving at from the very beginning. He writes, speaking of South Carolina in the south, probably a white community that had gradually risen from small beginnings till it grew into wealth, culture and refinement and became accomplished in all the arts of civilization that successfully asserted its resistance to a foreign tyranny by deeds of conspicuous valor which achieved liberty and independence through the fire and tempests of civil war, and illustrated itself in the councils of the nation by orators and statesmen worthy of any age a nation. Such a community has been reduced to this. This being black governance, it lies prostrate in the dust ruled over by this strange conglomerate gathered from the ranks of its own survival population. It’s a sort of encapsulated in this. You see you see Pike’s sort of racists, the steam for the former Confederate leaders of South Carolina. His disdain for the new black leadership, his belief that the whites were the rightful rulers of the state, and by extension, the South in that black. Rule constitutes this inversion of the proper order.
S11: It’s also classism, too, to some degree. You mean this idea that the you know, the servile class is what’s in charge? And what’s interesting about it is that, you know, in some of the reading that I did, I believe it’s whole or maybe foreigner who makes the point that actually the people who are in the legislature, a lot of them, you know, paid a fair amount of taxes and were pretty educated.
S9: You know, if they hadn’t been free before the war, then, you know, they they were rising quickly. And so it’s not even necessarily the case that everyone who is in the legislature was, you know, kind of like a radical farmhand, basically.
S11: But even if it was, you know, this is a way of talking about citizenship that assumes that if you don’t have money, you can’t govern.
S10: Right. So the book kind of stays in this tenor for its entire runtime. But there are a few things that Pike is preoccupied with throughout. He is not just sort of offended by the mere fact of this servile population governing South Carolina. He is key harps on the blackness of the actual delegates. And I mean, literally, their physical blackness is sort of a boring thing. He said that’s not classism. I take it back. Go on.
S13: He compares them to feebs that dare mere use of the state powers of taxation constitutes theft. It’s inherent in what they do. Here’s a quote on that line.
S12: The highest style of legislative spoils ation is as well understood in the South Carolina legislature as in any Tammany conclave that ever existed. The whites were the original teachers, but the blacks have shown themselves to be great at APSA scholars. If anyone will take the trouble to watch the votes of the colored representatives in Congress after Allina, he will not have to come down into this state to see this fact illustrated. This is all to say that Pike will Pike sees corruption in the north and other parts of the country as just kind of a function of ignorance, that if you educate Irish immigrants enough, they will cease being corrupt in the south. He sees it as part of a corruption within blacks that cannot be fixed. It is simply moral degradation inherent to them, and it leads inevitably to corruption and dysfunction.
S11: And his book was pretty popular.
S10: It was a hit. It was popular. Anyway, it was both popular with readers of the day and it was influential in that future story and specifically historians. Coming up at the Delling School, look back to the prostrate state estimate of documentary evidence of the failure of reconstruction and the inadequacy of black governance. So it was sort of take it at face value, despite the fact that we know that PYC was writing with sort of an ideological goal in mind. Not only did he oppose the Republican Party at this point, he opposed Grant, he opposed the reconstruction program, but he was a kind of vicious anti-black racist who did not intend for emancipation to lead to black governance.
S8: I mean, it’s crazy to me that that’s, you know, sort of accepted on faith.
S9: I think that’s one of the things that sort of surprised me the most in doing this whole podcast is how much the North White, maybe Republicans in the north were ready to, like, read a book like that and believe it and turn around on people.
S8: I find that kind of shocking.
S13: Yes. Let’s wrap up this discussion just with one quote from the prostrate state that I think wraps up Pike’s view of the reconstruction government in South Carolina and reconstruction generally. The rule of South Carolina should not be dignified with the name of government. It is the installation of a huge system of brigand didge. The men who have had it in control and who now have it in control are the pick the villains of the community. They are the highwaymen of the state. Their professional legislative robbers. They are men who have studied and practice the art of legalized theft. They pick your pockets by law. They robbed the poor and rich alike by law. They confiscate your state by law. They do none of these things, even under the tyrant’s plea of the public good or the public necessity. They do it simply to enrich themselves personally. The sole base object is to gorge the individual with public plunder. And this is simply a description of black people working in the legislature.
S11: Wow. And you know, it’s what’s even crazier about it is that, you know, reading the whole book, it really says that actually the Republicans block Republicans in the legislature were sort of like bourgeois, a little bit like they weren’t really. You know, he will his argument is that they’re not actually doing that much for poorer people. They’re not being that radical in their proposals. Yes, some. And actually, he thinks that they would have done better if they had been more radical in our proposals.
S10: But in Dubois, in Black Reconstruction, which we will discuss later in this podcast, Dubois makes note that looking at the actual record of lawmakers, it’s difficult to say that they were more or more corrupt than their white contemporaries, that this is all right, kind of just a fabrication, but it was a really effective one.
S11: So moving forward. So this book comes out in 1874. And so that’s only a couple of years before, you know, things kind of come crumbling down in the state. So in 1876, you know, the Pike book without their northern sentiment was drifting away from support for the free people. But there is also sort of a failure of the Republican Party in the state to coalesce around goals, to coalesce around electoral visions. And that left accompanied by sort of the crumbling of reconstruction in various other states that sort of left South Carolina open to you, takeover by democratic forces. So big figure in this history is Wade Hampton, who is a former Confederate officer. He was once one of the largest slaveholders in the area. And he in 1876, he ran for governor. And that election was marked by intimidation and violence perpetrated by his supporters who call themselves the Red Shirts and kind of viewed themselves as revolutionaries, redeeming the state from the black rule that it’s sort of been painted in this way by people like Pike. And so there’s a lot of violence that went on. And Hampton eventually ended up with the seat. The election was contested up to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court decided in favor of Hampton. And when that happened, the Democrats took back the state pretty decisively. And in eighteen ninety five, they had a new constitutional convention that did away with many of the innovations that the 1868 convention had put into place.
S10: Before we move on. I just want to chime in and say that the Red Shirts weren’t a fringe political organization. They weren’t something that was disavowed by political leadership. But in fact, some of self-awareness, future political leadership will have distinguished itself as vigilante fighters against black voters. So future governor and then Senator Ben Tillman, who earned the name Pitchfork during his career for his inflammatory rhetoric, was a anti black vigilante.
S12: And the teams have enemies who is both a large planter and someone who used his influence, helped organize violence against black voters.
S14: For the remainder of today’s episode, we have the pleasure of speaking with yet another super accomplished scholar. Reconstruction, as we’ve attempted to do on our earlier episodes, our idea and that conversation here will be to put some of the specific stories that we’ve considered in a broader context. Kate Maser is a historian at Northwestern University. She’s the author of the book, An Example for All the Land, Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C.. She’s also worked extensively with the National Park Service to create commemorative materials related to the reconstruction era. Welcome to the show, Kate. Thanks for having me.
S8: I wonder if you could help me understand the context a little bit of how people in the United States at the time thought of the idea of poor people voting in general regardless of race. They know that there is sort of a lot of, of course, overtly racist ideas like leveled against black people for their incapacity to vote. And I’m I’m sort of wondering what the background level of assessment of the relationship between property holding and the right to vote or that not even the right to vote, but like whether or not you deserve to vote is at that time.
S15: Right. I mean, and that’s a good question to sort of understand the context of a sort of large, broad scale narrative of the period before the war or starting, you know, in the early national period is that a lot of states at the beginning of the United States had property requirements for poor voting. In fact, a lot of states had property requirements for voting and didn’t have racial requirements for voting. So in other words, they would say, well, you can vote if you have more than three hundred dollars worth of property. And if you happen to be African-American and have more than three in four dollars worth of property, you also could vote. And what happened over the course of the decades kind of leading into the civil war is that states gradually dropped those property requirements to the point where they were almost all gone by the time of the civil war. So in other words, there were no property requirements for white men. But they added racial restrictions. And so, even so, you know, Pennsylvania is a good example where black men could vote until the 1830s when they were disfranchised. New York gradually dropped its property requirements for white men and then added stricter property requirements for black men. So they didn’t completely disenfranchise them, but they required a larger property requirement from them. And southern states also had gotten rid of property requirements for white men without allowing black men to vote. And there was actually a consciousness of this in the antebellum period. Sometimes people would talk about the question of whether African-Americans could be considered citizens of their state in which they lived. And some people sometimes brought up the fact that, oh, in the distant past, we didn’t have these racial restrictions on voting or on citizenship. And at the same time, before the civil war, you have to add in the fact that there’s a beginning of major influxes of immigration. And so in a way, in the decades right before in the 1840s and 50s in the north, there was a growing kind of concern about immigrant voting and whether, you know, these hordes, so-called hordes of immigrants in northern cities, like were they okay to vote? Like, was it really okay for an immigrant of European or Irish origin to spend X number of years here to, you know, to the point where they’re qualified to vote and be able to vote? And people were worried about, you know, new influences on urban politics, in particular in the north. And so when you get to kind of the civil war and reconstruction, the questions about property requirements for voting were not totally off the table. And sometimes people when they debated the question of African-American men’s enfranchisement, sometimes they brought up these issues of, well, you know, let’s just have a property requirement for everyone. We’re worried about the so-called like ignorant vote. Right. And so instead of having a racially restrictive vote, let’s just put property requirements on for everyone and then we’ll make sure that the right people are voting without having to deal with like the overtly with the question of race. But I mean, that’s really part of the context is ongoing serious doubts among some particularly elite Americans about the fitness of a whole bunch of different men for the vote, for the ability to be able to participate in electoral politics. And if you’re already worried about that kind of thing and then you see all of, you know, these freedmen coming into the electorate and being able to vote, that’s sort of like your worst nightmare.
S16: So related to that sort of fear of, you know, poorer men, less skilled men getting involved, the politics, you know, in this tike book, he is just preoccupied with corruption. He accuses. The South Carolina legislature, the majority black cultural knowledge, Sejrø, it’s being sort of uniquely corrupt crap put away that is above and beyond the typical corruption, and I think a lot of the narrative about the popular narrative about reconstruction is that the reconstruction governments are just like unusually corrupt. So my my first question is just to what degree is that even really the case where these lawmakers were these legislatures any more corrupt, the mayor predecessors or their successors or relooking and kind of just like a standard level of 19th century American corruption or if any corruption at all?
S17: Right. And that’s that’s a good question, because you’re right that one of the prevailing kind of myths about reconstruction and what was wrong with it was it put in place these incredibly corrupt regimes. And, you know, South Carolina’s the sort of super example, but that’s kind of the line on all of it. And part of what was wrong with it, especially for people who are like a little too genteel to say that their real problem with it was that it was that black people were involved. It’s like, no, it’s not that. It’s just that they’re so it the regimes are so corrupt. And so it’s it’s first of all, it’s by definition because it’s corruption. It’s not always easy to get a handle on that because a lot of it goes on behind the scenes.
S15: A number of these type of politicians from this era made sure that their papers didn’t survive later. But so. So one of the starting points of this whole question has to do with the challenges of governing in the south after the civil war. The states themselves were bankrupt and largely bankrupted by the prosecution of the war. They went into tremendous debt using Confederate money that then suddenly was had zero value. When the war ended and the Confederacy was defeated, the South had always been a place that was somewhat cash poor and the economy had kind of depended on debt and credit. And now the credit of the states, the credit worthiness of the states was terrible because of the debt incurred in the course of the war. And so it’s very hard for them to get loans. They needed to the states in order to function as state governments and in order to generate investment and generate a kind of working economy needed money. And so they certainly tried to tax people to get to kind of raise money, but they also tried to get foreign investment to issue bonds. And that that problem of trying to kind of come up with a functioning economy in a state in the context of having just come out of the defeat of the Confederacy, would have been, you know, virtually impossible for any government to deal with. And there was a huge infrastructure problem. Right. They didn’t. The South was underdeveloped before the war in terms of railroads. And so the idea was to prime the pump. That’s the word I was, you know, to kind of raise money to solicit investment, particularly in railroads, to help get agriculture back on its feet and get the economy, you know, get the economy back up and running again. And in the course of doing that, these Republican governments got into a certain amount of trouble. But it was not it for the most part, historians have found it was not because they were trying to enrich themselves personally. I mean, in any group of politicians, you probably find a few who were trying to do that. But they were in so U.S., you know, are they were they more corrupt than anybody else of their era? I mean, probably not. Is the answer. The democratic governments, state governments that succeeded these Republican governments also got in trouble with over investment and kind of problems of ECan of debt and things like that. And and so what it looks like to most historians at this point is that the issues about taxation and spending and spending down there means in the perception that where was all the money going, had more to do with the economic crisis that they were facing than with corruption, as we would now define it.
S4: They didn’t have the corruption charge, really, you know, simply to black lawmakers. Just trying new ways of using government. I mean, one thing we’ve discussed in previous episodes is how something like the Freedman’s Bureau was ineffective, in part because it candidates went beyond the limits of how people even thought about government and politics at the time. If you go in there, I’m assuming that some of these accusations of corruption really good faith, right? Maybe they weren’t. Maybe none of them were. But I can kind of imagine someone seeing black lawmakers trying to do something different, like not part of the normal political economy and then saying that’s corruption.
S15: Right? Well, I mean, one thing to keep in mind, one thing they were doing did. As part of these Republican governments, whether they were like South Carolina, kind of more heavily governed by African-Americans or in other states, they weren’t. But these Republican governments were setting up new structures of taxation. They were taxing wealthy people more heavily. They were investing in public education. They were investing in things like asylums for the deaf or for the mentally ill. They were trying to turn the government into something. State governments, something more egalitarian and kind of spreading resources around a little more equally than previous governments in the South had done.
S17: Most states in the South by the time of the civil war were really dominated by a Democratic Party apparatus that was really dominated by the planter class. And so there’s a class basis of the Republican governments that was very, very different from things that Southerners had seen before. And many of the kind of wealthy class had a really big problem with that. Right. It was not government in their interests, and that’s what they were used to. So for them to charge corruption in that kind of a situation is, you know, they’re kind of saying stop taking my money in the form of taxes and spending it on things that I don’t think it should be spent on. Right. Right. And then there’s the part about that. It’s black lawmakers. Right. Or that it’s there is a perception that the Republican Party itself, including the black lawmakers that were involved, the white northerners and then the white southerners who were involved in that Republican coalition, that it just wasn’t a legitimate government. Right. And that African-Americans should never have been enfranchised in the first place that northerners were involved in this whole configuration of this party is corrupt by definition. You know, I mean, they didn’t even think that the federal policy that created black men’s enfranchisement was legitimate. So if you start with that perspective, the whole thing is kind of corrupt from the root.
S8: Right. Right. So in an edited collection that I looked at for preparing for this episode, there’s a speech by Eric Foner that he made about South Carolina lawmakers and people who held by people who held elected positions. And he sort of did a couple of biographical sketches of them. And he noted that a lot of them, people who’d served in political offices during reconstruction, even ones who had been sort of high up after 1876, sort of couldn’t really find their way or didn’t really have a place either. Obviously, within the political structure. But also they just kind of didn’t have very much money or like much stability. Not always, but sometimes.
S3: But it sort of as a way of saying that, you know, after sort of like the cliff of 1876, that it is like sort of almost like a death of that political leadership or that very few people managed to like find a way to keep on politically participating after that. And I wonder whether that is something that you could comment on. Is there a way to kind of like trace the lineage between people who had these leadership positions in reconstruction and later instances of black political action?
S8: Or, you know, is there sort of continuity between this and political action that happens later? Or, you know, where do these people go? How does a LA politics continue in the south after, you know, everything kind of falls apart?
S15: So one answer to that, the last part of the question, how does black politics continue after everything falls apart? I mean, one thing is that even after 1876, in a lot of places, African-Americans continued to vote. And so one thing that we sometimes talk about is that that kind of conventional break off point at the end of reconstruction with the contested election of 1876 and removal of the last troops in 1877, it’s actually, you know, a lot of interesting stuff continues to happen through the 1880s and kind of into the beginning of the 1890s. And there are interesting third party movements where African-Americans in places where they’re still voting and still able to kind of mobilize a certain amount of political power, come together with whites who are trying to resist the Democratic Party and try to make a third party movement. Sometimes they’re called fusion movements. In Virginia, they’re called the Readjusts ers. And so there’s moments of kind of continuing attempts to kind of make this coalition that is always just out of reach of, you know, kind of African-American voters and white voters who want to reject what the Democratic Party was trying to do.
S17: And so there’s politics going on.
S15: And then, you know, black churches and black schools, particularly historically black colleges, many of which the oldest of which of HBCU use were founded in this period. Those continue. Right. And so those continue in the south to be incubators of black education, of political consciousness, of a sense of community. And kind of are continuous their kind of products to large extent of the immediate post emancipation period and and they continue. And so it’s not like the end of reconstruction meant the the total crushing of black life or black hope.
S17: And if we saw it that way, then there would be no way to account for the, you know, civil rights activism that comes later. On the other hand, a lot of people of the kind of political elite, the black political elite that you’re talking about did leave the south. So they would there because I’ve studied Washington, D.C. so much. I’m an example. From South Carolina is Frances Cardozo, who was secretary of state, held a number of statewide offices in South Carolina. He was basically run out in 1876 or so and ended up in Washington, D.C., where he served in a couple different federal appointments. And I think in the Treasury Department, he was involved in the D.C. public schools, which were segregated. And there’s a school named after him in Washington, D.C., Francis Cardozo High School. Another example that I happened to notice recently was a guy named Emmanuel Fortune who was involved in reconstruction politics in Florida. I want to say Jackson County, Florida. And he he comes up several times in the KKK hearings when he testified before a congressional committee about the kinds of violence that he and his family in his community were subjected to during reconstruction. And his son was a guy named Thomas Fortune, who was born in 1856. And he ended up becoming a very prominent northern black journalist and very involved in the late 19th century civil rights organizing. So there is a direct lineage from political organizing during reconstruction by the father to, you know, continuing in that tradition by the son. So there’s stories like that. But most of the people who, you know, kind of continue to be active in that kind of politics in that kind of directly resistant politics, end up in the north. Right. Like Ida B wells also dead. But that’s not to say that the southern institutions that continued and persisted were not also important. Right. Because those are the bedrock of, you know, those became the bedrock of a lot of black communities.
S14: Well, Kate Maser, thank you so much for speaking with us today. This has been most enlightening.
S15: Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
S18: So, Rebecca, with your last question to Kate was about what happened to these lawmakers afterwards.
S5: And I felt she made the really interesting point that the narrative that we might want to have everything worked out quite poorly her and one is not really quite the case that there is still political activity, that there is still politics happening among black Americans in the South, and that it wasn’t a time of just in the media. It wasn’t immediate repression.
S7: I find it too interesting.
S3: Like if you’re thinking about the history and sort of wanting to make a certain kind of argument like it, it’s powerful to think about the fact that, you know, there were all these black legislators during Reconstruction. And then for years and years and years and years, there weren’t any, you know, like that.
S8: There were Congresses. I mean, you know, the federal Congress, you know, the Congress in D.C. during the reconstruction years that had a significant black representation in comparison to what happened later for years and years and years. But I totally see and agree with her point that it like it’s like this sort of tragic narrative that discounts the fact that people were still doing stuff right. Even if it wasn’t necessarily getting elected as representative from South Carolina to go to D.C.. I don’t know. What do you think about that? I can see the arguments on both sides for why it’s sort of like unfair to think of the fallow period between the end of reconstruction and the seller rights period as a fallow period. You know, a time when black politics was sort of like squelched and maybe it’s just a question of what do you think of as politics, right?
S5: A question of what you think of his politics, a question of whether you think that needs to intersect with mainstream white society for to be considered politics. I think I mean, I I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit, too, because it’s not just us doing this podcast, but also my own recent, you know, reading interests have really been in the late 19th and early 20th century, which is simultaneously a very terrible period for white people, but also a period where there is real activism happening with this organization happening, where there’s politics happening. And maybe it’s worth thinking about it in terms of a frame for this podcast and experimentation in that. Obviously, after 1877, there is some repression that kind of gets worse and heightens and eventually becomes Jim Crow. But within that within that context, which is tragic. Black Americans are still experimenting or still testing the boundaries of society, still trying to use what power they have and can accumulate to advance their interests. And what I find actually super interesting, but all of this, and especially in what Kate was describing, is how sort of an ethos of the collective that emerges out of the civil war and reconstruction persists, persist through this century. And Kindt seems to come to define how black Americans participate in politics.
S3: Now, that totally makes sense to me. And it reminds me of the way that, you know, the one book that I read, the Sidney Nathans book about the plantation in Alabama, where the enslaved people ended up owning little parts of it and then continued to own those parts even over sort of what I think you could call lean years. You know, they still sort of managed to hold onto it. And, you know, I guess I totally see what you’re saying, what it is. It’s sort of like an ethos that’s developed and maybe the ethos comes from even before the war. You know, during slavery. But it sort of morphs to to fit the circumstances. But it gets built upon. And it’s the sort of super impressive to me. Well, to persist even through the leaner times that are that are coming after the end of the time that we’re covering in this podcast. That’s right.
S19: So that’s it for this episode of Reconstruction Economy, the fourth in our series. If you missed any of the first three, you can find them all along with our special timeline episode at Slate.com Slash Reconstruction. You’ll also find our background reading there and a link to our private Facebook page where you can post questions or comments for me and Jamal. Again, that’s Slate.com Slash Reconstruction.
S18: Reconstruction Academy is a project of Slate. Plus, we received production support from Bunk, a brand new online hub for American history related media. Check it out at bank history that orig-. We also receive technical support from With Good Reason. A weekly podcast from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.
S19: Our producer is Toni Field. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate. Plus, we’ll be back with you in two weeks with Episode 5 of Reconstruction Academy. Thanks so much for listening.