Part 11: Post Reconstruction up to World War I

Part Eleven: Post Reconstruction up to World War I

General George Armstrong Custer; his golden hair lost its luster in the battle of the Little Big Horn when he stupidly tried to challenge the military genius of Crazy horse, the war chief of the Sioux Indian Nation of which Sitting Bull was head chief. It was a year (1876) which the Indians will long remember. So too will the African Americans, but unlike their Indian counterparts, their remembrance will be void of fondness and pleasantness. For it was the year that the blacks were compromised, as pawns in a chess match, by Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican Party and northern business interests, to the "tender mercies," "trust and care" of the "intelligent white southerners."

"First, there was the systematic disfranchisement of the Blacks. They were kept from voting by force, by economic intimidation, by propaganda designed to lead them to believe that there was no salvation for them in political lines but that they must depend entirely upon thrift and the good will of white employers. Then came the series of disfranchisement laws discriminating against poverty and ignorance and aimed at the situation of the colored laborer, while the white laborer escaped by deliberate conniving and through the 'understanding' and 'grandfather' clauses."

"Jim Crow" (a character in a song of the 1820's, stereotyping a Black man who "turns about and turns about and does jis so") became the connotation of the laws designed to restore the "Black Codes" and to eradicate the gains that the Black man made during Reconstruction.

The peonage system that developed virtually restored slavery. For Blacks were forced to work to pay debts (even debts passed down from generation to generation). Convicts were leased to planters on chain gangs (saving the state the cost to care for prisoners; providing for planters the cheapest possible labor; giving sheriffs incentives to arrest and sentence as many Blacks as possible).

The task of trying to eke out a living, to survive in this environment was such that many Blacks concluded "that there was no hope for them in the South, and very quietly they began to organize to leave."

In 1879, fifty thousand Blacks migrated from Louisiana mostly to Kansas and Oklahoma, in the first movement of the "Great Exodus." Other migrations were in 1881 and 1889 from South Carolina and Alabama, respectively. The South became upset because they were losing workers and began to employ the same tactics they used to disfranchise the Blacks to prevent them from leaving (e.g. KKK-ism).

The North welcomed the Blacks at first, but as their numbers grew the northerners became more leery and hostile. The attention of the congress was attracted and an investigation was conducted. It was revealed through testimony that the Blacks had met to discuss their grievances, and had sent out scouts to investigate for possible areas of the South where they could probably "make it." The scouts reported that the treatment of the Blacks throughout the entire South was the same. That there was no other hope but to leave.

Even in those counties where Blacks were numerous, whites seized control of the government. With this control, they diverted much of the funds allocated for the Blacks, to the whites. Consequently, these whites had relatively more money to use for their needs than the whites in counties with lower number of Blacks. This inequality among these two sets of whites manifested itself in their respective standards of living that were evolving. As a result, the whites in the counties with few Blacks began to complain. (The demagogues raised "appropriations for the Negroes" as the issue.)

Since the Panic of 1873, the plight of the farmer had been rough. They had been squeezed "hard and dry" by the banks, the railroads and the farm machinery manufacturers. Taxes took its toll on what was left.

The farmers felt that both parties were tools of big business and, thusly, organized into the Southern Farmer's Alliance. This alliance tried cooperative buying and selling, and dealt with social and educational programs. As a result of its refusal to admit Blacks, the Colored Farmer's Alliance was created which paralleled it. By 1891 the Colored Farmer's Alliance claimed more than a million members. The two alliances began more and more to cooperate. This emerging coalition became known as the "Populist Movement" whose leader was Thomas Watson (white) who told the Blacks "the colored tenant is the same in the boat with the white tenant, the colored laborer with the white laborer." Blacks were told, "if you stand shoulder to shoulder with us and fight" we will "wipe out the color line and put every man on his citizenship irrespective of color."

It appeared as though poor whites and Blacks would once again try to unite to improve conditions. But the power the conservatives had accrued since the bargain of 1876 was just too much.

By employing any means available such as fraud, bribery, intimidation, violence, and terror, the conservative retained control in the election of 1896.

The aftermath of this defeat left the Populace Movement in disarray. The poor whites viewed their association with Blacks as causing the fear of "Negro Domination," which was the cry of the conservatives. These same conservatives who had been "paternalistic protectors" of the Blacks, turned to Negrophobes. For they had won the election with the help of extremists. One by one the northern liberals began to abandon the Blacks, for various reasons including "It's a regional problem," political and economic "hands off "attitude, etc. Some northerners even began to utter the shibboleth of white supremacy.

The severance was complete: The Blacks were a liability to the poor white; not needed by the conservative; and useless to the North. Thus, they were discarded with little or no way to turn.

"Had it not been for the Negro school and college, the Negro would, to all intents and purposes, have been driven back to slavery. His economic foothold in land and capital was too slight in ten years of turmoil to effect any stability. His Reconstruction leadership had come from Negroes educated in the North, and white politicians, capitalists and philanthropic teachers. The counter-revolution of 1876 drove most of these, save the teachers, away. But already, through establishing public schools and private colleges, and by organizing the Negro church, the Negro had acquired enough leadership and knowledge to thwart the worst designs of the new slave drivers."

"This brings us to the situation when Booker T. Washington became the leader of the Negro race and advised them to depend upon industrial education and work rather than politics."

In 1895, the year of Frederick Douglass' death, Washington delivered his famous "Atlanta Compromise" speech to open the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia. In the speech he used the phrase "Cast down you bucked where you are" to encourage Blacks to make friends "in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded"; and in the professions. He also exclaimed, "that the masses of us are to live by the productions of our hands…."

He used this same phrase to counsel the whites saying: "Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has ever seen." … "In all things that are purely social (Washington held up his hand with his fingers wide apart) we can be as separate as the fingers, yet (he the clinched his fist) one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."

"That attitude brought him the support of northern white philanthropist—the millionaire Andrew Carnegie offered to underwrite any project Washington proposed. The nation's leaders in government, education, and industry extolled Washington's virtues. Such support made it possible for Tuskegee Institute to grow and others like it to be founded in the South, where Black men and women supported themselves in schools and learned agriculture and industrial trades. White support of Washington, as well as considerable respect from people of his own race for his accomplishments in education, make him the most powerful Black man of his time."

Washington's conciliation failed to arrest totally the uneasiness amongst the Blacks. For the South had developed boundless zeal to protect itself from the Blacks. "Jim Crow" laws abounded. "White Only" or "Colored" signs adorned the portals of theaters, boarding houses, restrooms, water fountains, etc. In 1896, only a year following Washington's "Atlanta Compromise" speech, in the famous case of Plessy V. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled, eight to one, that the state of Louisiana had the right to arrest Homer Plessy for trying to occupy a railroad car reserved for whites. As a result the justification was provided for the idea of "separate but equal." Hence, the Black man had lost all hope of fighting the "Jim Crow" laws in court.

These considerations weighed heavily upon the hearts and souls of Black folks. While Booker T. Washington was compromising in order to ascertain a few material benefits and some facets of education (mainly industrial and mechanical; i.e. to work with the hands), many other Blacks felt the need for political, civil, social, and economic justice. His critics began to grow. Among the leaders of this new militancy was W. E. B. DuBois and William Monroe Trotter.

Trotter founded the Boston Guardian publication, in 1901, and in his opening editorial he attacked Washington as a traitor to his race.

DuBois, in 1903, published his book Souls of Black Folks, which is a collection of essays and articles, including an essay entitled "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others." The book "heralded a new approach on nonviolent activism, and it effectively divided Black men in America into two camps. One led by Booker T. Washington and the other by DuBois and Trotter."

Washington sought a rapprochement and asked DuBois to help arrange a meeting with Black leaders, to be sponsored by Andrew Carnegie, in January 1905. It was decided that Washington, DuBois and Hugh Brown (a Washington ally) would select a committee of twelve. DuBois claimed that they voted two to one against his recommendations. DuBois, due to illness, requested Washington to postpone the meeting date. Washington refused; took command of the organization; DuBois resigned.

In June of this same year DuBois sent a letter to selected Black leaders. In it he proclaimed the need for "organized, determined and progressive action" by the addressees (mostly professionals, intellectuals and a few businessmen) toward Negro freedom and development.

As a result, a meeting was held July 11–13 on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Hence, the name "Niagara Movement" was adopted (also, to symbolize the power they hoped to generate).

The following year they made an appeal to college students; and organized a Junior Niagara Movement. A national meeting was held at Harper's Ferry (of John Brown fame), where they issued a strong statement to the nation, partly as follows: "We will not be satisfied with less than our full manhood rights…We want full manhood suffrage, and we want it now, henceforth and forever."

An anti-Black riot occurred in Springfield, Illinois during the summer of 1908, which aroused the indignation of several white authors. They then urged influential white citizens to assist the Blacks in their struggle for equality. The result was the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Its leadership included most of the members of the Niagara Movement, which was lacking in funds and dying. DuBois who preferred and all Black organization consented to participate as the director of publicity and research. He became the editor of the Crisis (NAACP's official organ); and his editorials and articles greatly boosted the organizations credibility among Black folk.

Trotter refused to join, saying, "I distrust white folk." Instead, he founded the Nation Equal Rights League.

Also, in 1906, there was formed the Committee for Improving the Industrial Condition for the Negro in New York (CIINC), which had as one of its functions to locate employment and create jobs for Blacks. In 1911 this organization merged with two others to form the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (National Urban League).

The NAACP, in its early years, waged a tremendous fight against lynching, (KKK-ism in general). The NAACP and the National Urban League were major instruments in the Black struggle during these times.

During the presidential campaign of 1912, Woodrow Wilson spoke of a program of reform he called "The New Freedom." He attracted the support of Black leaders, like DuBois, and thus, the Black vote. However, upon his election he continued to foster segregationist ways. The Blacks' disappointment was immediate and sharp. (Wilson's party was still dominated by the "Solid South.")

In 1914, the NAACP's fight against discrimination in government employment began to pay off as the treasury and other departments began to rescind anti-Black rules and regulations.

Meanwhile, across the waters the beginnings of World War I were being felt. The United States proclaimed its neutrality.

In the Supreme Court, the NAACP successfully challenged the various "Grandfather Clauses," in 1915. However, the Blacks still could not vote in the South because of the threat of violence. For the aftermath of the "Populace Movement" opened the floodgate for anti-Black attitudes in the South. The Blacks became and "open target for aggression." Lynching ran rampant (the NAACP fought continuously against this).

The Rumblings of the war were getting louder. Their repercussions in America were introducing another factor and variable into the sociology of the country, which were to have their effects on Blacks and whites alike.


Chambers, Bradford — Chronicles of Black Protest
DuBois, W. E. B. — Black Reconstruction in America 1860–1880
Goldston, Robert — The Negro Revolution
Meltzer, Milton — In Their Own Words
Perkinson, Henry J. — The Imperfect Panacea: American Faith in Education 1865–1965
Resh, Richard — Black America
New York Times Encyclopedic Almanac
Quotations are from DuBois, Chambers, and Perkinson