tv American Artifacts CSPAN May 22, 2016 6:00pm-6:31pm EDT
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artifacts explores the history of the united states through objects. house ofspeak to the representatives historian and house curator about the history of african americans who served in congress and see a selection of artifacts from the collection. onehe story is not everybody is familiar with. we had 22 african-americans 19 -- etween 1970 and it has to do with the role of congress during the civil war, and the decade after. during the civil war, there was a group of radicals in congress, radicals because they believed in the equality of african-americans, and wanted to
create a society in the south after the war that was a multiracial society. thaddeus stevens, the chairman ways and means committee. a liza washburn. in the senate people like charles sumner. and they really drove the agenda and pushed the lincoln administration not only to prosecute the war more vigorously, but to have reconstruction after a war that was not so lenient toward southern state, not going to ensure that political rights toe extended african-americans. >> the war ends in 1865. i have you get to be first african-american members of congress?
it does not happen right that day. >> it did not happen right that day. after lincoln was assassinated, president johnson takes over and has an even more lenient view than lincoln of how the southern states are going to be readmitted, and he is pushed constantly by the radical republicans and in a short time, roughly for five years, they pass a series of constitutional amendments and laws that ring about the equality of african-americans in the south and that starts with the passage of the 13th amendment and that is ratified later that year, , outlawingvery slavery once and for all in the u.s., but following with major legislation might the civil rights act of 1866, which extended citizenship rights to the friedman and constitutional
amendments like the 14th amendment. the 15th amendment that guaranteed voting rights and also a series of reconstruction acts that divided the south into .ilitary districts and to set up elections and to ensure african-americans come to the polls under the new amendments and laws passed. in the house collection we have a number of images, prints. this is from 1866. this is seen outside the gallery . there was great jubilation. and we have some from the passage of amendments you are talking about, other civil rights acts. and in all of them, people seem really excited and delighted at
the progress. so, they are being portrayed in the public eye as something wonderful and great and terrific. of a fewe is a lad years from those things being of ad -- there is a lag few years from those things being passed to being able to elect african-american members? mr. wasniewski: what goes in to place our republican reconstruction governments. from the 1860's, you begin to see are an number of african-american officeholders move into positions of local authority, either on town councils or the state legislatures. they gain a political role in a and acal voice call -- political voice and a number of the african-americans who serve in this time, that is how they
move through the ranks very quickly and come into positions where they can be a let it to congress. ms. elliott: who is the first african-american in the house? the first toi: speak on the floor while the house was in session is a man who was elected, but never seated. 1868. elected in his election was contested, and that is the story that runs throughout the 19th century for so many of these african-american members who were elected to congress. their election was challenged in a number of them had that experience. in february 1869, he was allowed to speak on the house floor to defend himself and his contested election case. the house chose not to seek him or his opponent and he never was
seated. but he won the election. the first african-american elected to the house and seated in the house is joseph rainey of south carolina. following him another 19 african-american members throughout the course of the 19th century. rainey was not the first african-american in congress. that distinction went to hiram rebels of mrs. b, and was it by mississippi. he came into congress in early 1870. but when you think about that revolution that occurred within , matter of less than a decade so rainey had been born into slavery and conscripted into the confederate army to dig trenches
around charleston where he was from. he escaped to bermuda during the war. comes back after the war. political experience and the political role locally and within a decade he is holding the state of a former confederate slaveholder. revel's story was the same. he was born as a free man, never was a slave. he comes into the senate and occupies the seat that had been held by slaveholder less than a decade before. when you think about the great paradoxes of american history, that is one of them. they come to the capitol and represent african-american constituencies and they are doing it after the seeds have been given up during secession by slaveholder's. -- after the seats have been
given up during secession by slaveholders. read about: i have it, and we have a print -- there are five of them right here. they include hiram, you were just talking about, and joseph rainey right here -- three other members of congress, two in the house, one in the senate. that is the complete african-american representation in the senate until well into the 20th century. they are being presented, which was taken from a book from the house,speaker of the very much in the same vein as every other member of congress and dates was. most of these were taken from the garret types -- the garret pictures from matthew
brady's studio. you cannot swing a cat without finding a 19th entry photograph from brady's studio sitting in the chair. interesting to me, there is the sense that these people are members of congress. the civil war is the av of american history. it seems like it was a huge pivot, as shown by this kind of representation of them. mr. wasniewski: four african-americans and historians, reconstruction is the second american revolution --which a little goal rights and which political rights had been excluded for so long. in the house and senate really embody the experiences of the african-americans who served during this time.
their service was, to a great degree, largely symbolic service. only served for a short time in the senate. -- hes on a's beginning goes on a speaking tour and is presented as the 15th amendment in flesh and blood. rainey, too, was a symbol for african-americans. these were men who not only represented their small districts or the states, but they represented african-americans nationally. in the material culture. eight years inor the house. he is the longest serving african-american in the 19th century.
he is the first african-american to preside over the house while it is in session. that happens in 1874. his experience though is typical of a lot of these other individuals to come to the house in relatively small numbers -- the high point for the number of african americans is the 43rd congress, mid-1870's. there's only six or seven african-americans in congress at that point. they are really too small of a group to drive any legislative agenda. and where they do contribute to legislation is to come out and speak on behalf of of their constituents and their political rights and the abuse of those political rights and the reconstruction era south. they tend to give very eloquent
speeches about some of the major bills like the 1875 civil rights act, which again is a piece of legislation not many people think about today. what that bill in 1875 has done is essentially the same as the grantill did -- it would the quality and public accommodations and travel and also schools. a lot of these african-americans southhe south -- carolina, mississippi, alabama -- got up and spoke on behalf of this bill. particularly the education provision, which would have provided an equal playing field. that provision, sadly, was stripped out of the bill at the very end of the congress. this was a bill that had been championed by charles sumner, the senator from massachusetts and supported by the chairman of
the judiciary committee in the house, but a lot of these men gave very moving testimonials about that legislation. a question: i had about another object we have in the collection. rainey as the first are the ones i think about. but there are these other 19 folk and one of them is robert .rown elliott, right here this is from frank leslie's illustrated newspaper where a lot of the 19th century stuff we have in the house collection that tells us about what is going on in the house and what the public's reading about it, what they are seeing, this is one of the rare ones in which there is an african-american member given a sort of little portrait there on the pages next to any number of other things going on. this is the news of the day. tell me about robert elliott. mr. wasniewski: elliott is one
of the interesting members. he is from south carolina. a majority of the african-american members come from south carolina, largely because it was a majority african-american population, and their districts are african-american. so there is support for a black candidate. ,lliott is a wonderful orator and he is one of those people who events himself -- invent himself as he went along. you get the sense he was a true character. he had a great classical education. he came up after reconstruction: worked on a newspaper. then he becomes a member of the state assembly. he comes into the house for two mens, and he is one of the who comes up to the floor and talks about the importance of
passing the 1875 civil rights bill and give some speeches that are picked up in the northern press. and they just swoon over him. one of the speeches, he actually, it is a point-counterpoint debate with alexander stevens, the former confederate vice president, who by that point had come back to the house. and elliott just blows him out of the water. he is so respected and such an ally of senator charles sumner, that when sumner passes, shortly before his bill moves through the house and senate, elliott a eulogy ativers faneuil hall in boston, which is widely picked up in the northern rest. house madehe congress and his second term and goes back to south carolina
because he cares so much about state politics and sees how things are trending at the and of reconstruction, sees a lot of , and he becomes the speaker of the south carolina state assembly for a brief and later goes on to serve, at the very tail end of reconstruction, as the attorney general for south carolina. afterwards though, his story typifies so many of these members. what's reconstruction and's, here you've got a guy who is a great speaker, got a law background, sets up a lot practice, but he gets almost no business. he's forced to move out of state. practice, butaw he get some is no business. he does in poverty. that is sadly the story of so many of these 19th-century individuals who leave congress
and with the onset of jim crow, their careers just dry up. that speaks to the larger kind , whatitical ramification that meant for the end of blackbirds -- black political participation. ms. elliott: i wanted to point out, what is interesting as a curator and art historian, the way that jim crow is promulgated in the press, you get no business because of racism and jim crow and also it reinforced in the popular press. so, as we move into the jim crow public the press and the , the way the public sees african-american slaves presented to them really changes themoves much more toward caricature we are familiar with from the very beginning of the 20's century.
1829, we have this, also showing then yet of what is , insteadin the capitol of the picture with civil war veterans and interesting women and african-american children and adults celebrating out side as citizens who are excited about a new venture and the passage of a civil rights bill, here we are seeing lots of different things going on. the very style of this becomes more like a cartoon and in particular i want to draw your attention to this circular area here where they are showing african-americans in the visitors gallery, called the gentleman's gallery. that is the name of the gallery of the house of the time -- dripping with sarcasm. it is showing almost entirely african-americans in there and in the accompanying essay, it points out what it wants to
point out about this image that it is showing african-americans in the gallery, but not engaged in the process, not interested in what is going on on the floor. it is showing them is reading or sleeping or using it simply to -- as a place to hang out. that is what the accompanying essay says as well. this is a shift in the national news coverage of african-american civic life, and it goes pretty quickly. ce,s is 20 years differen from seeing this which was all over in the papers at the time, to the 1880's where it is entirely a caricature of african-american participation in the world of public affairs. point was at the end of reconstruction, right? yes, the turning
point was the end of formal reconstruction, military forces occupy the south and had kept the reconstruction government i am place.t is -- that is rolled back in 1877 as part of the disputed election of 1876. that election gets thrown to congress to decide, and what happens is the house and the senate are controlled by different political parties and .annot come to an agreement so they create a special electoral commission composed of five senators, five representatives, five supreme court justices. in the results, there were three southern states that had disputed returns, so what shows to different groups, one
for children, one phrase. the commission comes back and finds in favor of hayes, awarding him those votes. but as part of a political negotiation struck to make him president, the southern states manage -- they managed to push the end of reconstruction formally. you see over really a decade, a process a half, where african-americans are gradually excluded from the political process in the south. it is a combination of state laws and local laws that go in the books. such as poll taxes. ,the 1890's
african-americans are largely no longer part of the political process. and that plays out in congress because you see the numbers really drop off in the 1880's. we only have five who areamericans serving in congress at various points and usually it's just one or two. still some prominent individuals. langston from virginia, a very prominent african-american, even before the civil war. blacksone of the first elected to political office in a town council. he had a political reputation. after the war he served as a minister to haiti.
in the late 1880's, he is elected to a virginia seat and comes into the house, but he is another african-american who faces a contested election. and by the time he only gets a seven or eight months term. this is really the story of a lot of these men who had roadblocks thrown up -- everything from poll taxes that affected constituents to violence at the polls. the union army presence, the federal presence had in rolled back. the very last individual who serves is george henry white of north carolina. a coastal district in north carolina that had elected african-americans before. he serves 42 terms in the late 1890's. he is the last african-american to serve for really three
decades. he forcefully pushed for two things while he was a member. one was anti-lynching legislation, which no one had really championed before and he pushes for that. it goes nowhere. it languishes in the judiciary committee and never really is debated, but he is out there talking on the floor. the other thing he wanted was because there were so many blacks being denied political rights in the south, he wanted participation of southern states based on the number that were being disenfranchised. there were no african-americans to champion this. in 1901, white leaves congress. he faces some very tough reelection stash a lot of violence, a lot of fraud. he leaves the house. when he does, he gives a speech
in february of 1901, which is tremendously moving, because he knows he is the last african-american in congress for a while. someday the african-americans in congress will rise again and come back. that takes three decades. ms. elliott: what i want to show one of the saddest this is one of the saddest artifacts and the house collection, i think. it's a pretty recent acquisition of hours. this is a 1907 prints that was the colored men who have served in the congress of the united states. thes really a testament to
persistence of hopes in the african american community. so, george white has been gone for six years. it's going to be another two before african-americans will return to congress. this was done as a memento. done is ahe way it is it'spopular method -- almost like a scrapbook or a photo album. some of these images are tilted a little bit, artfully placed in a scrapbook. it really is. a scrapbook is a book of memories. is an some ways, that memory of the past and a promise to the future. he had an appointment to the
government printing office and all of that had vanished. all of the positions opened up that he is been apart often of the gone away. the newspaper had collapsed. those things have evaporated. this is one of the last things that we know that he did, really attempting to put a marker down that this won't be forgotten, that will come back as george white said. hiram in the center revels. number ofa large african-americans who served in the house. there is joseph rainey again. it takes is all the way around to all of them who were there. i find this so poignant. when this was printed, no one knew how long would it be?
did they think it was going to be a very long time? did they think it would just be a moment. it seems terribly damaged and had a hard life. indeed, it has. pasted it probably on a wall. -- andath that print is on top is wallpaper. it was pasted on someone's wall in recognition of those things that happened. printed in d.c. we were able to reacquire it. it may never have left to the nations capitol, unlike black representation at the time it was printed. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] >> congratulations to the class of 2016. today is your day of celebration and you have earned it. just what --
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