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tv   American Artifacts  CSPAN  May 28, 2016 10:00am-10:31am EDT

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generation of americans and has reached up and bent the arc of history in the direction of more freedom and more opportunity and as well as your own. second to work. >> commencement speeches at noon eastern on c-span. >> each week, american history tv's "american artifacts" explores the history of the united states through objects. next, we speak to the house of representatives historian and house curator about the history of african americans who served in congress and see a selection of artifacts from the collection. mr. wasniewski: the story is not one everybody is familiar with. we had 22 african-americans served between 1870 and 1901. 20 in the house, two in the senate.
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it has to do with the role of congress during the civil war, and in 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. these were radicals in the house like thaddeus stevens, the chairman of the ways and means committee. a very powerful leader. also people like henry winter davis, eliza washburn. in the senate, people like charles sumner and benjamin wade. and they really drove the agenda and pushed the lincoln administration not only to prosecute the war more vigorously, but to have a reconstruction after a war that was not so lenient toward
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southern states and was going to ensure that political rights were extended to african-americans. ms. elloitt: the war ends in 1865. i have you get to be first african-american members of congress? it does not happen right that day. mr. wasniewski: it did not happen right away. the role of the radicals becomes more assertive after the end of the war. 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. in a short time, roughly for five years, they pass a series of constitutional amendments and also laws that bring about the equality of african-americans in
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the south and that starts with the passage of the 13th amendment. that is ratified later that year, banning slavery, outlawing slavery once and for all in the u.s. but that was following with major legislation might the civil rights act of 1866, which extended citizenship rights to the freedmen 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 military districts. they gave power to union districtso run those politically, essentially. set up elections and to ensure african-americans come to the polls under the new amendments and laws passed. ms. elliott: in the house collection we have a number of images, prints.
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for example this is from 1866. , this is seen outside the gallery at the passage of the civil rights act in 1866. 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 this level of progress. it is certainly being portrayed in the public eye as something wonderful and great and terrific. so then there is a lag of a few years from those things being passed the states being able to elect african-american members? mr. wasniewski: what goes in to place our republican reconstruction governments. at that point, by the late 1860's, you begin to see are an number of african-american
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officeholders move up into positions of local authority, either on town councils or the state legislatures. they gain a political role and a political voice and a number of the african-americans who serve in this time period, that is how they move through the ranks very quickly and come into positions where they can be elected it to congress. ms. elliott: who is the first african-american in the house? mr. wasniewski: the first to speak on the floor while the house was in session is a man who was elected, but never seated. john willis minard from louisiana was elected in 1868. 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.
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their election was challenged in -- and a number of them had that experience. minard was 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 seat him or his opponent and he never was seated. but he won the election. the house just exercised its right not to seat him. the first african-american elected to the house and seated in the house is joseph rainey of south carolina. this summer, 1870. december, 1870. 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 mississippi. he was elected by the state legislature as senators were
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back in the 19th century. he came into congress in early 1870. but when you think about that revolution that occurrs within a matter of less than a decade, so rainey had been born into slavery. during the civil war he had been 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. ains political experience and 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 a seat that had been held by slaveholder less than a decade before.
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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 seats have been given up during secession by slaveholders. ms. elloitt: that is amazing. i have read about it, and there small brotherhood of men serving right after -- in those early 1870's. we have a print that has five of them right here. they include hiram revels, you were just talking about, and joseph rainey right here -- this is 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. you can see they are being
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presented in this print which , was taken from a book from the former speaker of the house, very much in the same vein as every other member of congress and statements of the day was. most of these were taken from daguerreotype afrom matthew brady's studio. if you were to see the whole thing they were sitting in the same chair, in front of same curtain background that he used for every congressman. you cannot swing a cat without finding a 19th entry photograph of a member of congress from brady's studio sitting in the chair. what is interesting to me, there really is the sense that these people are members of congress. of -- thehis sort . and war is the the a.d. of american history. it seems like it was a huge pivot, as shown by this kind of representation of them.
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mr. wasniewski: four african-americans and historians, reconstruction is the second american revolution in which political rights had been excluded for so long. -- extended to this group that had been excluded for so long. their careers 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. revels only served for a short time in the senate. he later goes on a speaking tour around the country and he is 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.
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they were a source of pride. that is reflected in the material culture. rainey serves for eight years in the house. he is the longest serving african-american during the reconstruction period 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 who 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.
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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 -- abuses against 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. when you think civil rights acts , it's 1964. what that bill in 1875 would have done is essentially the same as the 1964 bill did -- it would grant the quality and accommodations in public travel and also schools. a lot of these african-americans from the south -- south carolina, mississippi, alabama -- got up and spoke on behalf of
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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 benjamin butler the chairman of the judiciary , committee in the house, but a lot of these men gave very moving testimonials about that legislation. ms. elliott: i have a question about another object we have in the collection. revels and rainey as the first often are the ones i think about. but there are these other 19 folks and one of them is robert brown 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
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that tells us about what is going on in the house and what the public is 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 right 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. the majority of african-american members in the 19th century come from south carolina, largely because it was a majority african-american population, and their districts are majority african-american. so there is support for a black candidate. elliott is a wonderful orator, and he is one of those people who invented himself as he went along. you get the sense he was a true character. he had a great classical education.
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he came up after reconstruction. worked on a newspaper. he had a journalism background. many lives up to the state state assembly. he comes into the house for two terms in the early 1870's. he is one of the men who comes up to the floor and talks about the importance of passing the 1875 civil rights bill and give s some speeches that are picked up in the northern press. and they just swoon over him. in one of the speeches, he actually has 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
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the house and senate, elliott goes and delivers a eulogy at faneuil hall in boston, which is widely picked up in the northern rest. -- [trdpress. he leaves the house mid-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, seeing a lot of abuses, and he becomes the speaker of the south carolina state assembly for a brief period 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. once reconstruction ends, here you've got a guy who is a great
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speaker, got a law background, sets up a law practice, but he gets almost no business. he's forced to move out of state. eventually in the 1880's he dies and 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 of political ramifications at the end of reconstruction and what that meant for the end of 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.
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as we move into the jim crow period, the press and the public, the way the public sees african-american slaves presented to them really changes and moves much more toward the caricatures we are familiar with from the very beginning of the 20's century. this is the 1880's. by by 1889, we have this, also showing then yet of what is going on in the capitol, instead of the picture with civil war veterans and interesting women and african-american children and adults celebrating outside 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
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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 -- but it is 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 who are 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 as a place to hang out. that is what the accompanying essay says as well. this is a really enormous shift in the national news coverage of african-american civic life, and it goes pretty quickly. this is 20 years difference, from seeing this which was all over in the papers at the time, to the 1880's where it is
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entirely towards a caricature of african-american participation in the world of public affairs. but the turning point was at the end of reconstruction, right? mr. wasniewski: yes, the turning point for this story happens with the end of formal reconstruction where the union military forces occupy the south and had kept the reconstruction government in place. that is rolled back in 1877 as part of the disputed election of 1876. between single tillman -- samuel tillman and rutherford hayes. that election gets thrown to congress to decide, and what happens is the house and the senate are controlled by different political parties and cannot come to an agreement.
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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 up is to different groups. one for tillman, one hayes. 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 -- democrats push republicans and reconstruction formally. -- end reconstruction formally. what you see over really a decade, decade and a half, a process where african-americans are gradually excluded from the
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political process in the south. it is a combination of state laws that go on the books and local laws that go in the books. such as poll taxes. but by the 1890's, both through law and through custom in the south, african-americans are largely no longer part of the political process. and that plays out in congress periodt post 1877 because you see the numbers really drop off in the 1880's. we only have five african-americans who are serving in congress at various points. usually it's just one or two. still some prominent individuals. john mercer langston from virginia, a very prominent african-american even before the civil war.
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he had been one of the first blacks in the country elected to political office in a town council in ohio. he had a national reputation. after the war, he served as a minister to haiti. then 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. his ability to legislate is curtailed and that 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. now the union army presence, the federal presence in the south had in rolled back. the very last individual who
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period ising that george henry white of north carolina. represented a coastal district in north carolina that had elected african-americans before. he serves for two terms in the late 1890's. he is the last african-american to serve for really three decades. he very 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 about it on the floor. the other thing he wanted was to because there were so many , blacks being denied political rights in the south, he wanted to reduce the representation of southern states based on the number that were being disenfranchised.
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these are two issues that can up percolate for the next couple of decades in the house. but there were no african-americans to champion it. in 1901, white leaves congress. he faces some very tough reelections. 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 who is going to be in congress for a while. he says, phoenix-like, someday the african-americans in congress will rise again and come back. that takes three decades. ms. elliott: what i want to show you one of the saddest parts of the artifacts we have.
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this is one of the saddest artifacts and the house collection, i think. it's a pretty recent acquisition of ours. this is a 1907 prints that was made of all the colored men who have served in the congress of the united states. it is really a testament to the persistence of hope in the african american community. for participation in public life. this is 1907. george white has been gone for six years. it's going to be another two decades before african-americans returns to congress. this print was done as a memento. in fact, the way it is done is a very popular method of showing a lot of things on the page. it's almost like a scrapbook or a photo album. some of these images are tilted
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a little bit, as if artfully placed in a scrapbook. it really is. a scrapbook is a book of disembodied pieces of memories. and in some ways, that is a memory of the past and a promise to the future. the man who printed this had run several african-american newspapers. he had an appointment to the government printing office and by all of that had vanished. 1907 all of the positions opened to african-americans that he is in a part of a gone away. the newspaper had collapsed. he had a lot of connections with john mercer langston and other folks. those things have evaporated. this is one of the last things that we know that he did. he was really attempting to put a marker down that this won't be forgotten, that will come back as george white said. in the center we've got lance bruce and hiram revels.
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there are a large number of african-americans who served in the house. here is joseph rainey again. the first african-american in the house. 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 20 years was going to be a long time? did they think it would just be a moment. you can see it seems terribly damaged and had a hard life. indeed, it has. it was at some point -- someone took this and pasted it probably on a wall. it is pasted on board. underneath the print is is wallpaper. it was perhaps pasted on someone's wall in recognition of those things that happened. it was printed in d.c. we acquired it in d.c.. it may never have left to the
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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] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2016] q&a,is sunday night on u.s. senate historian talks about various event in senate history and the worker office does. >> i came in june of 1998 as a newly minted senate historian. my colleagues said to me, it's going to be nice and quiet. we have an election coming up. he will have time to settle in and reading get comfortable in your job. within a few weeks the house decided to impeach bill clinton. we got very busy very quickly. and had to do a good deal of research on impeachment trials. we had not had a presidential impeachment since 1868. the senate leaders at the time really wanted to follow historical precedent as much as they could. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern
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and pacific on the span -- c-span's q&a. reid, up next, chip author of "lion in the bay: the british invasion of the chesapeake, 1813-14" talks about the important work of 1812 battle that was fodder on the chesapeake a. he also explores the reason why the area was so vital to the americans and the british. the u.s. navy memorial posted this power in 10 minute event. weber: hello. i'm proud to have you all here for another of our office on deck book series. today we are welcoming chip reid to discuss his recent book, "lion in the bay: the british invasion of the chesapeake, 1813-14." it was published last autumn by the naval institute press. chip is an award-winning reporter and editor, and a licensed ship


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