Skip to main content

tv   American Artifacts  CSPAN  August 19, 2016 4:41pm-5:14pm EDT

4:41 pm
every weekend on c-span3. our features include lectures in history, visits to college classrooms across the country to hear lectures by top history professors. american artifacts takes a look at the treasures at u.s. historic sites, museums and archives. reel america reviewing history through news reels. the civil war. the presidency focuses on u.s. presidents and first ladies to learn about their politics, policies and legacies. all this month in prime time and every weekend on american history tv on c-span3. >> each week american history tv art facts explores the history of united states through objects. up next we visit capitol hill to talk with the house curator about the history of african-americans in congress in the 19th century and see a
4:42 pm
selection of artifacts from the house collection. >> the story of how african-americans come to congress in the 19th century is not one that a lot of people are familiar with. we actually had 22 african-americans serve between 1870 and 1901. 20 in the house, 2 in the senate, largely a house story. and it has to do with the role of congress during the civil war, and in the decade after. during the civil war there were 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 who was chairman of the house ways and means committee and a very powerful leader. also people like henry winter-davis, elihu washburne.
4:43 pm
in the senate, people like charles sumner and benjamin wade. and they really drove the agenda and pushed the lincoln administration to not only prosecute the war more vigorously but also to have a reconstruction after the war that was one that was not so lenient toward southern states and was going to ensure that political rights were extended to african-americans. >> well, so the war ends in 1865, but how do you get from 1865 to the first african-american members of congress? because it's not -- doesn't happen right that day. >> doesn't happen right away, but the -- the role of radicals, if anything, becomes even more assertive after the end of the war. after lincoln's assassinated president johnson takes over and has an even more lenient view than lincoln of how the southern states are going to be
4:44 pm
readmitted and he's pushed constantly by the radical republicans. and in a very short period of time, roughly four or five years, they pass a series of constitutional amendments and also laws that bring about the equality of african-americans in the south. that starts in early 1865 with the passage of the 13th amendment. that's ratified later that year. banning slavery once and for all in the u.s. followed up by major legislation like the civil rights act of 1866 which extended citizenship rights to the freed man and the 14th amendment which guaranteed citizenship rights. the 15th amendment which guaranteed voting rights then also a series of reconstruction acts that divided the south into military districts and gave power to union generals to run
4:45 pm
those districts politically, essentially. to set up elections and to ensure that african-americans could come to the poles under the new laws and amendments that had been passed. >> you know, in the house collection, we have a number of images, prints mostly, from news weeklies. for example, this is one right here from 1866, the scene outside the gallery at the passage of the civil rights act of 1866 that you're talking about and there's great jubilation and we have some from the passage of those amendments you're talking about and other civil rights acts. in all of them, people seem really excited and delighted at this level of progress. so, there -- it's certainly being portrayed in the public eye as something wonderful and great and terrific, and so then is it sort of a lag of a few years from those things being passed to then states being able to elect african-american
4:46 pm
members? >> so what goes into place in the southern states is our republican reconstruction governments and it's at that point by the late 1860s that you begin to see a number of african-american officeholders move up into positions of local authority. either on town councils or in the state legislatures. and they gain a political role and a political voice and a number of the african-americans who serve in this time period, that's how they kind of come up through the ranks very quickly and move up into positions where they can then be elected to congress. >> so, so who's the first african-american in the house? >> well, the first african-american to speak on the floor in the house of representatives while the house is in session is actually a man who was elected but never seated.
4:47 pm
john willis menard from louisiana was elected in 1868. and his election was contested and that's a story that kind of runs throughout the 19th century for so many of these african-american members who were elected to congress. their election was challenged, and a number of them had that experience. menard was in february of 1869 allowed to speak on the house floor to defend himself in 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 who was elected to the house and seated in the house is joseph rainey of south carolina in december of 1870 and following
4:48 pm
him are another 19 african-american members throughout the course of the 19th century. rainey wasn't actually the first african-american in congress. that distinction went to hiram revels of mississippi who was elected by the state legislature as senators were back in the 19th century. and he came into congress in early 1870s. but when you think about that revolution that occurs within a matter of less than a decade. so rainey had been born into slavery. during the civil war, he'd been conscripted into the federal army to dig trenches around charleston where he was from. he escaped to bermuda during the war. comes back after the war. gains a political experience and a political role locally. and within a decade, he's holding the seat of a former confederate slaveholder.
4:49 pm
and revel's story is the same. he was born as a freed man, never was a slave. but he, too, comes into the senate and occupies a seat that had been held by a slaveholder less than a decade before. and when you think about the great paradoxes in american history, that's one of them. that they come to the capitol and represent african-american constituencies and they're doing it after those seats have been given up during secession by slave holders. >> that's amazing. you know, i've read a little bit about reconstruction and it's interesting the sort of very small brotherhood of men who are serving right in the early 1870s and we actually have a print that has five of them right here. they include hiram revels who you were just talking about and joseph rainey right here.
4:50 pm
this is three other members of congress. two in the house and one in the senate. that is the complete african-american representation in the senate. up until well into the 20th century. in the senate up until well into the 0th century. and you can see they're being presented in this print, which is taken from a book from former speaker of the house about his time in congress. voe very much in the same vein as every other member of congress and statesman of the day was. most of these are taken by early photographs. if you were to see the whole thing, you'd see they look like they're sitting in the same chair, in front of the same curtain background that matthew brady uses for every congressman. you can't swing a cat without finding a 19th century photograph of a member of congress from brady's studio sitting in these chairs. so, it's very interesting to me to see that during this reconstruction period, there really is that sense that these people are members of congress.
4:51 pm
there's this sort of, you know, the civil war is the b.c. and a.d. of american history and it really sort of seems like it's very much a huge pivot that's happened as shown by this kind of representation of them. >> well, for african-americans and historians talk about this, the reconstruction period really is the second american revolution in which political rights were extended to this group that had been excluded for so long. and rainey and revel, their two careers in the house and senate respectively really embody the experiences of the african-american to serve in this time period. their service was, to a great degree, largely symbolic service. revel only serves a very short time in the senate, and he later goes on a speaking circuit around the country and he's introduced everywhere as the 15th amendment in flesh and blood and the embodiment of
4:52 pm
african-american voting rights. and rainey, too, was a symbol for african-americans. these were men who not only represented their small districts or their states and the constituents therein, but they represented african-americans nationally. and they were a source of pride. and that's reflected in the material culture. rainey serves for almost eight years in the house. he's the longest serving african-american during the reconstruction period. during the 19th century. and he establishes a couple of firsts. he's the first african-american to preside over the house while it's in session. that happens in 1874. and his experience, though, is typical of a lot of these other individuals who come to the house in relatively small numbers.
4:53 pm
the high point in terms of the number of african-americans is the 43rd congress, mid 1870s. there's only six or seven african-americans in congress at that point. so they're really too small of a group to drive any kind of legislative agenda. and where they do contribute to legislation is to come out and speak on behalf of their constituents and their political rights and the abuses against those political rights in the reconstruction era south. so they tend to give very eloquent speeches about some of the major bills like the 1875 civil rights act which is, again, a piece of legislation not many people think about today. the civil rights act is the civil rights act of 1964. and what that bill in 1875 would
4:54 pm
have done is essentially the same thing the 1964 bill did. it would have granted equality in accommodation, in public travel, and also in schools. and a lot of these african-americans from the south, from south carolina, mississippi, alabama, got up and spoke on behalf of this bill, and particularly the education provision, which would have provided an equal playing field. and that provision, sadly, is 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. and but a lot of these men gave very moving testimonials on the house floor about that legislation. >> well, you know, i have a question about another object we have in the collection because
4:55 pm
revel and rainey, as the firsts often are the ones that i think about most, 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 that we have in the house collection that tells us about what's going on in the house and what the public is reading about it, what they're seeing, this is one of the rare ones in which there's an african-american member who's given sort of a little portrait right there on the pages right next to any number of other different things that are going on. this is sort of news of the day. so tell me a little bit about robert elliott. >> elliott's one of the interesting members. he's from south carolina, and the majority of african-american come from south carolina, seven come from members all from that state largely because it's a majority
4:56 pm
african-american population and their districts are majority african-american. and so there's support for a black candidate. elliott is a wonderful orator and he's one of these people who invented himself as he went along. you get the sense that he was a true character, but he had a great classical education. he came up after reconstruction. worked on a newspaper. he had some journalism background. then he moves up into the state assembly in south carolina. and he comes to the house for two terms in the early 1870s, and he is one of the men who comes on to the floor and talks about the importance of passing the 1875 civil rights bill. and gives some speeches that are picked up in the northern press and they just swoon over him. and one of the speeches, he actually, kind of a point/counterpoint debate with alexander stevens, the former
4:57 pm
confederate vice president who has by that point come back to the house and elliott just blows him out of the water. he's so respected and he's such an ally of senator charles sumner that when sumner passes, shortly before his bill moves through the house and senate, elliott goes and delivers a eulogy at faneuil hall in boston, which is also widely picked up in the northern press. he leaves the house, actually, mid-congress in his second term and he goes back to south carolina because he cares so much about state politics and he's watching the way things are trending toward the end of reconstruction and seeing a lot of abuses against a black political participation in voting rights and he becomes the speaker of the south carolina state assembly for a brief period.
4:58 pm
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 the members. once reconstruction ends, here you have a guy who is a great speaker, has a law background, sets up a law practice but he gets almost no business and he's forced to move out of state. and eventually in the mid-1880s, he dies in poverty. and that's, sadly, the story of so many of these 19th century individuals who leave congress and then with the onset of jim crow, their careers just dry up. and that speaks to the larger kind of political ramifications of the end of reconstruction and what that meant for black political participation.
4:59 pm
>> i wanted to point out to you something that i find really interesting as a curator, historian, the way he ends up being promulgated in some ways in the press, so that you get no business because of racism and because of jim crow and also it's sort of the -- it's reinforced in the popular press. and so as we move into the jim crow period, the press and the public -- the way the public sees african-americans, the way it's presented to them really changes and moves much more towards the caricatures that we are familiar with from the very beginning of the 20th century. so this is the 1880s. by 1889, in this, also showing sort of little vin yoets of what's going on in the capitol during an interesting time period. instead of a picture with civil war veterans and interested women and african-american children and adults celebrating
5:00 pm
outside as citizens who are excited about a new venture and about the passage of the civil rights bill, here we're seeing lots of different sort of things going on and the very style of it has become more like a cartoon, and in particular, i want to draw your attention to this circular area here in which they're showing african-americans in the visitors' gallery, called the gentleman's gallery. that is the name of a gallery in the house at the time, but it's used almost dripping with sarcasm because it is showing almost entirely african-americans in there and in the accompanying essay about it, it points out -- it points out what it wants to point out about this image that it's showing african-americans who are in the galleries but not engaged in the process. not interested in on what's going on on the floor. it's showing them as reading or sleeping or using it simply
5:01 pm
to -- as a place to hang out. that's 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 is all over the papers at the time to the 1880s in which it moves entirely toward a caricature of african-american participation in the world of public affairs. the turning point happens at the end of reconstruction, right? >> the turning point for this story really happens with the end of reconstruction, formal reconstruction, where the union military forces occupy the south and head -- kept the reconstruction governments in place. that's rolled back in 1877 as part of the disputed election of 1876.
5:02 pm
between samuel tilden and rutherford hayes. and that election gets thrown to congress to decide. and what happens is the house and the senate are controlled by different political parties and can't come to an agreement as to the house deciding it. so they create a special electoral commission composed of five senators and five representatives and five supreme court justices. and in the results, they come back, there were three southern states that had disputed returns. so, what shows up is two different groups, one for tildon and one for hayes. the commission comes back and finds in favor of hayes, awarding him those votes. but as part of the political negotiation that struck to make him president, the southern
5:03 pm
states manage -- the democrats manage to push republicans to end reconstruction formally. and that happens in 1877. and once that happens, what you see over really a decade, decade and a half, is a process where african-americans are gradually excluded from the political process in the south. it is a combination of state laws that go on the books and local laws that go on the books. such as poll taxes. but by the 1890s both through law and through custom in the south, african-americans largely are no longer part of the political process. and that plays out in congress in that post 1877 period because you see the numbers really drop off by the 1880s. in the 1880s and 1890s, we only have five african-americans who are serving in congress at
5:04 pm
various points. and usually it is only just one or two during any given congress. still some prominent individuals. john mercer langston from virginia, who was a very prominent african-american even before the civil war, he had actually been one of the first blacks in the country elected to political office in a town council in ohio. and so he was -- he had a national reputation. and after the war, he serves as a minister to haiti, and then in the late 1880s, he's elected to a virginia seat and comes into the house. but he's another african-american who faces a contested election. and by the time he is seated, he only gets about a seven or eight-month term. so his ability to legislate is curtailed and that is the story
5:05 pm
of the men who had road blocks thrown up, from poll tax to violence at the polls, now that the union army presence -- the federal presence in the south have been rolled back. the very last individual who serves during that period is george henry white of north carolina. represented a coastal district in north carolina. that had elected an african-american before. and he serves for two terms in the late 1890s. he's the last african-american to serve really for three decades. and he very forcefully pushed for two things while he was a heb. 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.
5:06 pm
but he's out there talking about it on the floor. and the other thing that he wanted was to -- because so many blacks were being denied their political rights in the south, he wanted to reduce the representation of southern states in congress based on how many people were being disenfranchised in southern districts. and so these are two issues that percolate in the house in the next couple of decades but there is no african-americans there to champion it. in 1901, white leaves congress. had he faced a lot of violence, a lot of fraud, and he leaves the house. when he does, he gives a speech in february of 1901, which is tremendously moving because he knows he's the last african-american who's going to be in congress for a while. and at the end of the speech, he says, but you know, phoenix-like, some day the
5:07 pm
african-american will rise again in congress and come back. that takes three decades. >> well, i want to show you what i think is really sort of like that long, dry period that happens after white leaves. one of the saddest parts of what the artifacts that we have, in fact this is one of the saddest artifacts in the house collection and it is a recent acquisition of ours. we haven't seen one of these. this is a 1907 print that was made of all -- it is called colored men who have served in the congress of the united states. and it is really a testament to the persistence of hope in the african-american community for participation in public life. it is done in 1907, so george white has been gone for six years, and it's going to be another two decades before another african-american returns
5:08 pm
to congress. and this print was done sort of as a -- as a memento. in fact, the way it is done is this very popular method of showing a lot of things on a page. it is almost done as if it is a scrapbook or photo album. some of the images are tilted as if they have been artfully placed in a scrapbook. and it really is. a scrapbook is a book of memories of little, tiny disembodied pieces of memories. and that is what this is. it 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 been -- he had had an appointment to a position at the government printing office, and by 1907, all of that had vanished. all of the positions open to african-americans in the government that he had been part of had gone away. the newspapers had collapsed. he had a lot of connections with john mercer langston, in fact,
5:09 pm
and some other folks and those things have evaporated and that is one of the last things that we know that he did. he was sort of attempting to put a marker down, this won't be forgotten and will come back as george white said. in the center we've got blanche k. bruce and hiram rebels, the two african-americans who served in the senate. giving the senate its due, as we do. and they are surrounded by a larger number of african-americans who served in the house. here is joseph rainey, the first african-american in the house. and it takes it all the way around to all of them who were there. i find this so poignant in that when this was printed, no one knew, how long would it be? did they think that 20 years would be a long time? did they think it would just be a moment? but what did happen to this print, eventually, as you could see, it looks terribly damaged and like it has had a hard life and indeed it has. it was at some point, someone took this and pasted it on
5:10 pm
probably a wall because it's pasted on board and underneath that is wallpaper. under the print and on top of the board is wallpaper, so it was perhaps pasted on someone's wall in sort of recognition of those things that had happened. it was printed in d.c. we were able to -- we acquired it in d.c. it may have never left the nation's capital, unlike black representation at the time it was printed. american history tv airs on c-span3 every weekend, telling the american story through events, interviews and visits to historic locations. this month american history tv is in prime time to introduce you to programs you could see every weekend on c-span3. our features include lectures in history, visits to college classrooms across the country to hear lectures by top history professors. american artifacts takes a look at the treasures at u.s. historic sites, museums and
5:11 pm
artifacts. real american, revealing american history through news reels. the civil war where you hear about people who shaped the civil war and reconstruction. and the presidency focuses on u.s. presidents and first ladies to learn about their politics, policies and legacies. all this month in prime time and every weekend on american history tv on c-span3. coming up this weekend on american history tv on c-span3, as the national park service prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary, we'll take a look at the development of california's national and state parks. saturday night at 10:00 eastern on "reel america" the 1935 u.s. department film "the land of the giants" documents the efforts of the civilian corps and the daily life in the work camps. >> clearing dense undergrowth from the big redwoods for fire prevention and freer growth provides lumber for practically
5:12 pm
any kind of construction job which may be desirable. the conservation corps boys make everything from heavy bridge timbers to park signs. >> sunday morning at 8:00, a panel of scholars examines the musical "hamilton," the history depicted in the musical and the relationship between academic history and the history portrayed in popular culture. then at 10:00, on "road to the white house rewind," incumbent president bill clinton and former kansas senator bob dole face off in their first debate of the 1996 presidential campaign. >> but the bottom line is, we are the strongest nation in the world. we provide the leadership, and we're going to have to provide the leadership. but let's do it on our terms, when our interests are involved and not when somebody blows a whistle at the united nations. >> i believe the evidence is that our deployments have been successful in haiti, in bosnia, when we moved to kuwait to repel saddam hussein's threatened invasion of kuwait, when i have
5:13 pm
sent the fleet into the taiwan straits, we have worked hard to end the north korean nuclear threat. i believe the united states is at peace tonight because of the disciplined, effective, careful deployment of our military forces. >> at 6:00 p.m. eastern on american artifacts we'll take a tour of arlington house with national park service ranger matthew penrod, built by george washington's step grandson, it was the home of robert e. lee, who had married into the family. >> he declared this house a federalist house. this was to represent all the beliefs and ideas of george washington, and that included, once again, the idea that this nation would exist forever. and that no state had a right to leave it. so, how ironic is it that that man's daughter would marry robert e. lee, who became great confederate general and, perhaps, the man who


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on