tv Reconstruction CSPAN January 7, 2018 8:40am-9:06am EST
send us your information as well by following us on twitter or emailing us. >> next, we continue our coverage of this weekend's american historical association meeting in washington, d.c. you are watching american history tv on c-span three. .> we want to welcome kate we followed your panel discussion a moment ago. what was your take away with what you learned? dr. masur: it was such a pleasure to be together with a group of people. one of the takeaways for me and
my involvement with the project is how many people were involved. you hear the discussion that this had to happen on the ground and there was this opportunity transfer and historians were doing this, it was remarkably a collective effort that is different from what history professors often do, which is teacher class, write an article. that stood out. what is your background and history? -- host: what is your background i and history? >> -- dr. masur: i began in the american studies field. i had a historian buried inside of me. i want to know why we are the way we are now and we came to the understanding that we know something about history. a very curious about the past. i feel like there are a lot of puzzles to put together. i think in the end what you are often learning about is why we get here.
host: reconstruction, what do we need to know about? >> it is very misunderstood. host: why? dr. masur: we can say that it was defeated by white southerners who never wanted it, never agreed with it, and asd in so many situations, a movement of ideas came along as\t the same time -- at the same time saying the reason that we had to ring it down was it was a horrible idea in the first place.
it was not right for the government to tell the states what to do. for many, many decades, when people went to school, people learned that reconstruction was a terrible period. but that historically was created to justify the right of the jim crow regime and it was a purposeful story that created an intellectual framework -- i do not want to represent a conspiracy, but it's a very politicized narrative, and a long time historians have been working to set the record straight about what happened. host: correct me if i am wrong. it seems to me this is a time that is not only misunderstood, but not fully taught. why is that? dr. masur: i can't say exactly why that is because i am not a high school teacher. but we found that many people had this wrong propaganda idea of the story. they go, oh, reconstruction and they go huh.
i think there are a lot of reasons. if falls of an inconvenient time in the history class. a lot of times classes are divided by the civil war -- or the semesters are divided by the civil war. reconstruction gets short shrift because they move into the progressive era. i think reconstruction is also dauntingly complicated. a lot of times teachers might cover it a little bit, but not enough that people fully understand it. at a there are a lot of different reasons. some are just about the difficulty of teaching a broad swath of american history. host: take a moment to chronicle
one moment, one event that defines this era. dr. masur: i would say it was the reconstruction act of 1867 where former confederate states to rejoin the union had to allow black men to vote. that was the pinnacle of what people meant by reconstruction. we cannot go further in this project of bringing the nation back together until african amend -- african-american men could vote in the same terms as white men. and this is something that southern whites revolted at. they thought this was completely unfair. it undid the white supremacist
order that many of them deeply, deeply believed him. in many communities african-americans were the majority. so the apex, and in some ways, the most radical idea that got implemented during reconstruction is the right to vote, and we need to understand in a moment when so many people get to vote -- it is dramatically about reconstruction and that is a crucial moment. that was followed by an act in 1870 that said that states cannot discriminate voting on the basis of race. host: and yet with all of that,
are we still battling the civil war? are we still fighting that war? dr. masur: idol think we are exactly fighting the civil war. but some of the same conflict that divided americans in the 19th century continued to be with us. it's no surprise, and away, we would still be talking about the legacies of slavery, the legacies of racial inequality in all different areas of life or the role of the federal government or the way that we have different regions in one big nation. all these are things that have divided people around the civil war. host: what was president grant's role in all of this? dr. masur: grant was very committed to the reconstruction
program. particularly in his first term. he faced some of the most intense and problematic episodes of violence from the south and had to make the decision whether to send in soldiers or not. he often did the right thing. sometimes a little bit too slowly. but generally, he was very supportive of the rights of african-americans to vote. there was a dramatic economic collapse in 1873. that made it harder for republicans to pursue their goals in the reconstruction south. host: what is your academic background? dr. masur: i have a phd in american studies.
i have a graduate degree from brown and i have taught since 2005. host: professorkate masur is our guest. you are on the air. caller: hi, i will be leaving a question group on the history of land ownership in america. i know it is a big topic, but the 40 acres and a mule there he did not really work out, and just explain that very briefly, and also there are different sources on how black slaves got their own land. thank you. host: we will get an answer for you. caller: yes. the in reading a dissertation on the ownership of land in america and i wanted to know about how slaves got their lands during reconstruction. i know it is more complicated than 40 acres and a mule.
but if you could give us a very short description or could recommend sources for my research. host: david, thank you. dr. masur: thanks. that such a good topic, such an interesting topic. people are sometimes confused by the promise of 40 acres and a mule. it is founded an actual policy on a military order by general william tecumseh sherman at the end of the civil war that promises the potential for land titles for african-americans along the sea islands in south carolina and georgia. and many former african-american slaves did settle on that land.
many people who own land dating back to the civil war era have struggled to retain that land. as your question implied, that was never a broad promise by the united states government. it was never anything remotely like that. they had an enormous disadvantage. sometimes white landowners, even if really impoverished, did not necessarily want to sell to african-americans, although often they did. african land ownership increased dramatically. there is the story of acquisition of land over time and people saving what they
could save and buying small pieces of land, often establishing land owning communities. and one of the best books on that is actually a very, very solid book in the south. it is kind of the best book that traces before the civil war, how well that worked, and the story of the gradual, but clear trajectory of the acquisition of land over time. host: your enthusiasm is evident. dr. masur: yes, it's a good story, but a really untold story. sometimes people ask the question -- and i asked the question myself when i first heard of this time in high school -- if all of this stuff
happened and it all got reversed, why does it even matter? why don't we skip this and go straight to jim corr -- jim crow ? but this is not a 100% negative story. people acquired land and lived an independent land in a largely rural society. that was one of the essential goals. host: mount pleasant, tennessee, go ahead, please. caller: yes, i want to ask a question about all of the things she said were true about blacks -- in my family, it has been blacks never have been -- got the right to vote in my family history, and also, i want to know why they said there had been a stopping in blacks being able to vote. i did not understand that. nowhere in the state of
tennessee have blacks ever been denied the right to vote. dr. masur: thank you for that. so, the general, national story is that over time, but particularly starting in the 1890's, state governments tried very hard to make sure that black men could not vote. they passed various kinds of laws that disenfranchised people . but it's also true, as you are saying, that in some places in the south, african-americans continue to vote. it depends very much where you live and who your community is. host: i guess -- she is the author of a number of publications as well, including this in 2012.
this book is about what? dr. masur: this book looks at reconstruction in washington, d.c. it is an urban study. one of the most interesting things i found, as people who know about washington, d.c., congress plays a very important role. so in a way the district was a laboratory for reconstruction and you see writ small many of the policies the government then tried out on the south, but there are fewer hoops to jump through. so i looked at the desegregation of public accommodations, voting rights, public school, how it all unfolded from the end of slavery to 1870.
host: is it easy or difficult to and you see writ small many of find sources for all of this? dr. masur: when i started my dissertation in graduate school, my advisers said -- i do not know that washington, d.c. would have sources on this. if they did, someone would already have written this book. the more i dug in, the more i found sources. so, there were way more newspapers then then there were now -- then there are now. small towns have multiple newspapers and they had political perspectives. you could read one newspaper and one kind of news. you have to take your sources with a grain of salt, but there are very, very rich sources. host: our next caller is from washington, d.c. sadie. caller: thank you for being on c-span today and on this topic. my family is from georgetown, south carolina. i have been studying this for over 40 years. you are talking about broader
things and i know you're talking about making -- putting up a statue or whatever. but i am at defender of what they call the black radical republicans and i have an ancestor documented being a politician at that time. i have a picture of him. he was a really great guy. are you looking at doing any work out of georgetown, south carolina or charleston, south carolina? of course, it has a lot of history and my family has been involved in the history. dr. masur: that's a great question.
south carolina -- so many amazing things happen during reconstruction and that is so terrific that you have a founder ancestor and you know about him. it is so admirable and so amazing. so, the panel we were just on in beaufort, south carolina, and of course, one reason it is in south carolina is south carolina had some of the most interesting politics. many more african-americans served in the state legislature the most other states, and therefore had a really dig say in the policies they passed. -- big say in the policies they passed or is there are terrific books about the state during reconstruction because it is so famous. it is almost like the most avagard, -- avagard, forward thinking state. confederate monuments -- confederate monuments, i think
it has been widely described -- there are two different monuments where white communities were feeling very empowered. there's also the civil war generation. also, there are people that they admired. and i should say those monuments to the greatness of the confederacy were exclusionary monuments that were saying these are the heroes of our community. they are our heroes, not your heroes. we stand for something that involves your subordination.
i do not think people had to say that explicitly in order for that to be what the monuments meant. once again, there were monuments that symbolized a kind of racial conservatism. i think it's terrific we are having the conversation about monuments now. something that came up on the panel was the question of putting up monuments as opposed to order new addition to taking down monuments. but doing more to put up the monuments to heroes of reconstruction is really terrific including the caller's ancestor. robert smalls is quite well known. there are people who have been forgotten that stood up for things like equality, good government, the right to vote, the future of a multiracial nation. these are things that people consider worth memorializing in their communities.
host: we are being carried live on c-span radio. coast-to-coast on sirius xm. our guest is kate masur. reginald is joining us next from california. go ahead, please. caller: you were talking about looking at reconstruction from other regions of the country to make it more inclusive and perhaps more relevant to people as far away as california. how would you go about doing that? dr. masur: right. so it's a little complicated in the sense that the story of reconstruction, which we normally talk about, which has to do with bringing the former confederate states back into the addressing thend abolition of slavery, that is does not get addressed as much in other states like california or minnesota.
conversatione same happening in the south. including california, there was a really big debate about race and racial equality in those places, even during reconstruction, even though it was not exactly the same concept happening in the south. so there is a possibility of talking about new ideas of race and then there are a lot of other things going on about westward expansion. buffalo soldiers, african-american soldiers who fought out west -- there are a lot of different opportunities out there. but i think you have to be expansive and think beyond the conventional north/south story. host: good afternoon. caller: i would like to ask dr. masur what she thinks of d.w. griffith's film "birth of a nation." host: thank you, sir. dr. masur: i'm glad you asked me that. i have a small preoccupation with that film. i often show it to my classes. i think it is a monument to
propaganda about reconstruction. it is the kind of representation of reconstruction that has been discredited by scholars. and history professors. and yet, there is something very powerful about it because it represents a point of view about reconstruction and race and the civil war that was widespread in the united states at the time it came out in 1915. and in some ways, the different types of storylines, the fears of black men as sexual predators, questions of african americans in government, black voting, those racist images in the movie continue to resonate in things that are familiar even today. i think it is important to expose students to it even though obviously, i would put , qualifiers around it. i think it's a very fascinating film. host: what reaction do your students have when they see it?
dr. masur: they are kind of gob smacked. they are like, are you kidding me? they cannot believe how long it is. it is three hours long. it feels very slow now, and also it is a silent film so you have to deal with subtitles in this melodramatic acting style, but they are amazed at the blatant racism, the kind of imagery that is so offensive to us, but also helps them understand things in their own minds like, every once in a while there will be a , controversy on a college campus because there will be a party where they dress as racial caricatures. many times, some white students don't understand what is wrong with that. but when they understand the history of racial representations in american history, they can understand some of the meanings of those caricatures now and why they are so offensive. host: what are some new projects
coming up? host: i have a new book that i edited. it is just out right now. it came out originally in 1942 by john e. washington about african-americans that interacted with lincoln. it had been out-of-print since 1942. it has an introduction by call sandberg. i thought it would be helpful and interesting to have a second current. oxford university printed it. i wrote a new introduction describing the life of the author, who was an african-american public school teacher in washington, d.c., and the original reception of the book. i'm really happy it has just come out. masur, thank you very much for your time.