tv Reconstruction and Jim Crow Laws CSPAN May 26, 2019 10:30pm-11:16pm EDT
tv historian henry louis gates , talks about reconstruction, which lasted from the end of the civil war until 1877. the amendments passed during this time to promote equality for african-americans and the subsequent jim crow laws and other measures used in southern states to reestablish white supremacy. the national constitution center hosted this event. >> ladies and gentlemen, welcome upstairs to the national constitution center. [applause] passion ofhe professor gates downstairs and all of our colleagues, so we are just going to jump into this conversation. i think you can tell, it is urgently important to bring as many schoolkids as possible to come see that incredible exhibit. [applause] that is why i'm thrilled that
last week the superintendent of the school district of philadelphia sat with me on this overlook and announced that the school district and the constitution center are launching a program to bring tens of thousands of school districts to the conference every year. we are calling it the constitutional ambassadors program. we won't go seek support and these great kids are going to start their experience in the classroom. see the civil war exhibit and the constitution center, and connect to classrooms around the country using our virtual constitution exchanges for hour-long conversations about the constitution moderated by judge or master teacher. >> wow, that is great. >> it is an amazing project and we are excited to share it with you. professor gates needs no
introduction he is author of this best-selling book, "stony the road: reconstruction, white supremacy, and the rise of jim crow," which is the companion book to the path breaking series on pbs. the book is superb. it tells the story with more vivid detail and more powerful images than i have seen before of how the promise of reconstruction, which we saw in the gallery, was brutally thwarted by the south and the heroic efforts of african-american intellectuals and others to try to resurrect that promise. we are going to jump into the conversation but before we start, we will see a clip from the series. let us watch it now. [video clip] that ourf us know country fought a civil war in the 1860's but few of us know what happened afterwards. reconstruction.
>> did you ever study reconstruction in school? >> just a paragraph or two. >> i never learned anything about reconstruction. >> reconstruction was a shining moment for the second founding of our country. >> overnight, people that had been defined as property take leadership positions in the south. >> this is an incredible moment. kind of like barack obama becoming president. >> those folks had no idea of the cliffs they were heading towards. >> reconstruction produced a violent backlash, a racist backlash. >> i want us to tell the truth about our history, not to punish america. i want to liberate us but we can't get to liberation if we don't acknowledge what we have done.
believe we as a nation are still undergoing the process of reconstruction? >> you might say it never ended. we are trying to come to terms with the consequences of the end of slavery in our country. >> this is a chapter that has been misrepresented and misunderstood. it is time we acknowledge the true story and complete the work of reconstructing america. ♪ [applause] >> thank you. thank you. i want to correct one thing that you said. you said that every school child in philadelphia should see this exhibition. every school child in america should see this. >> here here, absolutely right. >> the most amazing exhibition about reconstruction that i have ever seen. i've learned things on our tour
that i have never seen the different drafts of the reconstruction amendment. and thank you to all the people who support this marvelous center for making this education possible. we never really have dealt with the issues raised by reconstruction. >> i learned so much from that. i will ask you what you learned, but also what you want americans to know about those reconstruction amendments themselves. the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. >> the 13th amendment of course abolished slavery. 1865. most people know it now because we were raised to think the emancipation proclamation abolished slavery. of course it didn't. 4 million formerly enslaved
people were able to get behind union lines and gain their freedom before the end of the civil war. the institution of slavery was only abolished by the ratification of the 13th amendment. the 14th, as you said so eloquently, equal protection clause and birthright citizenship. if you ever wonder where birthright citizenship came from. charles sumner and his colleagues were trying to figure out what is the status of these people who have been property for a quarter of a millennium? they came up with birthright citizenship, which was brilliant. 1868.y, that was in and then finally, the ratification of the 15th amendment, which effectively gave black men the right to vote. it said race cannot be used to prevent or prohibit any american from voting. but what's curious about the 15th amendment is that black people in the south who have
been formally enslaved and free in 10 of the 11 confederate states got the right to vote three years before. it was a surprise to me when i started doing research for what became our series. it was a surprise for most of you if you were a former slave or had been free in the south, it was one of the four reconstruction amendments that gave black men the right to vote. that is what we call the first freedom summer. the first freedom summer of 1867 when 80.5% of black men in 10 of the 11 confederate states registered to vote. but here's the kicker, you know how we demonize the south as north -- if you
are free -- i descend from three free negroes, as we would have said. two sets were free on the outbreak of the american revolution. the third set was freed in 1823. they lived 30 miles from where i was born. i have a tremendous amount of stability in my family. it is now in west virginia, but it was in virginia at the time. my fourth great grandfather , john redman, actually fought in the american revolution. because of him, my brother, dr. paul gates and i are sons of the american revolution. go figure. [laughter] not exactly a predominantly black organization. you know what i'm talking about? so hold this in mind. , west virginia becomes a state,
and joins the union in the middle of the civil war. it becomes a state june 20, 1863. negroe knee grow -- ancestors had cousins just across the border around winchester, virginia. those cousins who had been enslaved got the right to vote three years before my free ancestors got the right to vote, because in the north black men could only vote in the five new england states and in the state of new york if you satisfied a $250 property requirement. isn't that amazing? that is so shocking, but it is true. even when west virginia became a state, they refused to give black men in west virginia -- there are not that many black people in west virginia today so
we are only talking about a handful of people. they refused to give them the right to vote. those four reconstruction act that really laid the groundwork for citizenship and for the right to vote. i first studied reconstruction. i didn't study it all in high school in piedmont, west virginia. i studied it in yale. my sophomore year. i took a two semester survey course -- introduction to afro-american history. all over, where are you? , where are you? we were afro-americans at that time. the president went on to win a pulitzer prize for his biography of ulysses s grant. he had us read -- published in it was radical because it 1935. challenged the dunning school of historians at columbia university, and they were part and parcel of the mythology of reconstruction being a dismal failure and an embarrassment to
the history of american democracy. and do boys took on the dunning school. and the chief consultant to our series is so ironic that he is our leading reconstruction historian at columbia university. it is almost as if -- i think he is about to publish his 10th book of reconstruction on the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment, which will be out in september. i think it's a personal mission for him to refute the terribly racist claims made by his own predecessors in the history department at columbia and set the record straight. read do boys -- e's book about black
reconstruction. and a book by the third or fourth black man to get a phd in history from harvard. at one point he was engaged to leticia gates, my great aunt. he wrote a book called the trail of the -- the betrayal of the negro. it is about the period immediately following reconstruction. reconstruction, people argue about it, but generally accepted dates -- 1865-1877. logan's book begins in 1877, and that is the period of the rollback to reconstruction. it takes a while to roll it back. black men had an enormous amount of power. black people were in the majority in south carolina, mississippi, louisiana, also -- almost in the majority in florida, alabama, and georgia. there were 16 black men elected to congress between 1870 and 1877. including two united states senators.
in south carolina, the speaker of the house, the secretary of state -- one of the great moments of the film is i go to jim clyburn's office. he has all the reconstruction congressmen on his wall, he could fill a whole black history lesson. systematically, step-by-step, the formerionists, confederates, the south indeed rose again, and they disenfranchise those black men. and they did it in such a clever way. the 13th and 14th and 15th amendments are ratified, right? you can't get rid of them but you can go around. starting in there were state 1890 constitutions, which then unfolded over the next 16 years in each of the confederate states. that is when they established poll taxes, literacy tests comprehensive tests that only a , law professor could possibly
understand. you want to know how dramatically effective the state constitutional conventions were? the majoritye of black states, in 1898 before their state constitutional convention, had 130,000 black men registered to vote. the new constitution was ratified in by 1904, that number 1898. 130,000 black men registered to vote had been reduced to 1342. there were 2000 black men voted -- elected to office during the reconstruction period. the last reconstruction congressman, george henry white bid farewell to the congress in 1901. there wouldn't be another black man elected to the congress until 19 to play nine when oscar
from chicago is elected to congress. how? because all those black people took part in the great migration. went from mississippi and particularly to chicago. went from mississippi and the other southern states north and because of the 15th amendment they had the right to vote. and so they vote a northerner into the congress. introduction to coterminouson was with the introduction of its rollback. the first two hours -- the great heights that black people achieved out of slavery. and this great moment when lincoln's desire for a new birth of freedom was realized. with the first experiment with interregional democracy. and was greeted by the rise of white supremacy.
i said the 13th was ratified december 6, 1865. the ku klux klan was invented december 1865. majorwere eight massacres between 1866 and 1876. starting in memphis and in hamburg, south carolina in 1876. this was not an untroubled period. andku klux klan hearings all of these volumes are online now and you can read them but that is the closest we have come in this country to a truth and reconciliation commission. when grant send troops to suppress the ku klux klan and they asked all these black people who had been victimized by the ku klux klan. because they had been trying to vote. women were raped. men were lynched. they were beaten, threatened, or there were offers of bribes to keep them from voting, because
they had so much power. i think the manifestation, the expression of all that power not only scared the daylights out of the former south as you might expect, but i don't think the north was ready for all that black power either. complicithe north was to us with the rollback of reconstruction. certainly, you can see signs by 1873 is the first great 1872. depression. it's called the panic of 1873. until the great depression starting in 1929, it was called the great depression. do we really need to protect the slaves? aren't today free? -- aren't they free? can't they stand on their own? how can you enslave people for 250 years, expect them to stand on their own feet after a mere 12 years. the compromise, the presidential
election of 1876 deadlocked in 1877. the compromise -- one of the agreements of the compromise was federal troops -- the few remaining federal troops protecting black people's rights to vote would be withdrawn and black people would be on their own. the supreme court was complicitous. 1876, the decision and the death knell. scholars argue about when reconstruction was over. black people had a funeral. a big church in washington 1883 right after the supreme court said that the civil rights act of 1875, which established social equality, black people could ride in streetcars and stay in hotels. supreme court said that was unconstitutional. frederick douglass, blanche k
ruth, richard t greener the , first black graduate of harvard, all gathered in the church and the church was packed like this. langston spoke. they just said how could the country do this to us? how could they abandon us? how could they throw us to the wolves in the way they have done? famously if you , want to think about the rise and fall of black freedom, the slave went free. stood a brief moment in the sun and then moved back towards slavery again. that is the history of the rise and fall of reconstruction. [applause] >> thank you for the most
sitting, riveting, and incredibly moving discussion of the fall of reconstruction. you have in your book -- to think another funeral was held for construction after civil rights was stunning. you have this picture of the first colored senators and representatives. in new york. what is so incredible about what you said is how central the right to vote was. now, i understand why frederick said the right to vote was the most important of the group, because african-americans were the majority in so many states. tell us more about how the racist redemption based backlash eviscerated the right to vote through supreme court decisions, terrorists, violence and literary laws. >> could you do me the favor and
hold up this lithograph from 1872. it is famous. it is called the first colored senator and u.s. representatives. during the depression the federal writers project sent writers to interview former slaves. people who obviously would have been very young. but still alive in the 1930's. very small, former homes occupied by slaves on plantations. they found grease covered copies of that 1812 lithograph. you know how you go to black homes and there is jesus and martin luther king? jesus, martin luther king, and barack obama. and they had that lithograph.
three of those men were born free. and one was english. elliott was born free in liverpool. there was so much action, so much excitement about reconstruction that elliott shows up in boston. he's part of the british navy. born free in liverpool. educated. part of the british navy. shows up in boston and hears about this opportunity in south carolina. goes to south carolina. richard harvey kane had been moved by the ame church to revitalize mother emmanuel. and you all know about mother emmanuel because of the nine martyrs were so horribly who were so horribly murdered that day. he hires elliott. elliott runs for the state legislature and then for the
congress. when richard greener graduates from harvard in 1870, and less -- endless opportunities. does he go to new york, stay in boston, philadelphia? he goes to charleston south carolina. that's where the action was. we cannot imagine that today. you can't imagine how much promise and energy and optimism -- think about it. think about what that was like if you had been enslaved until 1865. endless horizons. then within 12 years, all gone. i often think, i'm sure you do too, what it would have been like to have been black with the same capacities now. you would not have gone to oxford. i would not have gone to cambridge and i wouldn't have
gone to yale. of course you are. we would not have had those opportunities. i can imagine the heartbreak, when you read the speeches in thenhurch, 1883 and douglas went to lincoln hall and made another speech separately about the betrayal of the negro -- of the knee grow. -- of the negro. you ask why they would do this. somebody had to pick that cut. -- someone had to pick that cotton. you are moving from an economy where labor was free. ostensibly. it was done by slaves. it needed to be replaced to maximize profit with a form of neo-slavery.
you saw 3, 4 black men on the street, they could be arrested. put on the chain gang. you know those images of chain gangs -- that's where they all come from. between 1889 and 1930, 3700 black men are lynched. in the name of many, not all, many are accused of rape. raping white women. both frederick douglass and booker t. washington pointed out that nobody was accused of raping a white woman during the civil war in the south when the masters were away fighting and male slaves were back on the plantation. isn't that curious? lynching was a trope as part of -- that was invented as part of a larger white supremacist rhetorical superstructure. one of the fascinating things i
figured out when making the series was this was the time of america's first social media war. it was a battle between these infected images of black people, thieves, liars, sambo art we call it. every chapters followed by a visual essay comprised of these horrible images which we have all seen, it is called memorabilia now. black skin, thick red lips, wide white eyes with black , pupils and wild hair. men stealingack chickens. black people eating watermelons. black people -- male and female in every exaggerated humiliating form, in which you can represent
a human being. hundreds of thousands of these images are produced after the fall of reconstruction. particularly in the 1890's. why the 1890's? technologically -- technological accident. lithography is invented earlier in the century but it becomes cheap in the 1890's. so you can widely distribute four-color images. so it was possible for a middle class white family from the time your alarm clock went off, you would hit an alarm clock and see sambo looking at you from the alarm clock. you put your feet down and there would be a sambo or aunt jemima figure that had been embroidered into your bedroom slippers. you go to have breakfast, and your tea cozy had a sambo image.
your tea cups. you go to work, and you come home with one of the favorite called 10es -- it was little --. that was one of the favorite games. everywhere a white person saw an image of a black person, it was of a sambo. it was this racist caricature. the point was to create a subliminal hypnotic effect. when my colleague, who is a genius, wants to find a stereotype as an already red text -- what does that mean? i can look at you, you are black. i don't see you, i see sambo, i see aunt jemima. i know exactly who you are because society has confected an image, superimposed over who you really are, and you are forced
to live up to or live down to, however you want to put it, that racist image of yourself. what do black people do? they fought back with their own concept called the new negro. the educated black people said -- we can't win this war, may be what you are saying is true about the uneducated black people, but we are educated, refined. the concept starts in 1890. i wrote the book, it said it started 1894, and a scholar wrote to me last week and said, no, it started 1877. i have the essay. i said, ok. in 1877.tarts the point is they fought back this concept of sambo with the concept of the new negro. the new knee grow was everything that sambo or uncle tom wasn't.
he even globalized the new negro, the paris world fair, it's called the paris exhibition in 1900, curated the negro . 363exhibit took a photographs of black people, many of whom were not even visibly black because he wanted to show the genetic diversity of the african-american community. they are all upper-class of black people. he is trying to defeat this racist image that has been created by the redemption is to movement with the rise of white supremacy. was trueue in art, it in novels, folklore, even if harris' -- he did a lot to preserve traditional black folk tales.
sometimes, though, he will put words in uncle remus' mouth like, our people don't need the right to vote, we don't need all that education. that is a waste of energy. it was true of the social sciences and it is true of racial science. you know eugenics. horriblethose daguerreotypes he made. one is a person who claims their descendent is suing harvard for using those. but actually the professor of zoology was a stone cold racist. that is the only way you could put it. these discourses were united. in order to put that genie back in the lamp, the genie of black freedom, black masculinity, the power of the vote. it was devastatingly effective. [applause]
>> could it have been otherwise? if the courts had ruled differently, if the election had come out the other way, if the compromise of 1876 had not happened, could it have come out otherwise? what were the grounds of hope and tell us about the title of the book as well and the song that inspired it. dr. gates: i am on the board. madeleine albright and condoleezza rice are both on the board. it was about the time president obama was opening up cuba. that door was open about five minutes, and then it was shut again. my wife happens to be cuban, a cuban citizen, and an historian. i am very partial to cuba. now i can go as a family member, so nobody can stop me. [laughter] so i asked madeleine, and walter
isaacson gave me the first question. they were debating whatever they were debating. i asked them, which is more important in terms of -- and i used cuba as an example because it was contemporary -- giving people the right to vote, or giving them economic freedom? predictably, as you might imagine, condoleezza rice said one person, one vote first. don't open up cuba unless everyone can vote. madeleine said economic opportunity, economic independence. you give them that and the middle class will rise. sooner or later, they will demand their rights. we can see this in china now and a couple other places. i went to china in 1993. there were one billion bicycles. i went back 10 years later and there were a billion bmws. and i couldn't breathe either.
it was like being in a time machine going back to london in dickens' time. it rained and i went, "oh, that's the sky." you know. [laughter] environmental controls have not yet been implemented. why do i raise that? i used to wonder -- remember i cited booker t. washington's speech when he said economics is more important than politics. we are willing to forgo the right to vote if we can develop economically. we can be indispensable to the society. if a person, a tradesman, a trades woman, a craftsman or crafts woman is indispensable, why would you discriminate against a brick mason in philadelphia or a locksmith or whatever it might be? but that was booker t. washington. he was opposed to frederick
douglass who said the most important thing was the right to vote. i used two, and i teach, i love teaching, that's my day job, and i taught a course on reconstruction and redemption. my phd is in english. i teach in the english department and department of african-american studies. this is about the concept of the new negro leading up to the harlem renaissance. which was in the 1920's, originally called the new negro renaissance. i asked students to play with this. give me a scenario where booker t. washington is not an uncle tom selling out the race. make the case for booker t. washington. a lot of people do. they will say, look at china, right? if black people had developed economically -- but what washington was training people for was not really going to put them in leading, strong
positions within a soon-to-be 20th century economy. he was training them more for a 19th-century model of industry and trade. and many of the lynchings, though they were ostensibly in the name of a black man attempting to rape or raping a white woman, when ida b wells started investigating them in 1892, and other people investigated them, including walter white in the 1920's, it turns out it was economic competition. ida b wells' best friend had a grocery store, a market. across the street was a white man. the kids were playing marbles, black and white kids, they got into a fight. it led to this huge conflagration. the guy who was jealous of the black man essentially ignited the community in memphis to
lynch the man, who -- very well educated man -- who had started that store with a couple of his partners. that example repeated itself throughout the south and at the heart of these so-called lynchings. so, could economics -- if black people had gotten 40 acres and a aboutright, you all know 40 acres and a mule, spike lee's production company is called 40 acres and a mule. that would have been a radical transformation in property ownership, without a doubt. the concept was big plantations would be divided into 40 acre plots, given to former slaves. it was actually tried. you can read a book called "rehearsal for reconstruction." the georgia sea islands, liberated by the union army early in the war, plantations were divided up and black people were given parcels of land to develop.
the person who single-handedly rolled back that policy was andrew johnson. andrew johnson sent general o. howard, the first head of the freedmen's bureau and the hero of the civil war, to those black people living on those georgia sea islands to tell them that they had to give the land back to the former masters who had enslaved them. that's horrible. that was a horrible thing. they never had a chance to own land. i think by 1900, 20% of the african-americans in the south owned some kind of land, and that was not enough to create an economic base, create a middle-class that would have sufficient economic clout to make a real difference. but without the ballot, those economic rights could not be protected.
so, in the debate between condoleezza rice and madeleine albright, in terms of specifically black americans following the civil war, the most important thing that could have happened to change the fate of interracial democracy in america was protecting the black man's right to vote. only men could vote, of course. that's why i say black men. and the people who tried to roll back the civil war understood that was the vulnerable point. if we could take away their right to vote by intimidating them, discouraging them, threatening them, killing them, and then finally after 1890,
taking it back through the dubious conventions, then we can put them back on the plantation. then we can call them slaves. they were slaves by another name. that's what they did. and not only that. starting with the united artists -- united daughters of the confederacy, they even published guides to textbooks about the civil war and reconstruction. fact check me. it is either mildred lewis rutherford or mildred rutherford lewis. i taught my graduate course, her book called "the measuring line" had 20 principles. if any book that a librarian was considering purchasing or a teacher was considering using in the classroom, if any of those books violated any one of these 20 principles, the order was, don't buy it, don't use it, don't teach it. you know what was in there? the civil war was fought to free the slaves.
jefferson davis, any book that said anything bad about jefferson davis, you couldn't do it. that the slaves were mistreated, that they hadn't been happy in their condition, you couldn't do it. that was -- her common core was a lost cause. that was the beginning of the lost cause mythology that culminated in physical form with all of those confederate monuments. all those confederate monuments -- not literally every 1 -- were built in the 1890's and early years of the 20th century. they were the physical manifestation of redemption, of the rise of white supremacy. when i heard about the murders at mother emanuel church, at first i thought that anybody who would pray with nine black
people, including the preacher, and i did the last interview, as it turns out, that anybody who would pray with the people in a prayer meeting for an hour and then systematically kill them, it had to be purely deranged. that must be an unfortunate, sad act by someone who was suffering from insane mental condition. but he was a white supremacist. he knew what he was doing. he picked that church because it was the heart of the black community in reconstruction. he was quoted as saying "they are stealing our women, they are taking job opportunities." the same kinds of lies and heinous accusations that the nazis made about jewish people in the 1930's. that is the logic of white supremacy, or the illogic.
that's why. if it can happen to black people with sanctions of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments so close to the civil war, which no estimates 750,000 americans died -- if it could have been then to -- happen then to us, to our ancestors, it can happen anywhere, and it can happen again. that's why we have to be vigilant. that's why i did this series. just to remind everybody that the rights you think are permanent and inviolable can be snatched away and those who believe in liberty and justice have to fight to defend those rights. [applause]
sites, archival film, and see our schedule of upcoming programs. at c-span.org/history. >> next, historian edward ayres analyzes the difference between history and memory, and explores -- discusses the important role that scholarship plays in public history. he also examines how the american public remembers the civil war. this 25 minute talk was part of the american civil war museum's annual symposium at the library theirginia and cohosted by university of virginia center for civil war history.