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Archive for the ‘Racismo’ Category

This Is How Racist America Was During the Civil War

HNN August 1, 2014

During the Civil War, many New York City newspapers were closely aligned with the anti-war, pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party. Republicans called them “Copperheads” after the venomous snakes that originate in the area that had become the Confederacy. Their hatred of Abraham Lincoln was probably only surpassed by their virulent racism and hatred of Black Americans. Their pages were filled with racially offensive language that would be blipped out on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and most newspapers today are hesitant about printing. I use the word “nigger” in this op ed. I do not use it lightly and I will only use it when quoting directly from newspaper articles from the era. I do not believe it is possible to convey the depth of racism in Northern society during the Civil War era without using this inflammatory and defamatory term.

In 1864 the Daily News was accused of receiving payments from Confederate agents to promote anti-war rallies in New York City and it inflamed racial tension by claiming that racial mixing or miscegenation was the “doctrine and dogma” of the Republican Party. The editorial page of the Weekly Day-Book, which from October 1861 to October 1863 was known as The Caucasian, carried the banner “White Men Must Rule America.”

In the months leading up to the July 1863 Draft Riots, John Mullaly, editor of the Roman Catholic Church’s newspaper, Metropolitan Record, called for armed resistance. At a Union Square rally May 19, 1863, Mullaly declared “the war to be wicked, cruel and unnecessary, and carried on solely to benefit the negroes, and advised resistance to conscription if ever the attempt should be made to enforce the law.” Following the July Draft riots, Mullaly was indicted for “inciting resistance to the draft.”

In its August 23, 1863 issue, the Herald, which had the largest circulation in the country, predicted that the Republican Party would eventually nominate and unite behind Abraham Lincoln when it realized he was the person “predestined and foreordained by Providence to carry on the war, free the niggers, and give all of the faithful a share of the spoils.” On October 7, 1863, the Herald described the Ohio gubernatorial election as a battle to decide “whether the copperheads or the niggerheads are more obnoxious to the great conservative body of the people.”

The 1864 Presidential election provided the Copperhead press an opportunity to express open, casual, and nasty racism. A key figure was journalist David Goodman Croly, who at one time or another worked for the New York Evening Post, the Herald, and the World. Croly helped to anonymously produce one of the more avowedly racist attacks on Republicans and African Americans produced during the Civil War, a 72-page pamphlet titled “Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races, Applied to the White Man and the Negro.” The pamphlet charged that the Civil War was a war of “amalgamation” with the goal of “blending of the white and black,” starting with the intermixing of Negroes and Irish.

Many newspapers, including the World, argued the pamphlet was the work of abolitionists and represented their actual program, rather than an attempt to undermine abolition. The New York Freeman’s Journal & Catholic Register, a “peace at any cost” Democratic Party newspaper closely aligned with Fernando Wood, claimed that the “beastly doctrine of the intermarriage of black men and white women” had been “encouraged by the President of the United States” and that “filthy black niggers” were mingling with “white people and even ladies everywhere, even at the President’s levees.”

The editors of the New York Times, were eventually sucked in by the fraud. In a March 19, 1864 editorial, they wrote, “We regret to learn from numerous sources that we are on the point of witnessing intermarriage on a grand scale between the whites and blacks of this Republic. It has, as most of our readers are aware, been long held by logicians of the Democratic school, that once you admit the right of a negro to the possession of his own person, and the receipt of his own wages, you are bound either to marry his sister, or give your daughter in marriage to his son. The formula into which this argument has always been thrown was this: If all blacks are fit to be free every white man is bound to marry a black: ‘Niggers’ are blacks: Therefore every white man is bound to marry a ‘nigger.’ ”

A week later, on March 26, 1864, a Times editorial stated: “we have no hesitation in saying that if we had at the outset conceived it possible that hostility to Slavery would ever have led to wholesale intermarriage with negroes, or of all marriageable Republicans and their sisters, that party should never have received any countenance or support from this journal. We owe it to ourselves and posterity to say that the odious matrimonial arrangements, into which so many of those whose opinions on certain great questions of public policy we have hitherto shared, have taken us wholly by surprise.”

By March 30, 1864 the Times had realized it was a victim of a hoax. “Trusting entirely, as we stated at the time, to the assertions of the Copperhead press, we have made mention of sundry movements alleged to be in process for the more wide-spread diffusion of the new political gospel of Miscegenation . . .  [T]he Copperhead newspapers have been spreading false reports, which is scarcely conceivable.” However, not only did the paper not apologize for its racism, but it complained “[t]he Copperheads are responsible for this state of things. They have aroused the whole colored community, by their highly-colored pictures of the connubial fate that awaits them at Republican hands, to a state of intense excitement.”

Given the virulent racism of the anti-war Copperhead Democrats and the still open racism of both the pro-war Democrats and Unionist Republicans in New York City and the north, it is amazing that slavery in the United States ended at all. Emancipation was a tribute to the doggedness of abolitionists, Black and White, the need for Black manpower for the North to win the war, and major miscalculations by Southern secessionists who mistakenly exaggerated Northern opposition to slavery and support for Black rights.

Alan Singer is a historian and Professor of Secondary Education at Hofstra University, author of “New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth” (2008), and editor of the “New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance” curriculum that received the 2005 National Council for the Social Studies program of excellence award.  This piece was written with research assistance from Joseph Palaia, graduate student, Hofstra University.

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Invisible Empire: An ‘Imperial’ History of the KKK

Dr. Kristofer Allerfeldt
History Department, University of Exeter

Imperial & Global Fórum  July 7, 2014

invisible-empireInvisible EmpireHistorians are used to the concept of formal and informal empires. They are used to empires expanding and empires declining. Most are perhaps less familiar with a concept bandied about in the United States from the late 1860s to the mid-1930s – that of an “invisible” empire.

In reality this empire was anything but invisible. Born in the turmoil of the post-Civil War South, by the mid-1920s it had spread to all mainland states of the Union, claiming some ten million members.

It was also known as the Ku Klux Klan.

As with much of the history of the KKK, the origins of the term “Invisible Empire” are disputed. Some claim that it emerged from Confederate General Robert E Lee’s polite request to keep his support for the nascent Klan “invisible”. Others see it as a part of the secrecy surrounding the original hooded fraternity. Whichever origin is chosen, there’s no doubting it was a useful phrase.

Arguing that Lee’s Klan connection was kept “invisible” at his own request was a trump card for those dedicated to the order’s mission of “Redeeming” the South’s pre-bellum traditions. However invisible, connection to the most illustrious figure of the Confederate war effort gave the Klan prestige and legitimacy, not only during the struggles of post war reconstruction, but also when the Klan re-emerged in 1915. Claiming he had wanted his ties kept secret also made it more difficult for either the general sceptics or the KKK’s enemies to disprove his connection with the vigilante organization of Reconstruction – which they all attempted to do.

 Membership card of A.F. Handcock in the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (1928)


Membership card of A.F. Handcock in the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (1928)

The controversy surrounding Lee’s allegedly “invisible” connection also, of course, makes it more difficult for historians now to accurately assess his connection. Early accounts of the Klan repeat the rumour, largely because the order was seen in a generally positive light. In some measure this was the result of a negative view of the Reconstruction efforts carried out in the post-war South. These Radical Republican-led attempts at racial integration and universal education were almost universally seen as the misguided efforts of unrealistic idealists, or viewed as the actions of corrupt politicians. Further, many of the historians writing histories of the Klan from Reconstruction through until at least the 1920s were, or claimed they were related to, members of the order.

The result was that accounts like that of Susan Lawrence Davis (1924) reiterated the myth offering no hint of its origins and making no attempt to show its authenticity.[1] Merely stating the case seems frequently to be considered enough proof by the standards of the time, but Davis’ background tells us much about her real sympathies. She was the daughter of a Confederate colonel and Klansman, Lawrence Ripley Davis. What is more she draws on equally unreliable sources, like the memoirs of one of the founders, John C Lester.

However, unlike previous accounts, Davis even quotes Lee’s words. She has the general tell the deputation asking him to head the order in May 1867 that, “I would like to assist you in any plan that offers relief. I cannot be with you in person but I will follow you, but it must be invisible.” She goes on to explain, “When this message was delivered to the [Klan] convention it led to the christening of the United Ku Klux Klan, the “Invisible Empire””.

By the end of the 1920s the Klan’s position in American society was less secure. A series of sexual and financial scandals combined with revelations of its violent methods reduced both the numbers and reputation of the order. The result was that even apologists tended to veer away from associating the symbol of Southern chivalry and gentility – Lee – with a tainted order of what even its leader had referred to as violent, ill-educated “second hand Ford owners”. Consequently, most historians since the 1930s have tended to see the Invisible Empire as being an example of the order’s fascination with mysticism.

This securely ties the order back to the craze for secret brotherhoods which swept across the United States in the wake of the Civil War. The period from 1865 to 1930 saw a huge explosion in fraternities of all types, so much so it is referred to as the “Golden Age of Fraternity”. College Greek letter fraternities; fraternities associated with particular trades, ethnicities and interests; fraternities formed to achieve certain aims, as well as the more traditional varieties like the Freemasons, Oddfellows and Shriners all prospered and expanded. One estimate claimed that around 1900, one in five American adult males was a member of at least one fraternity, many belonged to several.

The Klan itself had started as a simple fraternity. Around Christmas 1865, six bored ex-Confederate veterans, recently de-mobbed, formed their own fraternity – simply for entertainment. Like many other contemporary orders secrecy was central to the new fraternity. It had elaborate oaths of secrecy threatening dire punishment for those who spread details of the order. It had weird names to disguise the identity of members, and elaborate costumes to hide their faces. When, by 1868, the order had spread across the Southern states and was terrorizing those attempting to empower and integrate the region’s four million ex-slaves, that invisibility proved vital to avoiding prosecution and counter-attack.

birth-of-nation-movie-poster-900Similarly when the Klan was reformed in 1915, secrecy remained essential, not so much for the protection of its members, but more for the frisson of excitement and exclusivity it gave its members as part of a society made even more famous with the blockbuster release of Birth of a Nation (1915) on the silver screen.

As the Klan organisation expanded in the 1920s its “invisible” nature continued to help it. It enabled recruiters to gull fee-paying members into joining an order that never had anywhere near the ten million members it claimed at its peak in 1924. It allowed the organisation to exaggerate its power, by claiming it had members – sworn to secrecy, of course – at all levels of government from the White House down. It allowed the leadership to disavow actions of members they felt were acting to damage the image of the fraternity and disguise the order’s rapid decline from the mid-1920s onwards. Its leadership apparently found the concept of an “Invisible Empire” had much more to commend it than a visible one..

Klan newspaper of the 1970s.

Klan newspaper of the 1970s.

Having said that the concept of the Invisible Empire has proved a constant headache for historians. Secrecy and exaggeration, added to the lack of records and a reluctance of many to admit their own, or relatives, association with the Klan mean that our histories of the fraternity are necessarily to some extent speculative – especially when it comes to numbers. Nevertheless, this very secrecy makes new theories, new explanations and, of course, new histories of the Klan possible.

Kristofer Allerfeldt will be working on a new history of the Klan in conjunction with his PhD student, Miguel Hernandez, in 2015.

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[1] Susan Lawrence Davis, The Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan (New York, 1924).

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Reminding People of a Lynching Was What Bothered Them? 

HNN  May 30, 2014

 

155743-LynchingArticleI recently contributed to items in the local press (see here) and on radio (see here) concerning the ninetieth anniversary of a particularly gruesome lynching that took place in Fort Myers, Florida, over the weekend of May 25-26, 1924. Predictably, some local respondents were not happy that this anniversary was being publicized. One disgruntled reader complained, “Just can’t allow racism to fade away can you News Press? Instead of a piece relating how people of different races help each other because of their selfless goodwill (past or present), you all instead choose to keep alive a 90 year old evil doing by long since dead racist murderers.” In this article I will demonstrate why such reactions are mistaken and why these events should continue to be analyzed and explored in public media.

The first reason to keep highlighting this history is that lynching arose from racist stereotyping, a menace that continues in the present day. In Fort Myers in 1924, two black teenagers, aged just 16 and 14 were seen skinny-dipping with two white female friends. The two boys were assumed to be guilty of rape. In an article published by Steve Dougherty in the Fort Myers News-Press in 1976, an eyewitness stated that one of the girls protested that the two boys were innocent of any wrong-doing, yet the boys were still lynched. The racist beliefs of the whites overwhelmed their willingness to view the evidence impartially. This has clear parallels with criminal justice today, where juries can be influenced by the fact that young black males continue to be depicted in some media as criminal and sexually aggressive, instead of being treated as individuals.

The second reason is that the historical record on lynching is incomplete and in need of correction. Although the NAACP did awesome work to keep records of lynchings, it often had to rely on newspaper reports that presented the events from the point of view of the lynchers. In Fort Myers, for example, the motive of the lynchers was recorded as being to punish sexual assault (rape), yet this assault existed only in the eyes of the beholders. No evidence was presented to establish that the lynching victims had committed the alleged crime. The name of one of the victims was repeatedly given as Bubbers Wilson, when infact the death records clearly show that his name was RJ Johnson, a fact that the black community knew very well.

Failure to verify such facts at the time shows the local contempt of authorities for justice and accurate reporting. These violations of the historical record should be corrected; it is surely our duty as scholars to attend to this.

A third reason to focus on such lynchings is to ask our students and readers to walk a mile in the shoes of African-Americans of both historical periods. A white student of today who places himself or herself in the mind of a black male from 1924 can better understand how a young black male must continue to have two “looking glass selves”: a self that is reflected back to him by his fellow blacks, and one that is reflected back to him by a white viewpoint of suspicion and prejudice. Trayvon Martin spent his short life looking into these mirrors, which played a role in his death. Perhaps the student of today will be the juror of tomorrow, and the justice system is more likely to be seen to be doing its job correctly: treating all persons equally before the law, regardless of gender or skin color?

Jonathan Harrison is an adjunct Professor in Sociology at Florida Gulf Coast University and Hodges University whose PhD was in the field of racism and antisemitism.

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