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Reflections on Election 2020 Part 16

President Trump makes History - Impeached Again


It should be pointed out here that, As John Hope Franklin observed, the state constitutions draw up in 1867 and 1868 were the most progressive the South has ever known. Most of them abolished property qualifications for voting and holding office; some of them abolished imprisonment for debt. All of them abolished slavery, and several sought to eliminate race distinctions in the possession or inheritance of property.


Between 1869 and 1880, Black people could boast sixteen members in the Congress of the United States, and of that number two were senators. Today, we have 18 representatives and no senators.


The Freedman's Bureau, of which W.E.B. DuBois spoke so highly, was trying to assist the newly freed slaves. In 1866, Congress passed civil rights legislation over the veto of President Andrew Johnson, and in 1875 there was more civil rights legislation. But racism was not dead yet. Sadistic racists continued to employ the most vicious practices to intimidate Black people.


John Hope Franklin said it well: “as surely as the struggle between 1861 and 1865 was the civil war, so was the conflict from 1865 to 1877, with as much bitterness of hatred, but less blood-shed.” I would only add, less white blood but more black blood.


Secret societies grew and spread when it became apparent to Southerners that their control was to be broken by Radical Reconstruction. For ten years after 1867 there flourished the Knights of the White Camelia, the Constitutional Union Guards, the Pale Faces, the White Brotherhood, the Council of Safety, the ‘76 Association, and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Among the numerous local organizations were the White League of Louisiana, the White Line of Mississippi, and the Rifle Clubs of South Carolina. White Southerners expected to do by extralegal or blatantly illegal means what had not been allowed by law: to exercise absolute control over the Negro, drive him and his fellows from power, an established “white supremacy.” Radical Reconstruction was to be ended at all costs, and the tactics of terrorist groups were the first step of Southern leaders toward achieving the goal.


Significantly, beginning in Tennessee in 1870, every Southern state adopted laws against intermarriage. Five years later, Tennessee adopted the first “Jim Crow” law and the rest of the South quickly fell in line.


Then along came Rutherford B. Hayes. He wanted to become president and to achieve that objective he was prepared to do anything. He made a deal with former slaveholders; He would pull out the Federal troops, and give money for development and greater representation in Washington for their support. In essence, he would restore the former slave masters to power in the South, and Black people would thus be returned to subjugation.


By the latter part of the 1870s, Congress had turned against Blacks. In 1878, the use of armed force to ensure fair elections was forbidden. In 1894, the appropriations for Special Federal Marshals and Supervisors of Election were terminated. In 1898, the last disabilities laid on rebellious Southerners were removed in a final amnesty.

The Supreme Court, in spite of the Constitution, found a way to drive Blacks away from the temple of legal and human rights. In 1875, the Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and disregarded the legislation of 1870, which were enactments to stop KKK-type vigilantism. The court ruled in favor of defendants who were indicted for preventing Blacks from voting period in the United States versus Reese, the court ruled that the statue covered more of more offenses than were punishable under the 15th Amendment. In the United States vs. Cruikshank, the court ruled that the 15th Amendment guaranteed citizens not the right to vote, but only the right not to be discriminated against by states because of race, color, or previous conditions of servitude. In 1883, the court outlawed the Civil Rights Laws of 1875.


1890- Plessy v. Ferguson

By 1898, with the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, where the court ruled that there could be such a thing as separate and equal, all the noble efforts of the shatterers of racism had come to naught. So much for the Supreme Court and the defense of our constitutional rights. Men who have special interest, whose profession it is to deal with words, are like iron smiths, they can shape them any way they want to and when they have the power to enforce their will, their laws- right or wrong- become the law of the land. What is clear to some people: Words on paper mean absolutely nothing. To whom, then, shall we entrust the defense of the Constitution? To the courts? The Congresses? The presidents? All of them at one time or another have proven to be our enemy, and the enemies of the Constitution.


Sadistic racism coupled with sophisticated racism, with the support of simple racism, succeeded in beathing back the shatterers of racism, trampling upn the recently enacted ideals of the Constitution and destroying the great work of radical reconstruction. There are striking similarities between that time and our own, which requires more time than I can give it in this presentation.


1898-1954

When the new century began there was nothing new about the treatment of black people; 214 lynching’s occurred in the first two years. When the First World War broke out, Woodrow Wilson, like Thomas Jefferson before him, had lofty words of freedom, liberty, and democracy. He wanted to make the world safe for democracy – democracy for everyone but Black Americans.


Throughout the twenties, thirties, forties, and on into the fifties-in spite of the Constitution- disenfranchisement, economic exclusion, and social ostracism were the common lot of Black people in most states. This state of affairs carried the sanction of Law. “Separate but equal” was how the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution, which came to mean separate but unequal. Everybody knew it, and most everybody accepted it. While Roosevelt was pulling America out of its depression in the thirties with a “New Deal” which for Blacks was a better deal but not a fair deal.


During the forties, A. Phillip Randolph, then president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, had to threaten a march on Washington to force President Roosevelt to pass a Fair Employment Practice Act. We rode with Teddy Roosevelt and his rough riders at the turn of the century. We died fighting Germans in the First World War. We went off to faraway places to fight Germans again, and Japanese, and Italians during the Second World War in the forties. During the fifties we went to fight Koreans in Korea, and we went to Vietnam to fight the Vietnamese in the sixties. It seems that every nationality has fought against the U.S.A., but African...Black People. But after all this loyalty, valor, scars, and death, we were still outside the blessing of the Constitution, and today our predicament is as precarious as it has ever been.


With the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. the Board of Education (1954), light began once more to penetrate the gloom of racism. Tragically, the court put in a few words which were really unnecessary: “with all deliberate speed.” These little words allowed the sadistic racism of the South and the sophisticated racism of the North to circumvent the apparent good intention of the Warren court. Almost three decades have gone by and desegregation is still unrealized.


In 1955, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Led us into the era of the Civil Rights Movement. Hopes soared as the years went by, and we witnessed what appeared to be progress. The legal foundation of segregation was dismantled. In 1963, over 200,000 Black Americans and white Americans stood in the heat of an August sun and heard the Dreamer tell the world about his dream. As he articulated his dream in memorable cadence and rhythm and picturesque language, he seemed to speak for all Americans.

Hope soared even higher when the Civil Rights Voter Rights legislation was passed in 1964-65, the first in almost a hundred years, and added to all of that was the antipoverty program. We were on our way! At last America would “make real the promise of democracy.” The huge man from Texas, who somewhere along the way had been converted from a sadistic racist to a shatterer of racism, had us dreaming of a Great Society. Everybody seemed to be dreaming wonderful dreams during those days. That is, almost everybody. Racism was not dead yet! Alas! Poor Lyndon Johnson, a giant of a man, was forced from office by a “nasty little war in Vietnam.”


There was another voice in Washington in 1963 that warned that while King was having a dream, the masses of Black people were having nightmares. Malcolm X was in touch with the masses of Black people, particularly the young, and he knew that discontent was intensifying. We should have been wise enough to see that the political and social gains, as meager as they were, were way ahead of economic gains.


Frustration deepened, expectations were not being realized, so in 1966, in a sultry Mississippi summer after a long hot march. The march was a march against fear. It was begun by James Meredith who integrated Mississippi University. To show his courage, Meredith wanted to walk across Mississippi. As he started his journey, he was shot but recovered. Stokely Carmichael, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Floyd McKissick, and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) decided to complete the march.


Stokely Carmichael, then president of SNCC, hit a responsive chord with his cry, “Black Power.” Incontrovertibly, the frustration was valid. In 1966, the President’s commission reported:


Hence, in 1966 despite eleven years of intense Civil Rights activity and the new anti-poverty programs, the median income of a Black family was only 58 percent of the income of an average White family, and Black unemployment still ran twice as high as White unemployment despite the war induced prosperity which the country was enjoying. In some categories, conditions were considerably worse. Unemployment among Black teenagers ran at 26 percent. In the Hough area of Cleveland, which experienced a rebellion in 1966 and again in 1968, Black unemployment in1965 ran at 14 percent, only two percentage points below what it was in 1960. Another important indicator, the Black sub-aged workers and low paid workers was 33 percent in 1966 in the “worst” areas of nine major cities.


To be continued...


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