By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Throughout American history, African-Americans have worked to overcome slavery, racism, Jim Crow, and massive resistance to laws and judicial rulings which have supported racial equality under the law. At each turn, especially after the Civil War, African-American efforts to secure an equal economic, political, legal and social footing in this country have been met with legal, political and physical obstacles.
Today, though a Black man sits in the White House as President, elected by strong majorities of White, Black, Hispanic and gay people, Blacks still face the same challenges.
In a new book “White Rage” (Bloomsbury Publications), Dr. Carol Anderson describes in very revealing details the historic thesis of Black struggle in America for racial equity and justice.
Anderson’s 247-page book is a concise read to pass the time this summer in your study or den, traveling, or on the beach with a friend. It is well to the point, and it describes the “one step forward … one step back effort” that Black people have walked along the path to what we are experiencing today in terms of politics, education and money. She is an associate Professor of African American Studies and History at Emory University and a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project. She also is the author of “Bourgeois Radicals: The NAACP and the Struggle for Colonial Liberal, 1941-60.”
In August 2014, in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Anderson wrote a Washington Post Op-Ed entitled, “Ferguson isn’t about Black Rage Against Cops; It’s White Rage Against Progress” which was the model for her book. This is an excellent book to school today’s Millennial generation and others about the evolution of the Black struggle in America. It puts the timeline very succinctly.
It starts with Black struggles to be free before the Civil War, such as the 1857 Dred Scott case. She looks at President Abraham Lincoln and his conflicted views on slavery and whether Blacks should be free. Lincoln, like many other statesmen, would have preferred Blacks be exported from the states because he felt, as the book stated, their presence in the nation prompted the conflict. If he had his way, a good portion of Black people would all be in Panama.
It took considerable prodding and schooling from the likes of activist and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to convince him that such as idea was not moral. Thus the Emancipation Proclamation was conceived and the order to allow Blacks to have another hand in fighting for their freedom in the Union Army was allowed. This was achieved despite lingering doubts from the Commander in Chief and other Whites. Historians of Black History are now noting that freedom was not “given” to Blacks, but earned and secured as they illustrated their willingness to sacrifice for it as they do today.
But White resistance in the South was strong among the political elite, and they had a willing ally after President Lincoln was murdered and Andrew Johnson came to power.
According to historians, Lincoln favored allowing the Confederate states back into the union with little penalty. Johnson was even more generous and fought against every law – public and private – to help Blacks, claiming it was favoritism and that poor Whites were not being given the same protections.
Despite the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments which ended slavery, established citizenship and granted the right to vote to Blacks, Johnson and his allies fought against them. Johnson refused to allow the Freedman’s Bureau to create schools for Blacks, claiming federal over reach. Blacks, using churches and homes with the help from Whites supporting their cause, set up schools, shops and other venues to educate themselves.
When Whites denied services and goods from their enterprises to Blacks, they created their own. But Whites worked to undermine and destroy them because they felt Blacks were a threat to White economic power and control over what Blacks bought, where they lived and were educated. Many southern states imposed the “Black Codes” which were used to achieve these goals.
These codes restricted the movement of Blacks, where they could live, work, how they were treated in public and restricted their ability to secure education, the right to vote and safety from White men who feared Black men would harm their wives and families.
Using these codes, Whites reinstituted slavery by another name and form. Free Black men who could not work because they were squeezed out of the job market, Black men who were mentally ill or fell afoul of the law in any slight way were sent to jail. They were then loaned out to White plantations and cities to work free. White businessmen would pay the fines of Black men in jail and work them for free to get their money back as part of the peonage systems.
Also, when Blacks sought to migrate from the South to the North, Whites blocked their path, fearing a loss of labor they could exploit, oppress and use for profit. Some Black churches and Black newspapers joined in telling Blacks to stay home and avoid the scourges of the North. In Anderson’s book you can read how the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling was written to legally keep Black people from riding in railroads cars with Whites, although it was illegal according to the federal law for states to forbid them to do so. The question never to be answered is what if Whites had embraced Black people as equal, full and protected citizens after the Civil War? Instead, out of manipulation, fear and ignorance, Anderson shows how Whites in power at every turn, sought to deter Blacks’ freedom and equality.