Anti African American Racism

The end of the civil war with the surrender of the Confederate forces in 1965 brought an end to the institution of slavery. However the white majority of the South was unwilling to grant African-Americans the full rights of citizenship. Many African-Americans decided to move from the rural areas of the South, to the urban areas, especially those of the North, where they expected to find a more egalitarian social order. However a sudden increase in the African American population of cities exacerbated racial tensions.

Riots, lynching and racist legislation by local and state governments became commonplace. From the 1890’s to the 1920’s, the United States underwent a dark period of racist violence and hatred in what has been termed the “nadir of race relations in America”. Disenfranchisement of Blacks Many of the influential whites of the South believed that denying all political power from African-Americans was crucial in order to maintain their economic superiority. Southern states and local governments continually aimed to undermine federal laws that guaranteed voting rights to African-Americans.

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A Mississippian writing to the Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper said: “It is a question of political economy which the people of the North can not realize nor understand and which they have no right to discuss as they have no power to determine. If the Negro is permitted to engage in politics his usefulness as a laborer is at an end. He can no longer be controlled or utilized. The South has to deal with him as an industrial and economic factor and is forced to assert its control over him in sheer self-defense. ” (Love, 2009)
African-Americans were in the majority in the Southern states of Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina, in several other states they formed a sizeable minority. The dominant white minority in those states fought the hardest to deny African-Americans their right to vote under one pretext or another. The mechanisms for denying African-Americans their voting rights were many, some were legal and others extra-legal. Legal artifices for denying African-Americans the vote included the levying of taxes and the requirements of passing certain tests (Klarman, 2004).
Poll Taxes Several Southern states made payment of a poll tax; a fixed amount of money levied upon each person, a requirement for voting. State laws often required the payment of the tax, month before the election. Voters who fell behind in payment of the tax were denied the vote unless they paid all the cumulative tax they owed at once. As a result thousands of African-Americans, who were largely poor and lower class whites were disenfranchised (Love, 2009). English Literacy/Comprehension Requirements
Several states passed legislation requiring voters to be able to read and write in English, most African-Americans, poor whites and recent immigrants were disenfranchised through these laws. Other tests included oral comprehension tests, one such test, enacted by the state of Mississippi, required voters to be able to understand parts of the state’s constitution. These tests were often administered in an unfair and arbitrary manner by local voting registrars who had absolute power to declare whoever they wished competent or incompetent to vote in the elections (Love, 2009).
In order to prevent the disenfranchisement of their white supporters, white people were often exempted from the requirement of passing literacy/comprehension tests or paying poll taxes, this was done through the use of ‘Grandfather Clauses’ which automatically granted voting rights to a person whose grandfather had the right to vote. The enactment of the ‘grandfather clauses’ allowed poor whites to vote but blocked first or second generation freedmen (Logan, 1957). Residency Requirements
Many urbanized states, frightened by the appearance of large numbers of African-American immigrants from the rural South, enacted legislation requiring voters to establish their residence in the state for an extended period of time before they were allowed to vote in the elections (Love, 2009). In order to prove an extended period of residency, voters had to show their tax records or other documents which necessitated at least some literacy, so the residency requirements worked much the same way as literacy tests (Logan, 1957).
Printed Ballots The introduction of the modern printed ‘Australian’ ballot proved to be an impediment to the enfranchisement of African-Americans. Prior to its introduction, each political party printed its own ballots. Party workers would enter the polling stations with their own ballot papers which they would hand to their supporters. The handing out of the new ballots to voters was put in the hands of government officials, mostly linked to the Democratic Party and hostile to African-Americans.
The ballot itself presented great difficulty to illiterate people, who were unable to correctly select the party of their choice and made mistakes which led to their votes being rejected (Love, 2009). White Primaries The voting rights laws were aimed primarily toward the national and local government elections. It was argued that political parties, not being government agencies were not required to extend the right to vote in their primary elections to African-Americans. The state of Texas, for example, passed legislation in 1923, forbidding blacks from voting in Democratic primaries.
Since the Democratic Party had a virtual monopoly on the government in many Southern states, blocking African-Americans from the primary had, in real terms, the same effect as blocking them from national elections (Love, 2009). Bullying and Violence In addition to the legal artifices, several extra-legal methods were adopted in order to prevent African-Americans from voting. These included physical violence and threats of physical violence to induce African-Americans to stay away from the polling booths. Several white militias existed which had their roots in the former Confederate army.
These militias often engaged in violence during election days. Republicans sought to counter the threat of violence by extending the voting time to several days and by seeking to allow voters to vote at any polling station within a precinct, while Southern Democrats would often seek to restrict the window of time available for voting and the location for casting a vote in order to increase the threat of violence in the minds of the African-American voters (Logan, 1957). The end result of all these legal and illegal tactics to prevent African-Americans from voting was that African-American voting numbers dropped sharply.
In the state of Arkansas, for example, the voting participation rate for African-American voters dropped from over two-thirds to around one-third (Klarman, 2004). Segregation of Housing Several states and counties passed legislation preventing African-Americans from residing in certain localities which were deemed to be the exclusive preserve of Whites. In the famous Buchanan v. Warley (1917) case, the United States Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a city ordinance in Louisville Kentucky which enforced racial zoning of residential areas (Klarman, 2004).
Even after residential segregation was deemed unconstitutional, the use of restrictive covenants prevented African-Americans from residing in several areas, the property owners of a location would simply refuse to sell or rent out their properties to African Americans (Logan, 1957). In other areas the threat of violence and harassment from the public and the police kept African-Americans out. Many small towns had unwritten rules, commonly termed the “Sunset Laws” which required all African-Americans to leave the town before sunset (Mann, 1993).
Segregation of Schools Traditionally, it was common for there to be separate school facilities for African-American children, these schools were frequently underfunded and lacking in the facilities given to schools for white children. Educationally ambitious African-American parents would often seek to enroll their children in normal schools and not school built especially for African-American children, sometimes they would encounter sympathetic school administrators who would agree to enroll their children (Klarman, 2004).
Many white parents did not want their children to interact with African-American children. In many localities laws were passed to prevent white and black children from studying in the same schools. The Kentucky legislature passed such a law in 1904, titled “An Act to prohibit white and colored persons from attending the same school. ” Kentucky Democrat Carl Day, who introduced the legislation, justified it on the grounds that it would prevent the white children of Kentucky from being ‘contaminated’ (Klarman, 2004).
Segregation of the Means of Transport African-Americans were often prevented from travelling in the better compartments of railway cars, in many localities segregation of White and Black passengers was made compulsory under law. Louisiana’s Act 111 passed in 1890 mandated separate accommodation for Blacks on railway cars. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of this law encouraging other states to enact similar laws (Klarman, 2004). Anti Miscegenation Legislation
A large number of White people, feared the wished to ‘preserve the purity of the White race’ by putting an end to racial mixing between Whites and all other races. Several localities instituted laws forbidding marriage. In the 1883 Pace v. Alabama case, the US Supreme Court upheld the Alabama laws against racial mixing as constitutionally valid (Spiro, 2008). In 1924, Virginia passed a comprehensive anti-miscegenation law called the Virginia Racial Integrity Act which defined a person as non-White even if a single great-grandparent was non-White and classified intermarriage between Whites and non-Whites as a felony (Hashaw, 2007).
A Maryland law imposed a sentence ranging from 18 months to 5 years in prison on a White woman who got pregnant as a result of ‘fornication with a negro’ (Hashaw, 2007). Anti-miscegenation laws were enacted in most states at one time or another (Spiro, 2008). Anti-Black Rioting With the arrival of large numbers of unskilled African-American workers from the rural south, the supply of laborers often greatly exceeded the demand. Lower class urban Whites faced a new challenge in the form of the newly arrived African-Americans and other immigrants, who were often willing to work for smaller wages (Takaki, 1993).
This conflict produced a number of violent, destructive and deadly riots throughout the cities of the United States. The White rioters would target not only the Black workers but also attack the white businesses and homes where Blacks found employment. In the 1908 riots in Springfield Illinois, the Mayor received threatening letters demanding that he fire all Black policemen, firemen and janitors, several local businesses reported receiving letters threatening that their properties would be set on fire if they did not fire all Black employees or stop doing business with Blacks (De la Roche, 2008).
Racism and White Identity During the years following the reconstruction, many European immigrant communities formerly rejected due to their religion or national origins were accepted into the fold of the White majority as a result of their joining the anti-Black cause. One such community were the Catholic German Immigrants to the South. Many German Catholics had volunteered to join the Union out of a disgust at the institution of slavery (Strickland, 2008). The Germans also had considerably less prejudice against intermarrying with Blacks and several such marriages have been recorded (Strickland, 2008).
Prior to the Civil War, one of the reasons the German immigrants were regarded with distrust by the majority community was due to their practice of trading with Black slaves and selling them alcohol. However in the aftermath of the Reconstruction, the German Immigrant found that the best way to get accepted into the White majority was to adopt White supremacist and anti-Black rhetoric (Strickland, 2008). Lynching Despite their emancipation from slavery, the White majority expected Blacks to behave in subservient and deferential manner toward them.
Any perceived lack of respect on the part of African-Americans would be met with violence. Often White mobs would attack Blacks who dared to try to vote or to own and farm their own land (Klarman, 2004). About a third of the lynchings were carried out against Black men accused of being insufficiently respectful or sexually expressive toward White woman or were alleged to have raped a White woman. The fear of Black males sexually assaulting White females reached had assumed the form of mass hysteria (Dorr, 2004). Racist Militias and the Klu Klux Klan
The withdrawal of most of the troops from the South at the end of the reconstruction era allowed confederate veterans to form terrorist militias and engage in anti-Black violent activities. The most famous of these militias was the Klu Klux Klan which was aggressively prosecuted and suppressed by the Federal government in the 1870’s, other militias included the White League and the Redshirts. In the mid 1910’s a new surge in militia violence occurred, the Klu Klux Klan was reformed in 1915 and at the height of its popularity in the 1920’s claimed nearly 5 million members (Turner & Williams, 1982).
The 1890’s – 1920’s era was a horrible period in American History. Anti-Black sentiment faded as anti-Nazi sentiment grew, and much of the ‘scientific racism’ that was used to justify anti African-American policies came to be associated with Hitler and Nazism. The full-fledged participation of African Americans in the two world wars led to the desegregation of the military in 1948 which paved the way for the later general desegregation of society. References De la Roche, R. S. (2008). In Lincoln’s Shadow: The 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, Illinois (2nd ed. ). Carbondale, IL: SIU Press. Dorr, L. L. (2004).
White women, rape, and the power of race in Virginia, 1900-1960 (2nd Edition ed. ). Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press. Hashaw, T. (2007). Children of Perdition: Melungeons and the Struggle of Mixed America. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. Klarman, M. J. (2004). From Jim Crow to civil rights: the Supreme Court and the struggle for racial equality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, US. Logan, R. W. (1957). The Negro in the United States: a brief history. Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand Co. Love, L. J. (2009). The Disfranchisement of the Negro. Charleston, SC: BiblioLife. Mann, C. R. (1993).
Unequal justice: a question of color (2nd Edition ed. ). Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Spiro, J. P. (2008). Defending the master race: conservation, eugenics, and the legacy of Madison Grant. Lebanon, NH: UPNE. Strickland, J. (2008). How the Germans Became White Southerners: German Immigrants and African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, 1860-1880. Journal of American Ethnic History , 52-69. Takaki, R. (1993). A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. Turner, J. J. , & Williams, R. (1982). The Ku Klux Klan, a history of racism and violence. Allentown, PA: Klanwatch.

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