Here are the three most notable items pertaining to Reconstruction that I found this past week. Or, at least, two notable items preceded by one blatantly self-promotional one. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)
In advance of this month’s inaugural Mississippi Book Festival, this interview with me from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger:
Question: Briefly, why did Reconstruction after the Civil War fail in the South? (History seems to suggest that had it not failed, things in the South could have been very different.)
Answer: Reconstruction failed because racists in the South wanted it to fail more than the general population of the United States wanted to see it through. White terrorists and their political allies were firm in their resolve to deny civil rights and social equality to black Americans, and the will of the federal government faltered.
In February 1988 I team-covered a story when then state Rep. Thomas Reed and 13 others were arrested in an attempt to scramble to the crest of the state capitol and remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the dome. They never got over an 8-foot construction fence before they were arrested and taken to jail. Flag supporters celebrated and vowed the flag would never come down. …
At the time, Reed was president of the Alabama NAACP. In 1970 he was among the first blacks elected to the Alabama state legislature since Reconstruction…
And from Will Moredock in the Charleston City Paper, writing about Mary C. Simms Oliphant, 20th century author of the South Carolina state history textbook:
Oliphant’s primary way of dealing with black people in South Carolina history was to ignore them. In her 432-page text are hundreds of illustrations, yet blacks are depicted in only nine. Of those nine, two show blacks picking cotton, one is a 19th-century engraving showing blacks running a cotton gin, while another shows blacks hauling cotton bails on the wharves in Charleston. The only black person identified by name in the entire book is Denmark Vesey, the accused organizer of a failed slave revolt in 1822.
The keepers of South Carolina’s history, archives, and monuments have been ignoring black people for generations. This weekend we begin to correct that with two days of scholarship and observances honoring Civil War hero and Reconstruction reformer Robert Smalls. It is part of the Civil War sesquicentennial observance in the city where that terrible conflict began. The organizers of this four-year series of events are determined to avoid the mistakes of the centennial observance 50 years ago. These events will be dignified and historically inclusive. This weekend’s observance will be a small step toward understanding that war and its aftermath.