Here are the most timely and intriguing items about Reconstruction that I found this past week. (What did I miss? Let me know in the comments…)
For scholars of African-American studies, the police killings of unarmed black men in several cities over the past year have been personally searing and unusually powerful pedagogically. …
Each new event has forced scholars to make pedagogical choices. Some have made the incidents the explicit topics of a new lesson or course; others have used them as entry points to teach previously existing material. …
Historians, for example, have linked current developments in Ferguson and elsewhere to the Watts riots of 1965, to Reconstruction, even back to the slave laws established in the 17th-century colony of Virginia.
In May 1865, there were approximately 1 million Soldiers in the Union Army. A rapid demobilization followed and by January 1866, there just 87,550 occupation troops in the South, and by October 1867, there were a mere 20,117 Soldiers.
The end of the Civil War, the freeing of the slaves, and demobilization did not usher in a period of peace and tranquility, [Mark Bradley, a historian at the Army’s Center of Military History] noted. The institution of slavery and the antebellum way of life had roots that were deep.
Beginning in early 1866, Southern states began passing a series of laws and regulations, known collectively as Black Codes, which restricted the rights of blacks from voting, owning firearms and even gathering in public under certain conditions. Many were arrested for minor infractions and sentenced to involuntary labor. “It was about controlling the workforce and keeping blacks in as close to a position of slavery as possible,” he said.
I was taking Arkansas history in the seventh grade in 1960 when I was introduced to the history of Reconstruction. My textbook, which I still own, was The Story of Arkansas by Hazel Presson, my revised edition having been published in Little Rock in 1948. Mrs. Presson certainly had no sympathy with Reconstruction or the newly freed black citizens.
Here is how Presson described the creation of the Ku Klux Klan: ‘The people of Arkansas had no legal way of stopping these lawless bands of Negroes, and the horrible deeds continued. In most of the Southern States the carpetbaggers had secured control of the government by unfair elections and had aroused the colored people to villainy. Finally, the citizens of the States formed an organization to try to scare the Negroes and carpetbaggers into being good. This organization was called the Ku-Klux Klan …’
At age 13, I was too young to question Presson’s textbook, but as my study of Arkansas history deepened through the years, I discovered that Hazel Presson was merely one in a flood of Southern textbook authors who painted Reconstruction in starkly biased ways. It turns out that Clio, the muse of history, wore a laurel of cotton blossoms.