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100 Years Ago


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End of the Civil War

It was 1865, and the Civil War was over, leaving the South in ruin, and, although almost 4 million black slaves were now free, its inhospitable environment contributed to a future of uncertainty. Southern reconstruction, a program to rebuild the devastated South was initiated along with other social programs, including the Bureau of Refugees, and the Freedmen and Abandoned Lands program (Freedmen’s Bureau). It functioned among a black population that was now homeless, penniless, and, for many, unable to read and write. From 1865 to 1872 the Bureau provided food and supplies to blacks, began over 100 hospitals, found homes for 30,000, established over 4,000 schools and enrolled almost 200,000 students. From the roots of these humble education programs came great institutions of learning, including Howard University, Clark Atlanta University, Hampton Institute, and Fisk University.

Although the Bureau’s efforts produced commendable results, blacks overall continued to suffer abject poverty and racism. Southern states passed laws (black codes) that were almost as restrictive as the original slave laws. Congress acted to neutralize these efforts of suppression by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and with the addition of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, former slaves and all blacks were now citizens of the United States with all its appending rights and privileges. To many Southerners, the unthinkable was happening — forced equality — with blacks running for public office and voting.

The violence kindled from the ashes of the South spawned hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) that terrorized blacks, and those that sought justice, for over a hundred years. In spite of Southern hostility, blacks, in partnership with the Republican Party, made tremendous political advancements such as a majority in South Carolina’s lower house. With the end of Reconstruction in the 1870s and the withdrawal of Federal troops, sent to protect blacks, the advances began to erode, and a policy of segregation and discrimination swept through the South and the nation that, although contrary to current law, still lingers, in subtle form, today.

"The Sidney Journal" of Friday, February 18, 1870, stated that, "Some of the leading Democrats in Sidney are endeavoring to persuade Mr. Jones, a colored man, to run for Marshall this spring. They are trying hard to persuade him to consent, but he is manly enough to discountenance such propositions. They express themselves willing to give him the office if he will use his influence in favor of their party with his race at the next election. Mr. Jones has sense enough to know who were and are his true friends, and they might just as well drop the idea that they can get him to act with their party. Prospective county officers are terribly agitated over the Negro vote in this county. We would not be surprised if the Negro vote would put more competent and economical men in some of our county offices."

It was January 17, 1890, and Buddie Shang (Shadrach White), former Randolph slave, stood in the courtroom of the recently constructed Shelby County Courthouse accused of killing a white resident of Lacyburg, a shantytown behind Sidney’s Graceland Cemetery (extended north to the Water Street area) that was home to both black and white. His attorney, A. J. Hess, presented a case of self-defense to the all-white jury, that, upon conclusion of the arguments, deliberated for three minutes before rendering a not guilty verdict.

The turn of the century brought educator, president of Tuskagee Institute (University). and former slave, Booker T. Washington to national prominence with a belief that many cherished and others disdained. He encouraged blacks to make economic advancement their priority; relegating political power and social advancement to levels behind thrift and productive labor. He asked whites to help blacks with this new endeavor.

One of his bitterest opponents was W. E. B. Du Bois, educator, who, along with others, formed the Niagara Movement, in 1905 Canada, to protest racial discrimination. Major race riots, during that period, caused consternation among blacks and sufficient alarm among Northern blacks and whites, that in 1909, blacks from the Niagara Movement and a group of Northern whites formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to fight for racial equality.

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge

 

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