Keenly interested in your reaction to this and comments on it.
“This” is a link to The Price of Union, The Undefeatable South, a book review in the New Yorker, by Nichola Lemann, from Nov. 2, 2015. In his essay, he considers three books:
“Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, by Paul Theroux, the first of his ten travel books set in the United States
“Give Us the Ballot” by Ari Berman, a history of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and
“One Mississippi, Two Mississippi”, by Carol V.R. George, a history of the Mt. Zion church, that makes plain how essential the church was to the local civil-rights struggle.
Mr. Lamann has written an informed and informative essay that tells us how the old ways of the white South have spread throughout the nation’s life and politics.
In our discussion of official and personal displays of the Confederate battle flag and other memorabilia, and of the many Confederate soldiers’ monuments throughout the South and border states, I have mentioned that generally the North was willing to forgive and forget the evil cause for which the white Southerners had fought to destroy the Union, but the white Southerners were not reconciled to their defeat. Although the war ended for them in military defeat and the end of slavery, white Southerners managed to overturn the verdict of the war through a concerted, widespread campaign of terror and murder. Not just the lynching of black people, but the murder of any Southern whites who might have sympathy for the blacks and their quest for civil rights.
Consider, just to take one example of many possible, that at the 1913 commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg, no surviving Union colored troops were invited. President Wilson was a Southerner, and the Confederate veterans would not have accepted colored veterans on the Union side. The moving newsreels that show old men re-enacting Picket’s Charge, Union veteran’s leaping over the fence to embrace their Confederate mates, show not one black soldier.
This was the height of Jim Crow America. The precise time at which the United Daughters of the Confederacy gave Tampa its Confederate Soldiers Monument, praising Florida’s Confederate soldiers for their loyalty, while not mentioning the thousands of white Florida men who fought for the Union, or the thousand escaped black slaves who enlisted in the Union Army to fight for their freedom and that of their still chained brothers and sisters.
For more than a hundred years, white Southerners wrote and argued that the war was a struggle between white people over abstract questions of constitutional law. The war, they said, was over states rights, not slavery, which was, in any case, a benign institution in which benevolent masters provided for their happy singing servants. That hundred years saw the imposition of white racial supremacy throughout the South. Those white Southerners were careful, for example, to refer to themselves as Southerners, but not as I am doing, as white Southerners. They intended toand did erase the millions of black people who lived in the South from history and from consciousness. They erased from memory and history the fact that thousands of Southern black soldiers fought for freedom in the Union Army. To those Lost Cause historians and editorial writers, it could not be that the war was a war for freedom of slaves.
Indeed, the Civil War era North was split on this question. Was the war about preserving the Union and federal government against insurrectionist attacks? Or was it a war to free the slaves. Many in the North were willing to fight for the first cause but not the second. Lincoln, himself, always an opponent of slavery, which he saw as a moral evil, did not imagine that blacks and whites could live peaceably together, both free. He supported various schemes to return freed black people to their supposed home in Africa.
As the international slave trade had been halted by Congress in 1809, but immigration from Europe to the United States increased throughout the 1800s, it is an interesting fact that a greater percentage of the black population had been born and reared in the United States that of the white population. Nevertheless, whites, north and south, considered that the United States was their (white) nation within which black people, slave or free, were aliens and interlopers.
No white Southerner would ever vote for any candidate of the Party of Lincoln, and the Democrats’ power was a combination of these racist, segregationist whites and mostly white northern liberals. President Franklin Roosevelt was only able with great difficulty to enact the great economic policies that brought the United States out of the Great Depression because he had to persuade white Southern Representatives and Senators to support them. Those white Southerners, even as today’s Southern white Republican politicians and voters, were willing to harm their own economic interests so as to properly keep down the many black people who lived among them. A glance at the maps that show which states have accepted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, for example, will show that it is, mostly, the states of the old Confederacy that have refused Uncle Sam’s billions of dollars, while also having the highest rates of uninsured people living in poverty. This is the case even though most of those poor who would be helped are whites. But the mental images of the powerful in the South show black people when they think of the poor, and no white people. Those mental images show only white people when the Southern white politicians and voters imagine “we” or “Virginians” or “Southerners.”
Because of racist, segregationist white South, all of the great Civil Rights acts were enacted into law by northern Democrats and moderate northern Republicans in coalition against the bitter and fierce opposition of those white Southerns. As Lemann and these books, show many white Southerners are not yet reconciled to the proposition that black people are full fledged citizens, equal before the law.
For my interests, I’ll probably not read Theroux’s travel book, but the one about the Voting Rights Act and the Mt. Zion Church, long a center of the black struggle for full civil rights and social acceptance, are on my reading list.