Posts Tagged Reconstruction
“Black Reconstruction and its Legacies in Baltimore, 1865-1920” (October 3, 2019 @ Red Emma’s Bookstore & October 4, 2019 @ Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland)
In A Brotherhood of Liberty, Dennis Patrick Halpin shifts the focus of the black freedom struggle from the Deep South to argue that Baltimore is key to understanding the trajectory of civil rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the 1870s and early 1880s, a dynamic group of black political leaders migrated to Baltimore from rural Virginia and Maryland. These activists, mostly former slaves who subsequently trained in the ministry, pushed Baltimore to fulfill Reconstruction’s promise of racial equality. In doing so, they were part of a larger effort among African Americans to create new forms of black politics by founding churches, starting businesses, establishing community centers, and creating newspapers.
Black Baltimoreans successfully challenged Jim Crow regulations on public transit, in the courts, in the voting booth, and on the streets of residential neighborhoods. They formed some of the nation’s earliest civil rights organizations, including the United Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty, to define their own freedom in the period after the Civil War.
Halpin shows how black Baltimoreans’ successes prompted segregationists to reformulate their tactics. He examines how segregationists countered activists’ victories by using Progressive Era concerns over urban order and corruption to criminalize and disenfranchise African Americans. Indeed, he argues the Progressive Era was crucial in establishing the racialized carceral state of the twentieth-century United States.
Tracing the civil rights victories scored by black Baltimoreans that inspired activists throughout the nation and subsequent generations, A Brotherhood of Liberty highlights the strategies that can continue to be useful today, as well as the challenges that may be faced.
Author Dennis Patrick Halpin teaches history at Virginia Tech.
*Reverend Alvin C. Hathaway, Sr. is the 10th pastor of Union Baptist Church and will be reportedly be in attendance at both events below.
October 4, 2019 @ 6 PM
Union Baptist Church
1219 Druid Hill Avenue
BBC In Our Time: 20/20 Frederick Douglass featuring Celeste-Marie Bernier, Karen Salt, and Nicholas Guyatt; interview by Melvyn Bragg
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and ideas of Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery in Maryland in 1818 and, once he had escaped, became one of that century’s most prominent abolitionists. He was such a good orator, his opponents doubted his story, but he told it in grim detail in 1845 in his book ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.’
He went on to address huge audiences in Great Britain and Ireland and there some of his supporters paid off his owner, so Douglass could be free in law and not fear recapture. After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, he campaigned for equal rights for African-Americans, arguing against those such as Lincoln who had wanted freed slaves to leave America and found a colony elsewhere. “We were born here,” he said, “and here we will remain.”
With Celeste-Marie Bernier, Professor of Black Studies in the English Department at the University of Edinburgh; Karen Salt, Assistant Professor in Transnational American Studies at the University of Nottingham; and Nicholas Guyatt, Reader in North American History at the University of Cambridge.
The election of the first generation of black Congressmen and Senators was distinctly chronicled by The New National Era. By the close of the paper’s freshmen year Republican Joseph Rainey became the first black member of the House of Representatives. He was sworn-in December 12, 1870 after being selected by the South Carolina Republican Party to fill the vacated seat of Benjamin Whitenmore who was forced to resign after being charged with selling appointments to U.S. military academies. Rainey would be elected for four successive terms before losing re-election to the 46th Congress in 1878. He retired March 3, 1879, becoming the longest serving black American Congressman during the Reconstruction period.
“Mr. Rainey’s early education was extremely limited, never having attended a school in his life,” introduced the New National Era, “but despite the disadvantages under which the colored people labored at that time, his thirst for education was so great that he took every opportunity that presented itself to acquire a knowledge of books, and, being naturally of an observing turn of mind, improved rapidly.” Rainey “took his seat on the Republican side in the extreme southwest corner of the hall.” He was described as having “straight hair and bushy side whiskers, and looks like a Cuban.” For the record, The New National Era stated, the “colored race is now represented in the United States Senate by Hiram Revels, in the lower House of Congress by Mr. Rainey, and on the Judicial bench by Mr. J. J. Wright, Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina.”
It was noted in the same issue that the “colored population of the United States now numbers about five million” which equaled “about nine hundred thousand votes, and probably a million in the next Presidential election.” The previous Census had accounted for forty-two million persons which “will give the country another apportionment for members of the House.” Crunching the numbers, The New National Era determined on “a basis of 150,000 inhabitants to a Representative the House to be chosen two years hence would consist of 250 members. Of these the colored population would furnish the basis for thirty-four members.” In all the Reconstruction Congresses and those leading up to 1901 a total of twenty-one African Americans served as Congressmen.
“The First Colored Representative.” New National Era. 22 Dec. 1870, p. 3.
Charles Douglass calls swearing-in of Senator H.R. Revels “one of the greatest days” in “the history of this country.” Tells his father “the door is open, and I expect yet to see you pass in”
The first black American seated as a member of the United States Senate was Hiram Rhodes Revels representing Mississippi. Revels filled the seat vacated by Jefferson Davis, who left to serve as the President of the Confederate States of America, truly the personification of Lord Byron’s famous line in the long-form poem, “Don Juan,” that “truth is stranger than fiction.” Indeed.
According to Black Americans in Congress, “Revels arrived in Washington at the end of January 1870, but could not present his credentials until Mississippi was readmitted to the United States on February 23. Senate Republicans sought to swear in Revels immediately afterwards, but Senate Democrats were determined to block the effort. Led by Senator Garrett Davis of Kentucky and Senator Willard Saulsbury of Delaware, the Democrats claimed Revels’s election was null and void, arguing that Mississippi was under military rule and lacked a civil government to confirm his election. Others claimed Revels was not a U.S. citizen until the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 and was therefore ineligible to become a U.S. Senator. Senate Republicans rallied to his defense. Though Revels would not fill Davis’s seat, the symbolism of a black man’s admission to the Senate after the departure of the former President of the Confederacy was not lost on Radical Republicans. Nevada Senator James Nye underlined the significance of this event: “[Jefferson Davis] went out to establish a government whose cornerstone should be the oppression and perpetual enslavement of a race because their skin differed in color from his,” Nye declared. “Sir, what a magnificent spectacle of retributive justice is witnessed here today! In the place of that proud, defiant man, who marched out to trample under foot the Constitution and the laws of the country he had sworn to support, comes back one of that humble race whom he would have enslaved forever to take and occupy his seat upon this floor.”
Up in the Senate Gallery that day, taking all of this in, was Charles R. Douglass. In a February 26th letter, to his “Father,” Frederick Douglass, Charles wrote,
Yesterday was one of the greatest days to me, in the history of this country. I was present and listened to the dying groans of the last of the Democracy, it was on the occasion of administering the oath to H.R. Revels as U.S. Senator. The Democrats fought hard, but were met on all sides with unanswerable arguments on behalf of justice and right. The fight was on the citizenship of colored men. Even that dead & odious “Dred Scott Decision” was lugged in by the Democrats to show that blacks were not citizens, but Senators Scott of Pennsylvania, Drake of Mo., Stewart of Nev., Nye of Nev., Sawyer of S.C., Trumbull & many others knocked that decision higher than a kite, by their strong and logical arguments. Senator Wilson appeared to be the happiest man in the whole body not even excepting Revels, who advanced to the desk and took the oath in a very dignified manner. I hope that he may bear up under the new responsibilities, but I fear he is weak.
Many voices in the Galleries were heard by me to say, ‘If it would only have been Fred Douglass,’ and my heart beat rapidly when I looked into that crowded Gallery, and upon the crowded floor, to notice the deep and great interest manifested all around, it looked solemn and the thought flashed from my mind that that honor, for the first time conferred upon a colored man, should have been conferred upon you and I am satisfied that many Senators would much more willingly see you come there than to see that Reverend gentlemen who has just taken his seat.
But the door is open, and I expect yet to see you pass in, not though, as a tool as I think this man is, to fill out an unexpired term of one year, earning from a state too that has a large majority – of colored votes; but from your native state to fill the chair for the long and fullest term of either Vickers or Hamilton – who only yesterday, made long wails and harangues against negro citizenship.”
Frederick Douglass never did run for a seat in the United States Senate, nor was he appointed.
To this day there have only been six black American members of the United States Senate, five elected. Only three have served full-terms. The six are Revels (R) Mississippi, Blanche Kelso Bruce (R) Mississippi [full-term], Washington, DC’s own Edward Brooke (R) Massachusetts [full-term, 2], Carol Mosley Braun (D) Illinois [full-term], Barack Obama (D) Illinois (vacated his seat when he won the 2008 Presidential race), Roland Burris (D) Illinois (filled seat vacated by Obama).
“[President] Hayes maintained an interest in the welfare of black Americans, displaying particular interest in education as a means to provide uplift and opportunity. Education, he believed, extended beyond the classroom. Blacks needed to inculcate the values of ‘industry, self-reliance, self-control, economy, [and] thrift.’ Hayes was not so encouraging when it came to the matter of black migration to the Midwest. ‘Stay where you are,’ he told one Florida black educator. ‘It is not best for you to go to the climate of Ohio or Indiana. You are natives of the South and entitled to remain there. I know you are assaulted and bulldozed, but stick. Time the and the North will set you right.’ — pg. 225