And the Reconstruction of Race
By James West Davidson
October 30, 2014
The post-emancipation era was meant to be a time of hope for racial equality. However, from 1877 and into the early 20th century racism in our country was at an all-time high. The African American civil rights “gain” in fact actually created a reconstruction nightmare. African Americans lost many civil rights they should have been gaining. Anti-black violence, hangings, lynching’s, segregation, legal discrimination and white supremacy continually increased. In the north, a land reform proposal by the Freedmen’s Bureau was initiated, however the Republicans never followed through with the promise to grant African Americans sections of land on the plantations they were previously enslaved to. In the south, trouble came wherever the infamous terrorist group, The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), was. The KKK1 was highly supported, and occasionally ran, by the local southern states, counties and local towns. Despite the dark forces behind slavery and racism, the practice of lynching and racist violence, the African American community forged ahead and with a never failing spirit rose up and continued to push and speak out for equality. Horace Greeley2, a founder of the liberal Republican Party, began to ally with the Democratic Party and current president, Ulysses S. Grant, in extending the protection of the government to African American citizens and granting laws to black people. During this period, the African American communities un-wavering in their commitment to education diligently reinforced the belief that Booker T. Washington, a prominent African American activist, often used the phrase, “Knowledge is power.”3 By the beginning of the 1900’s the majority of all African American citizens were literate. Most noted for the push of education during the post-emancipation era was that same activist, Booker T. Washington. I believe he is the most prominent African American leader during this era. Booker T. Washington encouraged knowledge through common sense and life skills in order to advance into higher education and professional careers. Washington was the pioneering advocate within the black community for instilling knowledge through education. African American advocacy continued with the support of many great individuals. Ida B. Wells was also a highly prominent figure during this era. In 1909, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and several others founded the NAACP4. The NAACP’s mission is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination".5 By 1920 the NAACP had fought against and won numerous significant anti-discrimination lawsuits. Ida B. Wells forged the way for advocacy for people of color and women’s rights. Wells worked diligently to break down the barriers in overcoming injustices and hate crimes against people of color and women. Ida B. Wells established the Negro Fellowship League6 for black men working towards a better future. Wells also created the first kindergarten designed specifically for black children in an effort to continue the legacy passed down by the workings of Booker T. Washington and others who worked for the education and freedom of the African American people. Frederick Douglas, another legend of advocacy in his own right, summed up the entirety of what the post-emancipation era was and brought about for freed people.
“We are fighting for unity of idea, unity of sentiment, unity of object, unity of institutions, in which there shall be no North or South, no East or West, no black, no white, but a solidarity of the nation, making every slave free and every free man a voter.”7
The African American population had to come to a decision as a people to overcome the unspeakable horrors they were enslaved with for so long and decide to begin to