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Author Topic: Jim Crow: A Century of Racist History the Democratic Party Prefers You'd Forget  (Read 88 times)

Offline ammodotcom

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In the last Presidential election, Donald Trump was lauded for his performance among black voters – he scored 4 percent of female black voters and a whopping 13 percent of black male voters, the highest since Richard Nixon. This isn’t shocking. Black voters have voted en masse for the Democratic Party since the mid-60s and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and the social welfare programs of the Great Society. This solidified black voters behind the Democratic Party, but they had been moving there since the New Deal.

However, it’s a historical anomaly in the United States. The traditional home of the black voter was the Republican Party, due to its historical role in ending slavery and introducing Reconstruction Acts and Amendments to the Constitution. It also did not help that the Democratic Party was the party of Jim Crow, a system of legally enforced segregation present throughout the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War.

What Do We Mean When We Say “Jim Crow?”

Before delving further into the topic, it is important to define precisely what we mean by Jim Crow and why it is a distinct form of legal codes in United States history. While Northern and Western cities were by no means integrated, this integration was de facto, not de jure. In many cases, the discrimination in the North was a discrimination of custom and preference, discrimination that could not be removed without a highly intrusive government action ensuring equality of outcome. Northerners and Westerners were not required to discriminate, but nor were they forbidden from doing so.

Compare this to the series of laws in the American South known for mandating segregation at everything from public schools to water fountains.

No one is entirely sure where the term “Jim Crow” came from, but it’s suspected that it comes from an old minstrel show song and dance routine called “Jump Jim Crow.” Curiously, the first political application of the term “Jim Crow” was applied to the white populist supporters of President Andrew Jackson. The history of the Jim Crow phenomenon we are discussing here goes back to the end of Reconstruction in the United States.

The Reconstruction Era

Briefly, Reconstruction was the means by which the federal government reasserted control over the Southern states that had previously seceded to form the Confederate States of America. This involved military occupation and the disenfranchisement of the bulk of the white population of the states. The results of the Reconstruction Era were mixed. Ultimately, Reconstruction ended as part of a bargain to put President Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House after the 1876 election. The lasting results of Reconstruction are best enumerated for our purposes as the Reconstruction Amendments:

• The 13th Amendment abolished involuntary servitude for anyone other than criminals. It was once voted down and passed only through the extensive political maneuvering on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln himself and the approval of dubious Reconstruction state governments in the South. It became law in December 1865.
• The 14th Amendment includes a number of provisions often thought to be part of the Bill of Rights, such as the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause, which are, in fact, later innovations. Birthright citizenship’s advocates claim that the Constitutional justification can be found in this sprawling Amendment, which also includes Amendments barring former Confederate officials from office and addresses Confederate war debts. This Amendment became law in July 1868.
• The 15th Amendment prevents discrimination against voters on the basis of race or skin color. This law was quickly circumvented by a number of laws discriminating against all voters on the basis of income (poll tax) or education (literacy tests). The Southern states eventually figured out how to prevent black citizens from voting while allowing white ones through grandfather clauses.

The Reconstruction Amendments were the first amendments to the Constitution passed in almost 60 years, and represented a significant expansion of federal power.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Reconstruction Amendments is that they were largely ineffective. Ranking public officials of the Confederacy were elected to federal government, blacks were disenfranchised as quickly as they were elected to the Senate, and Jim Crow, an entire system of legal discrimination, was erected to return black Americans to their subservient status. With the exception of citizenship for blacks and an end to involuntary servitude, the substance of the rest of the Amendments were largely discarded.

Black Disenfranchisement as a Prologue to Jim Crow

The process of black disenfranchisement at the end of the war is important historical context for understanding the rise of Jim Crow. It’s impossible to discuss this period without discussing the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other Democratic Party-allied white supremacist terrorist organizations. You can read more about this in our lengthy and exhaustive history of American militias and paramilitary organizations.

The first attempt to roll back the gains made by black Americans, thanks to the Reconstruction Amendments, was a poll tax introduced by Georgia in 1877. However, the legal rollback of voting rights in particular did not really ramp up until the turn of the century, when Republicans ran on joint tickets with the insurgent People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party. This threat to entrenched Democratic Party political power (and all of the patronage that came with it), while certainly related to the racial question, was arguably a bigger motivator than race. In many cases, such as with poll taxes, there were explicit attempts to exclude white voters sympathetic to the Republican cause alongside black voters. The specter of unity between poor blacks and poor whites loomed large.

Mississippi drafted a new constitution in 1890, which required payment of a poll tax as well as the passing of a literacy test as qualifications to vote. This passed Constitutional muster in 1898, with Williams vs. Mississippi. Other Southern states quickly drafted new constitutions modelled on that of Mississippi. This was known as “the Mississippi Plan.” By 1908, every Southern state had either drafted a new constitution or passed a suffrage amendment to better craft the state electorate to their liking. In 1903, Giles vs. Harris strengthened federal court support of such laws.

Another method of maintaining control was the white primary. In 1923, Texas became the first state to establish primary voting for whites only. This was quickly deemed unconstitutional, so the state simply drafted a new law saying that the Democratic Party could determine its own voters for the primary. The state party quickly moved to exclude all non-white voters, which was entirely legal and Constitutional, because the Democratic Party was a private organization.

This caught the eye of some Congressmen. By 1900, there was discussion of stripping Southern states of some of their Congressional representation in accordance with provisions contained within the Reconstruction Amendments. Not only was the “Solid South” a large voting bloc, due to the one-party nature of many Southern elections, but they were also in charge of a goodly number of committee chairs, meaning that any attempt to strip Southern states of seats was probably going to go precisely nowhere.

Reliable statistics from the era are few and far between, but historians believe that somewhere between one and five percent of eligible black voters were registered by the late 1930s. Very few of these actually voted in general elections, which were a foregone conclusion. In many states, prior to the first and second Great Migrations, the black population ranged upwards of close to 50 percent.

Five border states (Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Maryland) all attempted to pass similar legislation to “the Mississippi Plan,” but failed to do so.

Redeemer Governments and the Election of 1876

The disenfranchisement of black Americans in the South was the political precursor for Jim Crow. In addition to legal disenfranchisement, there were also paramilitary actions against both black Americans and Republican voters and candidates. It was not uncommon for Democratic Party-allied paramilitary groups to simply force the Republican candidate or even office holder out of town. Voter fraud was also a tool. As elections became closer, violence against blacks and Republicans increased to keep them away from the polls.

These Southern governments are known collectively as the Redeemer governments. They ruled over most of the South from 1870 until 1910. As we discuss in our history of militias in the United States, the white, pro-Democratic Party militias of the South were largely obsolete by the end of the 19th Century – Democratic Party state governments were doing their jobs for them.

All of this was facilitated by the Compromise of 1877 or the Corrupt Bargain of 1877, depending on one’s point of view. In exchange for certifying Southern votes for Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, Hayes agreed to:

• Remove federal troops from Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana, the final states where they remained. Hayes campaigned on doing this prior to the bargain.
• The appointment of one or more Southerners to the Hayes Cabinet. This was fulfilled by appointing David M. Key from Tennessee as the Postmaster General.
• A transcontinental railroad passing through the South, using the Texas and Pacific line.
• Legislation to industrialize the Southern economy.
• Northern hands off the South when it came to racial questions.

The first two are often emphasized, however, they are probably the least important parts of the compromise. As stated above, Hayes had already planned to withdraw the remaining troops from the South. The cabinet appointment of Postmaster General was certainly a bigger deal than it would be today, when far fewer people rely upon the mail. The post has not even been a cabinet-level position since the 1970s. The next two are arguably beneficial to everyone in the South, black or white, and in any event, were never enacted.

It’s also worth noting that the Compromise was seen as a way to avoid a potential new wave of bloodshed. At the time, it was widely feared that American politics were going to go the way of Mexico – meaning military strongmen and state violence would resolve closely contested elections. In this context, the Compromise is rather shrewd as Hayes gave up very little with regard to the first two provisions and never enacted points three and four.

The final provision, however, is the one that makes Jim Crow possible. This makes it, historically speaking, perhaps the most significant of the Compromise provisions.

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