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Nineteenth-century Americans lived in a truly racist society. Racist talk and racial epithets were accepted forms of public discourse. Black persons were first enslaved, and later segregated and subjugated, by law.

The Supreme Court sanctioned all of this in the name of the Constitution. In matters of race, the period was shameful and tragic for the Court and the culture. We live in a different time but our modern sensitivities to race and religion must NOT inhibit us portraying past times accurately.

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Slavery

Although slavery has been part of the entire history of America, the rapid expansion of the cotton industry from 1800 led to the Southern states strongly identifying with slavery. The pro slavery rhetorician who grounded his argument in the denial of the humanness of the slave, in there reduction of the slave to a chattel, was insisting on his own innocence. Slavery was not, for him, a matter of subjugation and denial of the principle of freedom. Slavery was instead a natural, even moral disposition of an other species of creature. In this vision, slavery no more tainted the white person than did the penning and use of his cattle.

The United States was polarized by slavery into slave and free states along the Mason-Dixon Line, which separated Maryland (slave) and Pennsylvania (free)

 

“The best way to hide something from Black people is to put it in a book”

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When Confederate troops under General Forrest stormed Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in the last year of the war, they took the white Union defenders prisoner but massacred the black soldiers.

Some, mercifully, were shot but most were bayoneted, set on fire or buried alive. Amongst the screams were heard the infamous Rebel Yell and cries of “No quarter! No quarter! Kill the damned niggers!”.

Half the fort’s more than 400 defenders were black troops and most of them were slaughtered.

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Massacre at Fort Pillow

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The existence of black soldiers in the Union army – slaves who had escaped from the South and come to fight as free men for the North – was controversial in the still racist North, but it was a cause for violent outrage in the South: at one point it was proposed that captured white Union officers of black troops should be hanged.

The Jim Crow laws were racial segregation laws enacted after the Reconstruction period in Southern United States, at state and local levels, and which continued in force until 1965! They mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in Southern states of the former Confederacy.

The origin of the phrase “Jim Crow” has often been attributed to “Jump Jim Crow“, a song-and-dance caricature of blacks performed by white actor Thomas D. Rice in blackface, which first surfaced in 1832 and was used to satirize Andrew Jackson‘s populist policies. As a result of Rice’s fame, “Jim Crow” had become a pejorative expression meaning “Negro” by 1838. When southern legislatures passed laws of racial segregation – directed against blacks – at the end of the 19th century, these became known as Jim Crow laws.

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Jim Crow laws mandated the segregation of public schools, public places and public transportation, and the segregation of restrooms, restaurants and drinking fountains for whites and blacks. The U.S. military was also segregated, as were federal workplaces, initiated in 1913 under President Woodrow Wilson, the first Southern president since 1856. His administration practiced overt racial discrimination in hiring, requiring candidates to submit photos.

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Nothing had changed by 1913. Over 60 black men were lynched for crimes as little as looking at a white woman.

On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks refused to obey a bus driver’s order that she give up her seat in the coloured section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled. Parks’ act of defiance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott became important symbols of the modern Civil Rights Movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. Parks received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Upon her death in 2005, she was the first woman and second non-U.S. government official to lie in honour at the Capitol Rotunda.

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In 1962, the Meredith Incident where James Meredith insisted on being the first Negro student to be enrolled in the University of Mississippi against the wishes of all the other students and, indeed, the governor Ross Barnett.

In violent clashes, two people died, including the French journalist Paul Guihard, on assignment for the London Daily Sketch. He was found dead behind the Lyceum building with a gunshot wound to the back. One hundred-sixty US Marshals, one-third of the group, were injured in the melee, and 40 soldiers and National Guardsmen were wounded. The US government fined Barnett $10,000 and sentenced him to jail for contempt, but the charges were later dismissed by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Meredith’s entry is regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of civil rights in the United States. He graduated on August 18, 1963, with a degree in political science.

“What Happened to All the Black Angels When They Took the Pictures?”

This is an amusing but insightful view on black/white relations by the brilliant Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay):

 

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The child of a KKK member touches his reflection in an African American police officer’s riot shield during a demonstration in 1992

 

Ku Klux Klan

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