I was a bit surprised to see the point of view taken by the author in analyzing the Reconstruction, but apart from a few areas in which I disagree with the framing, but not with his conclusions, I found this book spot on.
I had mixed feelings about the lens through which Du Bois writes this book, starting about halfway through. Every word he writes is correct, and his conclusions are all compelling, but to view the Reconstruction as he does, to me, gives more power than actually existed at the time, to both the freed slaves, and also even to the labor movement and the North. Nevertheless, to see all of the facts gathered at a time when history had just moved on enough to give a bit of perspective to the war, and also to see how little the actual situation had advanced, was almost shocking. That he had to defend an entire group of people from pseudo-scientific balderdash heaped upon us merely for not being white still angers me, and that we continue to need to defend ourselves is still worse.
I agree with his assessment that the endgame was always economic, as he says on page 399/767:
“The free admission of such testimony in all cases would not have involved the surrender of power by the whites since they were to be the judges and jury. The occupational restrictions, instead of tending to restore order, created the impression that the dominant race desired to exclude the blacks from useful employment.”
and the saddest part is
“Democracy died save in the hearts of black folk. Indeed, the plight of the white working class throughout the world today is directly traceable to Negro slavery in America, on which modern commerce and industry was founded, and which persisted to threaten free labor until it was partially overthrown in 1863.”
And of course, education remains the key lever for change. One note on literacy: if all work contracts had to be in writing, how could the newly freed slaves not have had free schooling immediately?
So he recorded, at the same time, interestingly enough, that the PWA was creating the Slave Narratives, a crucial set of events that were being distorted as fast as possible by those who would keep everyone in the erroneous belief that race existed, and that this concept of race made those of us who fall on the wrong side of an arbitrary line to be inferior, by our very natures, to those defined as white. The charges of corruption and stupidity leveled only at Colored voters and legislators were often simple inventions and always distortions, with the effect of continuing a labor monopoly that harmed absolutely all workers and small business owners, merchants, etc. And Du Bois essentially points out that events at this time paved the way for the large industries, from the railroads to Standard Oil, to form monopolies that would eventually have to be broken up, but after making a few men very rich, and tilting the economic structure of this country almost irreversibly in favor of those very ultra wealth who fixed the system. He points out again and again how all workers, Black and White, in the South, and even the Planters, were denied education, or educated only in the superficial fineries of life, and never really looked much below the surface. The culture of living on the subservience of another creates classes of people who only appear to benefit from that service and degradation of the other. But it takes an outside observer to help those inside of a closed system, as the South tried to be, to see that, and to step into a new perspective just long enough to understand how to change, and why change would benefit everyone. Du Bois points out that very very few people of such clarity of vision even existed at that time, let alone had any effective voice. That is the great tragedy of all of this, the terrible waste of human potential that continues even to this day, due to those ingrained ideas that so many have trouble putting aside, even for the moment that it takes to imagine a different perspective.
Education, and the ballot.
Du Bois was right, then, and remains right, now.
October 20, 2016 – Shelved
December 19, 2022 – Started Reading
Just found a #PublicDomain copy (from The Internet Archive) on a backup hard drive, never copied to my new Reading folder after I downloaded it years ago! Glad I check my backup files before deleting them! Librivox does not have an audio of this one yet, I imagine because of the length of this book, but it starts off, in the “To The Reader” section with a heck of a blast, leveled directly at racists!
“…the reader … If he believes that the Negro … under given environment develops like other human beings, then he will read this story and judge it by the facts … If, however, he regards the Negro as a distinctly inferior creation …he will need something more than the sort of facts… I am assuming the truth of the first…”
As w/cities L’Orient, & Bath?
“…land, added to cheap labor, and labor easily regulated and distributed, made profits so high that a whole system of culture arose in the South, with a new leisure… Black labor… foundation stone not only of the Southern social structure, but of Northern manufacture and commerce… English factory … European commerce… buying and selling…new cities were built on the results”
“…a special police force and such a force was made possible and unusually effective by the presence of the poor whites. This explains the difference between the slave revolts in the West Indies, and the lack of effective revolt in the Southern United States.”
“It was the Supreme Adventure, in the last Great Bate of the West, for that human freedom which would release the human spirit from lower lust for mere meat, and set it free to dream and sing. And then some unjust God leaned, laughing, over the ramparts of heaven and dropped a black man in the midst. It transformed the world. It turned democracy back to Roman Imperialism and Fascism; it restored caste and oligarchy…”
“… schools and pedantic periodicals repeated these legends, until for the average planter born after 1840 it was impossible not to believe that all valid laws in psychology, economics and politics stopped with the Negro race.””
page 52 6.97%:
#DivideAndRule works, sadly:
“…but it was not until war time that it became the fashion to pat the disfranchised poor white man on the back and tell him after all he was white and that he and the planters had a common object in keeping the white man superior. This virus increased bitterness and relentless hatred, and after the war it became a chief ingredient in the division of the working class”
Enslaved, free colored, and poor white workers had a common problem, but:
“… the whites, accustomed to having all their affairs managed by an aristocracy which was then ruined, seemed powerless.””
“…Sumner sent in a second substitute declaring that the cause of human rights and of the Union needed the ballots as well as the muskets of colored men. He offered another amendment imposing equal suffrage as the fundamental condition for the admission of the seceded states.”
“Here comes the penalty which a land pays when it stifles free speech and free discussion and turns itself over entirely to propaganda. It does not make any difference if at the time the things advocated are absolutely right, the nation, nevertheless, becomes morally emasculated and mentally hogtied, and cannot evolve that healthy difference of opinion which leads to the discovery of truth under changing conditions.”
How did the North let states get away with this:
“Mississippi provided that “every freedman, free Negro … have a lawful home or employment, and shall have written evidence thereof . . . from the Mayor… or from a member of the board of police . . . which licenses may be revoked for cause at any time by the authority granting the same.””
Interesting: #solidarity might have made that happen:
“The workingmen of Europe felt sure that as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendency for the Middle Class, so the American Anti-Slavery war will do for the working classes.””
And coming back to recent current events:
“So, lies, land, and racism were used to keep Black and White poor divided against each other, while “A black skin… has never, therefore, created any civilization of any kind.”
This is part of why the return of the Kingdom of Benin art work is so important.“
“When Northern and Southern employers agreed that profit was most important and the method of getting it second, the path to understanding was clear. When white laborers were convinced that the degradation of Negro labor was more fundamental than the uplift of white labor, the end was in sight.”
Poor whites were
“… desperately afraid of something. Of what? Of many things, but usually of losing their jobs, being declassed, degraded, or actually disgraced; of losing their hopes, their savings, their plans for their children; of the actual pangs of hunger, of dirt, of crime. And of all this, most ubiquitous in modern industrial society is that fear of unemployment.””
#Racism was used effectively to divide, back then, but we can learn to Do Better, now.
“Yet we are blind and led by the blind.”
But it doesn’t have to continue this way.”
Thank you again, Internet Archive.
Let’s Do Better, please.
1.) Share your thoughts, please.
2.) Write a story, post or comment that uses those thoughts.
Click here to read, if you like:
B5, Hakan: Muhafiz/The Protector, Sihirli Annem, Lupin, or La Casa de Papel/Money Heist, and El Ministerio del Tiempo Reviews
Holistic College Algebra & GED/High School Lesson Plans,
Thoughtful Readers, please consider reading about #ProjectDoBetter. This review is my personal way (as opposed to founding the Project, overall) of contributing to building tools that can help increase empathy and compassion in our world. Story, as part of how we see our world, helps us make sense of and define our actions in this world. And remember how important story is also as part of this project. Let’s Do Better.
Shira Destinie A. Jones, MPhil, MAT, BSCS