Reconstruction and Black-White conflict in the South
by Mike C. Tuggle
"When he was a boy, Farrow Allen Jr. heard stories about the Atlanta race riot of 1906 from his mother, whose father was hustled out of town to safety at the height of the four-day melee in which 10,000 blacks and whites clashed in the streets. "I thought the South was the most horrible place in the world," said Allen, 64, whose family moved to New England after the riot."
Now we all know that much is made in the corporate press about black-white conflict in the South, while even worse goes on in Northern cities without the posturing and hand-wringing. When inter-racial violence erupts up North, the press focuses on the "bad eggs" responsible for the violence, but let the same happen south of the Mason-Dixon line, and the blame always falls on "the South."
But what's often overlooked is that the injustice of Reconstruction set the stage for much of the conflict between blacks and whites in the South, which resulted in individual acts of violence, as well as the disenfranchisement of blacks. And that's not an excuse; it's the pattern of conquest around the world, which divides and conquers through ethnic conflict, keeping the subject peoples too busy fighting each other to turn against the new boss. Here are a couple of examples.
You've probably seen the argument that the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis of Rwanda is the legacy of their colonial treatment. And there is an historical basis for this:
Animosity between the "indigenous" people and the Tutsis increased due to the German, then the Belgian, colonial pattern of indirect rule. The colonials chose the Tutsi minority as their ruling class under the suzerainty of the Belgian Empire. Under German colonial domination from 1890, Germany first occupied what is now Burundi until the end of World War 1, when Burundi and Rwanda were joined by the League of Nations under Belgian administration as Rwanda-Urundi. Initially Belgian indirect rule supported Tutsi power, but tension built between the two tribes. Clashes have broken out periodically in both countries. The Tutsis have remained dominant in military and politics in Burundi, though recently Hutus have been brought into the government.
A more recent example -- one still exploding in our faces, as a matter of fact -- is the rivalry between the Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq:
For the Shiite majority has effectively been powerless, persecuted and acted upon for almost all the last half a millennium, ever since the Sunni Ottoman Empire seized Iraq early in the 16th century and then held it after a series of ding-dong wars with neighboring Persia, or Iran. A few years after the British Empire conquered the lands of Mesopotamia during World War I and reformed them as the kingdom of Iraq, the Shiites tried to claim the rights of self-determination preached by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference. The British reaction was ferocious. The Shiites were crushed after a rising that cost thousands of lives. Iraqi scholars have long claimed the death toll was 100,000. For the next three and a half decades, until the British were finally driven out of Iraq after the 1958 military coup that massacred the nation's Hashemite king and his family, the Shiite community was effectively politically powerless. Political power resided with a Sunni landed elite, tribal chiefs and a Sunni Muslim-dominated army.
Whites and blacks in the South were also incited against one another by their Radical Republican conquerors from the North when the victorious Union armies propped up Republican administrations throughout the South, many with former slaves in conspicuous positions of authority. Add to this volatile situation the brazen deception and hypocrisy of the triumphant Radical Republicans.
Almost all the Southern states rejected the Fourteenth Amendment, which they realized granted the Federal government unlimited power. Although the Southern states had participated in the adoption of the 13th amendment ending slavery, their rejection of the 14th amendment prompted the Radical Republicans to pass four punitive Reconstruction Acts. These acts divided the Southern states into five military districts, took the right to vote away from Southern whites, and established new state governments run by white Republicans and blacks, all under military supervision. This ran counter to the entire Northern war effort, which was supposedly not based on conquest, but on preserving the Union. Lincoln had stated that the Union was somehow "indivisible" (though no such language appears in the Constitution) and therefore could not secede -- yet, more powerful states could expel less powerful states if they wanted to. There's no defending the constitutionality of that position.
These actions created untold animosity between Southern whites and blacks. It's an old game, one played by empires from the Roman to the British, to the Soviet -- turn your subject peoples against each other so you can better control them. The central government, by stirring up conflict between its subject peoples, puts itself in the role of peacemaker, magnifying its power.
And power was what the War of Northern Aggression and Reconstruction were all about. Conquerors use noble-sounding language to pretty up their true purpose.
So when Reconstruction ended, no surprise that the Southern whites retaliated against the group their Northern conquerors had used to rule them, the blacks. So the motive was not "racism", but to reclaim self-government. MCT