Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2015, April 1: Reconstruction and historical retrogression

This is my twelfth year of doing a counter-observance of Confederate "Heritage" Month. I started this in 2004, inspired by a series from an NAACP publication that Edward Sebesta had reproduced on his website. Ed still writes at his Anti-Neo-Confederate blog on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, the neo-Confederate/John Calhoun kind of thinking has become increasingly important in Republican Party thinking since then. It seems that hardly a day goes by without our hearing about some Republican official advocating a new nullification measure or segregationist voter-suppression law.

Of course, in 2008 US voters made a remarkable historical landmark in electing an African-American President. And that really is an important historical development in itself. And it is not diminished by the fact that Rush and the legions of FOX News commentators use it to argue what Rush had been bellowing over the airwaves for two decades or so anyway, that this means that white racism no longer exists.

But simultaneously, African-Americans were bearing their usual disproportionate share of the damage done when the banksters brought on a finance collapse which developed into the worst slump in the capitalist world since the Great Depression.

Rush and the FOXists have also succeeded in making the allegedly non-existent white racism far more respectable.

This is why a dose of Hegel can come in handy in thinking about social developments. Progress and retrogression can occur at the same time.

In fact, that's exactly what happened in the former slave states during Reconstruction.

Historian Eric Foner wrote recently about Why Reconstruction Matters New York Times 03/28/2015, arguing that "if any historical period deserves the label 'relevant,' it is Reconstruction."

And there was a bitter white reaction against the real democratic progress that African-American citizens were making. Just as there is a bitter white reaction against black people today:

The Reconstruction Acts inaugurated the period of Radical Reconstruction, when a politically mobilized black community, with its white allies, brought the Republican Party to power throughout the South. For the first time, African-Americans voted in large numbers and held public office at every level of government. It was a remarkable, unprecedented effort to build an interracial democracy on the ashes of slavery.

Most offices remained in the hands of white Republicans. But the advent of African-Americans in positions of political power aroused bitter hostility from Reconstruction’s opponents. They spread another myth — that the new officials were propertyless, illiterate and incompetent. As late as 1947, the Southern historian E. Merton Coulter wrote that of the various aspects of Reconstruction, black officeholding was “longest to be remembered, shuddered at, and execrated.”
And what had been a progressive accomplishment of democracy was transformed - Hegel again - into its opposite:

By the turn of the century, with the acquiescence of the Supreme Court, a comprehensive system of racial, political and economic inequality, summarized in the phrase Jim Crow, had come into being across the South. At the same time, the supposed horrors of Reconstruction were invoked as far away as South Africa and Australia to demonstrate the necessity of excluding nonwhite peoples from political rights. This is why W.E.B. Du Bois, in his great 1935 work “Black Reconstruction in America,” saw the end of Reconstruction as a tragedy for democracy, not just in the United States but around the globe.

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