A hard road to travel: black people and racism in the 19th century United States

Issue: 156

Ken Olende

The following lyrics were written by an anonymous black soldier in the 54th Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment, one of the first black combat regiments, at the height of the Civil War in the United States (1861-5). They undermine the pernicious myth that black people were bystanders in the fight against racism:

O, give us a flag, all free without a slave,
We’ll fight to defend it as our fathers did so brave,
The gallant Comp’ny A will make the rebels dance,
And we’ll stand by the Union if we only have a chance.

So rally, boys, rally, let us never mind the past;
We had a hard road to travel, but our day is coming fast;
For God is for the right, and we have no need to fear
The Union must be saved by the colored volunteer.1

This story needs reasserting as president Donald Trump has been pushing a distorted nostalgia for a non-existent “good old days” that ignores the bloody stain of racism. Trump caused outrage in August when he defended white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, on a demonstration during which an anti-racist was murdered. The racists and Nazis were protesting against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. The president complained that by removing statues of confederate leaders, “You’re changing history. You’re changing culture”.2 Earlier in the year, he told an interviewer, “I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War… He was a very tough person but he had a big heart. He was really angry that he saw with regard to the Civil War, he said ‘There’s no reason for this’”.3

In fact Jackson was a slave-owning Southerner and the Civil War was the key event in 19th century US history. Two sections of the US ruling class had to resolve whether the country would make profits through modern industrial capitalism based on wage labour or through a more archaic form of capitalism centred on slave plantations. Through the early years of the war president Abraham Lincoln still hoped that it could be ended without the need to abolish slavery. The slaves themselves were key to changing his mind and the writer of the song shows a keen understanding of what would be required.

“Never mind the past”: myths and lies about US history

There is a counterargument to Trump’s view of history that accepts the centrality of racism but argues that the lesson is that whites can never be allies for black people fighting it. While it is true that black aspirations were betrayed again and again, this is not an adequate response.

These debates have continued in various forms since the 19th century. For half of the last century mainstream historians erased the part played by black people and radicals in the defeat of slavery. They presented the Civil War as a dispute between white men that black people observed from the sidelines. As one history from 1928 put it: “The American negroes are the only people in the history of the world, so far as I know, that ever became free without any effort of their own… They twanged banjos around the railroad stations, sang melodious spirituals and believed that some Yankee would soon come along and give each 40 acres and a mule”.4 The use of alt-facts to promote a political line is nothing new. This article uses the actual songs that were sung at the time as often as possible, precisely to undermine that version of history.

Black activist and historian W E B Du Bois (1868-1963) intellectually destroyed this position with his 1935 masterpiece Black Reconstruction in America. Du Bois himself was born relatively well off in the Northern state of Massachusetts. “The Civil War had closed but three years earlier and 1868 was the year in which the freedmen of the south were enfranchised”, as he recalled in his autobiography.5 He was the first African-American to get a doctorate from Harvard University, and co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He lived long enough both to be victimised by McCarthyism and to die in independent Ghana. The book goes through the war and the Reconstruction era that followed in meticulous detail. As historian Brian Kelly says, it is “deeply influenced by Marx’s understanding of history” and “clear that class conflict was key to explaining Reconstruction’s failure”.6 One remarkable aspect of the history of black people in the US is how much of it is recorded in detailed records—though, as a black man, Du Bois was excluded from Southern archives when researching his book.

Through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in the 1960s the view of black people as active participants in their liberation and Reconstruction as something worth fighting for became mainstream history. It has also been strengthened by many more recent studies, particularly showing the diversity of people involved.7 However, there has been a tendency to move away from a national, class analysis to concentrating on local history from below. More recently, the argument has been challenged both by a resurgent right and by the denial of any overarching structure to history. Both Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels saw the defeat of racism in the US as a key struggle and wrote about it as the central events discussed here unfolded. In Capital, Marx linked the growth of Atlantic slavery to the emergence of capitalism:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, are all things which characterise the dawn of the era of capitalist production.8

I argued for the Marxist position in Say it Loud!—that racism is not an age-old prejudice and that it developed with the slave trade. I will use this as the background to the argument I am putting forward here.9 What is considered acceptable language in discussing race has shifted over time. In the United States in the 19th century “coloured” and “negro” were considered polite terms for black people; “nigger” was offensive, though it was often used with pointed effect by abolitionists like Harriet Tubman. In this article, “black” will refer to people of African descent. Many groups from Native Americans to Chinese and various European immigrants faced vicious racism, but the developments considered here concern those whose experience was shaped by slavery.

The growth of racism as a set of ideas can be seen in the shifting treatment of black people and other unfree labourers in Britain’s Virginia colony. The first group of 20 Africans brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1622 were not recorded as slaves, but indentured servants—who would be forced to labour for a fixed period of years then freed.10 In the American colonies’ early years such roles were relatively fluid—there were indentured whites and free blacks. But a series of conflicts, notably Nathaniel Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, which “proclaimed liberty to all servants and negroes”,11 encouraged plantation owners to make rigid distinctions between the white and black poor.

Elizabeth Key—incidentally an ancestor of Du Bois—won freedom from slavery for herself and her son in Virginia in 1656. Her case was that she could not be a slave because her father was an Englishman, she was a baptised Christian and she had been indentured. By English common law, which applied in Virginia at the time, a child takes the status of their father. But in 1662 the law was changed so that children born in the colony would take the status of their mother “bond or free”. This played a significant role in hardening the division between black and white, servant and slave.12 It also freed male slave owners to rape women slaves without risk of being held legally responsible for any resulting children.

The neighbouring colony of Maryland passed a law in 1692: “Any free born English or white woman, be she free or servant, and shall hereafter intermarry with any negro or other slave or to any Negro made free, shall immediately upon such marriage forfeit her freedom and become a servant during the term of seven years”.13 Nevertheless such relationships continued. One family history records:

Molly Welsh, a native of England, who came to Maryland…with a ship load of other emigrants, and, to defray the expenses of her voyage, was sold to a master with whom she served an apprenticeship of seven years. After her term of service had expired, she bought a small farm (land having then merely a nominal value), and purchased as labourers two negro slaves, from a slave ship… They both proved to be valuable servants. One of them…she liberated from slavery and afterwards married.14

The Declaration of Independence by Britain’s 13 American colonies in 1776 championed “liberty” and declared: “All men are created equal”.15 Many Americans took such ideals seriously—including the black sailor Crispus Attucks who was the first revolutionary to die.16 But the rich landowners who led the new republic were slaveholders. While most of them thought slavery was an economically outdated system that would die out, this did not stop them from defending their own property.

First president George Washington called for the recapture of one of his house slaves, Oney Judge, who had escaped “without the least provocation” in 1796.17 Customs officer James Whipple came across Judge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He told Washington that he could not capture her as, “the popular opinion here in favour of universal freedom has rendered it difficult to get [slaves] back to their masters”.18 However, Whipple did approach Judge, who agreed to return if Washington promised to free her once he and his wife had died.19 This outraged the independence leader who replied: “However well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition…it would neither be politic or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference”.20 He never did recapture Judge, who lived free for the rest of her life.

“On my way to Canaan Land”21: the normalisation of slavery and resistance

Slavery was abolished in all Northern states by 1804, through a process of “gradual abolition” that did not guarantee immediate liberty. However, the 1793 invention of the cotton gin (a machine to separate cotton fibre from seeds) made cotton production much more profitable, encouraging Southern plantation owners to continue with slave labour.22

By 1860, more than 90 percent of the US black population lived in the South. The census of that year shows a population of just over 31 million, including some four million slaves and 476,748 free black people.23 There were 60,000 free black people in Virginia when the Civil War broke out, more than any other state except Maryland.24

The US Constitution counted slaves as three fifths of a citizen. But this had nothing to do with their rights—they had none. The Constitution based representation and taxation on “the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons”.25 This gave the Southern slave holders disproportionate influence in Congress right through to the Civil War. Slavery was not ended in the North to promote equality. As the United States became established its leaders used racism to maintain their position. Free blacks had lost the right to vote in the Southern colonies in the early 18th century. Northern states removed black voting rights in the first half of the 19th century. Black men had the right to vote in most of the new territories opening up to the west, but as these became states in the Union this was removed.26 Some states went further and tried to remove black people. So the Indiana state constitution was modified in 1851 to say that no more black people could move to the state, and those already resident had to register.27 Slaves generally had more personal freedom in more northerly slave states such as Virginia and Carolina—thus the threat and the horror of being “sold down the river” to Mississippi or Georgia.

Things were no better in the biggest city: “New York state’s constitution unfairly applied property qualifications to disqualify all but a handful of black voters. African Americans were almost completely excluded from colleges and public schools, and segregated in theatres, eating places and accommodations”.28

In the South the planter class saw their slave system as something to be proud of. They also feared their slaves, particularly after the successful rising led by Toussaint Louverture in Haiti in the 1790s, the ending of the slave trade, Denmark Vesey’s attempted rising in Charleston in 1822 and the gradual abolition of slavery in the northern states. Slaveholders knew that: “The negroes have a wonderful art of communicating intelligence among themselves; it will run several hundred miles in a week or a fortnight”.29 The planters’ fears of rebellion came to fruition with Nat Turner’s uprising, which combined both slaves and free blacks. Turner was a slave preacher who was allowed to travel between plantations in Virginia. In 1828 he had a vision in which he was told to “slay my enemies with their own weapons”, and that while preparing to rise, “I should conceal it from the knowledge of men”.30 By 1831 Turner was ready and his rebellion killed up to 65 whites before it was crushed. The uprising revealed a simmering resentment that most whites had convinced themselves did not exist. Planters responded with more draconian laws prohibiting the education of slaves and their right to independent worship and removing many of the few civil rights free black people still had.

But at the same time slaves were allowed to earn money in their spare time on Saturdays or Sundays, particularly in states of the upper South, such as Virginia. “Paid labour seems to have developed in close connection with a larger system of production, provisioning and exchange—what some historians have called an ‘internal economy’—that by the 1850s formed an integral part of the southern slave economy and the social relations of slavery”.31 One slave sold some ducks to his master and asked for money up front. The surprised owner asked if he did not trust him. The slave replied, “Master good to pay the three dollar, but this nigger want the money now to buy food and things for his little family. They will trust the master at [the shops in] Donaldsonville, but they won’t trust this nigger”.32

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 set out to force free states to return escaped slaves to their former masters. Slave owners had become particularly incensed by areas such as Cass County, Michigan, where many former slaves settled with the support of local whites. The new law penalised officers who did not arrest suspected escapees—making Northerners responsible for enforcing Southern laws. Since there was no right of appeal, any free black person could be accused of being an escaped slave. The act forced many white Northerners who opposed slavery to take a stand, where they had previously stood on the sidelines.33

In 1851, 38 men—three of them white—were charged with treason for killing a slave owner during the armed defence of escaped slaves in Christiana, Pennsylvania. This was an area where the majority of the population, most of them Quakers, supported emancipation. William Parker, a black ex-slave, who led the local militant anti-slavery militia said that such people should stay away when violence broke out: “They have a country and must obey the laws. But we have no country”.34 Racists had led armed attacks on blacks after the incident and the state hoped the charges, which carried the death penalty, would discourage others from helping fugitive slaves. But both sides knew that there was no impartial law above their different interests, and the jury found all the defendants innocent.

As Marx put it in Capital, in the US, “every independent workers’ movement was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the republic. Labour in a white skin cannot emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin”.35 The existence of slavery held back the growth of organised labour and the defence of conditions for the poor. White workers, especially in the South, resented the competition from slave labour, which they tended to blame on the slaves. The president of Virginia College concluded: “Slavery drives free labourers—farmers, mechanics and all, and some of the best of them too—out of the country and fills their places with negroes”.36 The craft-oriented labour movement tended to accept this analysis. No pre-Civil War union recruited black members.37 In 1853, when black waiters in New York struck and got their wages higher than those of white waiters, the white waiters did not join the same union, although they did ask the leader of the black waiters to address their meeting.38

The US was rapidly growing by expanding to the West. Most of the country’s national leadership wanted all of the new states to be “free soil”, without slaves. But the Southern planters also wanted to expand their influence. They gained a victory when Texas was admitted as a slave state in 1845. But the Republican newspaper editor Horace Greeley, who popularised the phrase “Go West, young man”, wrote in 1856: “All the unoccupied territory…shall be reserved for the benefit of the white Caucasian race—a thing which cannot be except by the exclusion of slavery”.39

In 1854 the Republican Party emerged as an alliance between different groups, who supported free soil. It included radical anti-racists, but also big capitalists who were only concerned that slavery was holding back economic development. As Kansas Territory moved towards statehood, a guerrilla war broke out over free soil in 1855-6.

It was in this war over “bleeding Kansas” that “John Brown and his sons had made a fearsome name for themselves as defenders of the antislavery settlers…sanctioned by their egalitarian and militant understanding of Christianity”.40 Brown captured the armoury at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859 intending to spark a slave rebellion, but without preparation or support there was no slave uprising and Brown’s forces were soon overwhelmed. He was put on trial and executed. Like Turner’s uprising, Brown’s raid is more remembered for what it represented than what it achieved. One ex-slave from Mississippi later recalled, “We slaves knew very little about what was going on outside our plantations,” but, “it was impossible to keep the news of John Brown’s attack on Harpers Ferry from spreading”.41 Frederick Douglass said of Brown’s raid, “Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain”.42

But, unlike Brown, many who argued that only free labour should be allowed had no sympathy for black people. Indeed once the free soilers won, the first state constitution for Kansas disenfranchised black people.43

Abraham Lincoln won the presidency for the Republicans on a free soil platform in 1860. In the run up to the election he made it clear that he opposed both slavery and equality for black people. He was “not in favour of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people”.44

But throughout the first half of the century an abolitionist movement had been growing. Its views became more openly stated after 1831, when William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator, which called for slaves to be freed.45 This became the movement’s leading paper; it represented respectable, middle class opinion and did not call for the slaves to rise up.

By contrast, black abolitionist David Walker railed in Biblical terms, “Let no man of us budge one step, and let slave-holders come to beat us from our country. America is more our country, than it is the whites—we have enriched it with our blood and tears”.46

The most important abolitionist was an escaped slave, Frederick Douglass. He rapidly became a great public speaker. In his autobiography he wrote: “It was said to me, ‘Better have a little of the plantation manner of speech than not; ‘tis not best that you seem too learned’… They said I did not talk like a slave, look like a slave, nor act like a slave… ‘Besides, he is educated, and is, in this, a contradiction of all the facts we have concerning the ignorance of the slaves’. Thus, I was in a pretty fair way to be denounced as an impostor”.47 Just four years after his escape he felt he had to reveal his real name and origins, which put him at serious risk of recapture.

Initially, Douglass had supported Garrison’s argument for “moral persuasion”, but he shocked moderate abolitionists in Boston in 1847, when he said he would welcome hearing: “that the slaves had risen in the South, and that the sable arms which had been engaged in beautifying and adorning the South were engaged in spreading death and devastation”.48

Nevertheless, he always believed that the way for people to fight oppression was for the oppressed to work together. He was an advocate of workers’ and women’s rights. In this he came into conflict with his sometime ally Martin Delany who argued that black people had to organise separately and indeed separate off into their own country.49

The practical side of the abolitionist movement was the Underground Railroad, which actively helped slaves to escape.50 Its generally white “conductors” in the South helped escaping slaves by offering shelter and directions to the next sympathiser—or “station”. The alliance that made up the Railroad developed over time. Many slaves relied on their own ingenuity, bravery and the support of strangers to escape. Fugitive slave Josiah Henson approached the Scottish captain of a boat, asking for passage out of the slave states. He and his family were smuggled aboard. The captain said: “I want to see you go and be a free man. I’m poor myself and have nothing to give you, I only sail the boat for wages; but I’ll see you across”.51

Black people were key to the running of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman is deservedly the most famous. Born a slave in Maryland, she was severely injured when a slave owner threw an iron and hit her head, leading to epileptic seizures throughout her life. Yet she escaped and came back for other members of her family; and then for other slaves. She became known as Moses for the number of trips she made to lead her people out of slavery. A news report at the time said of one of her missions:

The expedition was governed by the strictest rules. If any man gave out he must be shot. “Would you really do that?” she was asked. “Yes”, she replied, “if he was weak enough to give out, he’d be weak enough to betray us all, and all who had helped us”… “One time”, she said, “a man gave out on the second night; his feet were sore and swollen… I told the boys to get their guns ready, and shoot him…but when he heard that he jumped right up and went on as well as any body”.52

Tubman is the archetypal figure of a black person taking power into their own hands, yet she records that she had the help of a “white lady” in her own escape.53 One biographer comments: “Her celebrity in her own day was based both on her unusual career and her ability to form and keep close relationships with a group of well-connected white anti-slavery activists in the North”.54

Once war broke out she worked variously as a nurse, scout and spy for the Union forces. Her most famous activity was being one of the commanders of the Combahee River Raid in 1863, where 150 black troops freed 750 slaves and severely damaged Southern supplies, without loss to themselves.55

Tubman had met John Brown in 1858, while he was making plans to ignite a slave uprising in the South. He enthusiastically wrote: “Harriet Tubman hooked on his whole team at once. He is the most of a man that I ever met with”. Brown referred to Tubman as if she was a man out of respect, but it is unlikely that Tubman, who was also a women’s rights activist, was impressed.56 On another occasion she complimented an anti-slavery campaigner by saying that he “should make a good woman”.57

“As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”58: the Civil War 1861-1865

Once Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election promising an end to the spread of slavery, Southern states began to withdraw from the Union. In February 1861, the Confederacy of Southern states declared itself a separate country. Alexander Stephens, its vice president, explained that the US had crumbled because of talk of equality, whereas the new state’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition”.59 The war was initially popular and men rushed to enlist, North and South.

Northern military leaders did not share this passion. Despite their superior forces and technology, they fought a lacklustre campaign. Army commander Major General George B McClellan showed a “chronic tendency to overestimate enemy strength and to use this estimate as an excuse to remain on the defensive”.60 As Marx put it: “Anxiety to keep the ‘loyal’ slaveholders of the border states in good humour…has smitten the Union government with incurable weakness since the beginning of the war, driven it to half measures, forced it to dissemble away the principle of the war and to spare the foe’s most vulnerable spot, the root of the evil—slavery itself”.61

Elsewhere Marx wrote: “There can be no doubt that in the beginning of the struggle, the scales will be tilted in favour of the South, where the class of propertyless white adventurers forms an inexhaustible reservoir of martial militia. But in the long run, of course, the North will win, for in case of necessity it can play the last card, that of a slave revolution”.62

In 1862 he wrote in a letter, unfortunately using a racist term to emphasise his anti-racist point: “The North will finally wage war seriously, adopt revolutionary methods, and overthrow the domination of the border slave statesmen. A single nigger-regiment would have a remarkable effect on Southern nerves”.63

As war enthusiasm faded because of high Northern casualties, Tubman said: “Master Lincoln he [is a] great man, and I’m a poor nigger, but this poor nigger can tell Master Lincoln how to save the money and the young men. He can do it by setting the niggers free”.64

Lincoln was radicalised by the war, as were millions on the Union side. He came to change his attitude towards participation by and rights for black people. Unlike his overcautious allies he came to see that revolutionary change was necessary to win. He sacked McClellan as military commander and, in September 1862, announced the Emancipation Proclamation, which said that the Union would free all slaves in rebel territory. Marx called the proclamation, “the most ­significant document in American history since the founding of the Union”.65 Slaves offered an enormous reserve of enthusiastic labour power. From the outbreak of the war they had streamed across the front line to be with Union forces. They were known as contrabands and the Northern army was unsure what to do with them, but, as Du Bois reports: “the army of fugitives were soon willing to go to work; men, women and children… Very soon the freedmen became self-sustaining and gave little trouble”.66 Du Bois calls the mass exodus of slaves a “general strike” that undermined the economic basis of the Confederacy. He goes on:

This action of the slaves was followed by the disaffection of the poor whites. So long as the planters’ war seemed successful, “there was little active opposition by the poorer whites; but the conscription and other burdens to support a slave owners’ war became very severe; the whites not interested in that cause became recalcitrant, some went into active opposition”.67

Kelly comments that Du Bois’s talk of a general strike is useful, but should not be taken with rigid literalism.68 Strictly speaking, the slaves were not withdrawing their labour in the way that a waged worker would, so “general strike” can be seen as inaccurate in a Marxist sense. However, Du Bois was making an important point about how the slaves became the agents of their own emancipation, and the key economic role they played.

Hostility to the world’s first industrial war grew as casualties mounted and both sides introduced conscription. Many poor whites in New York, and particularly Irish immigrants, rioted against this, leading murderous attacks on black residents. In an echo of his better-known letter on racism in Britain, Marx wrote of this: “The Irishman sees the Negro as a dangerous competitor. The efficient farmers in Indiana and Ohio hate the Negro second only to the slave owner. For them he is a symbol of slavery and the debasement of the working class”.69

Another radical change, the idea that black men might actually join the army, was much harder for Northern opinion to accept. One Northern paper called the idea “insanity”, another said it would lead to revolts among white soldiers.70 Even after Union generals were won round to the idea—in part because of the draft riots—black soldiers always served in segregated regiments, under the command of white officers.

Tens of thousands of escaped slaves were willing to fight for the Union. A black sergeant, Prince Rivers, said: “This is our time. If our fathers had had such a chance as this, we should not have been slaves now. If we do not improve this chance another one will not come, and our children will be slaves always”.71

The first troops went into combat raiding Confederate territory on the Atlantic coast. Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the white officer who led them, wrote: “It would have been madness to attempt with the bravest white troops what I have successfully accomplished with black ones”.72 He recalled that even as an active abolitionist he had shared worries about the intelligence and discipline of former slaves. But he was immediately impressed by his soldiers’ wit, resourcefulness and humour. He remembered watching some of them discussing how they escaped from slavery and managed surreptitiously to ask slave owners where the Union forces they wanted to find were, “Then I go up to the white man, very humble… Then he say the Yankee pickets was nearby and I must be very careful. Then I say, ‘Good Lord, Massa, are they?’73

By the end of the war some 200,000 black troops had served in 140 infantry regiments, seven cavalry, 13 artillery and 11 other companies and batteries.74 These troops made a decisive difference to the military balance, but also to the morale of the Union and the self-image of black ex-slaves. The mood the troops engendered can be seen in the “Marching Song of the First Arkansas Colored Regiment”—a song that would have been defiantly sung by former slaves as they marched through the South:

We have done with hoeing cotton, we have done with hoeing corn,
We are colored Yankee soldiers, now, as sure as you are born;
When the masters hear us yelling, they’ll think it’s Gabriel’s horn,
As we go marching on.75

Slaves rose up as the Union advanced. One white soldier recalled a “coloured gal” who came into camp: “She gave some of the boys their supper…and quizzed them some about escaping, and they encouraged her, and we did not object. Accordingly she dressed in the pants, coat and cap of one of the boys, and took his gun”.76

The use of black troops went alongside a total war strategy adopted by new Union military leaders. This was epitomised by General William Sherman’s march through Georgia to the sea. It destroyed much of the Southern infrastructure, while liberating slaves. As ex-slaves joined the march Sherman issued his celebrated Field Order 15, dividing up rebel plantations for the ex-slaves to farm, and remembered for offering black families “40 acres and a mule”.77 Many slaves now took the redistribution of the planters’ wealth into their own hands:

What whites considered theft and the wanton destruction of property, blacks instead regarded as payment for years of uncompensated labour… When Peggy, the slave of Carolina rice planter Charles Manigault, heard that soldiers were in the area, she compensated herself with a “handsome mahogany bedstead and mattress” for her cabin and “some pink ribbons” for her daughter.78

In the pre-war period most slaves had not been able to escape and most free blacks were not involved in the Underground Railroad or able to feel responsible for their own destiny. But now the mass of black and many white poor found themselves involved in attempting to shape their own future. The brutal destruction of the old South was celebrated at the time, as the popular song “Marching through Georgia” shows:

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee.
Hurrah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free,
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.79

The Confederacy surrendered and the Union army, now more than 10 percent black, became an occupation force in its shattered husk. One planter complained to a white officer: “one of these infernal niggers came along as I sat on my piazza this morning and bowed to me and said good morning—one of your soldiers!”80 It seemed that the racist old South was relegated to the dustbin of history.

“Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee”: Reconstruction and Radical Reconstruction

Post-war reconstruction was not simply about how state’s economies would recover, it was also about how the Union would be restored—on what basis would rebel states be readmitted? At first the bold actions that had won were not followed through, particularly as the increasingly radical Lincoln was assassinated just five days after the Confederate surrender and Andrew Johnson became president.81 Johnson was a Southerner who had built his career as a hater of inequality and the Southern “aristocracy”. But he was also an ardent racist, who “could not conceive of negroes as men”.82 As soon as he took over he allied with the South’s old elite rulers, calling for the immediate readmission of the defeated Southern states to the Union as long as they accepted the abolition of slavery. He issued 14,000 pardons to leading Confederates and reversed the confiscation of planters’ estates.83 He made it clear that he did not see the end of slavery as meaning that black people were equal citizens with the vote and other civil rights. Johnson’s position had been commonplace at the start of the war, but was out of sync with the mood now blacks had done so much to assure a Union victory. Douglass had argued that if a black man was able to “get an eagle on his button and a musket on his shoulders…there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship”.84

Yet taking their cue from Johnson, many of the defeated states enacted “Black Codes” to control their newly free black residents. These new laws made vagrancy a crime, defining vagrants as “persons who lead idle or disorderly lives”. They added offences including “insulting gestures” and “malicious mischief”. In Florida blacks who broke labour contracts could be whipped.85

The 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was the first of three key amendments to the US Constitution. It turned a wartime proclamation into peacetime law. The further two amendments were necessary as Democrats—then the party of the Southern planters and their allies including president Johnson—did everything in their power to make the new South as much like the old as possible. The 14th abolished discrimination, saying that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws”. Johnson tried to veto it, claiming that the Constitution would be “made to operate in favour of the coloured and against the white race”.86 The idea that giving rights to one group removes them from others still dogs arguments on race in the US. The 15th Amendment prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.

On 15 July 1865, Engels wrote to Marx saying Johnson’s “hatred of negroes comes out more and more violently… If things go on like this, in six months all the old villains of secession will be sitting in Congress at Washington. Without coloured suffrage, nothing whatever can be done there”.87

Thaddeus Stevens emerged in the House of Representatives as a solid and consistent opponent of Johnson’s attempts to undermine what had been achieved by the war. He had come into politics as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and was outraged by Johnson’s racism, but he gained the support of the majority of Republicans because they were worried that the expansion of free market capitalism that they had fought for would be blocked.

Radical Republicans, led by Stevens, came within one vote of impeaching president Johnson. They managed to neutralise him, though his rule had allowed enormous damage to the progress away from racism. He was replaced by Ulysses S Grant, elected in 1868, who had been commander of the Union military for the successful conclusion of the war. Stevens got Congress to allow for 20,000 troops to remain in the South and to say that no state could rejoin the Union unless it accepted black people as citizens who could vote. The addition of black people as full citizens would be decisive in elections—in Mississippi and South Carolina they were in the majority. Thus began the period of dramatic social reform known as Radical Reconstruction.

From the end of the war, Southern black workers would not accept that things had not improved economically, or that bosses thought they should be paid less than it had cost a planter to rent a slave for a year. A Union army officer commented: “The negro…thought it strange he was not worth as much as before”.88 And, far from being complacent, these newly free people were prepared to strike to get what they thought was owed to them. The black population of the South now had to fight for their class position as workers and poor farmers.

The three waves that followed the end of the war—the battle with Johnson known as Presidential Reconstruction, Radical Reconstruction and the return of reaction with Redemption—do not fall neatly into consecutive periods. Working people engaged in radical self-activity of various kinds throughout. Many of the most impressive acts of solidarity occurred after the withdrawal of federal troops. On the other side, Confederate veterans first set up the Ku Klux Klan in 1865 as “a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired restoration of white supremacy… It aimed to…destroy the Republican party’s infrastructure, undermine the Reconstruction state, re-establish control of the black labour force, and restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life”.89 It was out to murder uppity blacks and white Republicans.90 Its mystical language and regalia did nothing to hide its true purpose: “A few Klansmen hoped to frighten Southern blacks into believing they were the ghosts of dead Confederates, but nobody was fooled… All blacks knew which of their white neighbours were involved… ‘In spite of the sheets and things I knew their voices and their saddle horses’”.91

While the old rulers tried to re-establish the old system, many Northerners had travelled south to help the newly freed black people and offer aid to people who were by and large refugees in their own country. The Freedmen’s Bureau, set up as the war drew to a close to aid former slaves, was officially called the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, and initially it had responsibility for redistributing such lands.92 Much of the media and politicians North and South complained about the high cost of the Bureau. But by August 1865 it was providing daily rations for some 150,000 refugees—black and white—and also providing medical supplies to tens of thousands of returning Confederate soldiers.93

Northerners from the small black middle classes saw a chance to “improve” the poor. For instance, Methodist clergyman Richard H Cain wrote: “Negro gentlemen and ladies must become teachers, among them by example as well as precept, teach them that though they be black they are as good as any other class whose skin is whiter than theirs”.94 But a majority of those who volunteered to help refugee ex-slaves were white, mostly middle class women. Like people who volunteer with modern refugees in Calais, they were constantly told that the people they were helping were in poverty because of their own idleness: “Some said the money would be thrown away; some said it would be worse than thrown away, for it would go to perpetuate pauperism”.95

Many of the ex-slaves themselves were unconcerned about appearing ungrateful to Northerners. Black workers joined strikes, such as the strike for higher wages by people building New Orleans’ flood defences: “They marched up the levee in a long procession, white and black together”. However, the white unions would not allow blacks to join.96 A bricklayers’ strike in the same city was divided, because the white union called on black workers to strike, but would not allow them to join the union. The Tribune, a New Orleans black newspaper, wrote: “Should the white workers intend to use their coloured comrades as tools…without guarantee for the future, we would say to our coloured brethren; keep aloof, go back to your work, and insist on being recognised as men and equals before you do anything”.97

Black people demanded a say in their own education, healthcare, work and how they were treated by bosses. For a while they achieved massive changes despite continuing violent attacks,. The shift to Radical Reconstruction also affected the poor whites, who “began to conceive of an economic solidarity between white and black workers. In this interval they received at the hands of the black voter and his allies a more general right to vote, to hold office and to receive education, privileges which the planter had always denied them”.98

Hiram Revels was elected as the first black senator for Mississippi. He took office before the main senatorial election to serve out Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s term.99 Revels stated to Congress that the newly free black population in Mississippi, “aim not to elevate themselves by sacrificing one single interest of their white fellow citizens”.100 Blanche K Bruce, also from Mississippi, was elected to the Senate in 1875. He would be the last black senator until 1967. Bruce was born a slave, but rose to be a property owner during Reconstruction.

Across the South black people held office or filled low level government jobs. “They became indeed so outstanding as office holders,” Du Bois comments, “that the Houston Telegraph sounded a warning that unless the full strength of the whites should be enlisted, there would be a large number of negro office holders, and that they would take the land out of the hands of its present owners”.101

John R Lynch became Mississippi’s first black congressman. He argued: “It is not social rights that we desire. We have enough of that already. What we ask for is protection in the enjoyment of public rights—rights that are or should be accorded to every citizen alike”.102

Du Bois remains clearest on the overall picture of the period (using the sexist language of the time):

Reconstruction…was a vast labour movement of ignorant, earnest and bewildered black men whose faces had been ground in the mud by three awful centuries of degradation and who now staggered forward blindly in blood and tears amid petty division, hate and hurt, and surrounded by every disaster of war and industrial upheaval. Reconstruction was a vast labour movement of ignorant, muddled and bewildered white men who had been disinherited of land and labour and fought a long battle with sheer subsistence, hanging on the edge of poverty, eating clay and chasing slaves and now lurching up to manhood. Reconstruction was the turn of white Northern migration southward to new and sudden economic opportunity which followed the disaster and dislocation of war, and an attempt to organise capital and labour on a new pattern and build a new economy. Finally, Reconstruction was a desperate effort of a dislodged, maimed, impoverished and ruined oligarchy and monopoly to restore an anachronism in economic organisation by force, fraud and slander, in defiance of law and order.103

An economic recession in the 1870s hurt Radical Reconstruction, blocking the chance of reforming the Southern economy within channels acceptable to both the poor and the nation’s rulers.104

“As the negroes moved from unionism toward political action”, concludes Du Bois, “white labour in the North not only moved in the opposite direction from political action to union organisation, but also evolved the American blindspot for the negro and his problems… Thus labour went into the great war of 1877 against Northern capitalists unsupported by the black man and the black man went his way in the South to strengthen and consolidate his power unsupported by Northern labour”.105

In May 1876 day labourers at a plantation on Combahee River came out on strike, demanding pay in cash rather than company scrip. The strike spread to other plantations: “Soon squads of black strikers, some numbering in the hundreds, marched from plantation to plantation—with horns, drums and clubs—pressuring those still in the fields to join their ranks… Unable to enlist the support of either local officials or the governor in the restoration of ‘order’…most of the planters were compelled to yield”.106

However, the level of violence used against black people made any resistance hard. Strikers often remained confident of outside support. A strike by sugar workers at St John’s, Louisiana, in 1880 expected “That one of three things will happen: that the Government will divide the land among them; that the governor will send them to Kansas; or that [former president] Grant will come up and make the planters pay the extra wages”.107 Instead they were attacked by the local militia and the strike leaders were arrested. Nonetheless disturbances continued and the area became a prime recruiting ground for the Knights of Labor.

Weakened by lack of support from rulers in Washington who no longer thought radical change was necessary to maintain their influence in the South, Radical Reconstruction came to an end through a backroom deal over the election of 1876. Republicans in Washington agreed to stop federal troops intervening in Southern elections if the Democrats stopped blocking their candidate. Newly elected president Rutherford Hayes withdrew federal troops from Southern capitals in early 1877.

“Equal rights for every neighbour”: the Knights of Labor and Populism

The end of Radical Reconstruction was a shattering defeat, but it was not the end of the struggle in the South. The first of the apartheid Jim Crow laws was introduced in 1877, but there was a long period when everything was disputed. The laws were not fully implemented in all areas till 1910.

Democrat legislators took over all the Southern states, calling themselves “Redeemers”. They came from a range of backgrounds, not just the old ruling class, but they shared “a commitment to dismantling the Reconstruction state, reducing the political power of blacks and reshaping the South’s legal system in the interests of labour control and racial subordination”.108 They wanted to cut costs and hit those things that benefitted the poor most, such as public education—described as a “luxury” by one Redeemer governor. Some states destroyed the majority of the Reconstruction education system.109

But this inspired resistance. For instance the Readjuster movement emerged demanding that state constitutions be rewritten as a challenge to the Democratic Party’s monolithic rule. “Almost everywhere these challenges of Independents, third parties and revitalised Republicans exposed deep divisions among white Southerners that had been exacerbated rather than repaired by the defeat of Radical Reconstruction”.110 The Readjusters argued that they needed to work with black people: “Without them we can do nothing within ourselves for we are weak as yet”.111

The radical working class movement The Knights of Labor organised several offensive struggles during the decade.

As its song proclaimed:

Storm the fort, ye Knights of Labor,
Battle for your cause;
Equal rights for every neighbour,
Down with tyrant laws!112

This confrontational general union organised both black workers and women and claimed 700,000 members by 1886. Black members were up to half of the Knights’ southern membership. In both New Orleans and Fort Worth, Texas, it held marches and integrated picnics with white, black and Mexican workers.113 This was a major step forward for the US labour movement, but it did not go far enough. Many of its branches, particularly in the South, remained segregated. Terence Powderly, the organisation’s president, made a point of saying that, “I have no wish to interfere with the social relations which exist between the races of the South”.114 Despite general talk of inter-racial unity, the organisation’s politics were inconsistent and it got caught up in spreading panic over immigrant labour. So its leadership organised black workers, but refused membership to new immigrant groups—Polish, Hungarian and Italian.115 Indeed, when Chinese workers did attempt to organise branches in New York and Philadelphia, they were rejected.116

In the same way that it disadvantaged white workers to turn on black members of their class, no matter how they felt about it at the time, it was not a privilege for black workers that they were favoured over southern European immigrants. As racism became more entrenched, segregated branches became the norm, and by 1894 the Knights was calling for the “Negro problem” to be solved by deporting black people back to Africa.117

But as the Knights went into decline, another movement swept the South. The Populists—largely based on small farmers—organised electorally as The People’s Party. In a recession during the early 1890s the price of cotton fell below the cost of production, while transportation costs on railways owned by Northern capitalists went up dramatically.118 The Populists brought together small landholders and tenant farmers, demanding rights for the poor against the corporate rich and calling for unity between the black and white poor. In the South their main spokesperson was Tom Watson, who said of racial divisions: “You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of financial despotism which enslaves you both”.119

However, the farmers were organised in separate organisations, the Farmers’ Alliance and the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, which worked together, but never merged. They were at their strongest in Georgia, when they claimed 100,000 and 84,000 members respectively. Leading Populists included H S Doyle, who was black. Once, when threatened with lynching, he had to hide on Watson’s farm, while armed populists rushed to defend him.120

But the movement’s inconsistent politics caught up with it. It called for an economic alliance while actively avoiding talk of “social equality”, which Watson called an issue “every citizen settles for himself”.121 Doyle explained why black farmers went along with this continued segregation: “The negro has learned by 25 years’ experience, that single handed he was not able to cope with the Democratic Party… He welcomed the Populist party not so much from the actual belief in its principles—he did not stop to debate them—but from political liberty and the right of franchise”.122

In North Carolina a Populist-Republican alliance took control of the legislature in 1894, including two black representatives. It repealed laws passed to stop poor and black voters. This increased its hold and allowed the election of a Republican governor and a black Republican Congressman, George H White.123

In Texas, John B Rayner, a black Republican activist, campaigned for the Populists, who gained office in ten counties. They were becoming such a threat to the establishment in Grimes County that the local Democrats organised a White Man’s Union that gunned down all the leading activists.124

Such alliances were not the norm, but they show that it was unity that got results. In the end, the Populists were an unstable alliance of different class interests, and their leadership came to accommodate with the Democrats, who adopted the less radical parts of their programme. The poor and the black elements were not united and no one supported their interests. As it was, Watson was marginalised and re-emerged in 1904 as a white supremacist. Frederick Douglass had long railed against separation and the effect it would have on the black and white working class, saying in 1883: “The labour unions of this country should not throw away this coloured element of strength… It is a great mistake for any class of labourers to isolate itself and therefore weaken the bonds of brotherhood between those on whom the burden and hardships of labour fall”.125

The chance to build a united class organisation across the South was missed. The creation of such an organisation would have been enormously difficult, but the success that the wider organisation had enjoyed showed it was not out of the question. And its absence left no collective defence for poor workers, black or white.

The majority of black people continued to work as farmers, but black radicals also fought back in less collective arenas. Radical journalist Ida B Wells (sometimes known as Wells-Barnett) was driven out of Memphis, Tennessee in 1892, after attacking lynching in an editorial in Free Speech, the paper she ran. She suggested that not all relations between white women and black men were rape. One of Memphis’s main evening papers, the Evening Scimitar, announced that it was time “to tie the wretch who utters these calumnies to a stake…brand him in the forehead with a hot iron and perform upon him a surgical operation with a pair of tailor’s shears”.126 Free Speech’s offices were ransacked and Wells had to relocate to New York.127

She became an anti-lynching activist, publishing statistics in pamphlets such as Southern Horrors and continuing to challenge the lies that were used to justify the murders. She gathered evidence proving that there was no epidemic of rapes of white women by black men—the thing that was supposedly forcing otherwise reasonable whites to lynch black men. She showed that lynching was in reality a mixture of imposing control on black people through terror and an assault on black men in relationships with white women, the idea of which racists found inconceivable. Wells ridiculed the racist view that black men had never been able to control their sexual desire. If it was true how could Confederate men have gone off to fight leaving their women with their black slaves, or during Reconstruction how could so many female white teachers live among black people without facing assault?128

Many black people felt the only way to deal with the tide of racism was to leave, and head to the west. Unfortunately, the military heroes who led the fight that defeated the South only too often appear again in the story of the annihilation of the Native American nations in the conquest of the West. The battles overlapped. The Dakota war with the Sioux took place during the Civil War in 1862. At the close of this the state decided to execute some 300 Sioux for rebellion. Lincoln sent an order reducing the number to 38, but this remains the largest mass execution in US history.129

Later, Sherman used the same ruthless efficiency that had characterised his March to the Sea in making the West safe for capitalism:

As soon as the chiefs were assembled on the porch, Sherman told them he was arresting Satanka, Satank, and Big Tree… Satanka flung his blanket back and reached for his pistol shouting in Kiowa that he would rather die than be taken as a prisoner to Texas. Sherman calmly gave a command; the shutters on the porch windows flew open and a dozen carbines were levelled at the chiefs. The headquarters office was filled with black troopers of the 10th cavalry.130

The relationship between black people and Native Americans was long and complex. In 1622, white colonists in Virginia complained that: “The Indians murdered every white but saved the negroes” and many escaped slaves who got West came to live with Native Americans, which was one reason for their expertise in Native American languages when they were recruited by the army.131

Many soldiers were black. “In an age that viewed black men as either comic or dangerous, and steadily reduced the decent jobs open to them, army life offered more dignity that almost anything civilian life had to offer”.132 These were the “Buffalo soldiers”, so called by Native Americans who thought their tightly curled hair was like buffalo fur.

One in four cowboys were black.133

Cowboys are presented at the archetypal individualists, but ranch hands were workers, and “when owners cut wages in the 1880s, as part of the effort to reduce costs, there were several cowboy strikes and some joined the labour union organisation of the Knights of Labor”.134

Other black figures in the West included the first black deputy marshal Bass Reeves, recruited because he had lived with Native Americans and spoke a number of their languages, and Mary Fields, the first black woman employed by the US postal service, who delivered mail in the West and became known as “Stagecoach Mary”.135

A number of black towns were set up, particularly in Oklahoma, by people who had fled the increasing repression in the South—the most important being Boley. Between 1890 and 1910, 25 black communities were established in the state. Indeed at one time it seemed likely that black people could dominate in the state. These towns were serious attempts at black separatism, but they were not allowed to prosper. It was not possible to exist as an independent black minority in a racist society. Oklahoma became a state in 1907, but in 1910 it passed a “grandfather clause” to disenfranchise black people—saying that only people whose father and grandfather had been allowed to vote could vote.136 This did not specifically exclude black people, but in practice it stopped them voting because their grandfathers had been slaves. In this it was similar to the British “close connection” immigration laws in 1968 which blocked Commonwealth subjects from Britain if their grandparents were not British.137

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home”138: Conclusion

The end of the century was a period of constant setbacks for anti-racists. But they were setbacks in the context of a desperate rearguard action to defend every gain that had been made since the Civil War. When Louisiana passed a law segregating railway trains in 1890, the New Orleans Citizens’ Committee, which had both black and white members, decided to challenge this flagrant breach of the 14th Amendment’s assurance of equal treatment of all citizens. The law was part of a constant stream of segregationist legislation spreading across the South. The committee picked shoemaker Homer Plessy, because he was a respectable, light skinned black member. He bought a first class rail ticket, knowing both that the first class carriage was designated for whites only, and that no one could seriously claim the “coloured” carriage was its equal. As planned, he informed the ticket collector that he was “coloured” and refused to give up his seat.139 Once Plessy was arrested the committee appealed to the highest court. The plan worked perfectly, except that the Supreme Court judges ruled that Plessy’s rights were not breached if facilities for black and white were “separate but equal”, because the 14th Amendment “could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon colour, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races”.140 The ruling became the justification for a torrent of Jim Crow segregation laws.

The offensive by the Southern Redeemers had devastated many of the gains that both black people and poor whites had made during Reconstruction, such as public education. It left poor farmers in growing debt, and drastically reduced the numbers able to vote. “Several states made payment of a poll tax a prerequisite for voting.” South Carolina passed “an electoral law designed to confuse the poor and illiterate; Virginia disqualified eligible voters convicted of petty theft”.141 Redemption decimated the number of black people allowed to vote, but it also drastically reduced the number of poor whites. So in Louisiana the number of black voters fell by 90 percent, and the white by 60 percent.142 “There had been approximately 120,000 qualified white voters in Mississippi in 1890. After the 1892 registration this figure slipped to slightly more than 68,000”.143 By 1901 it was closer to 30,000.

Nevertheless, many people analysing the period say that poor whites benefitted because they were not humiliated in the way that black people were by Jim Crow. A much-quoted passage by Du Bois saying white people were bought off with a “psychological wage” from Black Reconstruction is used to support this. So Ibram X Kendi’s major new history of racist ideas in the US, Stamped from the Beginning, describes Du Bois as saying that poor whites were offered “the wages of whiteness”, through a “lucrative” psychological wage.144 But Du Bois did not present this “psychological wage” as a material benefit for white workers. On the contrary, it stopped them from seeing their own interests and ended up making their own situation worse. Du Bois contrasts what could have developed, “a united fight for higher wages and better working conditions”, with what the planters got away with. His point is precisely that it is not “lucrative” to the poor whites, only the rich ones—“The result of this was that the wages of both classes could be kept low”.145

The brutal US prison system is a direct response to the end of slavery and part of an attempt to reimpose forced labour. The 13th Amendment abolished forced servitude, except as punishment for a crime. This was a great incentive to the Southern states vastly to inflate the number of crimes for which people could be punished: “The black folks say that only coloured boys are sent to jail…not because they are guilty, but because the State needs criminals to eke out its income by their forced labour”.146 The forced labour system was met with hostility from poor whites, not usually out of solidarity with black people, but because labour gangs of prisoners undercut their own wages.147 In the 1890s the issue of using convict labour for mining lead to major violent clashes.148

The imposition of Jim Crow dampened resistance, but did not end it. The wild capitalism that was unleashed by the robber barons attacked the conditions of people across the country, black and white. There would be widespread labour disputes in the early years of the 20th century. The ability of all the poor to defend and extend their rights was weaker because of segregation in the labour movement and hostility to immigrants, but struggles continued. The First World War saw the beginning of the Great Migration as the majority of African-Americans moved out of the rural south, and with it went a regrowth of pride encapsulated in movements such as Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association and the Harlem Renaissance.

Since the first settlers arrived in the Americas, the fight against racism has been continuous, but it has never been a case of smooth progress. Our racist rulers try to smooth out history by removing the radical kernel from events such as the Civil War or erasing from history periods like Reconstruction. As the struggles over police violence against black people develop, state Islamophobia grows and imperial intervention continues to produce millions of refugees, it is ever more important to take courage from the audacity of the highpoints of our history and the heroism that continued even in the low points.

Ken Olende works as a history tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association in London. He has previously been a journalist on Socialist Worker, editor of the UAF magazine Unity and one author of Say It Loud! Marxism and the Fight Against Racism.


1 Anonymous, 1863. It is a radical reworking of the conservative Union Civil War song “Hoist Up the Flag!” Richie Havens recorded it as “Give us a Flag” on Songs of the Civil War (1991).

2 Watkins, 2017.

3 Feldscher, 2017.

4 Quoted in Du Bois, 1998, p716.

5 Du Bois, 1984, p8

6 Kelly, 2016, p50.

7 Including for instance Egerton, 2014, Faulkner, 2004 and Hahn, 2003.

8 Marx, 1976, p915.

9 Olende, 2013, pp32-38.

10 Foner, 1981, p3.

11 Linebaugh and Rediker, 2000, p136.

12 Banks, 2008, p800.

13 Maryland State Archives, 1692, p547.

14 Tyson, 1854.

15 Declaration of Independence, 1776. Go to www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration

16 Berry, 2001, p186.

17 Thompson, 2014.

18 Hirschfeld, 1997, p114.

19 Hirschfeld, 1997, p114.

20 Hirschfeld, 1997, p115.

21 From “I’m On My Way”, an Underground Railroad song, quoted in Greenway, 1953, p100.

22 Foner, 1981, p4.

24 Russell, 1913, p9.

25 The Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 2, Clause 3. Go to consitutionus.com

26 Du Bois, 1998, p8.

27 Katz, 1987, p36.

28 Bordewich, 2005, pp168-169.

29 Hahn, 2003, p41.

30 Berry, 2001, p107.

31 Hahn, 2003, p24.

32 Hahn, 2003, p29.

33 Bordewich, 2005, p318.

34 Bordewich, 2005, p326.

35 Marx, 1976, p414.

36 Katz, 1987, p89.

37 Foner, 1981, p5.

38 Foner, 1981, p10.

39 Deutsch and Fornieri, 2005, p401.

40 Humez, 2003, p16.

41 Hahn, 2003, p55.

42 Douglass, 1881.

43 Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, 1998.

44 Lincoln, 1858, p145.

45 Oates, 1970, p27.

46 Walker, 1830, Article 4.

47 Douglass, 1996, p164.

48 Douglass, 2014, p15.

49 Olende, 2013, p57.

50 Bordewich, 2005, p74.

51 Bordewich, 2005, p125.

52 Humez, 2003, p235.

53 Humez, 2003, p16.

54 Humez, 2003, p5.

55 Humez, 2003, pp244-247.

56 Humez, 2003, p41.

57 Humez, 2003, p32.

58 From “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”—Howe, 1862.

59 Du Bois, 1998, p50.

60 McPherson, 1988, p361.

61 Marx, 1861.

62 Anderson, 2010, p86.

63 Anderson, 2010, p98.

64 Humez, 2003, p299.

65 Anderson, 2010, p102.

66 Du Bois, 1998, p71.

67 Du Bois, 1998, p80.

68 Kelly, 2016, p52.

69 Anderson, 2010, p104.

70 Ash, 2008, p43.

71 Ash, 2008, p38.

72 Du Bois, 1998, p107.

73 Higginson, 2002, p8. Higginson, like many abolitionists, had a patronising habit of reporting black speech in a semi-phonetic way. As is common practice now, I have removed this. The original opens: “Den I go up to de white man, berry humble”.

74 Du Bois, 1998, p112.

75 Library of Congress, go to www.loc.gov/item/amss.cw105500

76 Schwalm, 2009, p65.

77 Foner, 1988, p70.

78 Egerton, 2014, p68.

80 Du Bois, 1998, p139.

81 Johnson, who became the 17th president, should not be confused with Andrew Jackson, the 7th, who current president Donald Trump admires.

82 Du Bois, 1998, p253.

83 Du Bois, 1998, p254.

84 Tuck, 2010, p20.

85 Foner, 1988, p200.

86 Foner, 2015.

87 Blackburn, 2011, p209.

88 Foner, 1988, p107.

89 Foner, 1988, p425-426.

90 Egerton, 2014, p291.

91 Egerton, 2014, p289.

92 Foner, 1988, p69.

93 Egerton, 2014, p123.

94 Faulkner, 2004, p68.

95 Faulkner, 2004, p14.

96 Foner, 1981, p17.

97 Foner, 1981, p18.

98 Du Bois, 1998, p131.

99 Du Bois, 1998, p594.

100 Du Bois, 1998, p449.

101 Du Bois, 1998, p561.

102 Middleton, 2002, p155.

103 Du Bois, 1998, p346.

104 Foner, 1988, p535.

105 Foner, 1981, p367.

106 Hahn, 2003, p347.

107 Hahn, 2003, p354.

108 Foner, 1988, p588.

109 Foner, 1988, p589.

110 Hahn, 2003, p365.

111 Bloom, 1987, p38.

113 Foner, 1981, p50.

114 Foner, 1981, p55.

115 Gerteis, 2007, p40.

116 Foner, 1981, p47.

117 Foner, 1981, p62.

118 Bloom, 1987, p39.

119 Bloom, 1987, p40.

120 Gerteis, 2007, p164.

121 Gerteis, 2007, p165.

122 Gerteis, 2007, p166.

123 Hahn, 2003, p416.

124 Hahn, 2003, p440.

125 Foner, 1981, p2.

126 The author assumed Wells was a man. Once it was found out that she was a woman the same paper called for her to be stripped in the street and whipped like a slave.

127 Dray, 2002, p65.

128 Dray, 2002, p68.

129 Brown, 1971, pp59-60.

130 Brown, 1971, p245.

131 Katz, 1987, p4.

132 Katz, 1987, p201.

133 Katz, 1987, p202.

134 Murdoch, 2001, p47.

135 Katz, 1987, p155.

136 Katz, 1987, p251.

137 Holmes, 1988, p267.

138 From “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”. Go to www.negrospirituals.com/songs/sometimes_i_fell.htm

139 Davis, 2002, p67.

140 Bloom, 1987, p44.

141 Hahn, 2003, p367.

142 Bloom, 1987, p49.

143 Kirwan, 2011, p73.

144 Kendi, 2017, p332.

145 Du Bois, 1998, p701.

146 Du Bois, 1965, pp294-295.

147 Bloom, 1987, p34.

148 Bloom, 1987, p39.


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