BLACK HISTORY MONTH: WHITE MEN CHALLENGING RACISM, PART 1

I have been meaning to write this post for over a year. Every time I get ready to put pen to paper as the old saying goes, some other post, some other essay, takes my attention and causes me to devote my writing to the new subject matter at hand. But, not this time. I have devoted myself to this essay and this time, I shall give voice and accord to the many white men who put their lives on the line for black Americans. The many white men who gave their lives so that black people could live the lives they were meant to live—–as citizens, as human beings, in the eyes of their fellow citizens. I wish to honor the many white men who risked everything to fight for the principles that had cost so many their lives.  Sadly, many of these men are unknown to many people today, but, I wish to give life to their stories, for as the ancient Egyptian saying goes:

“To speak the name of the dead, is to make them live again”,

is to give voice to all they sacrified to see right done in this country to its most harmed citizens.

The history of American antiracism has been suppressed because antiracism has typically been on the losing side. Those who have often favored the just treatment of Black Americans and Native Americans usually lost out. But, that does in no way negate their triumphs, their resistance against injustice, against tyranny.

It may come as a shock to many people, not so much to discover that there were men and women of courage, idealism, rectitude, and vision who risked everything to try to build a new society of equality and justice on the ruins of the Civil War, who fought to give lasting meaning to the sacrifices of that terrible struggle, who gave their fortunes, careers, happiness, and lives to make real the simple and long-delayed American promise that all men were created equal—it comes as a shock not so much to be confronted by their idealism and courage and uprightness as by the realization that they were convinced, up to the very last, that they would succeed.

I will speak of some of the men who believed in the humanity of all men, men who truly were their brother’s keepers.

********************************************************************************************************

Edward Coles, a Virginia planter who knew Thomas Jefferson and tried to enlist him in the antislavery cause was an important, but least known dissenter against slavery. He admonished Jefferson to free his slaves, reminding Jefferson that all the capital Jefferson was able to amass was due to inhuman chattal slavery, but Jefferson refused.

Coles went it alone.

He could not simply free his slaves due to a Virginia slave statute, requiring that slaves be sent out of state upon pain of reenslavement. So, in 1819 Coles moved to southern Illinois with his slaves, freed them, and gave each family a quarter section of land. In 1822 Coles ran for governor against Joseph Phillips, chief justice of Illinois:  Phillips for slavery, Coles against slavery. Coles wrote:

“I believe myself bound, both as a citizen and as an officer, to do all my power to prevent its [slavery] introduction into the state [Illinois]”, and he did. Coles was elected as governor and bought the now bankrupt proslavery newspaper, turned it into an antislavery paper, the only one in Illinois. The spread of slavery was defeated and illinois was saved from slavery.

John Prentiss Matthews, born into a slave-holding family, was a Unionist general during the Civil War. After the war, he ran a general store in Hazelhurst, MS., the county seat. The interracial Republican coalition that governed Mississippi during Reconstruction elected him sheriff of the county.

Although the Democrats took over most of the state government, they did not capture all of the counties, mainly because of men like Matthews. Matthews organized a “Fusion” or “Independent Party” coalition of black and white farmers in Copiah County. He maintained that black Americans “were entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities of American citizens”. As a result, former black slaves were able to rank him alongside Abraham Lincoln. He also won the loyalty of 600-700 small-scale white farmers. As a result of his actions, matthews became anethema to racist whites.

During the election of November 1875, the intimidation campaign by racist whites engulfed Matthews personally. White leaders of Hazelhurst delived a written ultimatum to him at his home, ordering him to “absent himself from the polls on election”. Matthews knew his party could not win because many of his supporters were too terrified to come to the polls and risk death. “I have as much right to vote as any of you”, he replied regardless. “I have never done any of you any harm. I have tried to be useful to society in every way I could. You have got it in your power to murder me, I admit. But I am going to vote tomorrow, unless you kill me.”

The next morning, he walked across the street to his polling place. Several Democrats carrying shotguns stood outside the door. Inside was Ras Wheeler, the precinct captain, a white farmer who had an account at Matthew’s store. William Ivy Hair, a black American companion of Matthews, tells what happened next:

“Matthews looked around, saw Wheeler, and went over to sit beside him. The two men talked in low tones for a minute or so. Wheeler finally said:  ‘Print, I would not vote today if I were you.’  Matthews then got up, walked over to an election official, and presented his ballot. He was asked to fold it. He was doing so when Ras Wheeler reached inside the wood box, lifted out a double-barrell shotgun, and taking aim, fired first one and then the other charge of buckshot.

Matthews died instantly.

The day after the murder, white Democrats held a mass meeting in Hazelhurst and resolved “it is necessary to the safety of society and the welfare of all races and classes in this county that hereafter the Matthews family shall keep out of politics in Copiah County”. According to the local newspaper,  “The niggers met one mile South of here last Tuesday and passed resolutions of sorrow”.

A white-dominated jury found Wheeler innocent, whereuopn Democrats appointed him city marshall of Hazeelhurst.

There was talk of him running for governor.

Adelbert Ames, the future governor of Mississippi, who became convinced that he “had a Mission with a large M” to assist former slaves. Black political leaders who had been elected into office during Reconstruction, were instrumental in engineering the 1873 gubernatorial nomination of Ames, along with a six-man state ticket that included three black candidates. With the solid backing of black voters, Ames handily defeated Conservative Governor James L. Alcorn, who ran with the suport of the Democrats. Even Alcorn’s plantation hands voted against him. At the same time, blacks substantially increased their representation in the legislature, and consolidated their hold on local offices throughout the black belt.

When former black slaves went to the polls to vote, many of them were attacked and murdered. Ames called upon President Ulysses S. Grant to send federal troops to aid him in putting down the Ku Klux Klan’s racsist attacks. But, he was rebuffed by Grant:  “The whole public are tired out with these annual autumnal outbreaks in the South….[and] are ready now to condemn any interference on the part of the Government”, urging the state of Mississippi to raise a militia and demonstrate “the courage and the manhood to fight for their rights and to destroy the bloody ruffians”. This was a death knell for the black politicians and black voters.

Whites armed with better weapons, attacked blacks mercilessly. Whites allies fared just as horribly. On Christmas Day, Charles Caldwell, “as brave a man as I ever knew”, according to one associate, was shot in the back at Clinton, MS., after being lured to take a drink with a white friend.

When the legislature assembled, it impeached and removed from office Lieut. Gov. Alexander K. Davis (so that Ames’s departure would not elevate a black man to take his place) and then compelled the governor to resign and leave the state.

Ames commented bitterly,  “I am fighting for the Negro, and to the whole country a white man is better than a ‘Nigger’.”

**********************************************************************************************************

James Longstreet, a brilliant Confederate general, who joined the Pepublican party, and sought to help blacks gain the right to vote and to hold political office, was castigated by his fellow southern whites. Longstreet inspired some Confederate veterans to follow in his footsteps. One was Alabama-born Albert R. Parsons (husband of Lucy Parsons). Parsons, (a descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims) in 1867 established a Waco newspaper advocating black rights, stumped central Texas for the Republicans. Longstreet who went from rebel to scalawag, became a pariah in the eyes of southern whites. Longstreet’s decision to join the Republican Party made him an “object of hatred” among Southern Democrats for the remainder of his life.  When he died in 1903, the United Daughters of the Confederacy voted not to send flowers to his funeral, and unlike other Confederate generals, no statues of Longstreet graced the Southern landscape.

********************************************************************************************************

Other white men met violence at the hands of mob whites and the Klan. Klansmen murdered three scalawag members of the Georgia legislature and drove ten others from their homes. North Carolina State Sen. John W. Stephens, a harnessmaker who allegedly avoided the Confederate draft, “displayed a particular hostility toward the ex-slaveholding gentry,” and rose to prominence in Caswell County Republican affairs, was assassinated in 1870. Warned repeatedly that his life was in danger, Stephens had been “accustomed to say that 3,000 poor ignorant colored Republican voters had stood by him . . . . at the risk of persecution and starvation, and that he had no idea of abandoning them to the Ku Klux Klan.”

Albert T. Morgan, a Union veteran who went south, who saw politics as not only as a means to make a living, but, also as a way to make things right for the newly freed ex-slaves.  Vicious crimes against black people in Mississippi escalated during the 1870s. Unlike crimes by the Klan’s hooded riders, those of 1875 were commmitted in broad daylight by undisguised men, as if to underscore the impotence of local authorities and Democrats’s lack of concern about federal intervention.

Two “riots” in late summer set the campaign’s tone. On September 1, a  Yazoo County white “military company” broke up a Republican rally, drove carpetbagger sheriff Albert T. Morgan and other officials from the area, and went on to murder several prominent blacks, including a state legislator. Morgan had outraged the old elite of Mississippi’s wealthiest plantation county by marrying a black teacher from the North, but his real offense had been assisting some 300 black families to acquire real estate and presiding over the expansion of county schools and other public facilities, all without corruption and only a slight increase in taxes.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There were many white men during and before the era of Reconstruction who gave their lives for the rights of black Americans to have freedom and the right to live as citizens in this country:

John brown abo.jpg
John Brown

 

 

William garrison.jpg
William Llyod Garrison

 

Stevens thadee.jpg
Thaddeus Stevens

 

 RevHWBeech.jpg
Henry Ward Beecher

 

 LysanderSpooner.jpg

 

Weld.jpg
Theodore Weld

 

These are just a few of the white men who confronted the hypocrisy of this country’s denial of the most basic rights to black citizens.

In the conclusion of my two-part essay of white men challenging racism, I will speak of those white men who continue to work and fight in the battle to resist oppression and bigotry that has crippled the lives of both black—and white.

 

REFERENCES:

 

 
America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner (Paperback – Feb 5, 2002)
4.0 out of 5 stars (31)

 

 
The Lost Cause and the Southern Mind
God and General Longstreet: The Lost Cause and the Southern Mind by Thomas Lawrence Connelly and Barbara L. Bellows (Paperback – Mar 1995)
4.5 out of 5 stars (2)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

2 responses to “BLACK HISTORY MONTH: WHITE MEN CHALLENGING RACISM, PART 1

  1. Dear,

    I like your blog. Would yould you let me enlaceit with mine.
    Email me, please.
    Regards,

    Jose Sonson

    P.S. Please could you also help me to keep in touch with radical black people or group?

  2. Pingback: PAT BUCHANAN: A COWARD, A LIAR. . . .AND A RACIST HATER « BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s