American History as It Happened

MODULE TWO: 1877-1899

DBQ: Using the documents below together with your outside knowledge, evaluate the validity of this statement by African-American author W.E.B. Du Bois in 1935 about liberation, Reconstruction, and its aftermath: “The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”


Source: The Week, unsigned editorial, The Nation, April 17, 1879

An apparently well-informed writer in the Herald of Monday, a Southern clergyman… considers the prime cause of the unrest of the blacks [freed slaves who had moved to Kansas] to be the huge disappointment in their ideal of “freedom.” They expected it to do more for them, to make a greater change in their mode of life, and to furnish them with an independent outfit in the shape of land and mules. Hence the notion readily sprang up that freedom could be realized only in a Free State. But more important than such considerations is the undoubted fact that the landlord and the storekeeper have, from the want of capital on the negro’s part, ruined him with liens upon his crops and his land and implements, advancing him money at extortionate rates and charging him enormously for all good obtained on credit. … At the South, the dependence on the storekeeper affords a simple means of exerting political control which is not neglected.


Source: Summary of the Week’s News: Domestic, [about Danville Riots], unsigned article, The Nation, February 21, 1884

The investigation of the Danville, Va., election riots was begun in Washington by the Senate Sub Committee on Thursday. Several negroes testified as to the aggression of the whites and the shooting on that day. They also said that in consequence they had been intimidated from voting. The white witnesses testified generally as to the insolence of the negroes and their intention to put a stop to it. They made rather frank admissions as to their actions on the day of the riot.


Source: A Rigorous Ohio Policy Wanted, unsigned article, The Nation, January 24, 1889

The last Ohio Legislature, more than twenty years after the close of the war, abolished the “black laws,” discriminating against the negroes, which had until that time remained upon the statute book, and thus opened the public schools of the State to white and black children alike…
No sooner did the Ohio people discover that the action of the Legislature, which had been much praised as “abolishing a relic of barbarism,” really meant that negro parents could, if they chose, send their children to schools previously attended solely by whites, that trouble broke out in a number of places. The most serious difficulty has been in a town of Clermont County, which belies its name of Felicity. The population of Felicity consists of nine whites to one negro, and until the law of 1887 was passed, the negro children attended separate schools which were maintained almost exclusively by the whites … When the school term opened in the fall of 1887, several negro children presented themselves at a white school, and insisted upon admission. They were refused entrance, and when a negro father accompanied his children, in order to enforce their rights, he was roughly handled by some white men. The negroes finally concluded that it was of no use to continue the struggle and a peace was patched up by an agreement of the whites to provide two graded schools for colored children taught by excellent colored teachers.
…Here, evidently, is a clear case for the incoming President. In a State of the American Union negroes are denied those rights guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. Local sentiment sustains the injustice; the courts refuse to punish the offenders; the Governor of the State, overawed by the political influence of the law-breakers, is supine. The poor negro of Felicity is helpless in the face of a hostile State. Obviously there must be a “policy toward Ohio,” and as obviously it must be a “rigorous” one. The sun should not go down on the 4th of March before Benjamin Harrison, [the incoming] President of the United States, has notified the white people of Felicity, Ohio, that he will “insist” that they open their schools to the negro children, that a force of United States troops will be stationed at the door of the school-house to enforce the rights of the negroes, and that the pusillanimous Governor of the State will be lodged in the penitentiary.


Source: Negro Convicts in South Carolina, unsigned article, The Nation,April 4, 1889

The difference between the treatment of white and black is strikingly brought out on one page of this report. A negro was pardoned after serving fourteen of a thirty years’ sentence for manslaughter because the crime was committed under great provocation, and there was a very bitter feeling against the prisoner at the time. In the other case, a white man was sentenced for five years for a like offense. At the end of a year a petition for his pardon is presented from all the jurymen who tried the case, from the relatives of the murdered man, stating that it was the wish of the deceased that the murderer should not be prosecuted, and from the inevitable leading citizens. The prosecuting attorney joins in the petition, naively adding that he promised the prisoner’s attorney at the trial to recommend a pardon at the end of one year. This seems to have been such a pleasant, friendly murder that the scruples of the prosecuting attorney in thus waiting a year are hard to understand.

The method by which the administration of the law is kept impartial to all, white and black alike, is ingenious. The statute punishing burglary, for instance, prescribes imprisonment for life as a penalty, but with an important proviso that if the jury recommend the prisoner to mercy, the punishment shall be reduced to imprisonment for not less than five years. This allows juries to recommend white offenders to mercy, while the negroes suffer the full penalty of the law.


Source: Letter to the Editor, Response to Negro Convicts [Document Four, above], by W.J. Alexander, University of South Carolina, The Nation April 18, 1889

… Let it never be forgotten that for eleven years (1865-1876) the negroes of South Carolina had a thorough education in crime. During that period bad white men—the great majority of them emissaries from the North—encouraged the negroes in every form of incendiarism and theft. They were taught that it was not wrong to steal from their former masters—that it was, in reality, not stealing, but taking what properly belonged to them. For the ignorance and the low moral tone of the negro, doubtless slavery is largely responsible, and we of the South are willing to bear our share of responsibility for this state of things, but it is certain that the complete demoralization of the negro during the carpet-bag reign was due to the pernicious teaching of these adventurers from the North.


Source: The Week, unsigned editorial [about Separate but Equal Regulations], The Nation, May 23, 1889

The recent decision by the Inter-State Commission on the rights of negro passengers on railroad trains is heartily endorsed by leading Southern newspapers. The decision was rendered in the case of a colored preacher who bought a first-class ticket from Augusta to Atlanta but was compelled to ride in a “Jim Crow” car, half of which is devoted to smokers. The Commission held that the railroad company may separate passengers according to color, but that it must make the cars provided for white and colored passengers equal in comfort, accommodations and equipment for persons paying the same fare. “Of course,” says the Macon Telegraph, “the Commission could have decided this case in no other way. Clean, comfortable cars should be set apart for negro passengers. They are required to pay the same fare as passengers in the best coaches, and no discrimination should be made against them in the matters of accommodations and the preservation of order in their separate cars.” The Telegraph says that the Central Road sets apart a first-class coach, as good as any on the train, for the exclusive use of colored passengers, and no white person is allowed to ride in that car, as no negro is permitted in the first-class coach for whites. This plan, it thinks, meets the full requirements of justice to all, and it considers it the most satisfactory arrangement that can be made for both races.


Source: Lynching, unsigned article, The Nation, December 14, 1899

The horrible affair in Maysville, Kentucky, on Wednesday of last week, calls special attention to one of the most valuable portions, if not the most valuable portion, of Booker Washington’s book on ‘The Future of the American Negro’—what he says about lynching. It is valuable because it is the part which most seriously calls for immediate action by the American people, and it is, probably for that very reason, the part that has received the least attention from the newspapers. On all subjects we love generalities which do not entail obligations that will interfere with “business.”

What Mr. Washington says, in substance, is this: That “many good people in the South and also in the North have got the idea that lynching is resorted to for one crime only.” Now for the facts. During the past year, 118 were lynched in the South, and 9 in the North and West. Of these, 102 were negroes, 23 were whites, and 2 were Indians. Only 24 of the entire number were charged with rape, or assaults upon women; all the others were charged with offenses for the punishment of which the criminal law is instituted and courts established in civilized countries. In other words, 81 of these unfortunates were executed—without trial—by mobs…
…We thus see that the evil is spreading and that the cause assigned for it by apologists is not the true one. It is purely and simply a descent into barbarism by people who pretend to be civilized…