A bald fact: Generations would hear how the South suffered “tyranny” under Reconstruction. Conveniently forgotten was the way that word was universally defined by white Southerners at the time: as a synonym for letting black men vote at all. A “remonstrance” issued by South Carolina’s Democratic Central Committee in 1868, personally signed by the leading native white political leaders of the state, declared that there was no greater outrage, no greater despotism, than the provision for universal male suffrage just enacted in the state’s new constitution. There was but one possible consequence: “A superior race is put under the rule of an inferior race.” They offered a stark warning: “We do not mean to threaten resistance by arms. But the white people of our State will never quietly submit to negro rule. This is a duty we owe to the proud Caucasian race, whose sovereignty on earth God has ordained.”
“No free people, ever,” declared a speaker at a convention of the state’s white establishment a few years later, had been subjected to the “domination of their own slaves,” and the applause was thunderous. “This is a white man’s government” was the phrase echoed over and over in the prints of the Democratic press and the orations of politicians denouncing the “tyranny” to which the “oppressed” South was being subjected.
A bald fact: more than three thousand freedmen and their white Republican allies were murdered in the campaign of terrorist violence that overthrew the only representatively elected government the Southern states would know for a hundred years to come. Among the dead were more than sixty state senators, judges, legislators, sheriffs, constables, mayors, county commissioners, and other officeholders whose only crime was to have been elected. They were lynched by bands of disguised men who dragged them from cabin by night, or were fired on from ambushes on lonely roadsides, or lured into a barroom by a false friend and on a prearranged signal shot so many times that the corpse was nothing but shreds, or pulled off a train in broad daylight by a body of heavily armed men resembling nothing so much as a Confederate cavalry company and forced to kneel in the stubble of an October field and shot in the head over and over again, at point-blank.
A Friend in Need
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