The ‘Lost Cause’ That Built Jim Crow: Southern “Redeemers” snuffed out the first black power movement.

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I’ve always been disappointed that the Freedman’s Bureau doesn’t get more honor than it does. Many of their agents died tried to provide basic government services to newly freed slaves. They were truly honorable people.


The collapse of the early reconstruction based strides for southern black equality is a great tragedy. Once the occupation forces withdrew so many people died from white supremacist retaliation. Across the south, entire communities were exterminated.


The Union was committed to staying the Union, the Confederacy was committed to a white ethnostate. This is why the Union couldn’t really be bothered to make reconstruction stick and was more interested in getting back to business as usual. The south on the other hand, just found other ways to oppress blacks and created this lost cause narrative to make themselves look like the victims.


The piece is paywalled, so I dunno if this is even mentioned or not, but one of the great historical counterfactuals for me relates to this period, and the Readjuster movement in Virginia. A coalition movement made up of black people, poor whites, and Republicans of the state and led by the former Confederate general William Mahone. For a brief period of the 1870s-80s at least, the Readjusters were in the driver’s seat in Virginia. The name itself came from their desire to “Readjust” the states’ debt share as it related to the split-off of West Virginia, which they were able to do in 1881 when they controlled the legislature and governor’s mansion. As far as racial legislation went, among other things, they oversaw increased hiring of black teachers, but probably most key, they got rid of the poll-tax, which, as is fairly well known, was a routine way to prevent African-Americans from voting. There were also patronage appointments of black supporters, and a major increase in their employment by the state government. There are more that can be listed, but the main point is that the Readjusters were certainly not advocates of the Jim Crow south. Levin, in his article on Mahone’s legacy, goes on to note that for this role, he incurred similar enmity from other Confederates that Longstreet did, and if anything, since he was considerably more successful in politics, at the time he was a “more immediate threat”. >Lost Cause advocates continually attacked Mahone and the Readjusters because the increased involvement of African Americans in the political process constituted a direct threat to their goal of turning back the clock to a point in the prewar past when white southern slaveholders stood atop the social and political hierarchy. Despite during the war being proclaimed a hero – he was in command of the successful defense at Petersburg during the “Battle of the Crater” – the result was, likewise as Longstreet, continual attacks on his war record, accusing him of falsifying it and being an all around coward, with a particular focus on his performance at Spotsylvania. A lot of accusations were flying from both sides with little real concern for the truth if is was in conflict with scoring political points. Mahone weathered the accusations well enough though, or rather, that wasn’t what ended the Readjuster movement. The Readjusters faded fairly quickly though. In the wake of the race riots at Danville in late 1883, the Democrats were able to make use of the violence in their electoral propaganda, sweeping the legislature in the elections three days later. Mahone would officially switch over to the Republican ticket, but with less success than before. Mahone died in 1895, by which point neither Republicanism nor the Readjusters were a force to be reckoned with in Virginia politics, where the Lost Cause and Jim Crow had taken over. With the paywall, this might be what the article is about… honestly can’t tell. If so, well, here is a small summary for anyone else stymied by the pay all, and if not, a nice additional bit of history. As I said, it is something I ponder with some frequency… if the Readjusters hadn’t been kicked out by the white supremacists, and managed to hold power and continue to build upon the promises of real, meaningful racial equality that the movement heralded, just how different things would have developed, not just in Virginia, but the South broadly if they could have stood as a beacon for what was possible. But alas, we’ll never know.


That fact that they called all that “Redemption” irks me. It underlines how arrogant those white former slave-owners were.