Contributing to a NYT Room for Debate forum on Reconstruction

This spring The New York Times’s editor for the Room for Debate contacted me about writing a comment in response to the question: How Should Americans Remember the Post-Civil War Period? I wrote that we should account for the racial atrocities of the white terror groups.

Describing the violence, I wrote:

For my research, I'm interested in African Americans' experiences of and responses to racial violence.

The instigators of this violence were white Southern Democrats who were determined to subvert Republican policymakers’ goals for empowering African-Americans. Rather than regain political control through legitimate means, conservatives resorted to violence and terror to restore as much of the antebellum system as possible.

The violence was pervasive, including both individual whites attacking individual blacks and the collective violence of gangs and organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, who waged strikes where they held black families captive and subjected them to physical and psychological torture. In places like Memphis and Colfax, La., conservatives rioted against black progress and massacred black people. Rape and murder were key features of individual and collective violence.

African-Americans fought back but were outnumbered and outgunned. By 1877, whites had killed thousands of black men, women and children and maimed countless others. They had also destroyed a legion of recently established black schools, churches and businesses.

Most families subjected to white terror strikes suffered extensive physical and psychological wounds. Many fled their communities to avoid being attacked again, losing their homes and property. This violence destabilized African-American families and erased wealth accrued after slavery.

Unbeknownst to me, the forum ended up including what one tweeter called “all-stars” of Reconstruction history. Eric Foner. Thavolia Gymph. Kate Masur. Greg Downs. I’ll keep it 💯 and acknowledge that being included and having the opportunity to share some of my research with a very broad audience (instead of elevating someone else’s) was epic!


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