This Week in Reconstruction, September 8-15, 1866

The first two weeks of September 1866 was a politically and socially volatile time. It was in the midst of a campaign that would decide not only what political party would have control of Congress, but who would effectively control Reconstruction policy. Much was on the line. Southern whites were fighting to maintain their already fractured control. Freedmen were fighting to make emancipation about more than just slavery, but also equality. It would be too easy to say the differences stopped there. Poor whites from both the north and the south were fighting against an influx of skilled black workers, women were fighting to not be left behind in this midst of suffrage debates. The high stakes atmosphere, the ease with which people could be split into competing groups, meant all sides were eager to paint the other as villainous. Almost all of the Conservative news articles talking about race relations, riots, or even petty crime blamed the tension of Radical policies and propaganda, occasionally lodging personal attacks against other newspapers. Debates about how to deal with the changing political landscape and the inevitable reality of black suffrage flooded the newspaper. Some of the earliest suggestions of Jim Crow Era tactics to lower black voting rights through fear and coercion were published. Obvious race bating between black southerners and poor whites marked every column of the newspaper. It was a small part in a thinly veiled but wildly successful attempt to make race more divisive than class. Fear is the common thread, often manipulated for political gain by convincing people that only one group, one identity, can win.

Contributed By

Nat Berry