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It tells us that we had a moment in our history when our politics broke down, our society broke down, our police power broke down; the government wasn't functioning sufficiently enough to protect one group of citizens from another who simply engaged in wanton vigilante violence of the worst kind. We don't like to face that.
We don't even want to know about it.
History of the Southern United States
We like to believe we are a society of security and progress and improvement. Reconstruction makes us face an era when we were something else. It was directed at black people. It was directed even at people who were not ostensibly political In the South, any association with the Republican Party became a mark of social pariah-ness, to such a degree that people were terrified, because you had horrendous acts of violence against these Southern white Republicans: people being shot and lynched, and people having their homes burned They were living in counties where they were seriously outnumbered, at the polls and in their neighborhoods, by African Americans But, she says, she has enough confidence in the loyalty of the people who work for her that she really believes that if there was an insurrection, someone would tip her off and she would be able to get out of the way before she came to any harm.
The observation is at best ill-informed but it is persistently rendered, and we should admit that there is reason for it. The Border region of the South has an anomalous history, at once deeply embedded in all things Southern and at the same time connected through experience and networks into other regions. The Border South was conceived as a region and a concept before the Civil War, rising to national attention in the geopolitics of the sectional crisis.
In the eighteenth century the South's borders were not a subject of either concern or observation, and identities were shaped more around states than regions. But in the nineteenth century, as the nation grew and expanded westward and as slavery began to mark the Southern states off from the rest of the Union, the idea of a border began to take shape.
Historians, writers, and observers have tried to define the Border South and its relationship to the rest of the South. Historian William Freehling, for example, considers the border the "quasi South," "a world between," and sees Richmond as "less southern" than Charleston. The true South, it seems, can only be found in the plantation black belt in the Lower South where slavery dominated, secession sentiment boiled, and the humid, jungle-like climate welcomed the "slave drain" from Virginia in the s. The idea that the Border South was not Southern, as tempting as it might be, conveniently sets aside much of what we know about the region in order to give clarity to the sectional split not does it adequately represent the complexity of life on the border.
The idea of a border depends in large measure on a "closed" South, one sealed by a definitive geography or polity. Along the border we quickly discover that the South was not closed but permeable, not sealed airtight but punctured with openings. The region included Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, in the east and stretched west along the Ohio River, gathering in Kentucky, and then after the Compromise , Missouri, and wrapped south and west to include Arkansas.
In the South, Civil War Has Not Been Forgotten - The New York Times
By the s as sectional identities took shape these states increasingly were understood and understood themselves as on the border. They contained various sub regions and economies, but all allowed and, indeed, promoted slavery. Virginia, for example, in stood at the top of the list in the South in its commitment to slavery. It was the largest slaveholding state in the country with the most slaveholders and the most blacks living within it.
Along the border, though, Virginia was not alone in its staggering investment in slavery on the eve of the war. Kentucky held more enslaved people , than Texas, Florida, and Arkansas, and the state contained more slaveholders than any other Southern state except Georgia and Virginia. The single largest slaveholding county in Kentucky, it turns out, stood right on the border on the Ohio River: Jefferson County with over 10, enslaved persons.
The Border, however, was also home to the largest numbers of free black Americans in the South.
White Southern Responses to Black Emancipation
Over 55, blacks in Virginia were free in , over 80, in Maryland, including over 25, in the city of Baltimore. Most free blacks in the South lived in small towns and urban centers. Some accumulated property, a few amassed small fortunes. For these men and women daily movements and exchanges were carefully considered, a mistake could cost them their freedom.
Whether marked with the natural features of the Ohio River or the arbitrary survey of the Mason Dixon Line , the border delineated slavery from freedom, and many African Americans living in slavery understood their proximity to it. The Underground Railroad operated through the border region, moving escaped slaves across Maryland and western Virginia into Pennsylvania and Ohio. The stunning insurrection led by Nat Turner in put the border region's white population on high alert and led to lengthy debate in Virginia's legislature over slavery.
It may have been responsible in large part for the white South's fixation on the Border region, since it called forth for them the dangers of slavery's close quarters with freedom. A Southerner, Johnson favored readmitting the Southern states as quickly as possible into the Union.
He appointed military governors who held complete power in the former Confederate states until new civilian governments could be organized. Little thought had been given to the needs of the newly emancipated slaves. It furnished food and medical aid to the former slaves. It also established schools for the freedmen. By , a quarter million black children and adults attended more than 4, of these schools in the South. It tried to make sure that the former slaves received fair wages and freely chose their employers. The bureau created special courts to settle disputes between black workers and their white employers.
It could also intervene in other cases that threatened the rights of freedmen. They sought to restore self-rule. During the summer and fall of , most of the old Confederate states held constitutional conventions. Not surprisingly, none of the state conventions considered extending the right to vote to the freedmen. By the end of the year, most of the South had held elections under the new state constitutions.
Often, ex-Confederate leaders won elections for state government offices and for U. The newly formed state legislatures quickly authorized many needed public projects and the taxes to pay for them. Among these projects was the creation, for the first time in the South, of free public education. But the public schools excluded black children. The state legislatures also began to pass laws limiting the freedom of the former slaves.
These laws mirrored those of colonial times, which placed severe restrictions on both slaves and emancipated blacks. Neither of these groups could vote, serve on juries, travel freely, or work in occupations of their choice. Even their marriages were outside the law. The white legislators saw little reason not to continue the tradition of unequal treatment of black persons. White Southerners also feared that if freedmen did not work for white landowners, the agricultural economy of the South would collapse.
Although the federal government had confiscated some Confederate lands and given them to freed slaves, it never planned to do this on a massive scale. Nonetheless, expecting their own plots of land, blacks in large numbers refused to sign work contracts with white landowners for the new year. At the same time, Southern whites passed around their own rumor that blacks would rise in rebellion when the free land failed to appear on Christmas Day.
All these economic worries, prejudices, and fears helped produce the first Black Codes of These codes consisted of special laws that applied only to black persons.
The first Black Code, enacted by Mississippi, proved harsh and vindictive. Its major features included the following:. The Southern Black Codes defined the rights of freedmen. They mainly restricted their rights. But the codes did grant black persons a few more civil rights than they possessed before the Civil War. The contract had to be witnessed and then approved by a judge. Other provisions of the code listed the rights and obligations of the servant and master.