HomePoliticsPraising the Jim Crow era? That's a red flag

Praising the Jim Crow era? That’s a red flag

Jim Crow wasn’t the problem.

Jim Crow was supposed to be the solution.

The problem was that Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote in 1876. To get over the hurdle — there was a filibuster challenging the results — Hayes agreed to remove federal troops from former Confederate states.

In short, the Reconstruction Era did not end because Black Americans achieved equality. It was ended because Hayes wanted to become president.

Despite being a former Union soldier, he withdrew protection and subjected black people to the whims of the South’s white supremacists, who were still angry over the loss of the Civil War.

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They were not allowed to reintroduce slavery. So that’s where the ‘solution’ came into play. A series of segregationist laws, known as Jim Crow after a minstrel show character, were white Southerners’ best attempt to restore their former way of life. When ‘everyone knew their place’.

This arrangement worked for Rutherford B. Hayes. Not for black southerners or for the country as a whole.

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Fast forward a century and a half. The laws are long dead, and their damage still haunts us. If we can agree on anything as a nation, it would certainly be that we are better off without slavery or bondage.

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So anyone who feels the need to downplay Jim Crow in order to gain acceptance from the crowd should probably reevaluate who they are trying to win over.

Last week, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a black Republican who is running to become Donald Trump’s vice president, told voters: “You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together.” Referring to the agency that became the Department of Health and Human Services, he continued: “It was the Democratic policies under HEW, under the welfare state, that then helped destroy the black family.”

He’s trying to sell Trumpists the idea that black people were better off when more than half of us were living under the thumb of the KKK and in poverty.

It’s bad enough that Donalds wants power so badly that he’s willing to romanticize legislated black oppression. But what are his chances of actually working his way up? His run for the House of Representatives was so short that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t have enough time to complain about him.

Apparently undeterred, Donalds is now trying to become Trump’s choice for vice president by looking for the silver lining of Jim Crow. Those racist laws had no silver lining. Black families suffered. Whenever black communities began to prosper too much, white supremacists were able to murder residents and burn down businesses without being held accountable – as happened in Tulsa, Wilmington, Atlanta…

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In 1919, a union made up of black sharecroppers had been formed to negotiate better working conditions and wages. Their Arkansas community was greeted by a racist mob of hundreds, killing more than 200 black people, including children. The mob kidnapped and tortured twelve men, forcing them to falsely confess to insurrection, when in fact all they were pursuing was the American dream.

A case involving six of them (Moore vs. Dempsey) eventually reached the Supreme Court, which ruled in 1923 that they had been denied a fair trial because a mob dominated their trial. The governor of Arkansas commuted their death sentences to prison terms, and in 1925 they were granted parole.

They had committed no crime, but spent six years in prison. More than 200 other members of their community committed no crime, but were executed by a mob.

When contemporary black conservatives talk about the “Democratic Plantation,” I wonder if they have a name for the plantation they live on. Because I do it.

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To suggest that the black community was better off after federal troops left the South is to ignore lynchings. To make the argument that black people were better off during Jim Crow, one would have to overlook the fact that the authors of the laws had waged a war to prevent black people from becoming citizens.

In the decades after 1870, when the 15th Amendment gave black men the right to vote, the Hayes administration did nothing as Southern states passed laws aimed at suppressing their voices. There were literacy tests from which white southerners were exempt. White people didn’t have to pay poll taxes. Laws that restrict where black people can stand in public.

Even after the 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote in 1920, Jim Crow laws prevented many black women from doing so.

So when someone like Donalds tries to tell you that black people had it better during the Jim Crow days, remember this: those laws were written to keep us in our place.


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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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