Dealing with Diversity in America from Reconstruction through the 1920s
The Civil War is one of the most notable events in the American history, which altered the economic, social, and political landscape of the country. After the devastating war, the country embarked on a long journey of looking after the welfare of the freedmen. Reconstruction was a turbulent era surrounded by innumerable controversies as the country struggled to implement the unprecedented interracial democracy. The country also experienced an increasing diversity due to the influx of immigrants from Asia and Europe in the following decades. The federal government was responsible for protecting the citizens’ rights and to ensure the economic and racial justice. However, the federal government failed to protect the freedmen from racial prejudices as diversity ballooned. Political policies in the aftermath of war were inferior and therefore, failed to promote diversity.
After Congress rejected President Andrew’s Reconstruction plan, it enacted laws and constitutional amendments that gave the federal government the power to enforce the policies of equal rights and granted the Black southerners the right to vote. While these policies aimed to promote and embrace diversity, this was not the case as the freedmen continued to experience racial disparities. In 1866, for instance, the report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction released a testimony of a Black man revealing how the conditions were still unfavorable for his people (The Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 1866). The respondent, from Hampton, Virginia, explained how colored people in the area were facing hostility from the rebels. In fact, he had witnessed one of the colored Union soldiers being ruthlessly beaten by a group of soldiers he believed did not belong to the United States Soldiers. The respondent also stated that the rebels were not willing to offer the freedmen fair wages (The Joint Committee on Reconstruction, 1866). The rebels could not pay more than eight dollars yet the work done was more. Furthermore, the Black people had families to support and children to take to school, therefore, eight dollars or less was not sufficient for their needs. Blacks, both adults and children, had a strong desire for education. Their meager salaries, however, were barriers to their pursuit for education.
Klan violence was another racial attack that the Black community experienced in the aftermath of enslavement. The Ku Klux Klan emerged in 1868 and remained at a substantial level until the election of 1872 (Parsons, 2011). The klansmen, whose aim was to victimize and suppress the newly freed slaves, physically attacked numerous freedmen as well as White Republicans. They also threatened Republicans including officeholders and schoolteachers among other representatives of the North (Parsons, 2011). This group operated freely and announced its purpose publicly. State militias or other armed agents of U.S. regularly engaged them, sometimes even killing them in their Klan costumes. While there was a trail of evidence on the existence of this group, the issue about its nature was never resolved since the investigations were handled with high skepticism (Parsons, 2011). Between 1870 and 1872, the federal government injected massive resources into the cause of investigating the Klan violence. The Justice Department, under the control of U.S. Marshals, was formed in 1870 and collaborated with the Secret Service to not only investigate the Klan’s operations but to also protect voting rights. Newspapers including the New York Times and Tribune broadly covered news on the operations of this militia group. Despite all the trails of evidence, however, the issue on the Klan’s existence and nature was never fully resolved. Blacks and Republicans continued to suffer the group’s wrath.
Segregation on public transport is another form of racial discrimination that befell Blacks after attaining freedom. The 1890 Act of the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana provided separate railways coaches for the Whites and Blacks (Bancroft, 1896). The statute required all railway companies to have separate carriers for the two races or partition the passenger coaches to ensure separate accommodations. The law required the officers of passenger trains to assign each passenger his/her rightful coach and that any passenger who violated the rule was to be fined twenty-five dollars or spend 20 days in prison (Bancroft, 1896). In the third section, the statute also subjected the officers, conductors, and directors to the same policy. Diversity was clearly still a salient problem during this time. While one would argue that the Blacks had been granted the right to vote, their lives were still in danger due to violence and other forms of discrimination that targeted them.
The policies enacted to promote diversity in the decades after the Civil War were ineffective. Congress made constitutional amendments that granted the federal government the power to implement policies of equal rights including the right to vote for the newly freed slaves. The Secret Service and the Justice Department worked to protect the citizens’ rights but the Black community continued to experience racial prejudice in forms of violence from groups like Ku Klux Klan, low pay from rebels, and segregation on public transport. These manifested the failure of the political policies to promote diversity. Today, however, institutions including corporate organizations are keen to promote equal rights for employees from all walks of life since fair treatment is a requirement by the state.
Bancroft, D. (1896). Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896. United States Reports, 163, 537-563. New York: Banks & Brothers, Law Publishers. Retrieved from http://college.cengage.com/history/wadsworth_9781133309888/unprotected/ps/plessy_ferguson_1896.htm
Parsons, E.F. (2011, Feb). Klan skepticism and denial in Reconstruction-era public discourse. The Journal of Southern History, 77(1), 53-90. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/27919387.pdf?casa_token=9smSq3tXuj4AAAAA:4rZCGRB-73p0qaVtz0HcFgpQSq7fZ_i0p_U0VrmcTr0vdFWmBacEpzXsJ02qJviUhPgR_PGTQeHT2Br94Qg_rzxRnjI4iCMu929d9bYWqBWmLGIxg4vjPg
The Joint Committee on Reconstruction. (1866). Black testimony on the aftermath of enslavement. Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, II, 55-56. Retrieved from http://college.cengage.com/history/wadsworth_9781133309888/unprotected/ps/black_testimony.htm