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The Compromise of 1877

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

In the history of the United States, Blacks have been consistently compromised whenever it was advantageous to whites for political power.   Two examples of this were the Three-Fifths Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. 

 In the Three-Fifths Compromise, white slave owners were allowed to count their black slaves three-fifths of a human being for taxation and representation in Congress. This satisfied Southern slaveholders desire to gain more seats in Congress while keeping them from becoming too powerful from gaining whole votes for their slaves.    In either scenario, Blacks were used as pawns in the political process. 

The goal of the Compromise of 1850 was to deal with the issue of slavery in  The Compromise of 1850 included the Fugitive Slave Act, which required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves.  It also meant that slaves, who fled above the Mason-Dixon line to find freedom, were no longer safe from capture and re-enslavement. The Fugitive Slave Act was also detrimental to Blacks because it also denied captured runaway slaves a right to a jury trial.  This also put free blacks in jeopardy because a person could be arrested without a warrant and turned over to a claimant without any need for further proof other than the claimant’s sworn testimony. (A Pictorial History of African Americans by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer, New York: Crown Publishers, Ltd., 1995, pg. 44)

These two compromises were detrimental to blacks and their cause of freedom, but perhaps the greatest sting of compromise occurred in the Compromise of 1877.  Rutherford B. Hayes- Republican presidential candidate and Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Presidential candidate in 1876 election Tilden won the popular vote, and had 184 of the 185 electoral votes necessary to win. Three states, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida (all Republican controlled states) had disputed votes. These three disputed states held 20 electoral votes, which would decide the Presidency. The dispute was because Republicans argued that the Democrats used physical intimidation and bribery to discourage African Americans from voting.

Democrats wanted to put an end to Reconstruction in the South and saw this as a great opportunity to achieve that goal.  Had they won the Presidency, there was still no guarantee that they would have received enough support in the Republican controlled Congress to end Reconstruction.  Therefore, the Democrats used the situation to their advantage to put an end to Reconstruction.  The Republicans agreed to a compromise of removing the troops from the South in exchange for the presidency. The compromise also stipulated that legislation be enacted to facilitate economic development in the South.

The Republicans were willing to sacrifice Blacks.  Northern states grew tired of the Reconstruction effort and began focusing its attention on the Gilded Age and the Depression of 1873. The Hayes/Tilden turmoil had some Democrats threatening another Civil War.  The Republicans appeared ready to bring closure to the situation and move forward, at the expense of blacks.  Hayes was naïve to think that “the best whites” of the South would honor the Thirteenth, Fourteen, and Fifteenth Amendments in regards to black rights. (The Racial Attitudes of American Presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt by George Sinkler New York: Anchor Books, 1972, pg. 217)

In the end, Hayes became President, federal troops were removed from the South, and blacks were subjected to harsh Jim Crow laws that would strip them of their most basic rights. The words “Liberty and justice for all” did not apply to the millions of Southern blacks that face the end of Reconstruction under Southern white rule.

Tulsa’s Black Wall Street: A Dream Deferred

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1908. The Greenwood section of town is a thriving African-American community. Due to Jim Crow Laws, which legally allowed segregation, blacks were forced to have their own communities and businesses. This forced blacks to spend their money within their own community. This strengthened the town’s economy as black businesses flourished. Booker T. Washington called the area “The Negroes’ Wall Street”, but was also known as “Little Africa”. It was home to over 15,000 African-Americans.

The Greenwood community was a 35 block radius filled with restaurants, theatres, churches, hotels, grocery stores, schools, libraries, newspapers, law offices, a hospital, bank, and post office all owned and operated by African-Americans. The success of many blacks within the community angered many poor whites in neighboring towns. In December of 1920, Tulsa had bank deposits totaling $65,449,985.90. This was accomplished by blacks during a time when most white people believed that blacks were incapable of self sufficiency. However, in the one night, it all ended.

On May 31, a black teenager named Dick Rowland was arrested for the alleged assault of Sarah Page, a white elevator operator. Rowland accidentally bumped into Page in an elevator she was operating when the elevator jerked. Page reported screamed in pain, and Rowland, frightened by the situation got off the elevator and ran away. Rowland was later arrested and taken to the town courthouse. A white news reporter, Richard Lloyd Jones, deliberately lied and accused Rowland of attempted rape. This incited whites into a major uproar about the incident. A white mob assembled intent on going to the jail to get Rowland and drag him out. When local blacks, including black World War I veterans from Greenwood, heard of the plot to lynch Rowland, they went down to the jail to protect Rowland. More than 300 blacks armed with revolvers, rifles and shotguns gathered outside the courthouse. As the two groups faced off with each other, shots rang out, starting what would become the worst race riot in American history.

In less than 12 hours, the riot claimed the lives of over three hundred black residents of Greenwood and fifty white men, destroyed more than 1200 homes and left up to ten thousand people homeless. While it was never officially confirmed, there were reports that Greenwood was bombed from the air by airplane. If true, it would make this the first American city intentionally bombed from the air. (Black Lies, White Lies: The Truth According to Tony Brown by Tony Brown, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, pg. 270)

The crimes committed against the black people of Greenwood were callous. The burned property was valued between $1.5 and $1.8 million, which would be more than $14 million today. No white person was ever convicted of crimes committed in the riot.
(Riot and Remembrance by James S. Hirsch, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002, pg. 6) In the end, over 6000 Greenwood residents were held in detention camps.

In February 2000, The Tulsa 1921 Race Riot Commission recommended the Oklahoma Legislature pay reparations to 80 survivors for $33 million, but the Legislature rejected the recommendation, and the survivors never received compensation. (Race, Law and Public Policy by Robert Johnson and Robert Johnson Jr. J.D., Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1998, pg. 291)