CHARLES JERMY: Good evening and welcome to the third of the summer series. If you came in those doors and there's an emergency, you can exit there, and also here and here. And we don't expect anything, though.
We're grateful for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for the use of this hall. It was a donation that's greatly appreciated. My name is Charles Jermy and I'm the associate dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.
Tonight's speaker, Douglas K. Egerton, is a professor of history at Le Moyne College. During the spring semester, he was the Merrill family visiting professor of history at Cornell.
Doug's paternal grandmother was born in 1885 in Tennessee to a former Confederate officer and slaveholder and his second, much younger, wife. When the television series Roots was shown, Doug's normally soft-spoken grandmother-- that's his characterization-- became furious about the way in which the old South was portrayed.
His grandmother assured Doug-- and I'm quoting him now-- that they-- meaning the planter class-- were always kind to our people, an inadvertent admission that African-American slaves were indeed human property. He recalls that as the occasion on which he decided to teach and write about race relations in the early American South.
Doug received a bachelor's degree from Arizona State University and an MA and the Ph.D. Degrees from Georgetown. During his studies, not surprisingly, he came to realize that the South was far more complex and complicated than he had imagined. Doug is the author of seven books that focus on the intersections between race and politics in early America.
These include most recently The Wars of Reconstruction-- The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era-- and those are on sale in the lobby-- Years of Meteors-- Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War; Death or Liberty-- African Americans and Revolutionary America. And his first book, Charles Fenton Mercer and the Trial of National Conservatism, examined the career of the founder of the American Colonization Society, a group of conservative white anti-slavery politicians who wanted to send freed slaves to Liberia.
His other two books, Gabriel's Rebellion and He Shall Go Out Free-- The Lives of Denmark Vesey-- and actually there are three books. Three, Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries explores slave rebelliousness.
Doug has also written many essays and reviews regarding race in early America and he's appeared in PBS television series. During the 2011-12 academic year, he held the Mary Ball Washington chair at the University College Dublin, awarded by the United States Department's Fulbright Program. Doug, the entire country requires reclamation-- Reconstruction in the North.
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Well, thank you for that kind introduction. It's great to be back here at Cornell. I apologize in advance. My voice-- every time the weather changes, my voice goes a bit haywire. So got a nice microphone.
And I was very flattered to be asked to be this spring's Merrill family visiting professor here at Cornell. I confess I live in Syracuse, and so I grew very tired of the commute almost immediately. But the students were fantastic.
And they were smart. And they were dedicated. And they read every page that I assigned them. And they had opinions and ideas. And it was just fabulous.
I was asked by the department to teach a class on the Civil War. And of course, that made sense, because last spring obviously was the sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary, of the end of the Civil War. It came right about the midterm, that was the end of the war. So my students were studying for the midterm as Robert Lee was getting ready to surrender.
What's interesting, though, is how many Americans today assume that when Lee surrenders, everything is over. And the war is over, and the fighting is over. And the struggle is over.
You see that, for example, the New York Times had a wonderful blog called the "Disunion" blog. And so for four years, they had a piece every day of what happened 150 years ago from that day. But they stopped in April, when Lee surrendered, as if there was no other stories to be told after April 10, 1865.
I suppose for many white soldiers across the North, that was true. They'd fought the good fight. They wished to come back home. The Civil War, as with all American conflicts that last for a very long time, a lot of men feel like they have done their job, and they wish to return home to their lives, and their families, and their businesses.
And of course, you see that in the career of Ezra Cornell. When the war ended, he was a Republican serving in the state Senate. His party was looking ahead, trying to rebuild the country in the wake of the Civil War.
1861 had seen the Morrill Tariff passed by Congress. The Morrill Tariff is regarded by most historians as the first industrial tariff. And that same young congressman-- Congressman Justin Morrill-- tried the following year, 1862, and passed the Land Grant College Act.
It was actually the second time he'd tried that he passed it. Got Congress to approve it in 1859. It was vetoed by conservative Democratic President James Buchanan-- one of his many sins. So Morrill got it signed again by Congress, and Lincoln happily signed it into law in July 2, 1862. So thanks to that act, thanks to Republicans, and thanks to Ezra Cornell, when the war ended, young men from upstate New York had a new school to come back to.
You see that phenomenon, the idea that the war is over, life can resume. And of course World War II-- my father was in World War II. 1945 ended a very long, tough struggle. And for obvious reasons, young men who'd fought in that war believed they'd done their duty and could just simply go back home.
My father's plan was to return to his newspaper job in Phoenix, Arizona, maybe marry a secretary. And he did. And it turned out that secretary had a brother who was on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and had been hit by kamikazes. He survived, and he, too, just wanted to go back to that farm in Arizona and get back to his life.
But for black Americans in 1865, or I suppose 1945, the year was the end of one long struggle, but the beginning of a new one. Historians who write about Reconstruction invariably focus on the party battles inside Washington DC-- the three-way spat between the so-called moderate Republican, Abraham Lincoln; the so-called radical Republicans, like Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens; the conservative Democrats who don't like to use the term "Reconstruction." They prefer the term "restoration," implying that all is forgiven, and not a lot of social reform needs to take place.
But one thing that virtually all white politicians agreed on in 1865 is that Reconstruction was a policy designed for the defeated Confederacy. But black activists and black veterans knew better. They knew the entire country needed to be fixed. And so for them, Reconstruction was a national struggle to fix the entire nation, and not simply a policy designed to deal with the defeated South.
So who advanced this larger agenda? Who was talking about civil rights? Who understood that the struggle was still continuing after Robert Lee surrendered at Appomattox? Who was gazing into the future and envisioning a better day, a more egalitarian republic?
The sad news is for the most part it was not white politicians-- not even white Republicans. You wouldn't know that from popular culture. Here of course-- actually I love this movie, the one on the upper left, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. And here is with his black sidekick.
I loved it. I giggled all the way through it. I've got a friend teaches down the road at Colgate. And he said, Doug, it wasn't very accurate. I said, Pete, what part of "vampire" are we having a hard time understanding?
But then, of course, here's Spielberg's Lincoln, which is no vampires. It purports to be a straightforward story. Also excellent in so many ways. Daniel Day Lewis was wonderful.
But you'd think you're watching a movie made in the 1950s, because it's the old narrative-- one guy on his own. Abraham Lincoln frees the slaves. That scene when he's talking to the cabinet.
He's pounding the table-- now, now! The time is now! Because this one guy is going to do it while blacks sit passively up in the balcony of Congress, applaud at what white politicians are doing.
The Americans who understood that the entire nation required reformation were for the most part black. They were men and women who had fought the battles in the 1830s and '40s and '50s against slavery in the South. They understood that Jefferson Davis, as long as the Confederacy stood, was in fact the ultimate enemy.
But they also understood that at one point in our history, slavery had been a national institution. When the American Revolution hit, slavery was legal in all 13 English mainland colonies-- maybe not as important in some as in others-- but legal in all. And so black activists understood, because slavery had been a national institution, that racism was a national sin, and not simply something that existed below the Mason-Dixon line.
For decades, as these abolitionists had battled slavery in the South, they battled a wave of discriminatory laws and practices all across the North. Voting, of course, was always a state prerogative. And when the war broke out, only in New England could black men vote on the equal basis with white men. And not coincidentally, there weren't many black men in New England states. Massachusetts was 4% black.
So only in the states, ironically, that basically had no black voters, were blacks allowed to vote. New York, you probably know, ended slavery as late as 1827. So three decades before the American Civil War broke out, slavery still was a legal institution here in the Empire State.
But six years before, in 1821, New York had written a new state constitution. The old constitution did have property qualifications for all voters. So the guys writing the new document erased that for all white voters and for immigrants. But they imposed a higher one on black voters-- $250 in real property, basically a house or business in which you own.
So again, their logic was well, slavery still exists. And so therefore, having a colorblind franchise doesn't make much sense. And so therefore, we're going to have a property qualification we impose on blacks only.
So for Frederick Douglass, abolitionist living down the road here in Rochester, he of course was a well-to-do editor. He owned this house in Rochester. It's no longer there-- it burned years ago. He owned his business. He could vote.
But about 80% of black New Yorkers lacked the requisite property qualification to vote. And among those who couldn't vote was his oldest son, Sergeant Major Lewis Douglass, 23. Right after this picture was taken, was badly wounded fighting in South Carolina at Fort Wagner. As late as 1864, despite being a disabled veteran, Lewis Douglass couldn't vote because he worked for his father as a printer. Didn't own property.
And as bad as it was in New York, it was worse in the Midwest, because at least some blacks could vote in New York. And Frederick Douglass could. In Lincoln's Illinois, not a single black man could vote. In Thad Stevens' Pennsylvania, no blacks could vote. In Salmon Chase's Ohio, no blacks could vote.
In fact, in the Midwest, states for a number of years had passed discriminatory codes collectively noted as the black laws, or the black codes. Because of course, slaves becoming free in Chesapeake, and in Maryland, in Virginia, and Delaware wanted out. The question is, and go to where?
And so Ohio and Illinois actually passed laws banning freed slaves from legally entering their borders. Ohio imposed a $500 fine-- that was big money in the 19th century-- on any white businessman who knowingly did business with a free black entering their state. 1848, 12 years before Lincoln's election, Indiana passed a law that allowed for them to arrest any free black entering their state, and they would be deported to Liberia on the west coast of Africa-- a place that no black from Maryland had ever been to.
And the state also allocated money to send any black who wanted to leave Indiana and go to Liberia. So again, this isn't Mississippi we're talking about. These are the free states.
Not until two years, end of the war, did the Lincoln administration allow black men to fight for the country. The second the fighting began at Fort Sumter, black men in Boston, in Syracuse, in Chicago, they'd go down and they'd try to enlist. And they were turned away by the War Department. On Lincoln's orders, they're told, this is a war for union, not a war against slavery, that this is a white man's war.
So not until January 1, 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation turned this into a war against slavery were blacks allowed to sign up. And for the next year and a half, they were paid lower wages than were white soldiers. White privates were paid $13 a month. That's pretty bad pay, anyway.
Black privates received $10, but then had $3 deducted from their pay for their uniforms, and their shoes, and their food. So they ended up making about 55% of what white soldiers are making. As a result, the black soldiers in the first two northern units-- the 54th Massachusetts, and the 55th, and this is the roster, if you can see, from the 55th unit. It's a sister unit-- refused to serve unless they were being paid the same amount of money. So for about a year and a half, these soldiers refuse any salary when it arrives because they refused to take a lower salary.
Now, that's a very principled thing to do. But these are working-class guys. These are dockworkers. These are barbers in Syracuse. And their wives on the home front face real hardship because of the policies of the federal government.
If you've seen the film Glory, which is a wonderful film about the 54th, it gets everything wrong. Doesn't matter. I love it-- Denzel Washington, great music. They even attacked the fort from the wrong side in the movie. But you do see them turning down their pay, and they get that right.
What you don't find out in the movie, though, is again, the government is still deducting them $3 a month for clothing. So the black soldiers who fight and die at Fort Wagner in July of '63 then receive a bill from the War Department-- their widows-- asking for this money they owe the government. So when Lewis Douglass is so badly shot up at Fort Wagner he can't serve anymore, the War Department sends him a bill in Rochester saying you owe us $18 for clothing.
One of many things that Glory gets wrong, if you've seen it, it gives you the impression that people who are filling the 54th are all from the South. They're like the Denzel Washington character. They're former slaves.
In fact, these units of northern people, and there's so few black men in Massachusetts of the right military age, that Frederick Douglass recruits all across the North. 19 young men from my Syracuse go down, get on the train, go to Boston, serve in the 54th. Nobody, I'm sorry, from Ithaca-- but people from Binghamton go to Boston. New York becomes the second largest contingent of soldiers serving in the 54th.
Pennsylvania supplies the most; Ohio, the third. So again, men in Ohio who can't vote; who are being fined and harassed by the state of Ohio; who are told by the US Supreme Court in the Dred Scott decision they are not citizens of the country of their birth; who you know they are going to be paid less than white soldiers get on that train in Ohio. And they go to Boston. And they put their lives on the line and enroll in the 54th and 55th.
So because of all this, northern black activists decide by the summer of '63 that they're going to advance the struggle. There had of course been a black convention movement in 1840s, 1850s, an anti-slavery movement. They would meet at conventions and lobby against slavery.
But that had collapsed in 1857 with the Dred Scott decision. The black community was just so demoralized, they just gave up in 1857. And even Frederick Douglass-- who always counseled against immigration, refused to go to Liberia-- had so given up on the country that he decided to go check out conditions in Haiti. And he actually had a boat ticket. In March of '61, then word arrives there's fighting at Fort Sumter, and he cancels his trip.
So these guys decide the time has come to restart this black convention movement to lobby states and the US government for-- even before the war is over-- for a full-blown reconstruction movement. For these guys, the final straw is the conservative Democratic governor of New York, Horatio Seymour. He was a conservative Democrat who was silent in July of '63 during the draft riots in Manhattan, when Irish nationals and Irish Americans torched a black orphanage, hung black men from street posts.
When I taught Civil War in Dublin in the fall of 2011, I told a story about Irish nationals burning the orphanage. They're like oh, no, it wasn't us. And it's like, no. It really was. They burned the orphanage and lynched black men.
One of the young black men murdered by the mob during the draft riots in July of '63 had an uncle in the 54th. So the uncle is down on the Carolina coast risking his life while a white working-class mob is torching the orphanage and lynching black men in Manhattan. The governor had zero interest in raising a black regiment from New York, which is why so many New Yorkers got the train and went to Reedville and joined the 54th and 55th. Because they literally-- there was no black regiment for them in New York state.
So early in the summer of '63, an activist named Robert Purvis decide to restart this now somewhat dead black convention movement. This was Robert Purvis, born free in South Carolina. He was a man of colors. And the picture indicates he was very light-complected. But he was, by American standards, a man of color.
They met in Poughkeepsie for a two-day conference. And here we are on the anniversary of that conference. They met July 15 and July 16, 1863. And if you've seen Glory-- OK, hands up. Who's seen Glory? All right, most of you.
There's two battles. And the first one they're in is on James Island, which is down the coast from Charleston. That's July 16th. So while the dads are meeting here in Poughkeepsie, the sons are down on Carolina coast risking their lives at James Island.
In attendance was the old greats from the prewar convention activist movement-- the Reverend Henry Highland Garnet, the Reverend Benjamin Franklin Randolph. Randolph would become a US chaplain toward the end of the war. He'd go into politics in South Carolina. And like Reverend Pinckney three weeks ago, would combine that political clout with religious power. And like Reverend Pinckney, Randolph was assassinated getting on a train car in Columbia, South Carolina.
They issued what they called a manifesto of colored citizens. They said this was a war not just about Southern slavery. Its purpose said, quote, "It's a battle for the rights of self-government and true democracy." So what they were trying to do is transform the debate.
For most white Americans, this is a war for union. By 1863, thanks to the Emancipation Proclamation, it's a war against slavery. But it's a war against something-- slavery, the Confederacy, Robert Lee's army. What these men want to do is turn that around and make this a struggle for something-- a struggle for voting rights, democracy, integration, north, south, east, and west.
The last thing they do at this small Poughkeepsie conference is to issue a call for more conferences. It takes more than a year to get it off the ground. But in October 1964, there's a massive convention just up the road here in Syracuse, New York. 150 delegates from 17 states and Washington, DC, all descend on Syracuse. Better now, it's was kind of easy to get to Syracuse because of the rail lines and the Erie Canal. So some conventions often were held in Syracuse.
It's held in this building. It's the Wesleyan Methodist Church. If you go to Syracuse today, it's still there. It's a Mexican restaurant called The Mission. Again, I'm from Arizona. It's OK. It would fold in about two days.
But you can go there and feel the abolitionist vibe. So the building is more interesting than the food. And they billed this as a black men's rights convention, because they're making black demands.
And the bad news here is because these are guys who have sons and nephews in the Army, their explicit argument is young black men have earned the right to vote. That is, you earned the right to vote by picking up a gun-- which of course leaves out a lot of black women. So one 19-year-old woman, Edmonia Highgate from Syracuse-- she'd been down actually teaching freedmen in Virginia-- shows up, elbows her way in.
I mean, imagine what kind of courage that took. This is a conference of the old lions of the anti-slavery movement. And she's the age of most college freshmen. And she announces she's going to come in, and she's going to give a speech. And they let her.
So 149 men and one woman. Syracuse actually always attracted a lot of blacks getting out of the upper South, getting out of Virginia, Delaware. It was one of the few cities anywhere in the North that had integrated public schools by the 1840s.
Albany didn't. Buffalo didn't. Rochester didn't until after the war. But Syracuse did. So it was this magnet.
So one of the masterminds at this conference is Reverend Jermain Loguen. Loguen was a runaway slave from Tennessee. Got out, got to Syracuse, became an AME minister. Married very well. Hid slaves in his house coming through Syracuse, trying to get to Canada.
But it still was America. So Reverend Garnet was knocked down trying to get into the building by white toughs who knocked him down, stole his cane. And again, those in attendance came out of the old anti-slavery movement. So Loguen is there. His future in-law, Frederick Douglass, is there.
Douglass' wounded son, Lewis Douglass, was engaged to Amelia Loguen, the daughter. That's an interesting side story. In the 19th century, women had not many options. And of course, wife and mother is the big option. And so before Lewis goes and joins the army, he's engaged to Amelia Loguen.
Not to get into details, he's so shot up at Fort Wagner. He's hit with grapeshot in bad places, and he's not able to father children. And so Amelia has to decide what her life is going to be like. And she keeps him waiting for four years until 1869 and finally does marry him. They don't have any children.
But anyway, these are the future in-laws, Frederick Douglass and Jermain Loguen. William Wells Brown, the black historian, activist, author, novelist was there. Future Virginia Congressman John Mercer Langston-- here he is on the left-- was in attendance. One of the wealthiest black men in America, he is here-- sorry. Here he is.
He is here on the right, George T. Downing. Downing was a Rhode Island entrepreneur and restaurateur. At about this time he becomes the restaurateur for the House of Representatives in Washington, which gave him a classic opportunity to lobby white Republicans as he's serving them food. He makes just a ton of money as a restaurateur.
And there also is young Octavius Catto, I'll talk more about in a minute. Young Catto is a Philadelphia high-school teacher. He teaches math, Greek, Latin. He gets on the train, comes to Syracuse.
New to the campaign is the man in the middle, Reverend Richard "Daddy" Cain. Cain is a minister. He stays in the South when the war is over. He speaks at the dedication ceremony of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston-- the church that was shot up three weeks ago.
Catto almost single-handedly integrates Philadelphia street cars. And so I'll explain how that works in a minute.
They meet for three days, give speeches. But they issue a very precise list of demands. This, of course, is now '64. This is still before the 13th Amendment.
So their first demand, of course, is the emancipation of the slaves in the South. They want an amendment killing slavery, not just the Emancipation Proclamation. They want the 13th Amendment.
They demand equal pay for black soldiers. And again, these guys all have sons and nephews in the Army. They demand the right for black men to become commissioned officers.
At least initially, becoming sergeant major, Lewis Douglass' rank, was the highest you aspire to if you were a black soldier. So they want their sons to become captains and colonels. And again, it's a reminder of how many of these guys have families in the service.
As had the delegates at the smaller Poughkeepsie conference, they end with a call for more conferences. They don't want this to be the end of something. They want this to be the beginning of something.
And again, these guys are from 17 states and Washington, DC. So the plan is, everybody goes back home-- they go to Ohio; they go to Massachusetts; they go to Indiana-- and they start a convention there. They want to get this ball rolling all across the country.
So again, for these guys, this isn't the end of something. This is the beginning of a national crusade for democracy and equal rights. Within months, there was another conference down the canal at Albany, New York. But note the date-- Albany conference, April '65. The war is grinding to a halt. And at that point, the convention movement moved south.
In May 9, they met in the home of a black shoemaker in Richmond, Virginia. This is just weeks after the fall of Richmond, just weeks after the surrender of Robert Lee. And they meet in a convention in the capital of the Confederacy.
They meet in Norfolk. Henry Highland Garnet gets on a train, goes all the way down to Norfolk to speak at the convention there. These meet at the Catherine Street Baptist Church.
They also meet in Alexandria, Virginia, just across the river from Washington, DC. And they meet literally a few blocks down the road from what had been the largest slave-moving operation in the old South. If you've seen 12 Years a Slave-- if you haven't, you absolutely must, must see it.
But there's that one awful scene where he's being held in the slave pen, and the camera pans up, and up, and up. And you can see the nation's capital in the background. And it's that building. It's still there.
The large pen next to it is now a parking garage. But this building is now being-- in this picture-- occupied by black troops. It still does exist. It's a mini-museum.
So they meet in a convention just a couple blocks away from what had been the beacon's movers of African Americans. And as one delegate said, had we met here two months ago, they would have just strung us all up. So notice how fast this is all happening.
They meet across the river in Washington, DC. The list goes on and on. New Orleans had fallen to the US Navy way back in 1862, but the black community in New Orleans had long been fractured along lines to be blood pigmentation.
Free people of color or mixed race preferred to call themselves browns, making it very clear they were not black. A lot them were wealthy. A few of them owned slaves and didn't want much to do with their darker, newly-freed colleagues.
And so William Wells Brown gets on a train, goes all the way down; speaks at a convention in New Orleans, tells them to put their differences aside and get on the bandwagon, because the war is over. And the one thing that both the light-complected, wealthy browns and the newly-freed slaves have in common is that Louisiana whites don't like either one of them.
In August 1865, they meet in a convention in Nashville. 140 men, here they are. One of the speakers was a former Carolina slave turned soldier, a sergeant named Henry Maxwell. And again, this is not unlike my dad's generation, in which everybody running for office in 1946, 1947, had been in the military. And that's a selling point.
There's 1,510 identifiable people of color who hold state, local, national office in Reconstruction. And at least 130 are ex-military. These guys run for office, wearing their uniforms.
It's a selling point. They were courageous during the war. And they understand, again, the war is not over. It's just a different kind of struggle now that Robert Lee has put down the saber.
They meet in faraway Sacramento. The big issue there is segregated street cars in San Francisco, Sacramento. So again, for black Americans, this is a national crusade, and not simply something designed to control whites in Alabama.
They met in Harrisburg. They met in Cleveland. I was at a wedding in Raleigh in April, walking on the street. And there it is, AME church around the corner. And that was a convention in October of '65.
So basically, every town across the country-- north, south, east west-- has these conventions to push for this agenda and to argue to politicians that the war is not over. It's just changed form. And at the end of every convention, one person is deputized to get on that horse, get on that train, and go to the next town and speak at their convention. And if there's not one, get one going.
So in Cleveland, Jermain Loguen spoke. Octavius Catto spoke, as did that Richmond shoemaker, Robert Johnson. They always began-- they published most of their proceedings. So it's pretty easy to find, and to find out what they said.
At virtually every convention, they began with a speech praising the now-martyred, deceased president, Abraham Lincoln. But they're not so sure about Lincoln's party. They know that the Democrats are their enemies. But they're not really confident that Republicans are their friends.
In the wake of peace, 1866, there are anti-black rights in Memphis, Tennessee, in New Orleans. And so in response to that, Congress passes the first ever civil rights act. It's called the Civil Rights Act, 1866. And what doesn't it mention? Doesn't say a word about voting rights.
So these guys understand Republicans are politicians. They've got to sell this agenda to white voters back home. So these activists have to push very, very hard.
They do so, in part, by going to Washington I talk about this in my book. It's just a sad and disastrous meeting. A delegation goes down to meet with the new president, Andrew Johnson. They already suspect that Johnson's not going to be their friend. They have no idea how bad it's going to be.
And so Frederick Douglass goes down. Lewis Douglass goes down. I can't find out if he's wearing his uniform, but he goes down to meet with the president. George Downing, again, this very wealthy restaurateur, they go down.
Johnson has no idea who Frederick Douglass is. It'd be one thing, I guess, to expect him to read Douglass' narrative. By this point, Douglass had written two autobiographies.
But Johnson goes on this rant. And they're being so polite. They're lobbying for these issues. And at one point, Johnson says, Douglass, have you ever lived on a plantation? I guess he thinks Douglass is born and raised in Rochester.
Douglass says, yeah, in fact. In Maryland. And the president says, and you looked down at poor whites, didn't you? And Douglass is like, what?
And so they're very polite. And they make this argument that they've earned the right to vote. And at one point, the president says, well, it's a democratic right. It's up to the states. Douglass says, actually, two states have a black majority. What if those states decide not to allow whites to vote?
So Johnson just throws them all out. He turns to his secretary and says, I know that Douglass. He's like any other Negro-- he used the word "Negro"-- he said, he'd rather stick a knife in the back of a white man than not.
So this is the new president, Andrew Johnson. So they realized they're not going to get anywhere with Johnson. But these guys lobby Congress, and they make two kinds of arguments.
One is they make the moral argument. They say, by this point, 178,000 young men have served in America's armed forces. And of that figure, 178,000-- about another 20,000 in the Navy-- of that figure, 141,000 soldiers were born into slavery. And they're runaways. And they fight for their country.
So part of the argument Douglass makes when he's talking to a white politician is these guys have earned the right to vote. They bled. They fought. They've died. They've earned the right to vote.
They also understand they're talking to politicians. And so they also make the smart argument. They remind white politicians how the electoral college works.
For example, in 1860, when Lincoln, of course, won his first election, he received a record low in the popular vote. Record low all the way down to this morning, which is itself amazing, that America's greatest president was elected with a record low vote, 39.8% of the voters. Meaning 60.2% of voters, white men, in 1860 voted for somebody whose name is not Abraham Lincoln, someone to Lincoln's right.
Lincoln, of course, isn't even on the ballot in the lower South. He got 1,887 votes in Virginia, mostly western Virginia; 1,364 votes in Kentucky. And again, not even on the ballot in South Carolina. Not on the ballot in Mississippi.
And of course, guess what two states have a black majority. South Carolina is 61% black. So when Fred Douglass is talking to politicians, he says, do you want to win elections down the road?
Lincoln wins in '64 because the South isn't voting. They have their own country in '64. But they're going to be back in '68.
And every black man who can vote will be a Republican. And that means a lot of states where Lincoln has no votes, they'll either carry or they'll be in play. And that is the argument that works with politicians.
So in '68, the Republican Ulysses Grant lost New York. They ran Horatio Seymour, the conservative governor, New York. But he carried both North and South Carolina. He carried Florida and Alabama.
So what's the first thing Grant says in his inaugural address on March 14, '69? Let's make really quick work at the 15th amendment and enfranchise black men. Now, thanks to the Reconstruction Act, black men in the South could already vote.
So who gets the right to vote thanks to the 15th amendment? A black barber in Ithaca. A black carpenter in Chicago. A black dockworker along the Great Lakes in Illinois.
So when you think about Reconstruction, understand it doesn't end every place. If you are that young black veteran who comes back to Chicago, it never ends for you. You're still facing hostility, racism, bad schools. But thanks to the 15th amendment, you have the right to vote, as does your son and your yet unborn grandson. So for those young men in the North, Reconstruction just continues on.
Finally, one should emphasize the cost of this kind of reform. This kind of activism always excites the animosity of white reactionaries. So here he is back. This is young Octavius Catto. Again, he's the Philadelphia schoolteacher, teaching in an all-black school in Philadelphia, who comes up to Syracuse in October of '64 for this convention.
He goes back to Philadelphia. And like Rosa Parks, one day he's walking home from a long day of teaching. And it's cold. And he's tired. And he simply gets on a street car.
This is, of course, a horse-drawn street car. And the street cars are for whites. He's tired. He's got his nickel. And the driver tells him to get off, and he doesn't.
And it's late in the day. The driver doesn't need this kind of headache. So the driver simply unhooks the team of horses, takes the team back to the barn, leaves him sitting there in the middle of the street on the track in this street car-- assuming he'll come back in the morning and the kid will be gone.
Comes back the next morning. Catto's still there, holding his nickel. And the entire car's been filled with black Philadelphians. And they've all got their nickel, and they want their ride. So single-handedly, this young teacher integrates street cars in Philadelphia.
But here's the story on the right. He's assassinated, gunned down on Election Day 1871. Broad daylight, people are voting. He's murdered by a white Democratic activist in front of a giant throng of people. And the all-white jury lets the assassin go.
As he's lying on the sidewalk bleeding and dying, the last thing he sees is an integrated street car pulling up next to him and stopping to look down. And there he is, lying in the street, bleeding. So young Catto, he wins his struggle. But he pays for that with his life.
The former slave turned South Carolina congressman, Robert Smalls-- he's a war hero in the South for the Union-- is keeping numbers. He gives a speech in the 1880s. And Robert Smalls says, 53,000-- 53,000-- black activists like Catto have been systematically eliminated.
I was down at Gettysburg a few weeks ago for the big 4th of July event. The casualties, killed and wounded, at Gettysburg are 51,000. And that's [INAUDIBLE]. It's the largest land battle ever fought in the Western hemisphere. And all Americans should know that.
But Robert Smalls is keeping data. And 53,000 poll workers, activists, state assemblymen, teachers like Octavius Catto, are systematically eliminated and targeted for removal. You can stop democratic movements in their tracks, as those of us who can recall Tienanmen Square in our lifetime will remember. You kill enough young Dr. Kings when they're still young, and no one takes their place because people are fearful of doing so.
When a young poll worker is eliminated in Upcountry, South Carolina, it makes the local papers. It gets a bureau report in the Freedmen's Bureau. It doesn't make the national news. Catto's assassination does.
But you could eliminate people at the bottom, and no one wants to take their place. You can stop democratic movements. 53,000 people pay with their life for trying to live up to the promise Lincoln made at Gettysburg, that for four score and seven years, this country has talked about freedom, and liberty, and natural rights. And for four score and seven years, failed to live up to that promise.
Lincoln makes that promise in Gettysburg. And people like Octavius Catto want to fulfill it. And they pay for it with their life.
So to summarize this way-- and then I'll take questions, and disagreement, and discussion for as long as you might like-- black activists like Frederick Douglass, Octavius Catto, Jermain Loguen, they always had white allies-- good-intentioned, decent white allies. But their experiences were different. William Lloyd Garrison, the editor in Boston, might have hated slavery, might have dedicated his life to killing slavery. He might have understood even that racism was not a problem just in itself, but also in his Massachusetts.
But unlike Frederick Douglass, Garrison was never beaten on the streets of Manhattan, walking down Broadway, because he had a white lady on one arm. He was never beaten and thrown off a carriage like David Ruggles, the black activist, because he was black and he was riding on a white carriage. Many white abolitionists, including Garrison, were pacifists. They didn't vote. And so therefore, for them, voting wasn't all that important.
And for wounded veteran Sergeant Major Lewis Douglass, it was very important. And again, the year he comes home, after almost losing his life, he still can't vote in New York state in 1864.
So when we think back about the end of the war, the dawn of the peace, 1865, we are right to praise the victors, those who fought the good fight and simply think the job is done. They want to come home, marry, go back to the farm, go back to the business. We're right to applaud the Ezra Cornells, who create this magnificent school. We are right to applaud Ulysses Grant, so magnanimous in victory at Appomattox. We're certainly right to mourn the awful events of Good Friday at Ford's Theatre in the loss of Abraham Lincoln.
But we also need to remember and salute the men and women who understood that 1865 didn't mean everything was over, that in some ways it meant everything was just beginning. Frederick Douglass once said this was a conflict for national reclamation. It was a fight for the soul of America, and not just against slavery. And Douglass, and Lewis, and his son Charles, also a veteran, Octavius Catto, all understood the fight didn't end at Appomattox Court House-- that the fight was just beginning.
That was 45 minutes on the nose. So all right.
Thank you. So we have plenty of time for questions, discussion. I've got more ghastly stories I can regale you with. I should confess that this last book, the one that's for sale out there, is a very sad book. But I'm still paying off my youngest daughter's college loan, so--
SPEAKER 1: I have trouble imagining any successful Reconstruction. What would happen [INAUDIBLE] for a more [INAUDIBLE].
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Yeah.
SPEAKER 1: I just can't imagine that the--
DOUGLAS EGERTON: It's going to be tough regardless. That said, it certainly would have been much, much easier had Lincoln lived. And not just because Lincoln was the only man for the job; but in part because Andrew Johnson was the worst possible ever man for the job. He was just-- had anyone thought Lincoln was going to die, they would never have chosen Andrew Johnson. He was chosen for all kinds of symbolic intellectual reasons.
I came across something that really surprised me a lot in my research. And then I recently read another book by a guy named Summers about Reconstruction, that's just hot off the press, came across a lot of the same thing. In the stories coming out of the South in '65 from soldiers, politicians, bureau agents, saying, they're beaten, and they know they're beaten.
And of course, I mean, look at the pictures. Charleston is burnt. Richmond is burnt. Columbia is burnt. Every rail line in the South has been torn up. Every bridge has been burnt down.
They've taken an incredible licking. They lose 300,000, at least, young men in the South. And so a lot of people are writing to say, they've lost. They know it. And they will basically accept whatever terms we meet out.
No less than James Longstreet, who of course is Lee's right-hand man after the death of Stonewall Jackson, writes a series of editorials, mostly in New Orleans papers, but they're reprinted across the South, saying, we fought the good fight. We lost. They won. They get to make the rules.
Now, Longstreet's also an ex-Whig businessman. He's a friend of Grant's. But his view is we lost. And therefore, if we have any brains at all, we'll go back and just try to rebuild our lives, and rebuild our farms, and make some money.
And so I think what happens when Lincoln dies, Johnson makes it very clear to the white South that basically anything except the actual literal re-enslavement of four million black Americans is going to be OK. He makes it very clear in every speech, and the meeting with Douglass, he does not believe in black voting rights. He's very unhappy with the 14th Amendment. Presidents can't veto amendments, but he speaks against the 14th Amendment, which overturns Dred Scott. It makes blacks citizens of the country.
And so he empowers that small band of dedicated reactionaries, and silences the more white Southern moderates who don't like Republicans. They don't like civil rights. But they're beaten and they know it.
Mary Lincoln once said about Abe-- because Abe, he's not an abolitionist. He's anti-slavery, but takes a really good, long time to become the kind of guy that Douglass and Garrison want him to be. He basically gives his last speech, and then he dies.
But Mary says, once Abe digs those big heels in, there's no going back. Lincoln and Douglass meet three times. And one time, Douglass is complaining about the pay scale for black soldiers.
And Lincoln says, look, I've got white politicians in the North who don't want black soldiers or any pay for black soldiers. So cut me some slack. I'm doing the best I can.
And then Lincoln says to Douglass, but I promise you this. I never go back a step. Once I take that little step-- takes me a while to make it-- but I never, ever go back.
So where Lincoln was by the time he died, it's not where he was in '61 or '62. He's a much more progressive guy, and he's a real dedicated guy. He's a determined guy. So I think he would have been much more inclined to empower people like Longstreet, who fought, but they want to turn the page and move ahead. And so Johnson really gives the green light to these hardcore Southern reactionaries.
So I'm not suggesting had Lincoln lived, it would have been one big group hug. New York or Mississippi would not have been. But it's hard to imagine a worse president than Andrew Johnson.
Historians played this odd game, usually at convention bars-- the 10 greatest presidents, the 10 worst presidents. My Facebook friends were recently discussing what president you'd want to have your back in a bar fight. Andrew Jackson won that one.
And I'm convinced, actually, that Andrew Johnson is the worst president because he takes a bad situation and makes it much, much worse, and worse than it has to be. So I think had Lincoln lived, it wouldn't have been all flowers. But it would've been a whole lot better. Yes.
SPEAKER 2: Can you speak to the experience of the 26th regiment from Ithaca from the St. James AME Zion Church, which ended up in Charleston in April 1864.
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Yeah. And one of the things that-- in fact, shameless plug for the book I'm about to finish. I'm writing about 14 soldiers in the 54th, 55th, and 5th Calvary. And Charles Douglass, the baby in the family, is at all three as a clerk.
One of the things that I didn't like about the film Glory is that it gives you the impression that Battle of Wagner, it's all over. And of course, they just kept fighting on. And so the 54th and 55th and that USCT unit are in Charleston at the end of the war, and occupy Charleston throughout that summer.
And the 5th Calvary, the black Calvary, led by Charles Douglass and Charles Francis Adams, Jr., the grandson of John Quincy, occupy Richmond. And so they actually are the occupying force-- the 54th, 55th, and USCT would-- the US Colored Troops.
And I've got some just amazing stories about what's happening in Charleston that summer. And of course, Charleston was ground zero for Southern resistance. And here it is, occupied by black soldiers. So it's-- it's probably a calculated insult on the part of Washington, DC to have black soldiers occupying Richmond and Charleston, just to remind them that times have changed.
And in fact, there's a great story of a black Calvary man in the 5th Calvary in Richmond. And there's a white lady in the carriage and just starts yelling at him because he's standing there in the street, minding traffic, being a black man in a uniform, and holding a gun.
And he says, don't you understand times have changed? I'm a black man with a gun, and times have changed. And so yeah, there's really some amazing stories in these two towns during the dawn of Reconstruction. Yes, sir.
SPEAKER 3: So would you say a few words about the influence, if there was any, further [INAUDIBLE] in the decades following this period of time. One of the reasons I'm asking that question is I grew up in Seattle. And I saw the Civil War in history books.
But it wasn't until I came out here, where people have grandparents and great-grandparents, and all the [INAUDIBLE] re-enactments. In Seattle, it was just another thing in the history book as far as [INAUDIBLE]. So was there any influence further west in the country [INAUDIBLE]?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Yeah. And in fact, one of the sources I used a lot in writing this book on Reconstruction was the correspondence of Blanche Bruce. Blanche Bruce is one of the two black senators. And because there's so few black politicians who are that high up in power, they're getting correspondence from all over the country. People who are black, no matter where they are, regard Blanche Bruce as their senator.
And actually, he's getting a lot of correspondence from the far West, where people-- basically ex-soldiers who wandered out west, including the Pacific Northwest-- who say, land's good here; no one's trying to lynch us; and send people out this way. But as a reminder that life was complicated-- again, the 14th Amendment is the amendment that overturns Dred Scott. It announces that if you are born in the United States, or a naturalized citizen-- contrary to what Roger Taney said-- you are in fact a citizen of the United States.
California won't ratify. Not because of black immigrants, but because of Asian Americans. So there's always these odd little regional glitches.
And of course, the black activists in Sacramento and San Francisco, they're not actually from there. They're all from Boston and that kind of thing. And so they carried that struggle out.
And it is more the frontier. It's a bit more wide open. But you do have these odd-- California doesn't ratify the 14th Amendment for decades. Of course, once the requisite 3/4 does, it becomes operational.
But that's their complaint, yeah. It's not blacks; it's Asians. So life is complicated out west. Yes.
SPEAKER 4: I understand that this is a [INAUDIBLE].
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Yeah. Sir, you have to--
SPEAKER 4: I understand this is a really complicated question. But in your opinion, what was it that really killed Reconstruction?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Well, it's murder. I mean, it's the 53,000 young activists who are eliminated. And again, it doesn't end every place. So again, if you are Charles Douglass, and now you have the right to vote in Rochester, life is good.
I came across stories. It's not even always assassination. One of the stories I came across, there's no [INAUDIBLE]. There's no ballots in the 19th century. To vote you get a-- it's called a ticket list, kind of a big bookmark. You have to get it from a party functionary.
So on voting day, you go down to the polls over at the county courthouse. And there's a Republican functionary and a Democratic functionary. And they're handing out these big bookmarks. And they have all the names, Lincoln all the way down to mayor and dog catcher. And then you put it in an apple crate or a fishbowl, and they count the votes at the end of the day.
So I came across one story where a bunch of vigilantes go riding up to the house of a black poll worker in Upcountry, South Carolina. And he's got all the tickets. And they say, give us the tickets or we'll kill you, and kill your wife, and kill your father.
So the guy does the smart thing. He gives them the tickets. So literally there are no Republican ballots the next day in that county. They get zero votes.
So no one dies. It doesn't make the news. It makes a bureau report. Had that guy resisted, they would've killed him.
And the one thing that the white South learns from the Klan debacle-- because the Klan's crushed. Grant signs a bill called the Klan Act, 1871, that crushes the Klan. You don't need to get 50 guys in white robes and you ride around the countryside.
You get your cousin Billy Bob, and you wait outside the door of the local Octavius Catto in Alabama who's got the tickets. And you shoot him as he walks out the door in the morning, and you ride home. And no one knows about it.
And if you kill that guy, and he's low enough on the political totem pole, it's not going to make anything except for local news. And no one's going to want to take his place. So you stop people before they get up to the level of congressman.
Because if you kill some guy who's a poll worker, you're killing next year's assemblyman. The year after that, he's going to be in Congress. The year after that, he's going to be a US senator.
So you work from the bottom up. And you eliminate 53,000 of these young activists who are flying under the radar, and then you just kill Reconstruction. So that's really what ends it in the South, is systematic targeted assassinations.
And one of my big sources for the book was the Freedman's Bureau reports. And they're writing these endless reports saying, they killed Dave last week. He had the ballots. Or they killed his wife and threatened him. Unless we get some soldiers down here, we can't have a fair election.
And of course, what's also hindering that effort is the Indian wars in the American Midwest. Every time-- Little Bighorn is '76. So every time there's another big problem with the Lakota, that's when the soldiers get shipped out. And these guys are writing these bureau reports saying please don't send any more soldiers to the Midwest. We need them here in Alabama, but they're out there fighting the Lakota.
So that doesn't help much, either. But basically it's killed. Yes, sir.
SPEAKER 5: One of your reviewers on Amazon said of your book that they wished you had said more about the Compromise of 1877 and how Tilden was sold down the river, [INAUDIBLE] Reconstruction.
DOUGLAS EGERTON: It's completely unimportant. And I said that in the book. Not to be cute, but let me put it this way.
I mean, historians writing textbooks have to impose periodization on data. I mean, it's one of things historians do. If you're writing a textbook, you've got to have, this is where this begins. This is where this ends.
So 1877 has become this classic end of Reconstruction. And of course, the story is it's a disputed election between Hayes and Tilden. And the white South wants the Army gone. And so in exchange for the disputed electoral votes, Hayes agrees to remove the Army, and he does.
But I say this in the book. There are 2,800 soldiers left in the entire Confederacy by 1876. I bet there's more cops in Syracuse than there are soldiers the entire South in '77. So what the white South really wants is a symbolic gesture on the part of Hayes that he's walking away from the problem, that they're on their own.
But that's not many soldiers. Again, they're all in South Dakota fighting the Indians. And they're mostly stationed in urban areas. They're not up country where vigilantes operate. So it's a totally fraudulent notion that Reconstruction stops in '77.
And there's 22 blacks who serve in the US Congress. The last one, George Henry White, walks away in 1901. I think gerrymandering his district, North Carolina, he's going to lose. So blacks don't vanish from national politics after 1877.
John Mercer Langston-- his picture's up there-- is actually elected in the '80s. There's actually areas in the South where black local political involvement, on the local level, actually rises after '77. What the white South wants is to carry those states' electoral college. They don't care if there's black sheriffs in some small town.
So even Eric Foner, who wrote the last enormous magisterial book on Reconstruction back 30 years ago, said that he had to stop in '77 because it's part of a book series. And there's a book that starts in '77. So they said, Eric, you've got to stop here because this book starts there. So it's one of those fuzzy dates that really doesn't make much sense.
I confess I also read my postings at Amazon, and some of them are just crazy. One person said that they were disappointed it wasn't it more about the reconstruction of bridges in the South. And I'm like, who cares about that? There's probably a book there called Reconstruction of Bridges in the South, but I'm not going to write it.
SPEAKER 6: These 53,000 [INAUDIBLE] assassinations, how much were they centrally controlled? Was there a vast conspiracy?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: No.
SPEAKER 6: Or was this just an upwelling of racism?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: It's just all local. But I've always thought, well, two things. It's always interesting when Robert Smalls gives the speech, he doesn't say about 50,000. He's very precise. He says 53,000.
And again, like Blanche Bruce, he's getting constituent letters from all across the country, not just from his Beaufort district in South Carolina. So he's keeping tabs.
But again, you know that you don't have to have a giant organization, even during its peak. The Klan has never got a giant, vast, organized conspiracy. Bear in mind, North or South, during the war people go up and they sign up with their town. So all the guys from Ithaca go down in '61 after Fort Sumter and they all sign up.
So they're serving with their pals, and their cousins, the guy who was their manager at some kind of small local business. And so additionally, that's how the Klan is organized. The guy who'd been the colonel in the war becomes the head of the local unit. And all the guys who served in his company or regiment are then in the Klan.
But again, that's pretty easy to crush. And what the Klan Act passed by Congress and signed by Grant does, it allows the president to declare martial law-- which Grant does in nine counties in South Carolina-- and also really tough jail fines. So you find one guy wearing a white robe riding around the countryside, he knows everybody in his company, because they're the guys he served with during the war.
So you sentence him to 10,000 years in upstate New York federal prison, and then say, or you can start ratting out your pals. And so they do. So that kills the Klan.
But what that does is just then decentralize it and drive it underground. So it's not like there's some guy in Alabama telling people in Mississippi to go kill some local poll worker. They know who to go after. They're going after anybody who has [INAUDIBLE] R on their-- Republican-- on their badge.
So it's all very local. But Smalls is keeping data. And he's got numbers. Yes.
SPEAKER 7: Have you, or has anyone else, studied the public memory of a figure such as Octavius Catto, say, within the African-American community in the decades after Reconstruction?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Well, David Blight has a really great book called Reunion and-- I think Reunion and Reconstruction-- that mostly deals with memory. He doesn't mention Catto. Actually, the person who writes about Catto is W.E.B. Du Bois. One of the first pieces about Catto's funeral is this piece that Du Bois writes-- must be the 1890s or even the dawn of the 20th century-- in his collected writings.
But David Blight has a really great book on the memory of the war, North and South, a lost cause nonsense in the South, but also the way the North tries to remember the war in not always very accurate sorts of ways. And Blight writes beautifully. But if you want to find out about Catto, there actually is a fairly recent biography of Catto. But yeah, David Blight's book on memory is great.
Interestingly, this piece is actually written by Lewis Douglass after the war. For his sons, Douglass buys the National Era. They rename it the New National Era.
It's a black activist paper in Washington, DC. And so Lewis and Charles are editing the paper. So actually Lewis writes this piece about Catto's assassination. Yes.
SPEAKER 8: You mentioned this figure, 53,000 activists [INAUDIBLE] how many were killed. How accurate do people think that figure actually is? Because normally, the public figures are a gross underestimation of people who were actually killed. So is it possible that many thousands, or even 100,000 people, activists, were also killed? Or is that a pretty good estimate?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Oh, I think it's a very good estimate, but only up to that time, and that's 1888. And so that's not even the heyday of Jim Crow in the 1890s yet. Smalls lives until 1915, although he's out of Congress long before that. So that's the number he's got by the end of the 1880s.
And, of course, the 1890s ushers in a real reign of terror that people like Ida B. Wells write about, and lynching. And there's a lynching in downstate New York that Ida Wells writes about. So it's not just all in the South.
So one assumes the other number's actually even higher by the dawn of the 20th century. It's a ghastly number. It's just mind boggling. One last? Yes.
SPEAKER 9: Can you talk about what were the [INAUDIBLE] in your book subtitled America's Most Progressive Era. What were the successes?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: The success is education. When I was doing the book, and all these conventions again, they're all making demands. And thankfully they're publishing the proceedings.
They always ask, of course, for political rights. They invariably ask for land. And land is a success. The idea that everybody becomes a sharecropper is actually quite false.
The one thing that they always demand are decent schools for their children. In fact, Robert Smalls writes the state constitution in South Carolina, or helps to write it. He writes free public schools and integrated schools into the South Carolina state constitution. It finally obviously becomes segregated.
No Southern state has a taxpayer-supported system of free public education for even middle-class white kids before the war, in part because geography makes it tough in the South, in part because endemic poverty makes it tough in the South. But wealthy planters hire Yale kids to tutor their children. So they see no reason to finance public education for working-class farm kids.
And so that's one of the clear benefits that whites, as well as blacks, get in the South. And I've got some numbers in there that I stole from the educational journal, so I didn't crunch the numbers myself. But literacy, blacks and whites-- and a third of southern whites are illiterate, or functionally illiterate, when the war breaks out.
And illiteracy really plummets. It's still worse for blacks than it is for whites, even as late as 1900. But it never goes back to being what it was before. And it's always increasing. It's getting better all the time.
So I mean, there are some very clear advances. And again, I'm looking at North and South. And so street cars in DC, Philadelphia do become integrated, and San Francisco become integrated. So I mean, there are successes all across the country, but including in the South.
And a lot of blacks do become land holders-- not as many as we would like. But the idea that every single former slave becomes a sharecropper is also just not true. So there's some very good progressive moments. Yes.
SPEAKER 10: I just talked with a black man a couple months ago who said something to me that shocked me. And I just remembered it. He said that he didn't consider that the blacks were emancipated until the civil rights acts of 1960s. Would you--
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Well, I mean, the sad part of the story is that it's a reminder that history is not always a steady march from the bad old days to the good modern times. And so if Robert Smalls were here today, he would tell you that life in South Carolina was much, much better in 1875 than it was in 1855, when he was still a slave in Beaufort.
In the 1870s, South Carolina has four congressmen. And three are black. And so finally the state has a congressional delegation that looks like the state.
But then he lives to 1915. He lives to see Plessy versus Ferguson, Williams versus Mississippi, which allows for poll taxes and things like that for voting. And it's a reminder that sometimes we take a step forward, two steps forward, but then one very big step back.
So if you had to live in the South and you were black, '75 would be far preferable to 1925. So I think Americans are optimistic creatures. Our assumption is always every day the world gets a little bit better. And it's kind of mostly true. We don't hang witches anymore.
But there's these giant steps back. And the first 60 years of the 20th century is a giant step back. 20th century Germany is a big step back. I mean, there's a lot of places where progress actually moves in the opposite direction.
SPEAKER 10: Would you say then that we're still involved in Reconstruction, and probably will remain so?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Yeah, I think so. And one of the really, of course, awful events this year was the shooting in Charleston. And one of my books is about Denmark Vesey, and that was Vesey's church in Charleston. It was actually built in '65 by Robert Vesey, his son.
So I was getting all kinds of calls the day of the shooting to talk about that. And it just-- on one hand, it was of course ghastly. It also didn't surprise me all that much.
I mean, I'm in Charleston enough to see that quite often the city's about this far away from blowing sky high. It's the oldest, most important Southern church, Emanuel AME in Charleston. So I wasn't terribly surprised that was the church targeted by white vigilantes.
And again, Reverend Randolph, who was killed in 1868 getting on a train, like Reverend Pinckney, was a minister. He was a state senator. So he combined political clout with spiritual power. And that always gets on the wrong side of reactionaries.
So Reconstruction isn't over. America's race problems anywhere in the country are not yet behind us. Yes.
SPEAKER 11: Has President Obama done something, or anything, to help this whole situation?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Sure. And I don't speak for the president. But were he here, he would say the fact that we have a man of color elected president is itself a statement that while we still have a long way to go-- and of course the pushback we all saw. He's really a Kenyan. He's a Muslim. I mean, I didn't see that one coming.
But I also thought I'll probably get old and die without ever seeing a person of color elected president in this country. And I think Martin King once-- someone once asked him when there'd be real political change, when there would be a black man in the White House. And he said, [CHUCKLING] 23rd century.
So his very existence, I think, is a testimony to the fact that America does struggle with this issue. Here's a story. I don't mean to sound like I'm picking on America. So here's a feel-good story.
I had a good friend in grad school who's Dutch, from the Dutch parts of Belgium. And from the Dutch Protestant parts of Belgium. And so way back in 1986, I just finished my Ph.D, and wandering around Europe. And we were staying with him and talking to his father.
And where he's from in Belgium, you marry somebody who is a Walloon, which is, say, somebody who's the Dutch Protestant. You live pretty much in the same area you grew up in, and where your grandfather grew up. And so he's talking to my then wife and I about our backgrounds.
And her background was Palestinian, Hungarian, Russian, Jewish. And I'm Arizona Protestant, part Apache-- which makes our kids really quite a novel mixture. And my friend's dad was just stunned, because that doesn't happen in Belgium. You marry the next nice Dutch Protestant girl who lives down the road, and you live a block from where you were raised.
So we've struggled with race and ethnicity in this country, in part because we have to. It's the hand history has dealt us. And so we're not going to marry the nice Walloon girl down the street and that. So we can't get away from this fate because it's been dumped in our lap.
And so despite the sad books I write, sure, we've made good progress. And I think the president has played his part. I bet if you turn the clock back, he might think seriously about not running and just staying with a nice soft gig in the Senate. So I think America has made headway. Yes.
SPEAKER 12: You talk a lot about fusing religion with political power. So to what extent did religious globalization and appeals to religious conscience play in mobilizing the masses?
DOUGLAS EGERTON: Religion is huge, not just in the black community, but in the anti-slavery movement. We talked today about the religious right. But in the 19th century, it's quite often the religious left.
It's people who get in touch with their spiritual side. They wish to become better themselves. The next thing they want to do is better their country.
And so if you go to any anti-slavery meeting in the 1840s in upstate New York, these are hardcore evangelicals. We are the ground zero here for what's called the burned-over district-- west of Massachusetts, upstate New York, eastern Ohio Valley out to where Oberlin is. Because this is the Great Awakening, where people go to these camp meetings. They hear Charles Grandison Finney speak about the power of God.
They fall to their knees. They cry. They are saved. They then become temperance people. They go on the Graham diet. They want to lead more perfect lives.
And after that, they want to fix America. And what's the greatest sin in America? It's slavery.
So it really empowers these people. Every church in Ithaca and Boston, they're passing the hat. They're raising money. John Brown is only a little more dedicated than most Northern evangelicals. So it really empowers these people.
And of course, in the South, because the black community has not been allowed to produce doctors and lawyers, even for those who are free. So when slavery dies, I mean, who are the natural leaders? They are the ministers. They are the soldiers, because they're the ones who have clout in community. And so they always have this combination of spiritual power and political power.
That's what makes them so dangerous to white reactionaries, because they have this real strong basis of support. If you fervently believe this is what God wants, the fact that John C. Calhoun is defending slavery means nothing to you. It drives you. It motivates you.
So these are spiritually dedicated people. And I think it's hard for the modern world to understand that level of perfectionism and dedication. And Frederick Douglass is like that.
He's a temperance man. He doesn't drink. He eats the Graham diet, which was the health food diet. He's not a church-going man, but he's a spiritual man. And that gives him a spiritual sustenance to carry on.
Well, thank you.
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Le Moyne College historian Douglas R. Egerton, recently a Merrill Family Visiting Professor at Cornell, describes how activists fought for the right of black men to vote following the Civil War in a lecture, "'The Entire Country Requires Reclamation': Reconstruction in the North," in Call Auditorium, Kennedy Hall, on July 8, 2015. The lecture was sponsored by the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions.