This week a study guide in An American Lament made painfully clear how much I don’t remember. Thanks to Rev. Darryl Ford for pulling key data together. I’ve outlined major turning points below, with a brief comment (mine) at the end regarding churches.
• April 9, 1865, Close of the Civil War. U.S. Congress takes steps to level the scales of racial injustice.
• 1866, Fourteenth Amendment passed – full citizenship for slaves
• 1869, Fifteenth Amendment passed – racial discrimination in voting banned (men only)
• 1870 to 1875, Reconstruction policies passed between 1870 and 1875, protecting legal rights of African Americans: voting, holding office, serving on juries, receiving equal protection; plus Federal troops ready to send South to enforce these laws and protect African Americans from harassment at voting booths by white supremacist groups
Early results encouraging, especially in southern states with larger African American populations.
1876, Presidential election subverted. The Hayes Compromise of 1877 (informal): federal troops sent to southern states (to enforce new freedoms for African Americans) will be removed in return for electoral votes needed by Rutherford B. Hayes. See political cartoon above.
1877, Reconstruction era buried; Jim Crow era begins, putting ex-slaves at the mercy of former masters. Laws regarding equality were now seen as absurd or un-Christian.
• 1883, The Supreme Court agreed, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was deemed unconstitutional.
• No further civil rights legislation was signed until 1957.
Jim Crow era
• Discriminatory laws passed for every area of life including towns and spaces in which black people were not allowed to live.
• Segregation took over every area of life – prisons, hospitals, schools, hospitals, orphanages; textbooks used in schools; books for black students stored apart from books for white students; two Bibles in the Atlanta courts—one for black witnesses; one for white witnesses
Where were American churches? Largely silent and complicit, too often delivering sermons supporting segregation.
Where are American churches today? Too often defined by identity politics, or by the importance of being ‘good people’
Being racist isn’t only about burning crosses or participating in lynchings. It’s also about closeting oneself as an individual, reducing the problem to “bad actors” seen in the news. Or desiring political favors/power more than integrity.
By looking the other way, or offering heartfelt exhortations about being good and generous individuals, we muddy the water. We fail to look into the mirror and acknowledge that we, too, are part of what’s still wrong in the USA. Put another way, we turn this social problem into a personal issue regarding individual choices, rather than seeing it for the centuries-long systemic issue it has been from the beginning.
Thanks for visiting, reading, and doing what you can where you are.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2020
Political cartoon found at en.wikipedia.org