Reconstruction Memorial Project How was the perspective of blacks suppressed in the South's retelling of History after the civil war?

After the North won the Civil War, rather than punish the South for seceding and for their abuse of slaves, both sides continued on with life, disregarding the primary reason the war was fought. African Americans were glad for their newly gained freedom, but they lacked political, economic, and social equality. Furthermore, since few blacks were literate, history after the Civil War was largely written by Southerners. As a result, their portrayal of the war largely disregarded the blacks point of view and presented those in the South as the victims of a "Lost Cause". Although the 15th Amendment granted all male citizens the right to vote regardless of race, policy created by those in leadership positions and racist stereotypes continued to persist, suppressing the rights of blacks and therefore their perspective of history after the Civil War.

Three Amendments were passed following the end of the Civil War, later come to be known as the Reconstruction Amendments. With the passage of these three Amendments, rights for blacks were officially written down in the Constitution, the Supreme Law of the Land. Among them was the 15th Amendment. The 15th Amendment was a huge victory for the betterment of treatment towards blacks. It gave blacks the right to vote and it prevented state and federal governments from denying adult male citizens that right based on skin color or previous servitude. The passage of the 15th Amendment, in theory, was a huge success that happened during this era. However, many Southern states quickly devised obstacles such as literacy tests and polls taxes to prevent blacks from exercising their right to vote.

Another obstacle that resulted in the silencing of the perspective of blacks after the Civil War was largely due to the people in positions of power. Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States who issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in states that seceded from the Union was assassinated soon after the end of the war. His Vice President, Andrew Johnson, was a white supremacist at heart. Lincoln had chosen Johnson to be his Vice-President since he was the only senator from a Confederate State that had remained loyal to the Union and hopefully their partnership would prevent other southern states, especially border states, from seceding. Johnson's Reconstruction policy was very lenient and he pardoned many former Confederate leaders for their crimes. As a result, Johnson was simultaneously deemphasizing the needs of the millions of newly freed slaves. Cartoonist, Thomas Nast, depicts president Johnson catering to ex-Confederate leaders while neglecting freed blacks. Johnson's actions helped contribute to the continuing subjugation of blacks and their perspective of history showing one of the failures of Reconstruction.

Furthermore, racist stereotypes portraying blacks in unflattering ways were a legacy that represents the Reconstruction era. After the Civil War, many blacks found jobs by performing in minstrel shows. They performed dances and songs like "Whistling Rufus", which degraded the lives of blacks. Another common features of minstrel shows included a cake walk, which alludes to a source of entertainment white slave owners would put on and have their slaves compete for a slice of cake. The constant suppression of blacks to a lower status and their derogatory portrayals seen so regularly in daily life greatly halted progress of black rights. Due to financial statuses of many blacks, they were forced to play into these roles and perform for whites, further fortifying many Southerner's beliefs of white superiority and blacks' acceptance of their roles. These beliefs persisted as many Southerner's were the ones telling their side of history, creating a legacy of racist stereotypes of blacks.

The perspective of blacks was largely suppressed in the South's retelling of history even though blacks gained the right to vote under the 15th Amendment, because people in positions of power neglected the needs of blacks in favor of self-preservation and because racist stereotypes plagued every day life leading to continued segregation and placement of blacks to a lower status where they lacked the ability to make their side heard in history. The retelling of history solely through the South's point of view can also be seen in movies in then mid-1900's. Gone With the Wind, a historical romance film set in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction era portrays blacks through the retelling of history by Southerners. Blacks in Gone With the Wind were depicted as stupid and child-like. They were treated well by their benevolent masters and refused to leave their life of servitude even after Lincoln declared the emancipation of slaves in the Confederate States. This simplistic and inaccurate portrayal of slaves as being happy to work for their masters results from history largely being written by those in the South. In order to portray themselves in a better light, Southerners made blacks seem like children that needed and were taken care of under the institution slavery. This shows that even decades after the Reconstruction era, history was not inclusive of black perspectives and racist stereotypes continued to plague the United States.


Created with images by Boston Public Library - "Eight hundred thousand slaves set free"

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