When Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee met at Appomattox Court House to end the American Civil War, the deadliest war America has ever been involved in was over. The article “Surrender at Appomattox, 1865,” has the exact wording of the letters exchanged by the opposing generals. It’s fascinating history to read.
Most wars never end completely when a surrender is accepted, however. Tensions between the North and South remained high, and went through historical peaks and valleys. What are some of the most turbulent events straining relations?
Reconstruction and Southern Redemption
Reconstruction began even before the war ended, after Union General William Sherman instituted a policy granting every freed black man “40 acres and a mule.” One of the primary tenets of reconstruction was the integration of blacks into society, and the granting of equal rights, at least for men.
President Abraham Lincoln planned a lenient policy toward the South as part of reconstruction, but northern legislators hampered the plan somewhat after Lincoln was assassinated. Eventually, the high hopes of equality gave way to a new reality termed Southern Redemption.
As part of an imagined return to glory for the South, blacks were terrorized and stripped of rights. The term “home rule” came into use, later to merge with the euphemism “states’ rights.” While framed in the context of liberty and freedom, they became code words for racism. The perpetrators of the disenfranchisement were framed “Redeemers.” The dream for an equal America was deferred.
Jim Crow and the Great Migration
The term Jim Crow comes from a white man’s traveling minstrel show. Wearing black-face, he parodied African Americans. The name became synonymous with acts of discrimination, and laws enacted to legalize them. The term “separate but equal” was later coined as an attempt to legitimize the injustice of Jim Crow.
Some African Americas fled the terror of the Southern Redemption by heading north and west. Industrialization of the northern states and upper Midwest offered jobs, if not in the factories, at least in the service jobs vacated by factory workers. People anxious to escape Jim Crow were driving social change, eventually leading to the Civil Rights movement.
The Civil Rights Movement
What became known as the Civil Rights movement began in December of 1951, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. When a woman named Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on a bus. She was seated in the fifth row, the most forward row allowed for blacks. When a white man wanted a seat because the first four rows were full, all four black passengers were asked to move, as law forbid the races from sitting together. Parks refused, and sparked a movement.
Lasting until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights movement saw unspeakable violence, courageous actions and gifted leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. It changed the political dynamic of the nation.
Angry whites abandoned the Democratic Party after the Civil Rights Act laid the groundwork for the conservative political gains of the next years, especially the 1980s when an actor from California appealed to the feelings left over from the Civil Rights Act as well as women’s rights actions coming after.
The religious fundamentalism fueled by the backlash against granting African Americans and women more rights has ramifications today.
Watson.org, “The Civil Rights Movement”