How the failure of reconstruction in the 19th century led to the rise of the KKK in the early 20th century

By João Cunha

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The Ku Klux Klan was a political force in the 1900’s as this cartoon proved. As the cartoon was titled “auxiliary government” which referred to how the Klan and the local government were intertwined. This advancement of white supremacy wouldn’t have been possible without the failure of reconstruction in the 19th century. As Wilbur Miller  noted, “Reconstruction succumbed to traditional American racism, localism” (Miller, 10) The idea of “redeeming the south” became something of an obsession by white Southerners after the CIvil War, as a way of maintaining their supremacy. However they cleverly used state’s rights with their racial ideology to gain sympathizers throughout the country in the 1800’s and even in the 1900’s. As James Moore explained, “The sources of their initial popularity are readily apparent…they had expelled hated carpetbag governments from the South, and reestablished white supremacy on the wreckage of a defunct Radicalism” (Moore, 357). Southerners by linking big government and tyrannical overreach with white supremacy were able to gain popularity even among historians decades later. As Moore pointed out, scholars filled the redeemers with “eulogies” for the first “four or five decades after reconstruction” (Moore, 357). So with this tacit support from Northerners, and middle and upper class whites, the South post-1877 began to roll back a lot of the post-Civil War laws.

That’s why this political cartoon is important as it explains the relation between the local government and how it is run in Southern states by this racial structure. The cartoon itself seems to be a critique of this white supremacy, as there is a skull and crossbones on the upper right and left sides of the picture. In addition the supreme wizard is holding a mace, and another weapon in either hand, depicting the KKK as a violent menacing organization. The other members aren’t even depicted as people but rather as monsters such as a goblin, cyclops, etc. The setting seems to be ominous with all these figures, weapons, and images which implies that the person who drew this cartoon is a critic of the KKK’s power in his state of Kentucky as it was originally printed in Louisville. This rise of government support of the KKK was quite common by the 1920’s, as this was the era where the KKK had the most political power.

As the launch of The Birth of a Nation proved, the idea of Southern redemption had made it into pop-culture. As even Woodrow WIlson the president of the United States at the time watched the movie and praised it afterwards. In fact he was even quoted in the actual film!

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This quote actually appeared in the movie The Birth of a Nation. Wilson describing the KKK as the “veritable empire of the south” proves how ingrained the idea of Southern pride was to racial superiority. Even the president couldn’t separate the two as he mentioned the white men’s “self-preservation” as why the KKK had come into existence.

This cartoon not only depicts what is going on at a local level but it is also takes shots at the national government as well, as they didn’t try to stop this in that era. The cartoon was a warning that the government of Kentucky was no longer ruled by noble men, but by racists and abhorrent people. This sign of skull and crossbones isn’t just a symbol of a warning but of a death as well. The potential death of a democracy unless these racists were forced out of government. In this sense this cartoon was a call for the reign of white supremacy to end and to denounce the KKK as well.

Works Cited

Wilbur R. Miller, Revenuers and Moonshiners: Enforcing Federal Liquor Law in the Mountain South, 1865-1900, 1991.
James Tice Moore, Redeemers Reconsidered: Change and Continuity in the Democratic South, 1870-1900, The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 44o. 3, 1978, pp. 357-378

Why the Civil War must be explained in greater depth rather than just removing statues

By Joao Cunha

At the heart of the debate of whether Confederate statues should stay or be taken down, there is a misunderstanding of what these statues actually signify. Those who want to maintain these statues argue that they are not only a part of American history, but that these statues celebrate the soldiers who died in the war. While there are some statues that were erected at the end of the war, the vast majority weren’t. In fact according to the Southern Poverty Law Center the majority of these statues were erected after 1900, peaking in 2 specific time periods. Between 1900 and 1920, when Jim Crow laws were implemented in the south, and 1950-1960 during the Civil Rights movement. Instead of honoring the fallen victims of the Civil War, these statues were created to intimidate African-Americans. These statues were not even thought of in the 1860’s as a way to honor the dead.

As Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering” highlights, the idea f a “good death” was prevent throughout North and South.  (22) The “Good Death” consisted of people dying with their bodies intact, so their spirit in their afterlife would reflect their physical bodies. However the sheer carnage of the war made the task of keeping the bodies intact bodies almost impossible. So many Americans mourned and were concerned with the fates of the fallen soldiers. To help the grieving process and use it for a patriotic purpose, the fallen soldiers became a symbol for making sure that their lives weren’t lost in vain. (269-270) :Lincoln even used the Gettysburg address as a way to rally mourning Americans to remember the noble cause of the war which was to free the enslaved. The commemoration in this sense should be to honor those who fought in the war but those who fought to free slaves. As the Civil War was a war, primarily about slavery. The war wasn’t as much about states’s rights as it was for the maintenance of the institution of slavery. However many Americans don’t know that slavery was the main reason for the Civil War, as many attribute the war to states’ rights. According to the Pew Research Center only about 38 percent of Americans think the Civil war is about while Slavery, while 48 percent believe the war was about States’s rights. Which is a problem because without this knowledge, it is hard to convince people that these statues aren’t appropriate ways to honor the lives lost during the war. So how do we solve this problem?

I think it starts with educating people about what really happened in the Civil War, that it isn’t a mere rivalry between the North and the South. That this a war that liberated millions of enslaved individuals into freedom and those brave people should be commentated just as much as the soldiers. There should be more statues of brave African-Americans who fought fir their freedom. There should be an acknowledgement that the enslaved played a crucial role in their own freedom and to teach people about that history. However I don’t think it’s practical to take down the monuments that are already in place. Instead there should be additional information or plaques put on those monuments to explain what those statues represent. It is vital to explain these confederate statues and what the men fighting for the South actually fought for. That the confederate soldiers even if they believed that they fought for states’s rights, the reality is that they fought for the preservation of slavery. This additional information would be a far more effective way to inform people about the Civil War. There are unintended consequences to removing the statues as some of the people who would disagree with the move would just be more entrenched in their beliefs.

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This statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia caused so much furor when it was debated whether or not to take down the monument that far-right agitators caused mob violence and led to the eventually death of Heather Heyer. The resulting media firestorm did little to actually resolve the issue as both sides became entrenched in their beliefs. Based on this example I don’t think that merely taking down statues will actually be enough to change people’s minds about venerating the Confederacy.  Robert E :Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia courtesy of Newsweek

The goal should be teach as many people as possible about how to honor those who died in the war and for the cause that many of those men fought for. So in the future many of the people who commentate the memorials and statues of the confederates can understand that they should honor something else. That way they can properly honor the fallen and celebrate the freedom that this war gave to many millions of Americans.

Rip Van Winkle and how American culture is linked to other cultures

By Joao Cunha

Rip Van Winkle is a story based on the changes of post-revolutionary war America. Rip after his 20-year slumber is unable to adjust to an independent nation. When Rip was asked who he voted for in the election, he was puzzled.

He did eventually answer, “I am a poor quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!” (Irving, 12)

This response nearly set the citizens of the Catskills into a riot, as it brought up a distant past they wanted no part of.  Rip had a hard time adjusting to the present, as his friends died fighting the British in the revolutionary war. (Irving, 12)

His  “heart died away” hearing the stories of friends dying at war, and he was “puzzled” by this new America. (Irving, 12)

However after getting settled and meeting his daughter Judith he became a reference point as a symbol of the old times”before the war” (Irving, 15) This story demonstrates America’s evolution and its independence from Britain. Rip being Dutch and a foreign figure is vital as he’s seen as a separate part of America. He was very different from the people in post-war America. His famed “idleness” was seen as a part of a separate America, one that is in the past that in that present that seemed foreign to the Catskills.  However the story is not just influenced by America, its roots are in Dutch art as well. Irving’s fascination with Dutch art had an impact on his work, as his text was full of “coloring of language” (Zlogar, 44). His descriptive story is inspired by the Dutch artwork that he admired. (Zlogar, 44-45) so the work is still dependent in other cultures, it’s not a purely “American work” but one that is influenced by other cultures. America’s need for independent in a culture is manifested in the story Rip’s desire to escape yet neither Rip nor America can escape this dependency in others.

Rip Van Winkle

This was a famous painting depicting Rip Van Winkle after he wakes up from his slumber. He has his long beard and is clearly aged in the painting, Yet Rip is still seen as a statesman like figure, pointing his staff in defiance. Which shows that Rip is imagined to be a powerful figure even after spending 20 years asleep. The painting was done by John Quidor who was a great admirer of Washington Irving’s work. In fact he worked on several works of art that were related to Irving. 1829 was the year that his painting was completed

Irving using Rip as a symbol tried to reconcile America’s a fledgling republic yet at the same time acknowledging its foreign roots. Rip’s awakening was an allegory for America’s own realization that it is a country that is indepedent yet needs others to produce its own culture. America’s British roots, Dutch artwork were a part of the “dependency” of America’s cultural production. This cultural production was inextricably linked to the what many Americans saw themselves as. As Terence Martin noted, “The United States was new but a self-consciously old nation” (Martin,137). This “consciousness” that Americans had explains why they wanted to separate themselves from the past, as they wanted to believe in “progress” both culturally and as a new nation.(Martin, 137) In many ways that is why Rip becomes a old relic to the catskills, as a reminder and warning of the past America had left behind. The reconciliation of the town and Rip is complete, as Rip tells his story to “every stranger that arrived in Mr. Doolittle’s hotel” (Irving, 15).Irving through this reconciliation is able to bridge a connection to America’s past and that time period, and shows the interdependency between history and culture. Rip wasn’t just a separation of America, he became the link between the past and the present in the story. Rip woke up to the reality of a different world, in the same way America woke up and slowly reconciled the fact that it may not be culturally independent.  

Works Cited

Quidor, John, “Rip Van Winkle”, Art Institute of Chicago. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/97873

Irving, Washington. “Rip Van Winkle”, Short Story America, 1-16. http://www.shortstoryamerica.com/pdf_classics/irving_rip_van_winkle.pdf

Martin, Terence. “Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination.” American Literature 31, no. 2 (1959): 137-49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2922559?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Zlogar, Richard J. “”Accessories That Covertly Explain”: Irving’s Use of Dutch Genre Painting in “Rip Van Winkle”.” American Literature 54, no. 1 (1982): 44-62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2925720?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

How a slave narrative is used to promote the ideas of religion and moral superiority

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“Fredrick Douglass the famous abolitionist fights a mob in Indiana.” 

By Joao Cunha

This slave narrative describing the life of John Quincy Adams a former slave who is eventually freed. In the narrative Adams highlighted the lack of opportunities given to him and other slaves by the Calomese family. They used examples of the slave’s autonomy being restricted by the southern families.

As John explained, “When an election was going on they did not want the negro to know anything” (6).

Adams and his family weren’t allowed to learn about events in the world by slave owners, they weren’t taught to read or write because the slave-owners feared them gaining autonomy. In fact the only information that Adams got was when he secretly listened in on to the family’s conversations. (4-6) This structure of the narrative was used to show how the Southerners devalued the slaves by not allowing them to read or write, things that the Abolitionists felt was vital for freed men to govern themselves. This restriction of freedom was not only “blasphemous” for the abolitionists but proved that they held the moral high-ground overall. In addition to having this moral superiority, the narrative was constructed in a way to teach lessons. When Adams talked about how “strict” his parents were, he mentions how that the world needed more parents like his to prevent the ‘disspaled men” that were around during this time. (8)

He explains the importance of his parents by stating, “I was not allowed from a child to drink whisky, nor smoke segars, nor do any of those things, and I thank my father and mother for it to-day, and will always think enough of them to never do it” (8).

This is used as a teaching moment to show the “proper” conduct of a citizen, to not drink or smoke, and act in a moral fashion. These acts fit the pro-abolitionist audience that believed in temperance and living a life of free of vice. However despite the focus on morality and lessons, the slaves were given sufficient agency in this narrative. Not only does Adams listen on the Calomese family’s conversation, but a good amount of slaves learn to read and write. (4-10)

As the narrator noted, “That is the way many poor slaves learned to read and write. My father could read, but I do know how he learned. He never went to school, but just listened to others when they were reading, and that was all the chance he had to learn. He was very glad and happy to have a chance to learn to read the Word of God” (10).

The slaves had learned to read by themselves and this was a great example of their individual agency. (4-10) For abolitionists literacy was vital to freed slaves because it allowed them to read the Bible and have the correct moral standings to conduct themselves properly. In addition the Bible was used as the main justification why slaves should be freed. As Adams explains, “While man says we should be slaves, God said we should be free” (11-12) Adams says that his duty is to “serve God”  so it is beneficial for the Abolitionists and Protestant organizations to free slaves. (12)

Daniel

“This is from page of 27 of a book titled Through the Looking Glass about the life of a black clergyman Daniel H. Peterson. Webster in seen preaching in the picture. It is important to note how religion is able to give Peterson autonomy an importance even prior to the civil war. He is so important that he writes a book about his experiences in his life from 1812 to 1854.”

The “agency” of the slaves is used by abolitionists to promote and exert a moral and intellectual superiority over anti-abolitionists, immoral people, etc. The primary reason why slaves had this agency was to promote God’s will, and to show how a former slave can be “civilized.” In this sense even Adams and other African-Americans are seen in a condescending light, as instead of men “civilizing” them, God does the work to the abolitionists. So this complicates the idea that abolitionists were so much more evolved on the ideas of race as anti-abolitionists.