Tag Archives: Reconstruction

Can We Even Imagine the Antebellum Atmosphere Bending that Forged the Generations to Come?

Reconstruction after the Civil War
There are men that have the epic power to create the global rules that govern my life. These men exist in the stillness above the turmoil of the street. I do not sense the economic levers they pull, only the gale force winds that bend my life from their having pull them. These few men can start the business cycle and they can end it. They can share the bounty of the collective efforts of hundreds of millions or they can hoard it. They can allow me to live in peace, or they can send my children to far off lands as instruments of American might. I acquiesce, as we all do, to their silent power and hope that my days on earth are relatively comforted by their will.

Yet they have the power to bend the atmosphere into a deathly nightmare if it meets their goals. It is this way now and it was this way in 1865. While I have contemplated why the macro-movements were chosen for my day and how the impacts have tossed about billions around the world, I cannot grasp the nightmare that the atmosphere benders chose for millions of common men, slaves and freedmen in the American 19th century. How could they have puppeteered such horrors?

I was a child in the era of Viet Nam, registered for the draft and somehow resolved my imaginations of my existence in a world of war. Yet, I was never forced to imagine how it must have felt to be born into oppression? How was it to be told that anything your skin touched was to be scorned by others as if the color of your skin was leprosy? How did it feel to know that even a grungy Woolworth lunch counter was above your station?

What must it have been like to be kept in an unjust paternal state? How could a man breathe when he could not even keep his kin from being ripped away from his protection at any moment. What must it have been like when the entire economic system would not even entertain allowing you to simply survive much less allow you to freely participate in it?

How could it be possible that simply being born, your entire existence would be found to be criminal, that your every movement was suspect? What could it possibly feel like to know that your father and your father’s father endured the same humiliation and hopelessness as you and that you would never be able to protect your son from the same torment.

Yet, at the tail of 200 years of such hopeless existence, imagine the hope that came from the rumors that Lincoln, this leader that supposedly was over all other leaders, had given you freedom with his words. I cannot conceive of the mixture of cautious hope and cynical disillusion that might bring. Yet freedmen soldiers were marching past you in uniform brandishing guns of emancipation. And your oppressors were desperate with fear. Could change be imminent?

I have seen a modern version of such change, witnessing those lifting ink-stained thumbs high from their first vote. I have seen spirits lifted in America when Barack Obama gave his first presidential victory speech. What must it have been like to see men that only a moment before had been slaves and children of slaves, now accepting the oaths of local office and even Congress? What would it have been like to be handed a plot of land and given the encouragement to toil on your newly owned land for your family’s posterity? I can only imagine the sheer joy and relief from pain those early days brought.

How then must it have been to have all this immediate progress be pulled back as if it never occurred? How must it have been to have men come to your door and tell you that the land you have improved for the past two years since the war ended must now be given back? What must have been the confused anguish to then be told that you must sign a year sharecropping contract under duress or face being sent to prison for vagrancy? What must it have felt like to be visited upon by local men under the cover of cowardly hoods that let you know that this temporary government would soon be gone and that you were under their thumb? What terror would it bring to witness neighbors regularly lynched by this terrorist group and to see that nothing was done by those in this temporary government to stop it?

How could it have been to then live the rest of your life having briefly tasted this freedom to then be thrust back into terror, submission, and hopelessness? Now seeing the Union Army leaving, the Freedman’s Bureau disbanding, and all semblances of support closing offices and agencies and returning North, what was it like to be left defenseless in the world created by these unseen men, these wealthy terrorists that designed the life that you must now endure?

Sitting here in my comfortable home, I still thought having endured the economic crisis of 2008, the world that our unseen atmosphere benders created for us, was a hardship. Yet, compared to the world that millions endured in America’s freedmen’s first tragic steps toward freedom, our inequitable world is all the more tolerable. Should it be now that we should continue to tolerate the aftermath of such terrorism as occurred in 1865? If we have the ability to at least imagine the multigenerational waves of aftermath that it wrought on our fellow citizens, and we have the will to end the blight, can we call on our modern silent atmosphere benders to finally resolve the destruction of the past in ways that benefit all?

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Filed under Class warfare, Racism, social trajectory

Reconstruction, Redemption, Jim Crow, all Judge America’s Readiness to Heal Itself

reconstruction_congressThe outcome of many political events can be predicted by examining the economics surrounding them. For instance, the demonstrators of the Arab Spring that would go on to turn over their governments were extremely well correlated to purchasing power parity and GDP growth of their respective nations.


Likewise, the outcome of America’s Reconstruction era for African Americans was written by the political economics.

Most people, including those Arab Spring demonstrators and ex slaves of 1865, want to exercise their lives in the quiet pursuit of happiness. In the aftermath of the Civil War, after hundreds of years of oppression, in a land surrounded by groups of men who had nightly patrolled outside slave homes prior to the war’s end, and in which the President seemed bent on directing a lenient path back into the union, the last thing, ex slaves wanted was a major political disruption that would thwart the pursuit of happiness that was within their grasp. But they did need a way to survive if they were not just going to exist as before on their masters’ plantations.

To survive, these ex slaves would need a means to sustain themselves. To eat, to have a roof over their heads, and to clothe their families, at a minimum they would need to enter this new paradigm of an agricultural economy with either their own farm or a way to earn a living on another’s.

Without having to subject themselves to a continued plantation life, they would need to borrow the funds to live until a harvest produced. They would also need the means to purchase a farm, the tools to work it, and the seeds to plant on it. This would require a loan and some equity, if they were going to qualify to obtain a loan in America’s capitalist economy.

To obtain a loan typically requires some collateral, or at least some history of being able to repay the loan. A loan requires that the borrower have a job commensurate with the amount of the loan, own a business with some history, or at least have some form of education that would support the amount of the loan.

President Lincoln had promised the slaves 40 acres and a mule. This seemed a generous start to a new life in a world turned upside down politically and socially. In addition, the Freedman’s Bureau offered some financial and food assistance until they could gain an economic foothold. So the foundation for a new life seemed to be put in motion at war’s end.

However, the plantation owners did not want the ex slaves to gain this foothold for that would mean financial ruin to them and an end to the political economy of the south as it had existed for several hundred years. The single largest investment and equity of the South was the slaves. Emancipation destroyed that investment, leaving the plantations without an engine and the wealth of the Confederacy evaporated. They had no intention of letting this happen without a fight, even if they had just lost the war.

Fortuitously for the South, Lincoln was assassinated. In his stead, Andrew Johnson was made President. His sympathies were with the South, not the slaves. As such, he reversed the program of free land for slaves and gave it back to the plantation owners. Without land and without equity, ex-slaves would require generous loans to escape their old life. Neither were offered or even guaranteed by Johnson’s Presidency. Without even a guarantee to back loans, ex-slaves were relegated to some form of land lease, which reverted to odious share cropping across the South.

Granted, even though land grants were occurring along the railroads heading west, nonetheless, taking land from pre-civil war land magnates and giving it to ex slaves was a bit radical in our capitalist country. It also threatened northern lawmakers, who were also large landowners. The idea would not politically stand for precedence set would mean that sometime in the future when southerners regained political power, they could turn the tide on northern land owners.

While ex slaves were not given a quick fix to their poverty dilemma, over the long run, ex slaves held the power of change in that they now could vote in economic supports due to the passage of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments. They could enact laws to support land loans. They could fund schools to gain the education to build skills to afford loans and to eventually help ex slaves enter into the American economy.

Yet, southern plantation owners understood the politics of freedom as well and fought to thwart ex slave access to loans, to schools, and to political participation. Through legal, political, and subversive means such as the KKK, ex-slaves were denied the means to obtain loans and to decent education. And with the support of Johnson, their means of voting for change was subversively and violently denied.

Nonetheless, they hoped to sustain the slow and arduous path toward economic freedom, if the federal government could simply and, at least, moderately support their efforts. Sadly, economic events would erode the northern citizenry support of the federal government’s reconstruction. The erosion had standard elements of a greed caused boom/bust economic crisis that would divert national attention away from the tediousness of supporting a social goal that required a gradual lessening of prejudice from the North.

Similarly to the Great Depression that would follow, and the 2008 economic implosion that we all experienced recently, the discovery of gold in 1848 set up the economic failing of post civil war reconstruction when it started the mass migration West in search of riches. The migration to California was an impetus for the massive railroad-building boom after the war, including the transcontinental railroad.

Across Europe, a housing boom similar to America’s in the 2000’s was used to feed America’s railroad ventures, the size of the investment boom, which had not been seen before. Yet the rate of investment could not be sustained by the growth in America’s post war economy just yet. Unfortunately, as all booms do, it ended in a bust that caused a 20-year depression in Europe and the Long Depression in America, starting in 1873.

The depression caused a shift in public sentiment that resulted in political losses that signaled the end of support for Reconstruction. Pre Civil War southern political powers would regain their power in the South, and swift retribution plus starving of any economic progress for ex slaves would be the result.

America would then shift its attention to an economic revival that would simply bypass the sleepy South and focus on exploiting the rail system that had been laid. Millions of immigrants and an expansive growth of industry in the new industrial era would divert America’s attention on social justice for another 80 years.

The South would regain its plantation economy. Ex slaves would eke out a poverty-stricken existence, waiting for the next political upheaval that would not occur until the First World War. The chance at human progress had been thwarted. Decades of harsh treatment and social ingraining of prejudice both on the sides of the oppressor and the oppressed would ensue. How would this injustice affect race relations in America and how would it ultimately impact our inner cities?

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Filed under American Governance, American Politics, Economic Crisis, European Crisis, Middle East prosperity, social trajectory, War

If America Will Stop Running from Our Past, Our Inner Cities Can Provide a Path Toward Prosperity.

Detroit – What Way Out?

Of America’s cities, none seems to have risen to such dizzying heights to then be hollowed out in shambles as the city of Detroit. A symbol of America’s might during WWII and of America’s engineering marvels in the muscle car, glory years afterwards, Detroit now has the distinction of having lost half its citizens through exodus, of having the largest unemployment rate of America’s large cities, and of having been deemed America’s most dangerous city for the past four years.

While no one expects Detroit to return to its heydays, why do most Americans believe it only a dream that Detroit and other’s inner cities could ever return to a prosperity where jobs are plentiful, neighborhoods flourish, and families are safe in their homes? China showed the world in dramatic fashion how cities can rise from poverty to abundance. Why is it that America cannot show how Detroit can be transformed to a similar path toward prosperity?

Certainly Detroit is no Shenzhen, its citizens having experienced an entirely different historical path. Yet, is Detroit’s history so damaged that no path to revitalization exists? Is America so defeated that it is willing to give up on the investment we made in Detroit? And if we are, can we really expect to survive as a nation while choosing to let our inner cities languish?

America seems blinded by our history. We may be incapable of seeing our inner cities’ potential as vital resources to America’s recovery. Having been prejudiced by our ambivalent past, our leaders may not be capable of inspiring America to chart a path forward. Yet, once again, China may offer lessons.

China’s leaders rose from an earlier regime that had devastated tens of millions of its own citizens. From the midst of this tyrannical regime, leaders finally emerged to reverse China’s economy through what is now deemed a miraculous “four modernizations” strategy. Yet their vision was created and then executed with discipline through four decades to achieve this miracle.

A strategy does exist to reverse even Detroit’s trajectory. Following China’s example, where is America’s future leadership within its political ranks that is prepared to break through our nation’s historical prejudice to establish a unique, thriving path forward for America’s inner cities and our nation?

The Constitution – a Brilliant Document Unable to Shake the Shackles of Prejudice

China’s path was to create order out of disorder through development of an educated workforce and infrastructures of law, industry, and finance. America also created wealth from order. Upon the foundation of a land blessed with natural resources, European colonists adopted centuries old laws, religion and financial structures that were the cornerstones of our new industries. America’s commitment to investing in order created the most powerful hegemony in history.

Yet, if investing in order can bring wealth to a nation, can divesting of order lead to its impoverishment? America’s founding ideals were the beacon of the highest aspirations of order. The Constitution created a means to provide sharing of power between the elites and the masses, between the majorities and minorities, between factions and between states. It created protections for property and asserted a financial system. Through the Constitution, America agreed to a system of governance of growth.

Why then in founding our country through the establishment of such rational compromise as the Constitution did our ancestors capitulate to a reality that fell far short of our ideals. In agreeing to establish our nation’s wealth on the backs of slaves and to force them to cultivate land that the colonists forced from natives, they set the stage for a period of America’s rise, but could they have also planted the seeds of disordered demise?

Slavery – Upheld the Walls of Prejudice that Separate Mankind

What if all of humanity is a connected organism? And if we choose to nourish some of the organism, but isolate the wholes in the swiss cheese from any nourishment, what then?

Why in America are we at least beginning to understand the Nazi Holocaust as a human condition, as the Jewish nation stirs us to try to understand, but how is it that no such understanding has been able to penetrate the American psyche of the American holocausts? How was it that colonists accepted the extermination of Native American races and absorption of their land? How was it that colonists accepted subjugation of African races?

And when colonists overtook the Native Americans as the holders of land and began the domination of slaves to cultivate the land, culminating in an economic expansion that engulfed America, how did a new paradigm of anti-slavery emerge? And as this abolitionist movement took hold, how did the destruction of Native Americans continue unabated? As late as the Civil War, genocide of Indians in the West was acceptable. Forced integration and domination of Native Americans could not be achieved so removal and isolation became the solution.

As today with Latin American immigrants (illegal aliens), as abolitionism advanced prior to the Civil War, a debate began over what to do with Africans that had become forcibly integrated in the Americas now occupied by European settlers. Reservations had become the answer for Native Americans. Now Liberia seemed the potential solution to achieve abolition while separating freed slaves from others.

In 1860, the Republican platform stated that the African slave trade was a crime against humanity. A crime….against…..humanity…..

Yet Lincoln himself was for repatriation to Liberia. To many in America, deporting people whose ancestors had been captured from multiple parts of the African continent, colonized as slaves in the Americas, produced offspring who only knew an oppressed life in the States, deporting these offspring to a single country in Africa, Liberia, to start a harsh new life where most died within twenty years of landing, was a solution to freeing slaves without having to accept integration of those that had been freed.

An American concept emerged that one group of people, whose forefathers chose to occupy America, belonged to America’s interconnected mass of humanity, but other people, whose ancestors were forced to immigrate to America, should not become interconnected. Additionally and simultaneously, some agreed that Catholic immigrants should not be able to join the interconnected mass of humanity in America as well. The “know Nothings” as they were called, suspected that Catholics were invading America in zombie like fashion to follow the Pope in subjugating American humanity in religious tyranny.

So the time leading up to the Civil War influenced a mass prejudice in American society. Even as we wrestled with the inhumanity of human subjugation, Americans were not ready to accept the interconnectedness of the human race. How did this struggle contribute to the inner city collapse we are experiencing now?

Prejudice – Cements America’s Horrid Path Forward

What is this prejudice, this seeming innate compulsion of disdain for others that are different?

To this day, it drives public sentiment against reason, the quiet mob that feigns decency, hides behind the shield of family, stands firm in defense of civilization, yet underneath usurps power through prejudice.

It turns us on one another, nation against nation, in the pursuit of wealth at the cost of the fallen.

Peace…All that we obtain in its absence is wrought with prejudice, bigotry, racism, hatred…how are these qualities born in men?

Today, we turn a blind eye as thousands of immigrants break a fragile law each day to brave the desert and cross into America. Our law is liquid, seemingly amorphous, as it is held up in some locales while ignored in others. It is pulled like taffy and stretched to suit our prejudices.

Our business leaders, civic leaders all, bring newly huddled masses inside their factory doors as objects to ease American business’s labor load against a competitive world. Our government leaders shake their fists at the porousness of our borders, yet they carefully measure their words to balance public sentiment. The public instinctively knows that undocumented workers ease our daily burdens, but American workers’ disdain for this modern offshoot of slavery is escalating, if only as a measure of citizen joblessness.

Yet joblessness sways votes and, therefore, quiet economic prejudice of business owners can be overrun by workers’ mob prejudice. Surely, public prejudice will direct upcoming Congressional debates, but they will be collegiately draped in reasoning, finding balance between justice and bigotry.

As the civil war finished its bloodletting, there was no draping of unfettered prejudice abounding at war’s end. Two centuries of bigotry had melded the country into violent stalemate and reasoning had been replaced by bayonets. Now freed slaves had to endure the hardships of Reconstruction in the South that had been burnt to the ground by Sherman.

In the southern economy that had rested on the backs of slaves, now devastated by war, most white men were barely economically any better off than slaves. They now had to engage a new paradigm of equality. What chance did freed men have in their new world to escape the great evil of prejudice? How would this step change in America impact their economic decisions? How would it forever shape the destiny of our inner cities?

150 years would pass before the economic implosion of 2008 would lay barren our inner cities in the midst of the hidden depression that would shape America’s direction for the remainder of the 21st century. As America’s recovers from this economic disaster, will we seize the opportunity that our inner cities present. Will we correct our past by defining our inner cities as paths toward economic prosperity? A vision awaits to be painted.

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Filed under American Governance, American Politics, Economic Crisis, social trajectory