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Contra Civil Rights 1875 "You have not the power to make him white, and he never will be satisfied"

Discussion in 'Post Civil War History, The Reconstruction Period' started by Pat Young, Feb 13, 2018.

  1. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Thomas Whitehead was a former Confederate officer who was elected to Congress from Virginia in 1872. In 1875 he gave a speech opposing the Civil Rights Bill of 1875. Here is an excerpt from his speech that I found in Brooks Simpson's new Library of America collection of Reconstruction documents:

    Now the colored man is a citizen. He can vote. He can hold office. He can sue and be sued. He can be a witness. He can hold property. He can do in my State just what any other man can do, and if this is to give him equal rights with me I say he has them there now; and I say he has them in your State and in every other State. He has equal rights, he can hold property, he can hold office, he can sue and be sued, he can plead and be impleaded, and he can come to Congress, as a gentleman beside me suggests, and there are seventeen colored men who are now members of the Virginia Legislature.

    Now, what is the object of this bill? They say it is to give the colored man something he has not got. Well, there has always been a longing on the part of the colored man to get something he did not have, and a longing on the part of his white brother, who has taken charge of him as his special ward, to pretend to give him something he did not have. In our country they had it that each colored man was to have forty acres of land and a mule. A man came down one day in my district and asked one of these colored men if he had got his forty acres. He said he had not. He had a square stick in his hand, and said he was employed by the Government to stake off lands, and wherever he stuck it down the forty acres were to be measured by that stick. He sold it for five dollars, and the old man to whom he sold it wanted a receipt, and he gave him this receipt: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so I lifted the last five dollars of this old darky.” What became of this traveling individual I do not know. His countenance was pious, but his baggage was light.

    There has, however, been this longing on the part of the colored man, as I have said. But it will never be satisfied, in my opinion, because the Almighty has given him what he cannot get rid of—a black skin. Did you ever see one who believed in black angels? Did you ever hear of one who wanted a black doll-baby? You have not the power to make him white, and he never will be satisfied short of that. That is the trouble about the whole matter. His condition cannot be altered, and the best thing we can do is what we propose to do in our State—educate him, and take care of him, and do the best we can with him. My cradle was rocked by a colored woman; I was nursed in her arms, and she has had from that day to this not only my respect but my affection. You do not like the colored man half as well as I do.


    Reconstruction: Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality (The Library of America) (Kindle Locations 9219-9223). Library of America. Kindle Edition.
     
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  3. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Really sort of incredible that he cites his family's slave ownership as the marker of his concern for African Americans!

    My cradle was rocked by a colored woman; I was nursed in her arms, and she has had from that day to this not only my respect but my affection. You do not like the colored man half as well as I do.
     
  4. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    The remark about the doll is interesting. Research in the 1950s showed that black children preferred white dolls. The explanation was that society so devalued blackness that the racism was was embedded even in children. Whitehead draws his own racist conclusion that the preference was based on the innate inferiority of black skin color.

    There has, however, been this longing on the part of the colored man, as I have said. But it will never be satisfied, in my opinion, because the Almighty has given him what he cannot get rid of—a black skin. Did you ever see one who believed in black angels? Did you ever hear of one who wanted a black doll-baby?
     
  5. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    That was part of the documentation for Brown vs. Board of Education, if I am recalling correctly.
     
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  6. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    That is correct.
     
  7. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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  8. NH Civil War Gal

    NH Civil War Gal First Sergeant

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    I've come across this in a few diaries I've read - something very close to it. Certainly they believed it in themselves. That doesn't mean they felt Black people deserved equal treatment in public or political spheres.

    The whole thing is quite a statement and I've thought all day about it. I think the nub of the whole thing is here:

    Well, there has always been a longing on the part of the colored man to get something he did not have, and a longing on the part of his white brother, who has taken charge of him as his special ward, to pretend to give him something he did not have.

    Only, in my readings, I can't see where the "white man" pretended to give him something he did not have. They didn't have freedom. In fact, I'm not sure what he really means by the "white man pretended to give him something he did not have." An affirmative for getting married to another slave? That was a pretend marriage - legally.

    It all sounds common sensical until realize he really despises the Black man. But I'm sure Northern whites felt the same. Only they weren't nursed in the colored woman's arms.

    I don't mean this rhetorically but maybe it really can't be answered - why hate the Black people so much?
     
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  9. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I don't know that Whitehead believed it at all. He is using it to explain away his denial of equal protection to his former slave's children. He is asserting a false intimacy to justify the alienation of the progeny of the woman he professes gratitude to.
     
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  10. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    They had to hate the black people. The creation and reproduction of an ideology of racial supremacy was necessary to maintain the labor institutions that enriched white America. The fact that when slavery ended, many whites turned their thoughts only to deportation or extermination of blacks was an indicator of the depths of this hatred. When we here these two suggestions regarding any people today we correctly understand them as manifestations of a genocidal hatred,
     
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  11. NH Civil War Gal

    NH Civil War Gal First Sergeant

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    So they hated those that brought them wealth and nursed them when young or old and did all the nasty jobs they didn't want to toil for.

    I've been forcing myself to look at Reconstruction. I knew when lifting this rock I wouldn't like what I found under it.
     
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  12. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    People who are held in coerced labor situations are almost always hated and held in contempt by those who profit off of them.
     
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  13. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    What you find is the soul of America.
     
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  14. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    I reject the rhetoric of a national soul. But if rather you say, a major theme in American history has been the exploitation of people defined as lesser in some way, its hard to argue with.
     
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  15. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    I meant something a little different.

    I see Reconstruction as representing tendancies in American history that are not unique to that era. Certainly one aspect is the definition of some people as inferior. Another is the ready resort to the political use of violence. The Civil War was political violence on a massive scale, while Reconstruction saw it on a much smaller scale, yet we recoil from one and celebrate the other.

    We also see young women willing to travel unarmed into what was a war zone to do something as prosaic and heroic as teaching a person to read and other Americans determined to maintain illiteracy so as to be able to mock the balck man's supposed ignorance. We see black men willing to risk death to vote and white men urging their fellows to boycott elections to maintain white political power.

    We are a nation of saints and flim flam men, of racists and radical dreamers.
     
  16. NH Civil War Gal

    NH Civil War Gal First Sergeant

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    And knowing this in the back of my mind, before lifting the rock (and hoping without hope) I was wrong, makes me despair to see the Soul of America. It wasn't supposed to be this way. The CW before and after is still living on. A nation of extremes.
     
  17. RobertP

    RobertP Major

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    And yet people by the millions still want to come here and will risk their lives to do so. You should know this better than anyone else around. Why is that, Pat?
     
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  18. Pat Young

    Pat Young Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host Featured Book Reviewer

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    Because of the possibilities inherent in the dicotomies.
     
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  19. RobertP

    RobertP Major

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    Exactly, and the better angels far outnumber the others to a degree seen in few other places on earth. It’s a shame that so many people looking to come here understand that better than so many people who were born here.
     
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