Reconstruction: Discussion of Henry Louis Gates New Documentary

byron ed

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I had some trouble with the scene of a contemporary police arrest of a black man being interspersed with historical scenes of black men being abused during Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, as if that police arrest was just the latest iteration of racism. If that particular scene had been documented to be an incident of abuse that's one thing, but it appears to be a scene pulled from some media B-roll without checking to see if it was an actual case of abuse. That's just plain wrong, and I would call Gates on that one.

That particular scene could well be of a policeman legitimately protecting the public from an actual law-breaker who just happened to be black. The attempt to pose it in "Black Lives Matter" mode in a series that's supposed to be focusing on Reconstruction is nothing short of a slur on police men and women today, who today are not typically abusive in their roles as protectors of the public.
 
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James N.

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I started watching last night and fell asleep half way through. :furious: I like Gates and it was excellent but I was simply beat. When are they going to replay it?
Ha, I'm glad I wasn't the only one who fell asleep watching. What I did catch was very informative. Of course I really like Henry Louis Gates, from Finding your Roots.
Didn't see the broadcast last night but I find Gates TV work sleep-inducing under the best of circumstances. I'm looking forward to seeing the documentary though (I'll probably make a pot of coffee before I start watching).
I'm glad to hear that I wasn't the only one having this kind of problem, though I think mine was more related to the head cold or seasonal allergies (or both) that I'm currently suffering with. I didn't really go to sleep, but I was extremely glad when it was finally over so I could go to bed and try to sleep it off. (Edit: the cold, not the program) But for my somewhat befuddled opinion:

Overall I was disappointed, I think mainly because my definition of Reconstruction differs markedly from that of Gates: As I recall from high school and college courses in American History during the 1960's and early 1970's, Reconstruction ended in 1877 with the political double-dealings that allowed the Presidential victory of Rutherford B. Hays and his subsequent recall of Union troops from the Southern States. Of course that doesn't mean things were all one way before 1877 and all the other afterward, but I wish nevertheless this had concentrated on the formative period. I'm sure the second half will be all the Jim Crow things we've had forced down our throats for the past half-century, and that brings me to my greatest criticism: I learned NOTHING from this first half.

The usual 1865 (or earlier if you consider the Sea Islands "Experiment" from 1862 on) - 1877 parameters are FULL of interesting events and characters, easily enough to fill this four-hour slot. For example: Although his caricature appeared briefly in a Nast cartoon waving a Bowie knife, nowhere was the name Nathan Bedford Forrest ever heard. Someone whose name was heard, Mississippi Carpetbag Governor Adelbert Ames, was passed over without telling any of his own gripping and harrowing experiences trying (unsuccessfully) to implement the new Amendments. Although Gates made relatively much about the remarkable Robert Smalls, his was virtually the only black political career followed; I wanted to know more about Blanche Bruce and some of the others. I think the closest thing to enlightenment I experienced concerned the importance of the Supreme Court decision following the euphemistically-called Colfax Riot - since I've read about that I'd heard of the case but had somehow missed its larger significance in gutting Reconstruction. The Riot/Massacre itself was briefly explained but in only the most general terms, and having read about it in some detail I realize that any opposing (read: white) point of view was naturally omitted.

As for the apparent deification of Lee, that seemed to have been emphasized with the sole purpose of further sullying his name and reputation by linking it to Modern events like Charlottesville, SO modern we're forbidden to discuss them here on the forums! I didn't really expect a fair or impartial accounting but this smacked far too much of the kind of generalities produced for a dumbed-down viewership that likely never heard of or forgot they heard of anything like Reconstruction. I'm not really looking forward at all to two more hours of the evils of segregation and Jim Crow ad nauseum et ad infinitum.
 
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Belle Montgomery

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I'm glad to hear that I wasn't the only one having this kind of problem, though I think mine was more related to the head cold or seasonal allergies (or both) that I'm currently suffering with. I didn't really go to sleep, but I was extremely glad when it was finally over so I could go to bed and try to sleep it off. (Edit: the cold, not the program) But for my somewhat befuddled opinion:

Overall I was disappointed, I think mainly because my definition of Reconstruction differs markedly from that of Gates: As I recall from high school and college courses in American History during the 1960's and early 1970's, Reconstruction ended in 1877 with the political double-dealings that allowed the Presidential victory of Rutherford B. Hays and his subsequent recall of Union troops from the Southern States. Of course that doesn't mean things were all one way before 1877 and all the other afterward, but I wish nevertheless this had concentrated on the formative post-war period. I'm sure the second half will be all the Jim Crow things we've had forced down our throats for the past half-century, and that brings me to my greatest criticism: I learned NOTHING from this first half.

The usual 1865 (or earlier if you consider the Sea Islands "Experiment" from 1862 on) - 1877 parameters are FULL of interesting events and persons, easily enough to fill this four-hour slot. For example: Although his caricature appeared briefly in a Nast cartoon waving a Bowie knife, nowhere was the name Nathan Bedford Forrest ever heard. Someone whose name was heard, Mississippi Carpetbag Governor Adelbert Ames, was passed over without telling any of his own gripping and harrowing experiences trying (unsuccessfully) to implement the new Amendments. Although Gates made relatively much about the remarkable Robert Smalls, his was virtually the only black political career followed; I wanted to know more about Blanche Bruce and some of the others. I think the closest thing to enlightenment I experienced concerned the importance of the Supreme Court decision following the euphemistically-called Colfax Riot - since I've read about that I'd heard of the case but had somehow missed its larger significance in gutting Reconstruction. The Riot/Massacre itself was briefly explained but in only the most general terms, and having read about it in some detail I realize that any opposing (read: white) point of view was naturally omitted.

As for the apparent deification of Lee, that seemed to have been emphasized with the sole purpose of further sullying his name and reputation by linking it to Modern events like Charlottesville, SO modern we're forbidden to discuss them here on the forums! I didn't really expect a fair or impartial accounting but this smacked far too much of the kind of generalities produced for a dumbed-down viewership that likely never heard of or forgot they heard of anything like Reconstruction. I'm not really looking forward at all to two more hours of the evils of Jim Crow.
I fell asleep to soon then. I thought it was spinning in that direction, most new Civil War shows do nowadays, but didn't want to judje the entire show without watching the whole thing. Thanks for the heads up.
 

James N.

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I fell asleep to soon then. I thought it was spinning in that direction, most new Civil War shows do nowadays, but didn't want to judje the entire show without watching the whole thing. Thanks for the heads up.
I don't actually discourage anyone from watching - I generally like Gates and his genealogy-themed series are probably the best historically-related things available in the Vast Wasteland of TV programing. Because of that, I'd simply hoped this series would be at least as informative as the recent one on Africa was.
 

Lost Cause

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I had some trouble with the scene of a contemporary police arrest of a black man being interspersed with historical scenes of black men being abused during Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, as if that police arrest was just the latest iteration of racism. If that particular scene had been documented to be an incident of abuse that's one thing, but it appears to be a scene pulled from some media B-roll without checking to see if it was an actual case of abuse. That's just plain wrong, and I would call Gates on that one.

That particular scene could well be of a policeman legitimately protecting the public from an actual law-breaker who just happened to be black. The attempt to pose it in "Black Lives Matter" mode in a series that's supposed to be focusing on Reconstruction is nothing short of a slur on police men and women today, who today are not typically abusive in their roles as protectors of the public.
Agreed, IMO, the PBS Civil War was more historical and less agenda driven.
 

Lost Cause

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I don't actually discourage anyone from watching - I generally like Gates and his genealogy-themed series are probably the best historically-related things available in the Vast Wasteland of TV programing. Because of that, I'd simply hoped this series would be at least as informative as the recent one on Africa was.
There was a good piece on PBS after Reconstruction on Robert Penn Warren.
 

Pat Young

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First impressions: Very much the most recent interpretations of Reconstruction.

Interesting widening of the usual focus on politics to include the religious institutions and cultural expression like the Fisk Jubilee singers(who offered a more positive image of African American culture than minstrel shows.

Quite effective and interesting presentation, Gates is TV savvy to be sure. Of course I was awake for the whole thing, so your mileage may vary!
Similar to my impression.
 

OldSarge79

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I will begin by saying I am biased, and I admit it. I am biased against Henry Gates, ever since his refusal to cooperate with a police officer trying to protect Gates' home. He obviously has a chip on his shoulder. I will also admit that I did not watch his Reconstruction show, as I expected it to be just another politically correct version of history in which all white southerners are simply just bad people, and the only valid perspective is the black perspective. Don't get me wrong, the Black perspective is a very valid perspective, but it is not the only valid perspective. Our Black citizens have suffered terribly through slavery and Jim Crow. Gates had two choices; to push an agenda or to present the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

All of us have a natural tendency to see history through the lense of our own ancestors and those like them. I therefore admit that I have that tendency, but I try to make a deliberate effort to see and understand other perspectives and consider them. All of them together make a more balanced understanding of history, and probably a more accurate one. (Note my quoted motto on my profile)

So my question is this - Did this documentary bring to light the fact that former Confederates were denied the right to vote, that confiscatory taxes enacted by the Radical Republican officeholders forced many to sell their farms or that organizations were formed to provide for former Confederates who became poverty-stricken? And even that these things could cause resentment and bitterness?
Frankly, I do hope the answer is yes. I really would like to re-gain at least some respect for Louis Gates.
 

James N.

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.. So my question is this - Did this documentary bring to light the fact that former Confederates were denied the right to vote, that confiscatory taxes enacted by the Radical Republican officeholders forced many to sell their farms or that organizations were formed to provide for former Confederates who became poverty-stricken? And even that these things could cause resentment and bitterness?
Frankly, I do hope the answer is yes. I really would like to re-gain at least some respect for Louis Gates.
The second half will be available Tuesday at 9pm.

Of course the answer to OldSarge79's questions is, to quote my late and unlamented father, "Not just no, but H*LL NO!" And on further consideration since posting my above reply, in addition to the things I mentioned that went unsaid or unexplored I don't remember hearing either of the words carpetbagger or scallywag. I believe the likely reason nobody on the opposing side (that is, from the one taken by author Gates) was presented and/or examined is that it's easier to demonize your enemy if you present him as a faceless mass. (The KKK, to which all whites evidently belonged.) As I said before there are plenty of interesting and important persons and events of the 1865-1877 period of Congressional Reconstruction without having to once again Wave the Bloody Shirt of Jim Crow. This series is far less about Reconstruction than it is The Horrible Things the Poor Black Folks (Only) Suffered Under a Century of Oppression and as such I seriously doubt I'll bother with the rest of it.
 

James N.

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I'm reminded of yet another bone I have to pick with the first installment of Gates: After describing the assassination of Lincoln and accession to the Presidency of Johnson (making sure to quote Douglass that he was no friend of the black man which was of course true), there was nothing further about what was certainly one the most notorious and best-known episodes of Reconstruction, namely Johnson's impeachment on trumped-up charges by the Radicals. If the events surrounding that weren't considered "important" to the story then what was?? Just more wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning the plight of the Freedmen, which this certainly had a huge impact on.
 

Pat Young

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Just more wailing and gnashing of teeth concerning the plight of the Freedmen, which this certainly had a huge impact on.

I disagree. The documentary presented new information on a new theme every few minutes using some of the most respected scholars in the field. When you heard wailing and gnashing of teeth, I saw the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and the Civil Rights Laws, the development of Black institutions like the independent black churches, and the work of institutions like black colleges and the Freedmen's Bureau that were supported by the Federal government or private charity.
 
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Pat Young

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The New Yorker magazine review of Gates' accompanying book makes clear how much Gates owes to DuBois' 1935 seminal Black Reconstruction in America. So the "most recent interpretations" dates back quite a ways!
The book really is not a companion to the TV series.
 

Canadian

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I thought this thread would be a hotbed of debate, but so far the debates are disappointing.

I finally got a VPN so I could watch it in Canada. I’ve seen part 1 so far.

What a lot of complex history to cover in a few short hours! I think on the whole it’s a good summary with something for both the novice and the history buff. Despite having read a couple of books on Reconstruction I think I learned quite a bit. It’s a huge, huge swath of American history that he’s covering so he has to leave out more than he includes, which is bound to infuriate a lot of people.

The narrative flows well and I think it’s easy to follow. Some of the experts are much more interesting than others. A couple of the women are quite good at conveying the irony and tragedy of the events. Foner is surprisingly bland, choosing the most neutral language possible. I wonder whether he’s treading carefully because Reconstruction still brings out anger. Blight, always a pleasure to watch, picked an odd moment to castigate the Republican government, 1876 when they’re losing power. Chernow is slightly patronizing towards Grant, as is his wont.

I like the use of Frederick Douglass throughout. He has to be one of the most eloquent Americans of his generation. I love the photographs, those dignified new Congressmen in their suits- they really came alive for me. The adverts for family members shocked my husband, who hadn’t really thought about this very much. It was important to include those.

Pet peeve- the Credit Mobilier scandal is always trotted out as an example of corruption in the Grant administration, although much of the malfeasance took place during the Lincoln and Johnson administrations but was discovered in 1872. A little knowledge is dangerous, but that kind of sloppiness always makes me wonder whether the rest has been well researched or is relying too much on accepted wisdom.

On the whole I think it’s well done. He certainly owes a lot to Ken Burns for style, but falls short of Burns’ more emotionally gripping series.
 

MattL

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I'm glad to hear that I wasn't the only one having this kind of problem, though I think mine was more related to the head cold or seasonal allergies (or both) that I'm currently suffering with. I didn't really go to sleep, but I was extremely glad when it was finally over so I could go to bed and try to sleep it off. (Edit: the cold, not the program) But for my somewhat befuddled opinion:

Overall I was disappointed, I think mainly because my definition of Reconstruction differs markedly from that of Gates: As I recall from high school and college courses in American History during the 1960's and early 1970's, Reconstruction ended in 1877 with the political double-dealings that allowed the Presidential victory of Rutherford B. Hays and his subsequent recall of Union troops from the Southern States. Of course that doesn't mean things were all one way before 1877 and all the other afterward, but I wish nevertheless this had concentrated on the formative period. I'm sure the second half will be all the Jim Crow things we've had forced down our throats for the past half-century, and that brings me to my greatest criticism: I learned NOTHING from this first half.

The usual 1865 (or earlier if you consider the Sea Islands "Experiment" from 1862 on) - 1877 parameters are FULL of interesting events and characters, easily enough to fill this four-hour slot. For example: Although his caricature appeared briefly in a Nast cartoon waving a Bowie knife, nowhere was the name Nathan Bedford Forrest ever heard. Someone whose name was heard, Mississippi Carpetbag Governor Adelbert Ames, was passed over without telling any of his own gripping and harrowing experiences trying (unsuccessfully) to implement the new Amendments. Although Gates made relatively much about the remarkable Robert Smalls, his was virtually the only black political career followed; I wanted to know more about Blanche Bruce and some of the others. I think the closest thing to enlightenment I experienced concerned the importance of the Supreme Court decision following the euphemistically-called Colfax Riot - since I've read about that I'd heard of the case but had somehow missed its larger significance in gutting Reconstruction. The Riot/Massacre itself was briefly explained but in only the most general terms, and having read about it in some detail I realize that any opposing (read: white) point of view was naturally omitted.

As for the apparent deification of Lee, that seemed to have been emphasized with the sole purpose of further sullying his name and reputation by linking it to Modern events like Charlottesville, SO modern we're forbidden to discuss them here on the forums! I didn't really expect a fair or impartial accounting but this smacked far too much of the kind of generalities produced for a dumbed-down viewership that likely never heard of or forgot they heard of anything like Reconstruction. I'm not really looking forward at all to two more hours of the evils of segregation and Jim Crow ad nauseum et ad infinitum.

Well just to be fair this is hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. One of the leading African American historians and an African American himself (who has won awards for other African American related documentaries). So if you didn't assume before I think you should expect it from a more African American perspective, a perspective often neglected by many books and documentaries that have existed on various historical subjects.

I only passively watched the first episode, need to rewatch it and the rest. I will say that my gut impression is that his award winning documentary "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross" seemed to grip me a bit more, but I did enjoy what I did see so far.
 

Tin cup

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So my question is this - Did this documentary bring to light the fact that former Confederates were denied the right to vote, that confiscatory taxes enacted by the Radical Republican officeholders forced many to sell their farms or that organizations were formed to provide for former Confederates who became poverty-stricken? And even that these things could cause resentment and bitterness?
Frankly, I do hope the answer is yes. I really would like to re-gain at least some respect for Louis Gates.
HOW many were denied the right to vote, and WHEN, and WHO were those?
Confiscatory taxes, Who, and How many did this affect, and WHEN?

Seems pro Confederate folk always throw out these types of "facts" but NEVER give hard factual details.

Kevin Dally
 
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