Book Review Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates

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Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates published by Penguin Press (2019) 320 pages $30.00 Hardcover $14.99 Kindle.
When I purchased this brand new book by Henry Louis Gates, I assumed that it was the companion volume to his documentary "Reconstruction" now showing on PBS. I thought that it would be the more scholarly, written version of the television program. It is not. This might disappoint some folks while it might encourage others to read it.

I usually don't like to open a review by telling you what a book is not, but I think I have to in this case. This is not a comprehensive history of the Reconstruction Era, or of white supremacy, or of Jim Crow. It is an extended essay on topics within all three of those areas, but unlike the documentary, it is not a blow-by-blow account of any of them.

It is not an updating of Foner or a substitute for his volume.

Note: This review will be posted in several installments.

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Part 2:

Gates says that his interest in Reconstruction goes back to a class he took during his student days at Yale. He took a course on Reconstruction with William S. McFeely. He had never studied Reconstruction in high school and he had never heard of the African Americans leaders who were so prominent during the Reconstruction years. He also learned about the failure of Reconstruction to conquer inequality and about the "Redemption" of the South by white supremacist politicians and terrorists.

The white Northern majority that favored ending slavery during the last years of the Civil War did not translate into solid national majorities for equality of the races after the war ended. White Northerners were capable of showing sympathy for freedpeople when they came under violent attack in the half decade after the war, passing Constitutional Amendments and civil rights legislation to protect African Americans. Many Southern whites worked through local legislation to restrict the rights of Black people and through terror to keep them from exercising the rights granted in Federal legislation.
 

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Part 3:

Gates says that cotton production was central to slavery and it was just as central to Jim Crow. Far from being a declining commodity after the Civil War, worldwide cotton consumption doubled between 1860 and 1890. American slavery, says Gates, had been "the perfect fusion of race and class." The agricultural workforce needed to produce it was defined by race and controlled through slavery. When slavery ended during the Civil War, "ways had to be found to reinvent and maintain the exploitation of black labor to sustain the modes of production on which the South’s profits were based." (p. 16)

The main method to fight back against this hyperexploitation was through political organization in black communities and through a color-bling voting Amendment. Those seeking to maintain white supremacy understood that the most dangeous wedge African Americans could weild was the vote. If blacks could vote, they would force formerly all-white political parties to enter into alliances with the former slaves. Gates writes:

The power of the idea of universal suffrage to summon the forces of darkness buried deep in the white racist imaginary is a monstrous thing to behold from our vantage point today. In a masterful manifestation of both antiblack racism and antisuffrage sentiment, Colonel Pat Donan, the editor of a Lexington, Missouri, newspaper, declared, “No simian-souled, sooty skinned, kink-curled, blubber-lipped, prehensile-heeled, Ethiopian gorilla shall pollute the ballot box with his leprous vote.” (pp. 27-28)

Blacks held on to the vote as long as they could, even after all Federal troops were withdrawn from Reconstruction duties. By 1900, however, black voting was unknown in many parts of the South.
 

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Part 4:

Gates does not only consider texts in his look at Reconstruction and the white supremacist resistance to it. He also incorporates many visual depictions of African Americans from various sources. Some are familiar political cartoons from Nast and other well-known artists. Some are less known today, but they display attitudes towards African Americans that many white people held, like this seemingly non-political cartoon below:

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Part 4:

Gates does not only consider texts in his look at Reconstruction and the white supremacist resistance to it. He also incorporates many visual depictions of African Americans from various sources. Some are familiar political cartoons from Nast and other well-known artists. Some are less known today, but they display attitudes towards African Americans that many white people held, like this seemingly non-political cartoon below:

View attachment 302928
Yeah, well pretty much the majority of white Northerners and Southerners were the same towards every non-white with few exceptions. Although Thomas Nast was sympathetic to blacks it needs to be noted that he was strongly anti-Catholic and anti-Irish (which was very common among American Protestants of English, Scottish, Welsh, Ulster-Scots, German, Dutch and others back then).
 

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Yeah, well pretty much the majority of white Northerners and Southerners were the same towards every non-white with few exceptions. Although Thomas Nast was sympathetic to blacks it needs to be noted that he was strongly anti-Catholic and anti-Irish (which was very common among American Protestants of English, Scottish, Welsh, Ulster-Scots, German, Dutch and others back then).
Yes he was.
 

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Part 5:

The doctrines of white supremacy were initially developed to support the economic ediface of slavery. Men who believed in human brotherhood and democracy needed a way to explain to themselves how they could be good and just and still hold others as property. The ideological framework would long outlast the institution of slavery, and it persists even today. Religious explanations were popular at first, but then race science became dominant.

The "great" scietist of the pre-Civil War period, Louis Agassiz of Harvard, would heartily endorse the idea that blacks were natually inferior to whites. Agassiz was himself a Swiss immigrant who was revolted by the very sight of African Americans. His personal disgust was translated into naturalist theory. Under Agassiz's influence, Harvard would maintain a connection to racist scientific theories for decades.
 

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Part 6:

In the 1850s, a time of expansion of slavery and of crisis in its popular support, more scietists emerged to defend the institution based of the science of race. The Richmond Examiner published an editorial explaining the science behind enslavement:

The true defence of negro slavery is to be sought in the sciences of ethnology and natural history. The last defines the negro to be the connecting link between the human and brute creation. . . . From the most powerful family of the white race, we proceed by regular steps to the lowest type of the dark race, which is the negro; and close to him we find the chimpanzee of his native country, the first step in what we call brute creation. The difference between the last of the one series and the first of the other, is not greater—hardly so great—as between the last and the first of the human family itself. (p. 64)

Science united with popular prejudice in defense of the monied interests of the South.

Frederick Douglass pushed back. Against the racism of white scientists he warned:

“When men oppress their fellow-men, the oppressor ever finds, in the character of the oppressed, a full justification for his oppression.” (p. 63-64)
 

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Part 7:

Gates quotes extensively from Frederick Douglass in his examination of the pre-war debate on white supremacy. To modern apologists who claim that "everyone" thought that slavery was morally acceptable, one only need read Douglass's widely circulated words to know that this is a lie. For example, Gates quotes Douglass's speech at Western Reserve:

"If the negro has the same right to his liberty and the pursuit of his own happiness that the White man has, then we commit the greatest wrong and robbery to hold him a slave—an act at which the sentiment of justice must revolt in every heart—and negro slavery is an institution which that sentiment must sooner or later blot from the face of the earth.”
 

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Part 8:

Science was not "emancipated" from racism by the Civil War. No longer deployed to defend slavery, it now could enjoy a broader audience as unfettered by economic ties. It could explain the importance of keeping African Americans from holding positions of political or economic prominence in the post-war world.

In 1867, Benjamin Franklin Perry, whom Andrew Johnson appointed South Carolina's provisional governor, wrote:

t will be impossible to maintain a just, wise and permanent republican form of government where a majority of the voters are ignorant, stupid, demi-savage paupers. They ought to see, too, that the peace and quiet of the State cannot be preserved where there are two antagonistic races clothed with equal political powers, and the inferior race superior to it in numbers.” (p. 67)

Frederick Hoffman, a German immigrant living in the North, was a pioneering statistician, who was also obsessed by scientific racism. Born at the end of the Civil War, he wrote as his adopted nation entered the Jim Crow Era:

All the facts prove that the colored population is gradually parting with the virtues and the moderate degree of economic efficiency developed under the regime of slavery. All the facts prove that a low standard of sexual morality is the main and underlying cause of the low and anti-social condition of the race at the present time. All the facts prove that education, philanthropy and religion have failed to develop a higher appreciation of the stern and uncompromising virtues of the Aryan race. The conclusion is warranted that it is merely a question of time when the actual downward course, that is, a decrease in the population, will take place. In the meantime, however, the presence of the colored population is a serious hindrance to the economic progress of the white race. (pp. 69-70).

Although the post-war world saw a flowering of the weeds of scientific racism, unlike the pre-war era there were now Black intellectuals who could challenge the bad science on the battlefield of science. While not many, there were blacks mathmaticians, statisticians, and biologists able to contest the methodologies of white supremascientists.
 
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Part 9:

Gates provides an engaging discussion of the hold of eugenics and other scientificized racisms had over the academy in both the North and South. In response, many educated African Americans attempted to create the New Negro, a black man or woman who could be as cultured and educated as the white man. In spite of many attempts, emulation of white culture did not gain African Americans admittance into the white world.
 

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Conclusion:

While those hoping for a history of Reconstruction will be disappointed in this book, Gates has an engaging writing style that will draw in those interested in the literature of white supremacy and of African American attempts to overcome it.
 

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From the Washington Post Review:

Gates’s book covers territory well known to scholars and Civil War buffs: how our received wisdom of the “tragic decade” of Reconstruction flows from two polluted streams, the myth of the Lost Cause and the Jim Crow segregation mania that swept American legislatures and popular entertainment after 1900. For those wishing to know more about this dismal story of racial hysteria in places as high as Woodrow Wilson’s White House and as low as the blackface minstrel show, “Stony the Road” is excellent one-stop shopping. With a main text of about 250 pages, Gates offers a compressed, yet surprisingly comprehensive narrative sweep: Along with the usual catalogue of political sins, he adds an overview of the lesser-known stories of how our “best” universities, such as Columbia and Harvard, allowed two pseudo-disciplines — “scientific racism” and eugenics — to create a false dogma of black misrule and white suffering at the center of the Reconstruction narrative.
 

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From the Shepherd's Express:

https://shepherdexpress.com/arts-an...-gates-on-the-stony-road-for-black-americans/

Taking his title from a verse of the NAACP’s anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Gates’s Stony the Road is a cultural history of the imagery and ideology of white supremacy and its opponents. The illustrations help to summarize the narrative and the sentiments behind blatant 19th-century caricatures—showing blacks as indolent, ignorant and dangerous—continue to circulate today. One difference between then and now is that, well into the 20th century, mainstream companies employed degrading depictions of blacks in advertising and race hatred was casually displayed. Gates reproduces a disturbing 1908 postcard, a black-and-white photo of five black men hanging from tree branches captioned with doggerel: “In the Sunny South, the Land of the Free/Let the White Supreme forever be.”
 



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