Post Civil War Racism

(July 16, 2019) Today’s historian often interprets post Civil War racism as evidence that Southern whites were morally inferior. While he may officially deny it, the actions of his students demonstrate his teachings. Consider, for example, the mob that destroyed Silent Sam’s statue. Nonetheless, those who believe that the Southerner was especially racist might be more understanding after comparing the experience of Southern blacks with California’s Chinese-Americans.

South. Protracted Southern racism was more a consequence of Carpetbag Reconstruction than it was of the Civil War.*

First, blacks represented 40% of the Confederacy’s population but only 1% in the North’s antebellum “free” states. Second, Congress gave blacks the vote in every Southern state even though voter qualifications had always been a state’s right. Third, 97% of ex-slaves were illiterate with no government experience. Fourth, many ex-Confederates lost the right to vote thereby resulting in black voter majorities in Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Carpetbag regimes in the other states formed Returning Boards to count votes or adopted other measures to maximize the probability of Republican-favorable election outcomes.  Fifth, the new Southern state governments were plagued with high taxes and corruption. Since virtually all revenue came from property taxes whites paid nearly all of it because few freedmen owned property.

California. Although California had few blacks, her Chinese-Americans were abused in the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth.

First, even though representing less than 10% of the state’s population they weren’t allowed to vote.  Second, two-thirds of California’s lynch victims between 1849 and 1902 were Chinese-Americans. America’s biggest lynching was in 1873 Los Angeles when nineteen Chinese-Americans were killed. Third, since 95% of her ninetieth century Chinese-Americans were male, California maneuvered to prevent them from having children because the 14th Amendment granted birthright citizenship.

A. The state voted against the 14th Amendment.
B. It outlawed inter-racial marriage.
C. It lobbied for the 1875 Page Act that blocked immigration of Chinese women.
D. It nullified the 14th Amendment when the state’s Supreme Court ruled in People v. Brady (40 Cal. 198 – 1870) that the Amendment did not apply to California because she was a “sovereign state.”

Fourth, California persuaded the federal government to exclude Chinese-Americans from the 1870 Naturalization Act, which pointedly included “persons of African descent.” Fifth, the state lobbied for a series of Chinese-Exclusion Acts that made it hard for Chinese to immigrate well into the twentieth century. Consequently, even as the state’s overall population nearly tripled from 1880 to 1910 the number of Chinese-Americans stayed flat. Six, California denied Chinese-Americans a number of rights including court testimony, property ownership, and firearm ownership. Seven, in order to discourage non-white gold prospectors, California imposed a monthly Foreign Miners Tax applicable to Chinese-American and other non-white miners.

In sum, racial adjustment was bound to be a greater challenge in the South than elsewhere because blacks were only a tiny percentage of the population outside the region. However, California’s abuse of Chinese-Americans—particularly considering that the minority group could never take control of the state’s government—shows that racism wasn’t limited to the South. The above evidence suggests that Californians were even more racist.

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* Herbert Agar The Price of Union, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950) 466-67

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