.. ation both social and political, and the more amorphous goal of a biracial democracy.32 But the goals did not include the need to transform the economic condition of Blacks. Instead they emphasized the need to transform the political and social condition of Blacks.33 At the beginning, the Civil Rights Movement sought solutions to racial injustice through laws and used the Federal courtsto secure them. The Supreme Court set the stage in 1954 with Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka Kansas: the Brown decision focused the attention of dominant Black institutions such as CORE (Congress On Racial Equality) and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) on fighting the illegality of segregation in Congress and courts. Subsequent organizations that came to play larger roles in the Civil Rights Movement such as, SNCC (Students Non-violent Coordinating Committee) and SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Council) fell into this same pattern– combating mainly legal segregation.
Although they pioneered different tactics– sit-ins, boycotts, and marches, the goal was to focus attention on getting rid of Jim Crow.34 The Civil Rights movement, successfully pressured Congress and the President to enact the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Civil Rights Movement also brought about a fundamental shift in public opinion; de jure racial discrimination became a moral wrong for many Americans. The Civil Rights Movement by 1965 had broken the back of legal Jim Crow in the South. However, in the North, Blacks living under de facto segregation by economic and racist conditions. Segregated schools and housing were unaffected by the progress of the Civil Rights Movement.35 By the middle of 1965, the Civil Rights Movement had stalled; never recovering its momentum.36 C.
Van Woodward views the failure of the Civil Rights Movement to realize its goals and its disintegration in the same myopic way he views the failure of the First Reconstruction. He points to three different events, from 1965 to 1968, to explain the disintegration of the Civil Rights Movement: riots in urban areas which created a White backlash37, the rise of racial separatism and extremism within the Civil Rights Movement and Black community, 38 and the Vietnam War which diverted White liberals’ attention. Woodward’s analysis fails to provide a broad perspective of why these events destroyed such a strong movement. There had been riots in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, yet these riots neither spread nor crippled the movement.39 Black separatism had been a vocal movement before 1965 in the form of the Nation of Islam.40 And mass opposition to the Vietnam War among White liberals did not pickup momentum until the late 1960’s after the Civil Rights Movement had stalled. On the other hand, William Julius Wilson provides a more coherent explanation of the demise of the Civil Rights Movement. Wilson says the movement failed because it did not effectively address the economic plight of inner city Blacks living in the North.
This failure was caused by the leadership of the Civil Rights Movement which had little connection with Blacks in the ghetto. The leaders of the movement were from the Southern middle-class Blacks; who were either college students, teachers, preachers, or lawyers.41 Like the leaders of the First Reconstruction, the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement lacked understanding of the economic needs of the Black lower-class. Instead of addressing the economic plight of Northern Black ghettoes, the Civil Rights Movement continued to push for broad political and civil rights. Inhabitants of Northern Ghettoes, were trapped not by Jim Crow, but by poverty and de facto segregation. Nonviolent protests, marches, pickets, and rallies did nothing to change poor housing, lack of employment, and inferior schools. However, the Civil Rights Movement’s battles to end Jim Crow in the South and obtain passage of Civil Rights acts in the 1960’s raised awareness of lower-class Blacks in the ghetto to racism and increased their impatience with police brutality and economic injustice. This heightened awareness of racism in their community and desperation over their plight, turned poor urban Blacks into matches and ghettoes into kindling.
The Riots from 1965 to 1968 became a way to raise economic issues the Civil Rights Movement had ignored. The Riots were caused, not just by desperation, they had been desperate for years, not just by a heightened awareness of racism, they had been aware of it before 1965, but because they found no answers to their plight. Neither White politicians nor civil rights leaders had solutions for their economic needs.42 Wilson’s analysis thus far provides as answer for the riots and subsequent White backlash. However, Wilson’s explanation of the emergence and appeal of Black Power is lacking. Wilson says Black Power’s emergence was caused by riots in the summers from 1965 to 1968. But these riots occurred after Black Power had emerged inside the Civil Rights Movement.
In the spring of 1965 the leadership of SNCC and CORE had expelled its White members, rejected integration as a goal, and elected black separatists as presidents.43 Instead, I see the emergence of the Black Power Movement as related to the failure of the Civil Rights Movement to address lower-class frustration with economic injustice, and de facto racism in the North. Black Power, as a movement, had many facets and leaders. Black Power leaders were from the lower-class while the Civil Rights Movements leaders were from the middle-class. Stokely Carmichael, a poor immigrant from Trinidad; Eldridge Cleaver, the son of a Texas carpenter, and went to jail for rape44; Huey Newton, before becoming a political leader, was a hustler. Other leaders such as Angela Davis gravitated to the movement because of its mix of Marxist and nationalist economic politics.45 The rise of these leaders was a result of the Civil Rights Movement’s failure before 1965, to articulate a program of racial justice for poor Blacks in the North; in this absence violent, vocal and angry leaders emerged to fill this void. Leaders such as H. Rap Brown called for “killing the honkies,” James Brown called for Black pride with his song “Say It Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Black Power provided poor Blacks with psychological and economic solutions to their problems.
Psychologically it brought about a shift in Black consciousness a shift that made being Black beautiful, no longer as W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1905 were Blacks a “Seventh Son.” But equally important the Black Power Movement tried to provide economic answers to urban Blacks with answers such as: racial separatism, moving back to Africa, taking over the government, and taking “what was theirs” from whites. Although these solutions ultimately proved unworkable for solving economic problems, they tried, while the Civil Rights movement did not attempt solutions. The failure of the Civil Rights Movement in articulating and pursuing a plan of economic justice for lower-class Blacks doomed the movement’s goal of integration, furthering de facto segregation in housing and schools. The end of Jim Crow did not end the income difference between Whites and Blacks.
In 1954, Blacks earned approximately 53% of what whites earned, and in 1980 they earned 57% what an average White earns. At this rate racial equality in average income would come in 250 years.46 This racial inequality in income left unaddressed by the Civil Rights Movement, forces poor Blacks to remain in deteriorating slums in cities, while whites flee to the suburbs. The de facto segregation that has emerged has shifted the good jobs to suburbs and relegated lower-class Blacks in cities to diminishing job prospects. This has caused rising rates of unemployment, economic desperation, and jobs predominantly in the low-wage sector. This poverty cycle among lower-class Blacks remains after vestiges of legal Jim Crow have disappeared.47 White flight to suburbs and the poverty trap of the inner city for Blacks has been so great that in 1980 the number of segregated schools surpassed the number of segregated schools before 1954.48 Both the First and Second Reconstructions left Blacks with no economic base, dependent on others for their social and political power. And as in the First Reconstruction, when those political alliances did not serve the needs of the whites in power, Blacks were abandoned and their political and social goals wiped out.
In the 1990’s most political leaders have long given up on the plight of the Black urban poor. Mandatory busing is fast being eliminated in major cities, and Black leaders cry out for help to a President and Congress more interested in balancing the budget, cutting welfare costs, and spending on the military then dealing with the complicated cycle of urban poverty. Though, the two Reconstructions held out great promise and hope to Blacks in America, both failed to achieve their broad goals and in subsequent decades much of their accomplishments washed away. Yet, both brought significant permanent changes. The First Reconstruction ended slavery and the second ended legal segregation.
But just as the First Reconstruction disintegrated by the 1890’s because of the failure of the federal government to create a viable economic base for freed slaves, the Second Reconstruction did not result in a fully integrated society because it too failed to fundamentally change the economic condition of poor Blacks. The Black experience in America is a contradiction for there is no one black experience just as there is no one white experience. In the same way, the failure of the First and Second Reconstructions was caused not by one event but by many. The failings of these Reconstructions are not as simple as racism, politics, or individual events; to single out one to explain such complicated periods gives an incomplete picture of both history and the nature of racism. The leaders of both the First and Second Reconstructions fell into this trap and sought to solve racial inequality through political means.
Their failure to see the economic dimensions of racism was key to the demise of the First and Second Reconstructions. While far from the movements only failing it is a factor that has been ignored by historians such as C. Vann Woodward and William Julius Wilson. America still has a long way to go to reach a place where “little Black boys and Black girls will be able to join hands with little White boys and White girls as sisters and brothers.” We are still a divided society- economically if not legally. We are divided between the inner city ghettoes of South Central LA and the mansions of Beverly Hills; between Harlem’s abandoned buildings and the plush apartments of Park Avenue.
Racial injustice will never be solved with mere politics and laws, anger and separatism. If we fail to bridge this divide the question of the Twenty-First century like the Twentieth will be that of the color line. — Endnotes 1 Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) p.228. 2 Ibid. pp.124-125.
3 Eli Ginzberg and Alfred S. Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans (London: Transaction Publishers, 1993) p. 148. 4 Ibid. p.
152. 5 Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) pp.229-231. 6 Daniel J. Mcinerney, The Fortunate Heirs of Freedom: Abolition and the Republican Party (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994) p.151. 7 Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution (New York: Harper and Row, 1988) pp.228-251.
8 The transformation of the goals of Reconstruction was caused by Johnson’s veto of nearly every Reconstruction bill. This forced Moderates to join the Radical Republicans in an alliance against President Johnson. Eli Ginzberg and Alfred S. Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans (London: Transaction Publishers, 1993) p.153. 9 Ibid.
p.159. 10 Ibid. p. 161. 11 A total of twenty-two Blacks served in the House of Representatives during Reconstruction.
C. Eric Lincoln, The Negro Pilgrimage in America (New York: Bantam, 1967) p.65. 12 In the Presidential election of 1876, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, captured a majority of the popular vote and lead in the electoral college results. But the electoral votes of three Southern States still under Republican rule were in doubt, as Ginzberg writes, “In all three states the Republicans controlled the returning boards which had to certify the election results, and in all three states they certified their own parties ticket.
As the history books reveal, the crisis was finally overcome when the Southern Democrats agreed to support the Republican Candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, as a part of a larger compromise (The Compromise of 1877). Hayes promised in return to withdraw Federal troops from the South.” Eli Ginzberg and Alfred S. Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans (London: Transaction Publishers, 1993) pp. 182-183. 13 C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p.
54. 14 Southern Democrats were comprised of Southern elites and formed a coalition with Blacks to prevent poor Whites from passing economic initiatives such as free silver, the break up of monopolies, and labor laws. Gerald Gaither, Blacks and the Populist Revolt: Ballots and Bigotry In the New South (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1972) p.299. 15 The Coalition between poor Whites was based on a paternalistic order as C. Vann Woodward explains, “Blacks continued to vote in large numbers and hold minor offices and a few seats in Congress, but this could be turned to account by the Southern White Democrats who had trouble with White lower-class rebellion.” C.
Vann Woodward, Origins of a New South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951) p.254. 16 Howard N. Robinowitz, Southern Black Leaders of the Reconstruction Era ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982) p.396. 17 Ibid. p.398.
18 C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 85. 19 William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) p.63. 20 Until 1900, the only type of Jim Crow law (a law which legally segregates races) prevalent in the South was one applying to passengers aboard trains in the first class section. C.
Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974) p. 67. — For Endnotes 21-48, see the original copy of this paper.