Not surprisingly, “Redemption” is not a subject that receives much attention in US history classes, since terror, fraud and intimidation were the paramount tools minority white Southern Democrats used to achieve control once Union forces were withdrawn from the South after the watershed election of 1876. These techniques continued to be used for some degree for a hundred years, up to the end of the modern Civil Rights era — and not just in the “Bible belt.”
At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, there were more blacks than whites in both South Carolina and Mississippi, which had the largest concentration of millionaires in the United States. In fact, there was a clear correlation of slave density in the Southern states’ order of secession. The first seven states of the Deep South which seceded before Lincoln’s Inauguration had slave populations between 30 and 57 percent, for an overall average of 47 percent. The four states that joined the Confederacy after Fort Sumter was fired upon, depicted in the second group, had an average population that was twenty-nine percent enslaved. The average slave population for all eleven Confederate states was thirty-nine percent. The four slave states that did not secede — Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri — had slave populations ranging from 2 to 20 percent.
It goes without saying that the black population had no choice at all in their location — they had simply been purchased by their masters. After the right to vote was extended to black males by the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, former slaves had considerable power, in concert with their white Republican allies, whether “scalawag” (native Southern Unionists) or “carpetbagger” (Northerners who came South to help the South recover from the ravages of war, to invest or to teach blacks, etc.). This of, course, was extremely offensive to Southern sensibilities. In a campaign that covered more than half a century, Southern propaganda was so effective that it comes as a shock to most Americans to learn that many, indeed, most, of the people in both categories were men and women of courage, idealism, principle and vision who risked everything to build a society based on equality and justice on the ruins left by the Civil War.
At first, there had been little Southerners could do, but gradually a determination to eradicate the black vote, along with their white Republican supporters, grew into an irresistible force. “Redemption” eventually meant near total disenfranchisement of the Negro, resulting in Jim Crow apartheid, abject black poverty, substandard education, and lawlessness accompanied by rampant lynching, often involving immolation, mutilation and torture.
Historians Stephen Budiansky (The Bloody Shirt: Terror after Appomattox) and Nicholas Leman (Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War) both point out that white Southerners saw absolutely no immorality in any of the many thousands of violent acts which they committed against blacks and their white supporters. As far as Southerners were concerned, any effrontery involved was the suggestion that such acts should be held against them. The “aristocrats” of the South merely insured that punishment was meted out against those who violated their peculiar sense of honor, especially “vulgar rabble-rousing” by social inferiors. These patricians emphasized the ignorance of the newly-freed slaves while doing all in their power to maintain that ignorance, including burning down schools, terrorizing and even murdering teachers and intimidating students. This was a time when the bulk of the Southern white population was equally illiterate, which helped ensure that the planter class remained in control, although changed over time with the spread of public education, something the Southern elite resisted.
Ultimately, the South succeeded in inverting the truth, propagating a grossly distorted version of the Civil War and Reconstruction, justifying their resort to “fair means and foul.” It is their version of history that is taught in our schools.