Bonner on Black Politics in a New World

Over at the African American Intellectual History Society Blog, Christopher Bonner discusses free black activism (and extralegal violence against them) in the United States after the Civil War:

“Perhaps Henry Highland Garnet was accustomed to having his life threatened. In early August 1865, the black activist and orator, who had spent most of his life in New York, sat as an honorary delegate at a State Convention of the Colored People held in Alexandria, VA. On August 5, the secretary presented a letter with a Washington, D.C. postmark, addressed to the convention’s delegates. “Beware! beware! beware! Fields Cook, you and other negroes will die before the autumn leaves fall upon the unavenged graves of the many Southerners who are buried through our land.” Perhaps Garnet was unconcerned because he was not the explicit target of that threat…

“The Alexandria convention seems to be a moment in which black Southerners looked to model their political work on that of antebellum activists. And Garnet seemed encouraged, perhaps hoping to seize on the opportunity that the postwar moment heralded. But the threat against Fields Cook represented the new world in which black politics existed. Free black protest in the antebellum North came from a tiny minority, less than one percent of the nation’s population on the eve of the Civil War. But in August 1865, black protest represented 4.5 million people, more than 10 percent of the country, seeking to utilize their unprecedented access to traditional political power in order to change their status and reorder American society. In the minds of white Southerners, this was another in the series of attacks on their liberty. And from our vantage, the fact that the delegates responded to the threat with mockery (“thrown under the table”) is chilling, given the extent to which Southerners embraced violence and terror as politics over the next century….”

Read the Rest: Black Politics in a New World (AAIHS)

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