Johnson: “Yet Lives and Fights”: Riots, Resistance, and Reconstruction | @AAIHS

In response to the recent election, #ADPhD is sharing reflections, short takes, and responses from scholars of slavery. To submit yours, click here.

On November 12, 2016, in light of the recent election, Jessica Marie Johnson published this essay on the African American Intellectual History Society blog:

“….The Mechanics’ Institute (or Mechanics Hall) Massacre, considered one of the most violent race riots of the Reconstruction era, helped to usher in Congressional Reconstruction, providing Congress with an excuse to propose (and for states to ratify) the Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth Amendments (1870). It followed conversations and attempts at the federal and state level to extend suffrage to black men, including deliberate organizing by formerly free blacks, black veterans, and a black community determined to fight for an end to even the shadow of bondage.

“It is discussed by historians as a race riot and as a street brawl, but not always in the terms offered by Sheridan when he reported on it to his superiors. By comparing it to Fort Pillow, Sheridan placed the Mechanics Institute Massacre both in the tradition of war—skirmishes and battles between states—and in the tradition of state violence against black people who dared to bear arms, exercise their right to participate in the political process, take up space in the cities and towns they live in, and fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“The archive for the Reconstruction era is filled with moments like these—black men, women, and children determined to live out the promises of emancipation and move forward, progress, make change, and find themselves facing unbelievable levels of state violence and repression. There were bloody, dark, and terrible moments where lives were lost and it seemed like the promise of freedom would not be fulfilled. And there is no solace in or for these moments….

“Whatever might be at stake since the results began filtering in on Tuesday night, it is clear that the country remains in the throes of that battle, and that is, indeed, a civil war and epic struggle to define what freedom means and who it will include. It also continues to be a bloody struggle. While we have yet to see how bloody this 21st-century battle will get, a terrible truth must be faced—it will get worse before it gets better. And the worse it gets, more than likely, the closer we are to a port in the storm and the harder we need to fight…”

Read it all: “Yet Lives and Fights”: Riots, Resistance, and Reconstruction


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