Quoted in The Wars of Reconstruction:
“When you would look over and see a man who had a large family, struggling hard up on a poor piece of land, you thought a great deal less of him than you did of your own master’s negro, didn’t you? Douglass tried to assure the president that h e never done so, but Johnson overrode him again, proposing a conspiracy between the “the colored man and his master, combined,” to keep the poor white “in slavery” and deny him a share “of the rich land of the country.” If granted the franchise, blacks might once more unite with their former masters against white workers. In any case, Johnson added, “the majority” had the right to decide on the ballot. This time, Douglass cut in and observed that in South Carolina and Mississippi, blacks were the majority. With barely “repressed anger,’ the president rose and called an end to the exchange.” It doesn’t end there. The president , a Democrat and former military governor of Tennessee, fulminated to his secretary about “Those d[amne]d sons of b[itche]s” who “thought they had me in a trap. I know that d[amne]d Douglass; he’s just like any nigger, and would sooner cut a man’s throat than not.”
America, as a friend remarked today, is lucky to have Ta-Nehisi Coates. Yesterday I posted an essay asking for a reconsideration of looting; it asked us to look at the politics of looting, as it were. We treasure the nonviolent tradition of MLK. It can be said that we fetishize it. But note the exchange above between Lincoln’s successor and Frederik Douglass, not many years before the Republican Party, with the consent of Democratic satraps, returned the freedmen to their former masters and a state of peonage and terror for the next century. The freedmen were returned at the point of a bayonet, with a noose, with the burning of their homes. The threat of damage to life and property is a powerful tool:
“Property damage and looting” is a fairly accurate description of the emancipation of black people in 1865, who only five years earlier constituted some $4 billion in property. The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968—the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books—is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement. “We could go into meetings and say, ‘Well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here,'” said SNCC organizer Gloria Richardson. “They would get just hysterical. The police chief would say, ‘Oh no!'”
A holiday weekend is about to start. “Ferguson” will come up at dinner. Don’t use cant. Stay safe.