Tag Archives: violence

The Press and the 1866 New Orleans Riots

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.52.56 PMThe New Orleans Riot on July 30, 1866, was the culmination of mounting tensions concerning the 1864 Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black codes, and the Louisiana legislature’s refusal to grant suffrage to black citizens, many of whom were veterans of the Union army. More on that later. Today I offer the reactions issued by the press. Political allegiance comes through quite clearly in these two reports – one from Virginia and the other from New York. And both figure Andrew Johnson as the primary figure in the cause and outcome of this riot. Reading the two side by side makes for a nice comparison.

Charles Wynne in the Richmond (Va.) Times, August 2, 1866

RADICALISM, REVOLUTION, TREASON, and INSURRECTION in the Southern States have just received a death-blow at the hands of the President. His order to the military in Louisiana, which we publish elsewhere, crushes in the egg the atrocious Radical conspiracy to bring about an immediate war of the races at the South. It arrays, by an imperative order, the army against the [Republicans] and all others in rebellion against the existing State Governments and laws. There is no more temporizing with the vile incendiaries who have been instigating the negroes to organize regiments, clamor for equal suffrage, and overthrow, by force, the present State Governments.
It is a fact, as disgraceful and infamous as it is undeniably true, that these demoralized traitors and revolutionists have had the sympathies of not a few military officers holding important commands at the South. One of this class of Radical tools was, beyond question, the federal General to whose criminal remissness the late riots in New Orleans are justly ascribed.
He permitted an illegal assembly to convene composed of men whose objects were the disfranchisement of nine-tenths of the white inhabitants of Louisiana, and the enfranchisement of the negroes. He also allowed the streets of New Orleans to be thronged by shouting, yelling, malignant negro companies, armed and ripe for deeds of lawless violence. Sympathising with these negroes and their vile white associates, he failed to lend timely assistance to the State authorities. A white citizen of New Orleans was insulted and outraged by a negro procession, and an alarming riot at once commenced, which resulted in the loss of many lives.
The wicked and gigantic conspiracy, Andrew Johnson crushed by the order to which we have referred. The whole power of the Government of the United States is hereafter to be employed to annihilate these traitors.
It is providential that there is no disloyal Congress in session to break the force of this crushing blow at Insurrection, Rebellion, and Treason. The President is master of the situation at last, and the Radical satrap who refuses to obey the order of his commander-in-chief will now have his head sent spinning from his shoulders.
A splendid opportunity is offered to all the military tools of Thaddeus Stevens to indulge in harri karri. They must obey their master or rip themselves up. The dilemma is painfully embarrassing but should they elect the “happy dispatch’ the sabers of the squelched negro companies are at their disposal. It is the favorite weapon of the disgruntled Japanese officials when they disembowel themselves at the gracious command of the Tycoon.

Well…he certainly gets right to the point. Here is another take on the situation:

Horace Greely in the New York Tribune, August 1, 1866

If any doubts existed as to President Johnson’s connection with the massacre in New Orleans it will be removed by reading his dispatch to Attorney General Herron of Louisiana. This dispatch, written with the knowledge that loyal citizens of the United States were dying from wounds received y a rebel mob assumes the responsibility of the deed. The policy that prompted Mayor Monroe and his followers finds its inspiration in Washington.
This conclusion fills us with inexpressible sadness, but we cannot resist the facts. It is a dreadful thing to arraign the President of the United States as being in any possible sympathy with the unlawful shedders of blood, but when a plain fact is to be stated, the plainest words are the best. In the first place the President recognizes a usurped power to communicate his wishes. James M. Wells is the Governor of Louisiana, and the official representation of the State. To him the President should have spoken. But Gov. Wells, a duly elected Governor by rebel votes, has called this convention together and the President steps over the theory of State Rights, and sends his commands to an officer of his Cabinet – his Attorney General – one Andrew S. Herron – a conspicuous Rebel in the days of treason. The President directs him to call upon Gen Sheridan for “sufficient force to sustain civil authorities in suppressing an illegal or unlawful assemblies.” If the President really believes that States have rights, and Governors of States privileges, then his course in recognizing an officer of Gov Wells’s Cabinet as the proper authority to call out troops is a usurpation.
It is folly to use soft phrases in speaking of this appalling crime. The policy of Andrew Johnson engendered the demon fury which has shed blood in the streets of the Crescent City. His statesmanship has once more raised Rebel Flags in New Orleans. The time has come for the people to speak – and let it be in tones so distinct and unmistakable that even Andrew Johnson will not dare disobey the warning.

What are your thoughts on Andrew Johnson’s policies and southern violence? I engage questions like this and many others in my new web-course on Reconstruction history. Check it out!

With compliments

Keith

Triggers

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.56.15 AMI’ve just finished reading an article in this month’s The Atlantic concerning how surreal things have gotten on college campuses concerning (among other things) potentially hurtful or offensive language in the classroom. It seems that students, in opposition to something called microaggression, have banded together to rid higher education of questionable language that could (unintentionally or not) invoke images of racism, sexism, violence, etc. Their mission is to create a “safe” environment.

The Atlantic finds this disturbing and is concerned that by caving to the hyper-sensitive demands of students we are not only homogenizing education but failing to prepare students for the real world – full of diverse, and yes…hurtful  people and opinions.

All of this reassures me that I made the right decision rejecting the traditional professor path and moving on.  I promise you that I would not react well to a student dictating what I said in class. I specialize in nineteenth-century United States history and guess what. People said some pretty nasty things back then. Call me crazy, but I think it is important we know exactly what those folks said – in their own words – and to whom they said it. Who knows…? Maybe we might learn something.

Back when I was at UC Riverside, I taught a class in Reconstruction Era history. On the syllabus, I mentioned – in a very short paragraph on the syllabus – that language and images would come up that most would (and should) find very disturbing. But that was it. Trust me, some things were mentioned in class, uttered or shown only in the context of the history, that I would never consider conveying outside of the classroom. And I never had a single indecent in which a student complained to the department or came to me in distress.

Of course, I was thinking of the obvious. It turns folks can construe nearly anything as offensive. So who knows what I might have said that ruffled some feathers…

To my fellow educators – what is your experience with these triggers? Are things as bad as the article makes it seem? Let’s talk…

With compliments,

Keith

Enough

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 6.37.26 AMLike many of you, I have been preoccupied with the recent murders in Charleston. At first, I thought about writing  something that historicized modern racism through a reflection on the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and white resistance to the Civil Rights movement. But instead of commenting specifically as a historian, I would rather comment generally as a human being. If you want to get up to speed  on the history – here’s a comprehensive syllabus that has been going around on the usual social media sites. Read these books. Repost the link. You need to.

The time has long past for all Americans to wake the fuck up and understand that racially motivated violence is a deep-seated part of our national culture. And it does not seem to be going anywhere. Some have noted over the last few days, including Jon Stewart and others, that many Americans pretend racism has almost entirely faded into the past, that we have overcome a troubling part of our history and have healed our racial wounds.  As such, we interpret these events as isolated tragedies perpetrated by unstable individuals acting alone.

This self-congratulatory and self-inflicted ignorance must end. Now. Because you and I both know that it will not be long before we’re reading yet another story about yet another racially motivated murder.

I speak especially to silent white progressives. Stop pretending. Yes, your kids have black friends. Yes, you elected a black president. Good for you. But our nation’s murderous racist reality has not changed. And understand that nothing is ever going to happen to stop this despicable savagery until we can all have an open, honest, and very public conversation about race. Such a discussion is going to be unsettling. It is going to be uncomfortable. But it must take place.  Your complacency is killing people.

I have had enough. And I suspect you have as well. So do something.

Keith