Kidada Williams Joins Chris Hayes to Talk Reconstruction and Political ViolenceHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Reconstruction, violence, African American history
The Reconstruction era is a pivotal point in our nation’s history and often misconstrued. What many hoped to be a time of promise and racial equality after the Civil War turned into a period marked by terror and violence against Black people and widespread efforts to undermine and stop Black progress. In her new book, “I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction,” Professor Kidada E. Williams of Wayne State University reexamines this period and shares the stories of those who fought against oppression. Williams joins WITHpod to discuss her new book and the impact of racial trauma on future generations.
Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.
Kidada Williams: Ex-Confederates didn't let go of slavery lightly. They did what they could to hold on to it. And so, African-Americans largely had to fight their way out of bondage. They had to fight to escape the people who had been holding them in slavery. And so as they escape, they are enduring a lot of violence. There are a lot of people who were killed.
Chris Hayes: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me your host, Chris Hayes.
Last week on the podcast, as I'm speaking to you here and maybe weeks later, as you listen, we had Dahlia Lithwick on about her fantastic book, “Lady Justice.” And one of the chapters in that book, which we discussed, was a chapter about a litigator named Robbie Kaplan and another one named Karen Dunn, who are two very elite high-powered lawyers, who brought this incredible case in Charlottesville in which they sued the organizers of the Unite the Right rally under a federal law from 1871 that actually really hadn't been used in a very long time. That's called the KKK Act, the Klan Act, also known as the Enforcement Act.
And the basic law under which they sued, which was passed by a Reconstruction Era Congress, gives people who are on the receiving end of threats, intimidation and violence by organized white supremacists, a private right of action to enforce their civil rights through lawsuits, through federal lawsuits. Now, why would such a law be necessary? The reason such a law was necessary is that when it was passed in 1871, in the wake of the Civil War, the KKK had organized and grown and was essentially using mob violence, threats of mob violence, extortion, intimidation, public showings of force to undo the gains of black Americans, freedmen in the language at that time, in the wake of the Civil War.
And so powerful and insidious, and so implacable that Congress passed these acts called the Klan Act or the Enforcement Act, which is kind of an amazing term, right? The Enforcement Act means like to enforce the law. The law, of course, being the 13th, 14th, 15th Amendments that had granted to the freedmen, full rights and equality as citizens on an equal footing with every other citizen of the country. And yet, of course, the white planter class, much of the white folks in the South, though not all, we should be very clear, and ex-Confederate soldiers and ex-Confederate generals just refused to accept it.
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