Slavery Loophole

Black Orphaned Children and Juvenile Offenders (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Div.)

The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Democratic state legislatures swiftly passed “Black Codes” in order to achieve a “slavery” loophole that made minimal offenses and petty crimes such as loitering, breaking curfew or vagrancy, cause for arrest and a substantial fine. Blacks could not pay the fines, were transferred to the violent and abusive system known as convict leasing

Convict leasing was a profitable deal for Southern governments because renting convicts to various private businesses like coal mining, railroads, and logging companies, required the lessees to provide housing, feeding, and clothing to the prisoners.  Also, the leasing of convicts provided generous financial support to the state. In return, plantations and corporations were provided with cheap labor.

 This system of prison labor would continue until the 1940s. 

The Shame of America

Lynching in Paris, TX 1893 (Image: Library of Congress)

Ida B. Wells, an early anti-lynching advocate who virtually worked alone, exposed the unspeakable brutality of a violent mob with their “unwritten law” that justified putting human beings to death by lynching. Wells documented the history of lynching in the goldfields of the far West. The thief or the man who jumped a claim and other outlaws tried, and if found guilty, were hanged under a tree where the court convened. But what happened in the South by the end of the Civil War and during Reconstruction, was an entirely different situation. She demanded that lynching end, that it was a federal crime and required a federal remedy.

Southern Democrats had successfully established Jim Crow
Laws throughout the South and repressed black leadership

Southern Democrats used frequent lynchings to intimidate, suppress, and nullify blacks’ right to vote. This “unwritten law” was used to accuse blacks of rape against white women or bumping into a white person – anything Southern Democrats wanted to charge a black for to return white supremacy to the South.  By the time of the collapse of Reconstruction, Southern Democrats had successfully established Jim Crow Laws throughout the South and repressed black leadership. Wells continued her prominent anti-lynching campaign for forty years urging Presidents William McKinley to President Woodrow Wilson to outlaw the practice of lynching. She became the most prominent opponent of lynching in the United States and garnered an essential ally in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Reuben Stacy Lynching Fort Lauderdale, FL (Library of Congress)

Unsuccessful efforts to stop lynchings in America would continue during FDR’s administration and not until President Truman, did the Democrats pass an anti-lynching bill in 1946. However, lynchings would continue through 1967 along with Jim Crow laws and brutality for blacks and other whites that supported them.

Ida B. Wells – The Library of Congress

Lynch Laws in All Its Phases; February 13, 1893

Lynch Law in America, speechgiven in Chicago, Illinois; January 1900

Speech, Lynching Our National Crime; June 1, 1909

IKE Fought Southern Democratic Segregation

IKE with John H. Sengstake
IKE with Frederic Morrow

Dwight D. Eisenhower, elected in 1952, was mindful of the southern Democratic congressional commitment to racial segregation, but he was determined to eliminate racial discrimination in all areas of his authority. Some historians write that the President was not known for his support of the civil rights movement, but his ability to respond to problems and lead the Nation is remarkable. Here is what he accomplished during his administration:

  • Created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, April 11, 1953
  • Appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to the Supreme Court in 1954, Who Wrote the First Major Decision of the Warren Court, Brown v. Board of Education
  • Issued Executive Orders to Halt Segregation in Washington D.C.
  • July 7, 1954, Appointed Elbert Tuttle, U.S. Court of Appeals (Fifth Circuit), Who Ended Segregation at University of Mississippi for James Meredith as Well as Many Other Cases in the South
  • Appointed First Black, Frederic Morrow, to the Executive Staff of the White House From 1955 – 1961
  • Civil Rights Act of 1957, Creates the Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department
  • Sent 101st Airborne to Little Rock, Arkansas to Restore Order and Allow the Little Rock 9 to Desegregate the School
  • Met with Black Leaders in 1958 to Discuss Plans to Advance Civil Rights
  • Civil Rights Act of 1960 Which Further Addressed the Voting Rights of Black Americans
  • Received Robert S. Abbott Award From the Publisher of the Chicago Defender, John H. Sengstake, Nephew of Robert S. Abbott

President Eisenhower was the first president since Reconstruction to use federal troops to support blacks, but he did so with criticism on both sides of the aisle; those who felt he did not do enough for blacks and others who thought that asserting federal power over states’ rights was wrong.

School Desegregation Took 18 Years

“I’m eight. I was born on the day of the Supreme Court Decision.”
Herblock cartoon (Library of Congress)

During the Eisenhower Administration, landmark events shaped the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th Century.  Eight years after the 1954 unanimous ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, the Southern Manifesto (1956), signed by more than 100 Democratic Congressmen, resisted school desegregation with open defiance and violence. Democrats intensified their illegal oppression of blacks in the South because desegregation was not federally implemented and had no timetable.

Democratic Southern governors, mayors, senators, members of Congress, and members of the law enforcement, all obstructed the civil rights agenda. Democratic governors James Davis (LA), Orville Faubus (AR), George Wallace (GA), Ross Barnett (MS), and senators Strom Thurman (SC), Robert Byrd (WV) and Richard Russell (GA) led the violent resistance.  (Richard Russell Senate Building is named after him).

One of Richard Nixon’s first essential issues that confronted his administration was the successful desegregation of southern schools. The Johnson administration left Nixon with 68% of blacks in all-black schools, but by the end of Nixon’s first term, this statistic was only 8% of blacks attended all-black schools. It took 18 years to finally implement school desegregation in the South after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

First Black American Car Dealer

Homer B. Roberts

Homer B. Roberts was a WWI veteran and an electrical engineer. Not only was he the first black American car dealer but was also one of the first black retailing giants.

He created a cutting-edge campaign of “class and distinction almost describes our cars and customers” in the 1920s that preceded the Duesenberg elegant men and women campaign in the 1930s. Roberts knew that marketing the feeling of driving a car sold by him was as important as the car itself. He was a marketing genius.

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Black Mariners in Whaling Industry

Black Mariners (Photo Credit: National Park Service)

Did you know that blacks served among crews on whaling ships before the American Revolution? Did you know that Crispus Attucks spent 20 years as a whaler before he was the first casualty at the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770? Crispus was a fugitive slave from Framingham, Massachusetts who was on leave from the Nantucket vessel, Lorenzo J. Green, before losing his life as the first patriot at the Boston Massacre.

Before the turn of the century, the maritime industry provided the most significant opportunities for employment more than any other industry in America as blacks were paid equally if skilled. Many blacks served at the dangerous job as harpooners but few as mates (officers) and even more rare as a Captain. Blacks made up one fourth to one third of the whaling crews. Racism was not absent, but blacks made a decent wage and received a certain amount of respect as a whaler. After the Civil War, coal and petroleum began to displace whale oil and more and more black whalers would lose these jobs.

Jim Crow in the Saddle

Black Jockeys During Reconstruction

In the early 19th Century, Southern Thoroughbred breeders relied on slaves to care for, ride and train horses. After Emancipation slaves remained on the farms and it was their expertise and skill that allowed them to become successful jockeys, trainers and eventually owners.  During Reconstruction, black jockeys dominated America’s tracks at the most prestigious races, and in 1875 with the first race at the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were black.

the first race at the Kentucky Derby, 13 of the 15 riders were black

Black jockey, Isaac Burns Murphy, was the first black millionaire athlete who made between $15,000 to $20,000 a year (nearly $1 million in today’s dollars). Other famous black jockeys included Edward Dudley, Jimmy Winkfield, Shelby “Pike” Barnes, and Ansel Williamson. These jockeys were either born into slavery or grew up as children of slaves and infused with a unique understanding of horses’ proficiencies and weaknesses which made them excellent handlers on the tracks.

By 1896, The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson endorsing the “separate but equal” doctrine led to increased discrimination throughout the country including its racetracks. So, by 1911 in Kentucky, only two black jockeys remained. The concerted effort to rid horse racing of black jockeys was successful, and Jim Crow laws won.