Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Second American Civil War

This is the first in a series of posts that will culminate on Monday January 19, 2006. The course of history is often a reflection of the after effects of great events. This is true today as the entire world struggles with the after effects of the First World War. The Ottoman Empire, among others, was toppled and the present day countries of the Middle East were created by France and Great Britain. This kind of after effect is also part of the life of nations. I want to discuss the second Civil War experienced by the United States of America.

Though the first American Civil War ended April12, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia only the flames were dampened, the embers continued to seethe. The second American Civil War, which might be described by some as a Cold War, really got into high gear with the end of the Reconstruction Period during the 1870s. At that point the vanquished southern states were able to regain control of their destinies and they began to turn back the hands of time. Slavery had been abolished in 1863 by Lincoln in a purely political move to hamstring farm production in the Confederacy. By 1879 the so-called Jim Crow laws had reduced many former slaves to a de facto return to their former status. The white population still owned the land and means of production, the blacks possessed most of the labor. Unfortunately the former slaves were not in a strong bargaining position because they needed to sell this labor at any price just to survive.

Migration to the North was feasible but not very tenable as blacks were no more welcome up north than were the Irish, Italians, and Poles. Prejudice was rife, especially in New York City. So, the  blacks stayed “home” enduring limited persecutions and abuse in the form of lynching for being uppity, whippings, burnouts of their homes, and other behavior by whites that was stimulated by fear and insecurity.

Some of the heroes of the second Civil War were W.E.B. Dubouis, GW Carver, Dwight Eisenhower, Rosa Parks, and the most important; Martin Luther King jr. These men and women took tremendous risks to free their people; a struggle that was long and bloody. As in any war there were heroes killed in action, I plan to discuss some of these people later this week. For most white people the struggle was invisible and for those who were aware of it many found it confusing, unnecessary, and frightening.

I only became aware of this struggle at the age of 10. I had never seen a black person until that time. Though I was born in Louisiana my family moved to California when I was two years old. We lived in a small town called Pacific Grove. I attended the local Catholic school and there were no black children at the school or even in town I guess. There were  Latino children so I knew not everyone was like me. We moved to Atlanta Georgia in 1956; what a change! My first eye-opening experience in the south happened one day on a school trip. There were no black children in that school either, though I suppose there weren’t many black Roman Catholics at the time. The class had been taken to a city park to have a field day of some sort. It was very hot and we got thirsty. We formed a line at the water fountain, it seemed like a long line to a10-year-old. The line formed at a water fountain that was painted white. There was another water fountain, but it was painted black, there was no line there. I looked around and saw that I would have a long wait, so I went over to the fountain that was painted black and slaked my thirst. The reaction from my classmates and teachers was immediate and angry. The water fountains were segregated but I didn’t know it. I don’t remember segregation in California.
I learned about it that day.

1 comment:

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