The Civil War, The Emancipation Proclamation, And The Slow ‘Disintegration’

In his revisionist history of the Reconstruction A Short History of Reconstruction (Harper and Row, New York, 1990, pp.2) Eric Foner writes:

[T]the [Emancipation] Proclamation  only confirmed what was  happening on farms and plantations throughout the South. War, it has been said, is the midwife of revolution, and well before 1863 the disintegration of slavery had begun. As the Union Army occupied territory on the periphery of the Confederacy, first in Virginia, then in Tennessee, Louisiana, and elsewhere, slaves by the thousands headed for the Union lines. Even in the  heart of the Confederacy, the conflict undermined the South’s “peculiar institution.” The drain of white men into military service left plantations under the control of planters’ wives and elderly and infirm men, whose authority slaves increasingly felt able to challenge. Reports of “demoralized” and “insubordinate” behavior multiplied throughout the South.

The transformation among the South’s slaves that Foner makes note of is a fascinating one. It is a process during and through which the formerly enslaved, oppressed, and controlled comes to realize the older shackles do not hold any more–and begin to act, drawing upon and utilizing, the new-found freedom that is now dramatically visible and manifest. For long after the shackles have been removed, after the overseer has left, after the whip has been put down, the enslaved continues to fear the older control, the always exercised restraint. He has come to internalize these controls, to enact them for himself with great efficiency. He has, as it were, become his own slave master. He anticipates the lashing even when the lash can no longer be raised and lowered.

But one day, the slave realizes the physical acts and tools that have restrained his freedom and punished him when he resisted their controls can no longer act.  In their place are only idle threats, puppets who seek to dominate by borrowing the power of others. Power is gone; only its pale shadow remains. The slave cowers under this shadow for a while, but its insubstantiality is all too easily realized; it can be thrown off, shrugged off. The spell is broken. There is disbelief, a reluctance to admit the nightmare is over. Realization and awakening can take their own time to crystallize, to make real former fantasies. But become real they do.

Sometimes the formerly subjugated rise up suddenly and violently. Sometimes their frustrated energies and ambitions, so long repressed, can only seek, and find, explosive release. Those they turn on can find this anger terrifying and pitiless; they, used to cowering and timidity, find the new insubordination and insolence frightening in its lack of regard for older niceties and norms.

As the Union’s Armies approached then, two fronts advanced: one from the ‘outside,’ one from within. The military front promised defeat of one kind, the crumbling domestic one yet another. The verities it uprooted, the older securities it made fantastic, made it a more threatening and ultimately frightening one.  Even if those realizing it took their time about it.

Note: The book excerpted above is an abridgement of Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 (Harper Perennial, New York, 2014).

Is “Black Lives Matter” Aiding And Abetting Criminals?

This is a very serious question and deserves a serious answer. It is so serious that the New York Times has asked: Is “police reticence in the face of such protests, some led by groups like Black Lives Matter causing crime to rise in some cities”? The first answers are in. Those honorable folk, “the heads of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration said they believed that this so-called Ferguson Effect seemed to be real.” (The Ferguson Effect, which sounds like an atmospheric condition that produces high winds and heavy rain, is capable of creating law and order crises.)

In general, whenever black folk get uppity, crime increases. See, for instance, the wave of crime that spread through the American Deep South after the Civil War during the Reconstruction Era when freed slaves went on a rampage, killing, raping, and looting. Some folks blame that on white racists worried about the imbalance in the old power equations of the American South, but we should remind ourselves that the folks conducting those terrorist campaigns were riding around on horses while wearing white robes and hoods, so we will never, I mean never, know whether they were white or not.

We need not debate this question for too long. The FBI and the DEA–fine, upstanding defenders of civil liberties, and really, the first folks we should check in with when it’s time to evaluate political protest conducted by minorities–would never speak falsely on such matters. Besides, they have better things to do–like entrapping young Muslims in terrorist plots, arresting folks smoking that dangerous chemical, marijuana, and listening to the phone conversations, and reading the emails of, American citizens. (Some pedant will say I should be talking about the NSA but in this post 9/11 intelligence-sharing era, what’s the difference?)

We should be curious though about what such “police reticence” amounts to. Perhaps it means the following. Police officers will not be able to: fire sixteen bullets–known as ’emptying a clip’, I’m told–at black teenagers walking on a highway even ones with knives; come scrambling out of a car and begin firing, assaulting-a-Pacific-Beach style, at a twelve-year old playing with a toy gun in a children’s playground; shoot black men in wheelchairs; drive around a city with a ‘suspect’ in a paddy wagon, and then beat him to death; place sellers of illicit cigarettes in fatal strangleholds; shoot black men in the back, whether during an undercover drug sting or after a traffic stop; shoot black men who have knocked on doors seeking help; search, randomly and roughly, hundreds and thousands of young black men and women in their neighborhoods for looking suspicious.

The ultimate ramifications of such handicapping of our armed forces–sorry, police–are as yet, only poorly understood, but the contours of the resultant landscape are perhaps visible. Black folks will once again walk the streets; they will stay out late at night; they will go into white neighborhoods and mingle with the populace there. Of all the chilling effects of this new police caution, the last one, surely, is the most chilling. Black folks will be set free among us. The horror.