US History/The Nadir of American Race Relations
The "nadir" of race relations in the United States was an ideological era of nationwide hostility by whites against blacks. Racism was so pervasive and, in many cases, so violent that many African Americans realized that they could not influence racists to change their views. Many came to believe that only whites had the power to destroy white supremacy and the racist economic, political, cultural and social networks that supported it. Historians still debate when the nadir took place, although the peak period of lynchings of blacks, ranging from about the late 1880s to just after World War I, is often cited. Others divide the nadir into periods: The True Nadir (1889-1923), and the Post-Nadir Period (1923-1941). During this period, the popular and academic understandings of the histories US slavery, the Civil War ("The War Between the States"), and Reconstruction supported a Confederate/pro-slavery southern white point of view that argued African-American demands for justice were ill-informed and illegitimate since the competition between blacks and whites over resources and power was a zero sum game. By this erroneous view, many white Americans around the nation and in the US held territories overseas supported legal and customary rules of segregation known colloquially as "Jim Crow," especially in the mid-west, middle states and south.
Clouds of Racism
The Nadir originated during the time of Reconstruction. The Reconstruction, as discussed before in Chapter 3 of the previous unit, constituted problems for both ex-Confederates and newly-freed Blacks. Congress was split over the ordeal. Senators in southern states issued discriminatory statutes known as "Black Codes", which attempted to hinder the emancipation movement started by Black and White abolitionists, and Radical Republicans. Race riots broke out throughout the south. Whites killed at least one African-American servicemen per day in Mississippi. In 1868, around 1,080 persons were murdered in Louisiana alone.
In most cities, the only way blacks could relieve the pressure of crowding that resulted from increasing migration was to expand residential borders into surrounding previously white neighborhoods, a process that often resulted in harassment and attacked by white residents whose intolerant attitudes were intensified by fears that black neighbors would cause property values to decline. Moreover the increased presence of African Americans in cities, North and South, as well as their competition with whites for housing, jobs, and political influence sparked a series of race riots. In 1898 white citizens of Wilmington, North Carolina, resenting African Americans’ involvement in local government and incensed by an editorial in an African American newspaper accusing white women of loose sexual behavior, rioted and killed dozens of blacks. In the fury’s wake, white supremacists overthrew the city government, expelling black and white office holders, and instituted restrictions to prevent blacks from voting. In Atlanta in 1906, newspaper accounts alleging attacks by black men on white women provoked an outburst of shooting and killing that left 12 blacks dead and seventy injured. An influx of unskilled black strikebreakers into East St Louis, Illinois, heightened racial tensions in 1917. Rumors that blacks were arming themselves for an attack on whites resulted in numerous attacks by white mobs on black neighborhoods. On July 1, blacks fired back at a car whose occupants they believed had shot into their homes and mistakenly killed two policemen riding in a car. The next day, a full scale riot erupted which ended only after nine whites and 39 blacks had been killed and over three hundred buildings were destroyed.