The Story: History

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From 1865 to 1876 -- you had black and white kids going to school together, you had no segregation. Because the Thirteen, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments had just passed and all of these were about black rights in the black community. And it was really 1890, when we finally got around to making segregation legal.

Aaron Henry

"Exploited time and again"
- Rev. William Finlator

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Confederate soldier

Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Republican Party rose to power throughout the South. Many former Confederates were prohibited from voting, while white Union sympathizers and newly enfranchised African Americans flocked to the Republican Party, considered the party of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation. However, around 1870, former Confederates began to reenter the political process, joining together to form the conservative Democratic Party. The new party opposed federal intervention in states’ rights and spoke out against the Reconstruction policies of Congress (Graham 2005). The “conservative” Democrats would later drop this descriptor and join the national Democratic Party.

"The freest period"
- Aaron Henry

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Reconstruction ended with the Compromise of 1877, through which southern Democrats accepted a Republican victory in the disputed presidential election of 1876. In exchange, they were promised a level of regional autonomy from the federal government, particularly regarding their unobstructed ability to establish policies on racial matters (Bass 4). In short order they reversed many of the changes made by Reconstruction-era Republicans by enacting a series of state and local laws that mandated “separate but equal” status for African Americans. These laws are known as the Jim Crow laws, the most significant of which required that public schools, public places, and public transportation have separate facilities for whites and blacks.

"A man of the people"
- George Wallace

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During this same period, the South’s white farmers were also facing disenfranchisement. Many years of low cotton prices had left them impoverished and in debt. Their struggles were left overwhelmingly unaddressed by prosperous political leaders. An agrarian uprising resulted, through which white farmers organized themselves into what became the Populist Party. In an effort to successfully challenge the dominance of the Democratic Party, southern Populists aggressively recruited black Republicans to their cause (New Georgia Encyclopedia). Between 1890 and 1910, the populist movement inspired coalitions among African Americans and poor whites. However, the movement’s eventual failure stripped both communities of political power and pitted one against the other in economic competition (Bass 4).