Dealing With Diversity in America From Reconstruction Through the 1920’s
America has been labeled “the land of opportunity” due to people’s belief that any dream could be achieved in the country and that everyone is accepted there for who they are. Despite being a very diverse continent harboring people from all races and walks of life, racism is still a struggle that minority groups especially African Americans face. However, racism has been dated back to the slavery era when Americans sourced slave labor for their plantations and farms from Africa. In the 1850s and 1860s, Republicans led by Abraham Lincoln wanted slavery to be banned in America whereas the southern states felt that that would be a violation of their constitutional rights. The southerners felt that emancipation of slaves would be a huge blow to their economy. They worried that if Lincoln amassed enough votes and became president he would ban slavery, a fact that brought a lot of tension and instability in the country. This instability and tension eventually resulted in the break out of a civil war. The civil war began in April 1861 shortly after President Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration when the Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Lincoln issued an emancipation proclamation in 1863 which made ending slavery the ultimate war goal. The civil war ended in April 1865 resulting in the freedom of the remaining slaves, marking the beginning of the Reconstruction era. In this paper, I will be discussing how the lost cause narrative, political policies and reform movements impacted racial prejudice and increased democracy and diversity and the contribution of these historical events to the modern business world.
The lost cause narrative
After the civil war, the southern states came up with a narrative which sought to justify their defeat and reasons for involvement in the war known as the lost cause. The term “lost cause” was popularized when Edward Pollard, an editor in the Richmond Examiner during the war wrote his book with the same name. The southern states argued that they fought the war not to maintain slavery but to retain the southern way of life. Through the lost cause, they portrayed themselves in a favorable light ( Duby, 2005) depicting themselves as fighters for a noble cause. The phrase “southern way of life “ referred in general to the antebellum period when slaves worked in the southern plantations which was basically what the southern states fought for in the war. The southerners commonly held belief that they slavery was a sacred institution through which they offered Christianity to African “savages” (Cox, 2008).They insisted that slaves were treated well and their loyalty to their benevolent masters was rational. The white people in the southern states depicted their military leaders during the war as heroes and put up monuments in their honor. Through the lost cause narrative, the southerners argued that the northern states had worn the war due to their superiority in manpower and weaponry combined with the incompetence of General Lee’s subordinates during the war.
This narrative influenced the racial policy in that black slaves were seen as a lesser people, people who needed to be owned and controlled for the benefit of the white man. Despite the maltreatment black people underwent during slavery, the southern white people insisted that they were doing them a favor by providing them with basic needs and knowledge of religion in exchange for forced labor on the plantations (Shultz 2018). The honor and glorification of the fighters for the continuity of slavery as protection to the southern “way of life” was a disregard to the black slaves’ rights as human beings (The civil war journey). In some books and films produced in the south, Yankees and freedmen were depicted as depredators and exploiters of southern culture and womanhood. This ideology perpetuated hatred and disregard for black people after the civil war thus promoting racism.
The role of political policies in promoting diversity and “melting pot”
During the reconstruction, people from the south intended to keep the black person commonly known as the Negro repressed socially, economically, and politically despite the abolishment of slavery. A majority of state legislators passed “black codes” in an attempt to control the Negro and all white people who interacted with them. These codes were so harsh that the people from the north regarded to them as a revival of slavery in disguise (Bucher, 2017). For instance in the state of Mississippi the state legislators put up apprentice laws, vagrancy law, the penal code and a limited version of civil rights for negroes. These policies greatly undermined diversity in the south.
The ”melting pot” was a metaphor that was used to depict a nation that was a mixture of people from different ethnic, religious, racial and cultural origins all coming together and uniting as one. The metaphor first came up after a play by Israel Zangwill, an immigrant was performed in Washington. Since then, it became a representation of America as a fusion of elements in solution in a vast hot pot( James,2012 ). The melting pot theory sees American identity is based on intermarriages among immigrants. During the civil war and the post-war era state laws prohibited marriages between whites and non-whites. These laws were known as anti-miscegenation laws which ensured that there was minimum contamination of white blood by black blood. However, the contribution of ex-African freedmen in the country’s sports and music industries was celebrated as American victory but they were still treated as second-class citizens. However, the idea of the melting pot led to the involvement of all races in the military, entertainment industry, sports and Olympics among others. This theory helped the Americans to see each other as one people and appreciate their differences by showing that there is strength in diversity.
The role of reform movements between 1865 and 1930 that led to increased democracy
When the civil war ended, African Americans felt the need for representation and acquisition of democratic rights in America. As a result of this thirst, they came up with political movements that pushed for reforms in terms of democracy and representation in decision making in America. The first movement was the African-American civil rights movement(1865-1869) which was mainly aimed at ending racial segregation against African-Americans, The establishment of electoral power and the improvement of education for black Americans. The newly formed federal government tried to integrate the freedmen as citizens in the society but their quest for electoral power was bashed in 1896 after the supreme court ruled a landmark upholding that declared” negroes separate but equal” . The three reconstruction amendments: the thirteenth amendment that outlawed slavery, the fourteenth amendment that guaranteed equal rights for all and citizenship for blacks and the fifteenth amendment that prevented race from being a reason for disfranchisement. Black men in the south acquired their right to vote in 1867 which they later lost in 1897. Black people formed factions such the black and tan faction of 1888. In the South, black people slowly encroached on the republican leadership posts with the intention of seeking independence and political power. They were joined by the poor white farmers in the south during the Agrarian revolution and through their coalition got the state legislator and governor seats simultaneously. The white democrats held white supremacy campaigns which gradually sent the republicans out of office. Black Americans finally got their right to vote in 1965 after a long struggle.
As a prospective businessperson of African-American descent, an understanding of the African-American history puts current issues in perspective and gives a student motivation to impact positive change in their specific areas of study. It also enables one to realize the privileges that African-Americans have acquired over time making them appreciate them more( Tisby 2018). This knowledge could help in the promotion and appreciation of diversity in all areas of interaction.
In conclusion, the struggle for equality and democracy for the African- American was long and strenuous. However, racism and inferior treatment is still an issue that bothers the black American. With this understanding, we can deal with diversity all around us, harmoniously regardless of race, culture, religion or ethnicity.
Shultz M. Kevin ,US History Since 1865(student edition),HIS5: Vol 2,Boston Cengage
Civil war Journeys :The Lost Cause, Retrieved from http://civil-war-journeys.org/the_lost_cause.htm
The Mississippi Black Code. Retrieved from http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/122/recon/code.html
Black testimony on the aftermath of enslavement: Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction. Retrieved from https://college.cengage.com/history/wadswort_9781133309888/unprotected/ps/black_testimony.htm
Tisby Jemar, Five Reasons you Should Celebrate Black History Month, Copyright 2018
Duby Christine Rachel, The Myth of Lost Cause and Tennessee Textbooks 1889-2002, Copyright 2005 East Tennessee State University.
Cox L. Karen, The Whole Point of Confederate Monuments is to Celebrate White Supremacy, Copyright 2017, The Washington Post: Democracy Dies in Darkness.
Bucher S. Gregory, Romanticism of the “lost cause” Copyright 2017, First Things .