They say that the third time is a charm but do not believe it. America is smack dab in the middle of a backlash stemming from the “Third Reconstruction,” and it is ugly. American history repeats, and it rhymes.
The First Reconstruction was the period between 1870 and 1887. Seventeen African-American Representatives served in Congress after the Union won the Civil War. The 17 were all Republicans elected from southern states and were diverse in educational, professional, and social backgrounds. However, the South never actually withdrew from the battle.
Black folks were proud, but White folks were not having it! Backlash 1.0 came soon after Reconstruction 1.0. The Ku Klux Klan grew and became openly hostile to newly freed slaves and their fragile rights.
The 1890s brought in Jim Crow Laws that enforced segregation by the legal principle known as ‘separate but equal.’ Jim Crow allowed for poll taxes, literacy tests, and voter disqualification. Voter suppression efforts today, though vile and contemptuous, are mild compared to Jim Crow.
“Black Codes” limited the freedom of African Americans. The most sinister feature of the Black Codes is that they guaranteed America had a “cheap labor force” after slavery. Blacks were required to sign a yearly labor contract, and those who refused were arrested or punished.
“Sundown Laws” enforced “White only” towns and suburbs to ensure that Blacks did not sully the “loveliness of Lily-Whiteness.” “Get out of town at sundown” was a common threat in the old cowboy movies, but it could mean sudden death or dismemberment to Black laborers or travelers.
Sundown towns appeared throughout the continental U.S. and, in some cases, included Mexicans, Chinese, Japanese, Jewish, and Native Americans. One sign in Connecticut read, “Whites Only Within City Limits After Dark.”
The Second Reconstruction ran from 1945-1968 or from the end of World War II until the late 1960s. Grassroots, civil rights movements persuaded the White House, the federal courts, Congress, and L.B.J. to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
It has long been conjectured that L.B.J. predicted the Democratic Party would lose the South for a generation. The Democrats have lost the South for three generations and going toward a fourth with no end in sight.
Backlash 2.0 came quickly. The Republican Party blossomed with the help of some slick talking politicians. Jim Crow became James Crow Esquire. The post-Civil Rights GOP cleverly veiled their racism. “Segregation now and forever” was recoded to “patriotism and Conservatism.”
Ronald Reagan replaced George Wallace as the new poster boy. Reagan nodded at Negroes while winking at White privilege. President “Re-Ron” advocated “accountability and bootstraps” concurrent to cutting all ties with Affirmative Action programs.
Many scholars believe that the Third Reconstruction commenced in 2008. The election and re-election of Barack Hussein Obama, a signal of upward Black mobility, has angered White folks all over again. Obama was welcomed as the H.N.I.C. of Black America, but not White America.
Presidential candidate Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy predicted in the 1960s that a Black man could be elected within 40 years. Obama was elected 40 years and four months after RFK’s own assassination.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008, was a joyous night. The world watched as this cosmopolitan, chocolate family shared the stage with Joe Biden and his family. Nevertheless, “backlash three” has been no charm, and it was raging before Obama could recite his oath of office.
Backlash 3.0 began with Mitch McConnell and the Tea Party. The hatred and hubris were so foul that Republicans like John McCain and John Boehner could not stand the stench. All the Tea Party and “Birthers” needed was a leader. They got their wish!
If you could stuff slave owners, the K.K.K. and corporate America into one suit, it would look just like Donald Trump. Trump is the three-headed monster that only American racism and White privilege could produce, and Trumpism will not die when he draws his last breath.
Stay tuned because Backlash 3.0 will continue for at least a few more years. America has come a long way, but we can never get beyond the circumference of race and ethnicity.
White folks officially started their latest civil war on January 6, 2021. Black folks, minorities and immigrants are scapegoats… again. Nothing is charming about our predicament.
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.