When the GOP colluded with the Democratic Party to hand the election of 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes over Sam Tilden (the actual winner) a decade long experiment in Federal Civil Rights activism was brought to an end. When the Union Army left the Southern states they left millions of African Americans behind to fend for themselves in a society that once more became dominated by racist patriarchal corporatist religious fanatics. The African Americans and white liberals elected to state and national office in the South by newly enfranchised black male voters were swept away almost overnight, and were replaced with demagogues with one aim in mind: Reinstate the Antebellum status quo. This they did gleefully. By the end of the 19th century nearly all the gains made by the African American community, with reluctant but at times quite real help from the Federal Government and former abolitionists, were wiped out. In their place was a new set of draconian and terrifying racist laws and unwritten social codes of conduct known collectively today as “Jim Crow”. The Klan reemerged as a political as well as a terrorist force in the South, voting, property and economic rights were stripped away and African Americans were once more considered one step bellow human. All this for a President who is best known for his ridiculous beard.
Jump forward nearly a century and a half and we find things are immeasurably better for minorities then they used to be in the South, but at the same time immeasurably worse then in rest of the country and indeed the rest of the Industrialized world. African Americans are still underrepresented at the state and national level, and while this problem is not limited to the South it is striking that there has been no black Southern senator in over a century. African Americans still find themselves harassed legally and extra legally at the polls and in the workplace and even in the streets. And now add to that list gays, women, children of low income families, non-Christians, and even non-protestants. Schools are still largely segregated in many deep south communities and when they are integrated they are controlled by racists who attempt to shut African Americans and gays out of activities and opportunities. Religious fanatics have more control over public policy then do legislatures or voters, and even the court system is biased in favor of enforced Christian theocracy (Hello Roy Moore!) Does this sound like deja vu to you too? Things don’t have to be that drastic to have a negative affect on minority rights though: most of the Southern States have enacted restrictive voting rules and laws akin to the old poll taxes and voter tests of ye olden days. There is still widespread violence against African Americans, men in particular, and also horribly bigoted laws against gays and women’s rights (see the attempt by Alabama & Virginia to force vaginal ultrasounds on women wanting abortions, the recent Jena 6 case along with Matthew Shepherd’s murder in Texas, and the “don’t say gay” bill in Tennessee)
The South is behind the rest of the nation in almost every basic economic and social category. Texas now teaches its children about creationism instead of abortion, and claims that Jefferson played less a part in the American Revolution than did Moses. Adult and infant mortality rates, obesity rates, school drop out rates, literacy rates, poverty, healthcare, crime, pollution…On almost every issue of importance to modern Americans the south is hopelessly backwards. It would be hilarious if it were not so tragic.
So what do we do about all of this? The state governments refuse to do anything to help their people move forward out of poverty (Florida even went so far as to DRUG TEST welfare recipients…Am I the only one who sees a serious racial angle to this law?). The southern state governments do not seem to think it is anyone’s business how corrupt, backward, poor and stupid their states actually are. So what do you do when the leaders of a large segment of the American family has refused to do anything to advance progress in their communities? Well, I have have a “Modest Proposal”: Re-Invade the states of the former Confederacy!
You may think I am insane, but reconstruction was an amazingly effective program. The federal government took land once farmed by slaves from former slave holders and gave them to black farmers and businessmen to use, which helped some African Americans pull themselves out of poverty. The army protected Black Men who went to vote in elections, and the Federal Government mandated that the Southern States ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments as a condition of once more becoming a part of the USA. African Americans were helped by government employment and schooling programs that were funded by steep taxes on former Confederates, slave owners, and war profiteers. Universal public education was mandated and new pro-civil rights constitutions were written and ratified with the input and participation of African American politicians, philosophers, thinkers and businessmen. African Americans were free for the first time to gather in public, protest for a redress of grievances, and fully participate in the free market of ideas as well as the economic market. African Americans were elected to state legislatures in drives and even a few black men were elected to national political office. Of course this was not all done by the Federal Government: countless men and women at a community level fought long and hard for their rights and improved their communities from the inside out. But things were made much easier and safer with official Federal Protection and aid.
These accomplishments are the honest truth, and so is this: The Federal Government has the resources and the intellectual capital to once more come to the aid of African American community organizers, leaders, business-people and citizens. On top of that the government can also bring much needed aid to communities of all colors, creeds and orientations who have been held back by racist and patriarchal State Governments. The 14th Amendment has yet to reach anywhere near its full potential as a ratified Amendment in the South, and as its passage and implementation was a condition of rejoining the Union I see no problem in calling in the heavy debts that Southern States owe their people. The Federal government did well when it intervened militarily and politically and judicially in the late 50’s 60’s 70’s and 80’s.
But they did not do enough, and we can still do more. Send Federal troops to keep all poll stations open on election day, recall all State representatives who do not sign an oath to pass laws that uphold the 14th Amendment, The Civil Rights act, The Voting Rights Act, The Americans With Disabilities Act, and anti-Gay discrimination laws. The Federal Government would also mandate certain levels of minority representation in state houses. Heavily tax southern corporations and landowners who still exploit African American labor for profit, and use the proceeds to fund education programs in poor rural and urban communities in areas most impacted by racist and bigoted laws. Anti-Minority militia, social, and political groups should be banned and their leaders hunted down and prosecuted on Civil Rights and Terrorism charges. Affirmative action should be enforced in all Public institutions, especially state schools famous for their racism and discriminatory policies. Sports programs especially should be reformed to allow for more academic support for minority athletes and to erase all the hateful racist imagery that still pervades much of the academic sports world. And this is just a start.
The South is not the only region of the nation that is far behind where they should be, but no area has more issues with minority rights, economic rights, workers rights, women’s rights and gay rights then does the American South. Jim Crow is not dead, but the Federal Government in partnership with Southern Civil Rights activists can finally send him to the historical dust-bin where he belongs.