Reconstruction: Who Are the Terrorists?

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I am not sure how to take this bumper sticker; on one hand, I know the student that drives this car. I will defend his character and his genuine sense of being a really good guy; on the other hand, I still find myself troubled by this bumper sticker. I suspect I am interpreting it in a very different way. My Advanced Placement United States history sections recently discussed the complexities of Reconstruction; as we looked at the historiography of Reconstruction, we found the Dunning School to be one of the more accurate schools of thought in its interpretation of the epoch; however, we could not rule out W.E.B Du Bois’s contention in his Black Reconstruction, as noted below.

It was this historical period that created a romanticized vision of the old South that has long captured the hearts of many southerners. Much of this started with D. W. Griffith’s movie Birth of a Nation. This film depicted the KKK riding in on their horses to save the South from Reconstruction — a period that in theory catapulted blacks towards American and human status in the South. Some historians contend that it was at this moment in which America witnessed the rise of the redeemers (KKK) — whites who would showcase their rebel flag and cross as they saved the South from Northern terrorists.

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Written in 1935, Black Reconstruction literally rewrote the official history of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Prior to Du Bois, it was commonly accepted that the Civil War was a tragic conflict that set brother against brother, with the generic slaves acting merely as an historical backdrop. It was equally accepted that the Reconstruction period following the Civil War was disastrous, caused by the “premature” granting of civil and political rights to African Americans. As Du Bois states in the book, “the common three thesis [about] Reconstruction [were]:

 All Negroes were ignorant;
All Negroes were lazy, dishonest, and extravagant;
Negroes were responsible for bad government during Reconstruction.

 

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6 thoughts on “Reconstruction: Who Are the Terrorists?

  1. I find the bumper sticker more than a little disturbing. Could it be, in fact, that the student doesn’t really understand the implications of it? Or, perhaps more hopefully, put it there as a statement of irony?

  2. I know that the sticker is not intended to be ironic. And I think that this student understands the implications of this sticker – for the most part. I don’t believe that this sticker is claiming that Blacks are terrorists, rather, I think that it is claiming that the Union was terrorist in its efforts in the Civil War. The dictionary definition of terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” In addition, terrorists generally have radical views that oppose existing political tradition, and considering that slavery was, and had been, a standard in the World for awhile – the Union could be considered terrorist. This is not a belief that I necessarily agree with – and this might not be what the driver of this car thinks – but it’s just a thought.

    As Carson said, the student who drives this car is a good person. Obviously, his political views are in the far Right direction (he has another sticker that says “comrade Obama”), but fortunately, he has the right to put those stickers on his car. I have a bumper sticker on my car that says “God bless the people of every nation.” I love that sticker – and I put it on my car because I agree with that statement. But, that sticker does not define me – and I would hate for anyone to develop an opinion about me and my character based on that sticker.

    Just wanted to throw that out there before what I am sure will be a heated discussion begins.

  3. I took it the way Dillon did: the South fought against the Northern “terrorists”. As Eddie mentioned, the South began to suggest a romanticized version of events, where the Civil War was “the War of Northern Aggression.”

    This deserves some eye-rolling, but enough time has passed it can also elicit a chuckle. The South has a penchant for bragging that is part of their charm.

    The Confederate flag affects people differently, and context is important. This bumper sticker brags about southern mettle when attacked. We can disagree on the merits of whether the north was terrorist or whether what the south was defending was worthy of protection, but we cannot say the south was without bravery or talent when it came to performance on the battlefield. That the war lasted as long as it did speaks to their tenacity.

    While I laugh at the “peacocking” of this type of Southern revisionist history, I sleep better at night knowing there are a lot of Southern boys (white AND black) in our military across the globe.

  4. I always have thought that those who fly the confederate flag are showing their rebellion to the union since, in essence, that is what the flag represents. But, as others have noted, it’s just another eye roller.

  5. My knowledge of US history in this period is scant. But surely the White League, the Red Shirts (to a lesser extent) but especially the KKK and Knights of the White Camellia were archetypical Terrorists?
    They remind me very much of the Taliban in Afghanistan today.

    How much is ideological/racial, and how much just plain thuggery I can’t say.

    It seems to me that Reconstruction didn’t go far enough. But without severe repression, how could it go further? Extending the franchise to those who had been deliberately kept ignorant was a recipe for disaster and corruption, but not extending it was even worse. The cultural matrix of the time in the dominant North was one of corruption only matched by illinois today.

    However, as I said, may knowledge of the period is scant, and I hope others who know more would comment.

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