When historian Rayford Logan wrote about “nadir of American race relations,” he was referring to the period after Reconstruction to the dawn of the 20th century. During this time, he concluded, racism was at a fever pitch, African-Americans lost many of the civil rights they had gained during the Reconstruction era. Back then, lynching, racial violence, segregation and terror attacks on Blacks by the KKK and other white supremacists groups occurred with a terrible frequency.
Black Americans may be some 140 years from Logan’s “nadir,” but we are ever so close to many of the repressive elements that marked that period. Take for example, the recent presidential election in which we are learning more and more each day the extent to which voter suppression played a key role in the outcome. Much of this can be traced back to 2013 when the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and this decision was not at all unlike what happened with the Black disenfranchisement that occurred in the 1870s.
Even the bewildering Electoral College has precedent in the past and a direct connection to the Black experience when you consider it was utilized as a way to minimize the impact of the vote from the majority whites in the North at the time of the nation’s development and the framing of the Constitution. Rather than allow the northern vote to succeed, the white slaveholders in the South, particularly in Virginia in the 1790s, resorted to the three-fifths designation for their captives as defined by the Constitution, thereby giving them a larger population in the franchise and control of the government. In other words, when it came to the Black population, mainly the captives, the slaveholders wanted their body count to improve their numerical advantage but would have them uncounted when it came to taxation.
Donald Trump’s victory has also spurred the rise of reactionary, right-wing formations that, in many respects, resemble the hate groups that made Black life so perilous in the past. A recent convocation of the so-called alt-right, which is no less a euphemism for white supremacy than Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” was a call for white nationalism. What we are witnessing is a racist resurgence that portends devastating days ahead for Black Americans and other minorities. One look at Trump’s proposed cabinet, the surrogates who are ready carry out his ominous proposals, is enough to make us tremble at the thought.
We have learned, too, that the Ku Klux Klan is planning a major march in North Carolina Dec. 3, and nothing can be more alarming than to have them boldly on the streets in sheets as they were in the post-Reconstruction days—and nights. One great commentator on the times remarked that history repeats itself—“first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Well, Trump and his minions are not a farce. They are the tragedy on the horizon and it’s good to see that some of our citizens have taken to the streets, more than serious about challenging some of his draconian plans. Trump has not even been sworn in, but already the police use of a water cannon against protesters at the Dakota Pipeline in freezing temperatures is a brutal harbinger.
OK, as we’ve said before, past is prologue, and if the repressive measures are again on the agenda those forces of racism, retrenchment and reaction must be met with the civil disobedience, the marches and demonstrations that at least temporarily halted that resurgence, giving us time to assemble the ideas and citizenry to counter in the long run those who want to turn back the clock, flip the calendar and “Make America White Again!”