Second Reconstructions Term Paper

Pages: 14 (6309 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 16  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

SAMPLE EXCERPT:

[. . .] This was much less than the $35 billion cost of "an unjust, evil war in Vietnam," which King wanted to end (King 1967). Yet he also opposed violence and insisted that the riots in Watts in 1965 and in Detroit and Newark two years later accomplished nothing for civil rights or the improvement of economic conditions. Nor did he believe that a violent revolution would ever succeed in the United States, given that even the majority of blacks opposed it.

Blacks still live in segregated ghettos with high levels of unemployment and gang violence, while black poverty and unemployment are still at least double the levels of whites, as they always have been. Nor is there any longer a bipartisan consensus in favor of civil rights as there was in the 1960s. Instead, the Republicans became the party of the white backlash and changed the focus to "the negative side effects of affirmative action rather than about the need for positive measures to end discrimination" (Grofman 1). Violence and police brutality against blacks certainly continued, such as the beating of Rodney King by the police in Los Angles, which lead to the most violent riots since the 1960s when the officers were acquitted in 1992 (Hasday 103). Discrimination is housing also continued, and the 1968 Civil Rights Act that outlawed it has never been effectively enforced. Even its passage was simply a reluctant move by a Congress that was badly shaken by the nationwide rioting after the assassination of Martin Luther King that year.

Perhaps the most important contrast between Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963 and his 1967 "Where Do We Go from Here?" was that he discussed economic issues far more by the end of his life. Civil rights, desegregation and voting rights were not enough given that the majority of blacks were still in poverty, lacked adequate housing and educational opportunities and had high levels of unemployment. King's message in 1967 was more radical than his speech four years before, and he was assassinated in 1968 at a time when he was organizing a Poor People's March on Washington that many whites feared would end up in riots. Black poverty and social inequality is still common today, and perhaps even worse because of the current recession, despite the successes of the 1960s civil rights movement. Obviously that movement did change American society to some degree or Barack Obama would have had no chance at all of ever being elected president. In his "A More Perfect Union" speech in 2008, Obama also discussed economic issues far more frequently than King had in 1963, although his solutions for poverty were never as bold as King's guaranteed annual income. As both King and Obama discovered, demanding equal rights and individual liberties in the United States has always been easier than obtaining social and economic rights, although in the case of blacks both types of rights have been frequently denied.

In his 2008 speech, Obama realized that King's work had not yet been completed and that racism and segregation were still very real obstacles that blacks and other minorities faced in their daily lives in America. Nevertheless, he also wished to create a movement that was broader than issues of race, and that addressed social and economic justice for all people in the United States. Even there, these were also part of the legacy of the earlier struggles against slavery and segregation, and could be called part of the unfinished revolution of the 1960s. Obama spoke far more about economic conditions than did King in 1963, especially working class and middle class whites who did not believe they were especially privileged in the United States. They had seen their industrial jobs and pensions disappearing for decades and their wages and incomes stagnate or decline. Their conditions worsened further doing the current recession, but politicians had been manipulating their racial fears and resentments for many years, focusing them on issues like affirmative action. Blacks and other minorities were not to blame for the social and economic decline of the lower classes, but rather "a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many" (Obama 2008).

By historical standards, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act have been enormously successful, as far as they went, and indeed one of the few federal interventions in this area that has made a real difference in the lives of minorities. They did guarantee basic civil and voting rights to blacks that had been granted only temporarily in the First Reconstruction, then withdrawn gain. They did not end poverty, discrimination, police brutality or racism in general, but certainly made it impossible to allow these to continue as a matter of law and public policy in the United States -- which they always had been prior to 1964. Were Martin Luther King still alive today, he would note the progress that has been made, while still pointing out that a lot more needs to be done, particularly in inner-city slums and ghettos, or with the majority of young black males being in prison or on probation. Thanks to the conservative backlash after 1968, of course, progress on most of these areas has been stalled, although the election of a black president in 2008 was definitely something that could never have happened in America before the civil rights movement. In fact, it would have literally been impossible and unthinkable in 1964. Nevertheless, as King was well aware of, a change of laws did not alter the severe social and economic injustices faced by blacks and members of other minority groups.

2. Some scholars have argued that the United States in general and the American South in particular experienced TWO Reconstructions: the first initiated by the Civil War and slave emancipation (1863-1877), and the second initiated by the developing struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. Do you believe that this argument has merit? What would the similarities and differences be between such a first and second Reconstruction? Were the goals and objectives similar or different? Were the parties and groups brought into conflict similar or different? What of the achievements and failures? How similar in fact were they? Was there a historical relationship between the two periods? And how fundamental were their challenges to the organization of American society?

QUESTION 2: THE FAILURE OF THE FIRST RECONSTRUCTION: FROM SLAVERY TO SEGREGATION

Abraham Lincoln in his famous letter to the New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley in 1863 stated that he regarded the issue of slavery as one of pragmatism and expediency rather than morality, and that if he could save the Union by freeing, all, some or none of the slaves then he would do so. His Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 also reflected this pragmatism, freeing all slaves in states that were still in rebellion as a war measure while leaving others alone in the Border States that had remained loyal to the Union. Nor did he ever seem particularly enthusiastic about extending full citizenship and voting rights to the freed slaves, although behind the scenes in 1864-65 he worked actively in support of the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery everywhere in the U.S. when it was ratified in 1865. For black leaders like Frederick Douglass and radical members of his own party like Rep. Thaddeus Stevens and Senators Charles Sumner and Ben Wade, Lincolns policies on slavery and Reconstruction were too moderate, centrist and slow, and they were the real driving force behind Radical Reconstruction in 1867-77, which required the Southern States to ratify the 14th Amendment in 1868, which guaranteed equal citizenship for blacks, and the 15th in 1870 that enfranchised black males. For the majority of white Southerners, though, these policies contradicted their view on white supremacy and had only been imposed on them at gunpoint by the victors in the Civil War. Once the last of the federal troops were removed after the Compromise of 1877, blacks lost their civil and voting rights and were "firmly relegated to the lower rungs of the economic ladder" (Woodward 1955/2002, 5). Had this not occurred after 1877, there would have been no need for a Second Reconstruction in the 1950s and 1960s. Segregation and denial of black voting rights were considered 'legal' by state and local governments and upheld by Supreme Court decisions like Plessey v. Ferguson (1896) and Williams v. Mississippi (1897). For the United States, "separate but equal" was the law of the land in many parts of the country until 1964, and while the separation by race was real equality part never existed (Glover 14).

There were two Reconstructions in American history, although the first one in 1865-77 ended with restoration of home rule and white… [END OF PREVIEW]

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