Greene an alabama black politician later recalled but

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Greene, an Alabama black politician later recalled. “But the tocsin of freedom sounded andknocked at the door and we walked out like free men and we met the exigencies as they grewup, and shouldered the responsibilities.”YOU NEVER SAW a people more excited on the subject of politics than are the negroes of thesouth,” one planter observed in 1867. And there were more than a few Southern whites as wellwho in these years shook off the prejudices of the past to embrace the vision of a new Southdedicated to the principles of equal citizenship and social justice. One ordinary South Carolinianexpressed the new sense of possibility in 1868 to the Republican governor of the state: “I amsorry that I cannot write an elegant stiled letter to your excellency. But I rejoice to think that Godalmighty has given to the poor of S. C. a Gov. to hear to feel to protect the humble poor withoutdistinction to race or color. … I am a native borned S. C. a poor man never owned a Negro in mylife nor my father before me. … Remember the true and loyal are the poor of the whites andblacks, outside of these you can find none loyal.”Few modern scholars believe the Reconstruction governments established in the South in 1867and 1868 fulfilled the aspirations of their humble constituents. While their achievements in suchrealms as education, civil rights, and the economic rebuilding of the South are now widelyappreciated, historians today believe they failed to affect either the economic plight of theemancipated slave or the ongoing transformation of independent white farmers into cottontenants. Yet their opponents did perceive the Reconstruction governments in precisely this way—as representatives of a revolution that had put the bottom rail, both racial and economic, ontop. This perception helps explain the ferocity of the attacks leveled against them and thepervasiveness of violence in the postemancipation South.The spectacle of black men voting and holding office was anathema to large numbers ofSouthern whites. Even more disturbing, at least in the view of those who still controlled theplantation regions of the South, was the emergence of local officials, black and white, who
9/21/12The New View Of Reconstruction8/10sympathized with the plight of the black laborer. Alabama’s vagrancy law was a “dead letter’ in1870, “because those who are charged with its enforcement are indebted to the vagrant vote fortheir offices and emoluments.” Political debates over the level and incidence of taxation, thecontrol of crops, and the resolution of contract disputes revealed that a primary issue ofReconstruction was the role of government in a plantation society. During presidentialReconstruction, and after “Redemption,” with planters and their allies in control of politics, the lawemerged as a means of stabilizing and promoting the plantation system. If RadicalReconstruction failed to redistribute the land of the South, the ouster of the planter class fromcontrol of politics at least ensured that the sanctions of the criminal law would not be employed todiscipline the black labor force.

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