Saturday, March 7, 2015

Case for an Educated Postwar Black Electorate


Radical Republican political hegemony in the postwar South depended upon the freedmen casting votes, despite their illiteracy and lack of education and experience in a republican form of government. These Republicans formed Union and Loyal Leagues in the South that would teach the freedmen to hate their white neighbors, vote against their interests, and cause irreparable racial wounds which remain today.

Bernhard Thuersam,

Case for an Educated Postwar Black Electorate Debated:

"Chaplain Noble, who conducted literacy classes for the enlisted men of the 128th United States Colored Troops in Beaufort (an infantry of ex-slaves), related the outcome of a debate he arranged to "enliven" the class. The question was whether Negroes should be given immediate suffrage or whether they should learn to read first, with "the more intelligent" of the class clearly favoring the latter position "on the ground that you ought never to undertake a job unless you know how to do it."

But those who learned less easily were in favor of immediate suffrage. One of the speakers — a black thick-lipped orator — commenced his speech as follows:

"de chaplain say we can learn to read in short time. Now dat may de with dem who are mo' ready. God hasn't made all of us alike. P'rhaps some will get an eddication in a little while. I knows de next generation will. We hasn't had no chance at all. De most of us are slow and dull. Dere fo' Mr. Chaplain, I tink we better not wait for eddication."

Whether because of the potential logic of universal suffrage for the illiterate black majority, or because the difficulties of the chaplain's lessons made suffrage based on literacy seem rather remote for some of the slow learners, the speaker's sagacity brought decisive nods of approval from the majority of the audience."

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pg. 34)