Lecture 26: Color Lines, Part 2

Suggestions for Further Reading:

Jonathan Earle, The Routledge Historical Atlas of the African American History (2000).

Andrew K. Frank, The Routledge Historical Atlas of the American South (1999).

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903). (available online at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/408)

Eric Foner, Reconstruction Updated Edition: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (1988; rev ed, 2014); also available in abridged edition, A Short History of Reconstruction (2015).

Nell Irvin Painter, Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction (1977).

John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (9th ed, 2010). (pioneering textbook survey)

C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955, 1974, 2002). (classic historical study that itself helped shape the Civil Rights Movement's protests against segregation)

Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America (2002).

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (1988); Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 (1998); At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (2006). (classic three-volume biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., is also among the best available narrative overviews of the Civil Rights Movement and this period of U.S. history)

Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality (1975; 2004).

Mark Fiege, "The Road to Brown v. Board: An Environmental History of the Color Line," in Fiege, The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States (2012), 318-57.

Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (1996; 2014).


The exam is a week from today. It will NOT include an objective identification section, but instead will consist of blue book essays. These essays will all ask you to take some major theme of the course and think about large processes of landscape change we've discussed, and ask you to show how to read these processes on the landscape. On the back of the exam will be a copy of the Erwin Raisz map that we've been looking at all semester. You may mention features on that map in your essay, though don't spend excessive amounts of time trying to locate things on that map.

The review session for the final is next Monday in this room at 7pm. We'll talk more about preparing for the exam in that session.

The material covered by the exam is technically all post-midterm. That said, for your blue book essays you can use material from whatever in the course helps support your essay's claims. So though you are not required to include material from before the midterm, but you are more than welcome and in fact encouraged to do so. You will certainly want to refresh your memory of material we covered before the midterm, since it laid the methodologial foundations for everything we've done since.

I. Color Lines, Part II (continued from Monday)

In Monday's lecture, I only made it about halfway through the material I wanted to discuss. So instead of jettisoning that material, today I'm going to offer what you can think of as "Color Lines, Part II." In today's lecture, I want to think about the African-American experience of the American landscape, in particular African-American experiences of the color line.

Here's the slide I intended to show you on Monday: Milwaukee's racial dot map from 2010, showing Milwaukee as the most segregated city in the United States. You can compare this map to the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) map showing neighborhoods in 1930s Milwaukee graded by most to least desirable for mortgage lending. You can map Milwaukee's contemporary geogragraphy right onto this 1930s map.


Navigate the Milwaukee on this map to see the city's racial composition in the 2010 census:

To further demonstrate how history matters and how the past repeats itself, let's look at this third map, of mortgages given in Milwaukee in the past decade. The absense of mortgages on this map are almost identical to those areas outlined in red—deemed very undesireable for mortgage lending—on the HOLC mortgage map from the 1930s.

I want to correct one other statement I made on Monday. I believe that I said that the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1884; that figure is off by two years, the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into federal law in 1882. It was in large part agitated for by Irish union workers and leadership, most notably Dennis Kearney (1847-1907), Irish-American labor leader of the Workingmen's Party of California. One result of the 1882 Act's passage was a significant increase in the number of Japanese migrants to the U.S..

II. Legacies of the Civil War and Reconstruction

Finally, before I launch into today's lecture, I'll remind you that although we're talking about African-American landscape history, there have always been other racial groups present as well. We are focusing on African-American landscape history today because African Americans, unlike others, were the one racial group of individuals that could legally be bought and sold as human chattel in the U.S.. This makes African-American experiences in the U.S. fundamentally different from that of individuals in other racial or ethnic groups, though in truth the laws written to exclude African Americans would shape the exeriences of many other racial groups in this country.

Recall the Black Belt, the area of cotton agriculture in the U.S. South and particularly along the Mississippi River. The fact that slaves could flee enslavement by physically moving to the U.S. north or across the border into Canada meant that international boundaries were very significant to shaping this story. A variety of police forces were employed to try and stop individuals from fleeing slavery. Sometimes these police forces were agents of the state, i.e. government agents. But sometimes these police forces were privately hired and litigated under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Some of the most horrific actions were perpetrated by hired agents in the private sector. This is a lecture in which we will see some of the most violent and horrifying images we will encounter all semester. Violations of the color line came with brutal implications: we will not understand the meaning of the color line on the landscape unless we look at these photographs carefully.

Again, I'll remind that there were people fleeing slavery out of the U.S. South up until the end of the Civil War in 1865, and continued to do so after the CIvil War, though after 1865 fleeing was because of difficult social conditions and violence rather than the presence of slavery as a legal institution.

The Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case (1857) meant that freedom would not result from a Black man or woman who fled north to free states like New York or Massachusetts. The decision affirmed the legal rights of slave agents to go north and pull former slaves back into slavery. The decision also challenged earlier federal policies that had prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory and in the territories of the trans-Mississippi West, representing a huge geographic shift. The Dred Scott decision played a very significant role in the political upsets that led to the Civil War, and is widely regarded as one of the most worst decisions ever made by the U.S. Supreme Court.

After Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected as president in 1860, many southern states seceded from the U.S. With the outbreak of the Civil War, growing numbers of Black soldiers were allowed to carry guns. Maps show us that many of those Black soldiers fighting for the Union side—and a smaller number for the Confederate cause—came from slave states in the U.S. South. The large numbers that fought for the Northern cause is an example of the role that African Americans themselves played in shaping the way the war was fought.

In the middle of the war, the North's victory at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862, gave Lincoln the political maneuvering room he needed to declare on September 22, 1862 that slavery would be abolished in all Confederate states as of January 1, 1863. This declaration was called the Emancipation Proclamation. It was meant as much as a military action directed against the Confederate states, and Lincoln justified it legally as a wartime action. Its terms meant that enslaved men and women in the four slave states still in the Union—Maryland, Missouri, Delaware, and Kentucky—would not be freed legally on January 1, 1863. Notice how this federal edict reshaped the color lines running through the U.S.

The end of the Civil War in 1865 was followed by the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, collectively known as the Reconstruction Amendments. These amendments reshaped the country and continue to reshape it into the present day. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the entire U.S. The 14th Amendment asserted citizenship rights for former slaves, ensures equal protection under the law for all citizens, and ensures due process. Its ratification meant that it barred the passage of state laws that the rights of citizenship, and establishes birthright citizenship. Some of the 14th Amendment's terms are still cause for debate today. What counts as equal protection? What counts as due process? What should the federal government be able to do to enforce the 14th Amendment? Even birthright citizenship is now being questioned. There are questions that have been contested right up until the present day.

The 15th Amendment established that former slaves could now vote as citizens. Notice that the 15th Amendment makes no mention of gender, but implicitly refers only to men. Not by accident, this amendment helped energize women's suffrage movements agitating for voting rights for women.

Here is one symbolic image of all the changes ushered in by these Reconstruction Amendments: an etching of a Black man voting. The act of a black man—a former slave liberated by the Civil War, freed by the 13th Amendment, given rights by the 14th Amendment, and empowered to vote under the 15th Amendment—became a symbol of the dramatic changes enacted during the Reconstruction period (1865-1877). During these twelve years, the South was in effect occupied territory, with federal agents and military troops stationed in many parts of the region.

In this period, a number of African-Americans were elected as members of Congress, though that number would diminish by the late 19th century and early 20th century. This shift of Congressional representation back to White men was representative of one of the phenomena we'll explore shortly: the birth of a Jim Crow South after the end of Reconstruction in 1877.

Slaves had no right to marry, and no right to choose to stay with their families. Former slaves, called "freedmen," a term which includes both men and women, obtained the right to marry. The Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency charged with overseeing the post-Civil War implementation of legal and economic changes, would oversee the extension of the right to marry, and also the creation of schools where many former slaves learned to read for the first time.

Another of the things denied many slaves was literacy, so access to the written word was a crucial part of Reconstruction. This lack of access was one of the things that made Frederick Douglass, the Black social reformer and statesman, so extraordinary as a former slave. He would emerge as one of the most powerful orators of the late 19th century. The appearance of schools for Black children, coupled with the emergence of Black newspapers, symbolize more generally the emergence of a Black professional class: doctors, lawyers, newspaper owners, teachers, and especially ministers.

Along with schools came the emergence of colleges and universities welcoming Black students. One of the most important of these universities was chartered by the federal government in 1867: Howard University. Its law school, particularly its graduate Thurgood Marshall, would play an important role in the Civil Rights momvement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Along with schools was the flourishing of a rich religious tradition. The free Black church had two important strands: the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Baptist congregations. Particularly in the Baptist congregations, the charismatic practice of Protestant religiosity would contribute to forming of Black leaders who were prominent not just in Black religious life but in politics, the best-known symbol of which was Martin Luther King, Jr. The role of the Baptish church in the southern landscape was crucial to shaping African-American experiences in the decades following the Civil War.

The active role of African Americans in building their own communities cut again the resistance of non-Black Americans, or white Americans, to changes happening in the wake of the war. A problem confronting White slave owners was how to replace the labor previously supplied by enslaved people. To solve it, large plantation owners turned to sharecropping, an agreement that involved assigning old plantation lands to former slaves which those individuals worked as tenants or even sometimes as owners. Whether tenant farmers or owners, these Black workers needed money to pay for farming expenses, and a form of debt peonage emerged. Half of whatever a Black farmer raised on the land was collected by the creditor at the end of the harvest, creating a cycle of debt from which it was almost impossible to escape. Sharecropping was not quite slavery, but not very far from it. It became of the defining attributes of rural agriculture in the South, and would continue well into the 20th century.

III. Landscapes of Jim Crow

The period we refer to as Reconstruction ended in 1877. During and following that period we see a political shift: The Republican Party had been the Party of Reconstruction. However, we see a switch from a mostly Republican to a mostly Democratic Congressional make-up of representatives in the U.S. South between 1872 and 1876. The 1876 presidential election was among the most hotly disputed in U.S. history. The Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes eventually won the presidency from Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden, who won the popular vote but not the electoral college. The Democrats accepted Hayes' election and President Hayes oversaw the end of Reconstruction by ending all U.S. military involvement in southern politics. This set the stage for the era of Jim Crow.

Jim Crow derived its name from minstrel shows where White performers would wear blackface and perform foolish, buffoonish Blackness. White supremacy was asserted legally and extralegally during the era of Jim Crow. Laws passed in this period were fundamentally about landscape: about who could go where, about where boundaries existed on the landscape, about who controlled and policed those boundaries, about who was punished for crossing those boundaries.

Jim Crow was backed by a number of efforts. One was to suppress the Black vote. One strategy was the imposition of a poll tax, where voters were required to pay, say, $1 in order to vote. In additional to disenfranchising poor people, who were predominantly black, in several stages poll tax laws included a grandfather clause, which stated that if your grandfather had voted prior to the Civil War--which could of course only be true of white southerners--you didn't need to pay a poll tax. The grandfather clause did not explicitly invoke race, but its purpose was to disenfranchise Black voters. Literacy tests would also function to disenfranchise Black voters, along with poor White votors—again, a reminder that not just race but also class shaped these legal innovations.

Along with voting laws were zoning laws, and the creation of separate spaces—railcars, schools, neighborhoods—to separate Blacks from Whites. These segregation laws arguably posed a direct challenge to the 14th Amendment's guarantee of "equal protection." Antimiscengenation laws also sought ostracize and prevent the possibility of intimate relations between White and Black partners.

During this period, we also see the emergence of private interventions alongside state laws to police racial boundaries. Most notable of these private interventions were lynching and other forms of racial violence that I'll address in a moment.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was another important Supreme Court case, in which a light-skinned Black man, Homer Plessy, participated in an act of civil disobedience—sitting in the "Whites only" section of a New Orleans railcar—in order to test the constitutionality of the Louisana law forbidding Black passengers from riding in white railroad cars. (His action directly parallels the decision by Rosa Parks in 1955 refusing to ride in the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus.) The lawsuit resulting from Plessy's arrest eventually resulted in the 1896 decision in "Plessy v Ferguson" in which the Supreme Court's majority affirmed the "separate but equal" doctrine, arguing that the equal protection guaranteed by the 14th amendment could be achieved while keeping Americans of different races separate from each other. Plessy was just one vote short of being unanimous. The majority opinion wrote the following, essentially blaming Blacks and others who objected to "separate but equal" for thinking it was a problem:

"We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it."

John Marshall Harlan, a justice from Kentucky, wrote the following words in his fiery dissent, which eventually proved to be among the most influential in the Court's history:

“The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a state to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race."

"In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case."

Notice: The Court's rejection of the plaintiff's case in Plessy legitimized efforts by municipalities, business owners, and others in positions of power to exclude Black Americans from restaurants, theatres, hotels, and other public facilities, or to insist that they remain in segregated places like separate railroad cars or the backs of buses. Perhaps most symbolic were separate drinking fountains. Paired drinking fountains with signs saying "Colored only" and "White only" became symbols of the racial boundaries of Jim Crow, as instantiated in the post-Reconstruction South.

Racial boundaries in the Post-Reconstruction South happened partly as states created laws and enforced them with its police power. But private groups and individuals were also crucial to maintaining racial boundaries, most notorious in the form of the Ku Klux Klan, or KKK. The KKK has been active in three phases: 1865-1879s

One of the founders of the Klan was Nathan Bedford Forest, a Confederate general who resisted the Federal government's presence in the South. I'm cheating on time here a little bit because there aren't photos of racial violence from the first period of the Klan's existence in the 1860s and 1970s. But I want to present you a number of images to illustrate the horrors of racial violence, and the ways in which private citizens, individually and in groups, worked to maintain the color line. Black men were lynched for any number of actions that gave offense to whites, never more so than for seeming to threaten the honor of white women. The boundaries of race were never more fraught than when they converged with boundaries of gender and class--boundaries that many whites were willing to defend with the most ghastly violence.

[Images shared with the class, no narration.]

There were African Americans who led the attack on lynching, none more important than Ida B. Wells. Lynchings of both black and white individuals began to decline beginning in the 1930s, in part because of the assertion of police force by the state in the form of imprisonment. Incarceration recreated some of the enslavements of Black men we see earlier, including disenfranchisement and forced unpaid labor.

Iconic cultural products like D. W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation (1915) celebrated the Klan, showing how mainstream and far-reaching racist attitudes were in the early 20th-century U.S.

IV. Great Migrations

Black individuals began to migrate out of the U.S. South after the end of Reconstruction in 1877. One group of migrants, called "Exodusters," sought new lives for themselves in the U.S. West. Exodusters headed to places like Kansas; Linda Brown and her family that you read about in Mark Fiege were descendents of these Black families moving out of the south. The invasive boll weevil began to devastate Southern cotton crops in the years following 1892, making it harder for Blacks to earn a living in southern agriculture; when combined with the attraction of higher wages in northern factories, the result was the beginning of northward migrations by large numbers of southern Blacks, fundamentally changing the racial geographies of the American landscape. One way racial tensions were compounded in the North occurred when factory owners brought Black workers in as "scabs" to break strikes by White unions that were often initially hostile to Black workers.

As a result of these migrations, Harlem in New York City emerged as an important hub of Black artistic creation and transmission of Black musical traditions of Jazz and the Blues into American popular culture. Another driver of the Harlem Renaissance was the temperance movement; the ratification of the 18th Amendment (1919-1933) made alcohol illegal and thereby created an underground economy very similar to the illegal trade in drugs today. Immigrant gang leaders Al Capone saw opportunities for profit in the illegal distribution of alcohol made possible by Prohibition. Places like Harlem were full of speakeasies where drinks were easily obtained. Harlem became a place where Black nightclubs, music, and entertainment flourished, often attended by White audiences. It was a center of an extraodinary artistic Renaissance that had its roots in the south and was carried to cities in the north. The great American musician, bandleader, and composer Duke Ellington gained a national profile performing in Harlem's Cotton Club, and is today regarded as one of the nation's greatest composers.

The Negro Leagues (baseball) also created a space for African American athletes to compete in sports, leading eventually to the decision by the owners of the Brooklyn Dodgers to hire Jackie Robinson to play first base in 1947, the first time a Black player was hired by a major league team in the United States.

At the same time that Black performers and athletes were gaining prominence in American popular culture, the northward migration of southern Blacks was provoking some of the sames kinds of resistance to their presence in the North that had long typified their treatment by whites in the South. Private contracts in the 1920s-1940s, particularly real estate covenants, began to include racial clauses barring properties from ever being sold to or occupied by Black familes. Similar clauses were sometimes directed against Jews, who many whites also regarded as "undesirable" objects of anti-Semitic segregation during this period.

The color line created a problem for African-American travelers. If you were a middle-class Black family or individual, you couldn't easily move across the landscape. Segregated mass transit was a problem. So you might buy a car, the great source of freedom in American popular culture. But where to drive that car when traveling cross country--how to avoid crossing one of those invisible racial boundaries that might provoke a violent confrontation with local whites--made travel by Black Americans a perilous and frightening experience. In 1937, the Negro Motorist Greenbook began to published on an annual basis, the purpose of which was to identify for Black travelers places where they could safely lodge and eat in the U.S. without being threatened with racial violence.

Such boundaries of color certainly existed here in Madison, Wisconsin. In December 1934, the Loraine Hotel on West Washington Avenue refused to offer lodging to African-American cast members of the traveling musical Green Pastures (a production with an all-Black cast, akin to today's Hamilton). UW students, many of them Jewish, picketed the hotel in protest.

V. Reshaping Landscape with the Fourteenth Amendment: Equal Protection

The first big institution of the U.S. to be fully integrated was the military. The continued segregation of the army was an embarrassment to the U.S. government following World War II and during the start of the Cold War, in part because American support for dismantling European colonies around the world made the the country's domestic racism a growing political liability in the confrontation with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The integration of the military pointed the nation towards the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case (1954), when racial activists in Topeka, Kansas sought in 1950 to enroll Black children in that city's segregated elementary schools. This action was an analogous test case to that of Plessy v. Ferguson. Notice how color lines show up on the landscape: the third-grader Linda Brown had to walk and take a bus across town to get to the Black elementary school, rather than attend the elementary school just a short walk from her family's house. A Howard University-educated team led the NAACP legal defense of Brown's case in the U.S. Supreme Court, where the Court declared that Plessy's "separate but equal" doctrine was in fact an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. Mark Fiege's essay exploring the local geography of Topeka as it related to Brown v Board of Education is a masterful example of how important landscape history can be for understanding large events in American history like the Civil Rights movement.