Friday, January 18, 2008

WTS Blog Part I

Part I of Worse Than Slavery explores in excruciating detail a brutal period in our nation’s history when vanquished white southerners and emancipated southern freedmen rebuilt (to some degree) their region and established new (in some respects) social and economic relationships in the latter half of the nineteenth century. David Oshinsky combines meticulous research with an engaging narrative style to paint a chilling picture of post Civil War race relations in Mississippi and by inference the entire South, even in our north Florida home.
Beyond the numerous and horrible descriptions of southern violence generally and racial violence specifically that pervade this story, I am intrigued by the virulent racial attitudes that evolved (or in many cases were simply unleashed) after the Civil War. Paradoxically, the oppressive institution of slavery suppressed the most intense manifestations of racism and race-based violence. Slavery was a system of rigid white control over most black southerners and it made black slaves more valued in a purely economic sense. Without these institutional constraints, freedmen were more vulnerable and less valuable to resentful southern whites as Oshinsky notes: The ex-slave had become a scapegoat for the South’s humiliating defeat. (14) and Emancipation had ended slavery but had not destroyed the assumptions upon which slavery was based. (17) Contrast pre and post-emancipation racial attitudes. Was there any real difference for southern whites?
Another striking aspect of Part I are the disturbing descriptions of mob justice and lynching. Lynching numbers are hard to know with any real degree of accuracy (many went unrecorded) but “officially” 3,446 black men (and a few women) were lynched in America between 1882 and 1968. Mississippi of course led the nation with 539. As Oshinsky points out, these were public events attracting hundreds of onlookers including women and children. Hundreds of pictures were taken and many, believe it or not, became postcards. For a glimpse into this grisly world, follow this link: What does this practice (in all its manifestations—mob violence, communal, picnic-like atmosphere, photographic records) reveal about Gilded Age southern society?
I’m also fascinated by the late nineteenth century efforts to justify, through the discipline of “scientific racism” segregation and convict leasing described in Chapter Four, Part III. Is this “good” science or merely an effort to manipulate science in order to satisfy or reinforce pre-existing racist attitudes?
Finally, the poisonous race relations described in Worse Than Slavery made me think about the relationship Twain establishes between Huck and Jim. Twain of course writes Huck Finn at the same time (1870s, 1880s) described in this book but his depiction of Jim is light years away from typical white southern perceptions about blacks (as described by Oshinsky) and revealed in this moment from Chapter 15 when Huck regrets fooling Jim about the dream: It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way. Discuss these differences between Oshinsky’s real world and Twain’s fictional one and try as well to distinguish between the racial opinions of various characters in the novel.
For your post, respond to one of the issues I’ve raised and work off the related questions I’ve posed. You may also include direct responses to some of your classmates’ postings if and when appropriate. Be sure to include specific references to the text in defense of your assertions. And finally, please read the "WTS Blogging Primer" for guidelines before you compose. It can be found under the "News" section on our Edline class page. I look forward to reading your posts.


davies-bauer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika said...

After the Civil War and the end of slavery in the United States, the racist attitudes of southern whites were certainly no better than they had been in pre-Civil War America. If anything, their hatred towards the black population only intensified after emancipation: “However these men may have regarded the negro slave, they hated the negro freedman. However kind they may have been to negro property, they were virulently vindictive against a property that had escaped their control.” (15) Most whites, especially those of lesser economic status, felt that they needed to distinguish themselves from freedmen by maintaining the idea of white supremacy. Now that slaves were free, that distinction between white and slave no longer existed, so “how to preserve the remaining distinction – white supremacy—would become an obsession in the post-Civil War south.”
The south turned to its legislative bodies for help. Customs of white supremacy that had been unwritten in pre-Civil War America were solidified into law. Thus, freedmen could no longer seek protection from the law, so they were defenseless against both white mobs and white courts. With the law on their side, bitterly resentful white southerners could now unleash the fury of their racist attitudes upon blacks with no fear of consequence. As such, southern racist attitudes did not improve after emancipation. Encouraged by the lack of legal protection for blacks in the south, they only worsened.

Ryota said...

The scientific racism that developed after the civil war was a frequently used tactic throughout history in order to promote prejudice without inciting feelings of being inhumane or undemocratic and inciting protest. The justification of African Americans during this post-civil war period as racially inferior to other races was greatly a result of a prevalent racist attitude towards African Americans during the 1800's and 1900's. The reason for the use of this tactic in order to create a justified bigotry in America was obvious. Southerners that lost their dignity by having to accept that their former slaves could vote and had (near) equal rights and Northerners that wanted to be humane but still looked down upon the freedmen needed new system of discrimination to justify their treatment of them. By portraying freedmen as anatomically unequals, Americans were able to excuse themselves of discrimination and exploitation of labor on the grounds that these underdeveloped beings needed guidance into civilization in the form of constant hard labor. This argument parallels that of which many used prior to the civil war that these "uncivilized beasts" needed to be kept under the "humane" whip of hard labor. Thus, the "scientific" research that concluded that African Americans were inferior to their fellow Americans was just another form of institutionalized rationale for exploitation that would last for almost another century after the emancipation proclamtion.

allent said...

Before the Civil War, blacks were seen as property. Each individual had value to its master. Therefore slaves were treated with some care, in order to keep him or her healthy and able to work. But after the Civil war, blacks gained their freedom and were seen by most white southerners as undeserving of this right. Former slaves lost their value to the southern white man after the Civil War. In turn racial violence took place constantly in the south. Major racist groups including the infamous Klu Klux Klan, lynched and killed black freemen and women. During Slavery there was racial violence, but rarely any killing occurred. This was due to the fact that each slave was vital in keeping the plantation alive, and efficient. I believe that after the Civil War feelings towards blacks changed from, social and political dominance and over all control, to bitter hatred. After an embarrassing defeat by hands of the North, southerners took out most of the anger and hatred on the newly free blacks.
Throughout the first part of this book, we see many disturbing images of racial violence. But I found it both interesting and horrible, that much of the violence was directed towards the white leaders of black education. Before the Civil War, blacks, both enslaved and free, were viewed as the lowest form of human life in society. But after the Civil War, all blacks became free, and soon after even gained suffrage. This gave blacks something close to equality to southern whites. With the growth of black education, blacks would soon be equal as far as intelligence, and rights as southern whites. In turn racial violence became focused on the heads of black education.
Therefore, I believe that there was a change in the attitudes of southern whites against blacks. The attitude towards blacks in my opinion was “Worse Than Slavery,” after the Civil War.

John said...

After the Civil War, there was abundant hope that the discrimination against the black race would cease to continue and the people would be given the rights they deserved. Although “it appeared as if real change were coming,” (23) the horrible acts against the black people continued. Racist feelings towards blacks were released after Emancipation, more so than before, and the suffering of the black man worsened.
Before emancipation, violence occurred when a white slave-owner felt the need to discipline one of their workers. However, after the Emancipation of blacks, the white people felt the need to prove supremacy over the other race. During the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, “black hopes and white fears collided.” (23) Since blacks were looked at as property on a plantation, before and during the Civil War, they were somewhat protected by their masters. After Emancipation, they were no longer property, thus not possessing the protection they did before. The suppressed feelings of whites towards blacks came out and resulted in lynching, torture, and unjust treatment. The protection from the government no longer existed either, as Erika explained. If a black man were convicted for a small crime worth a dollar or two, “the judge would sentence them to a few years in prison. Had they been white…the maximum punishment would have been ninety days in the county jail.” (58) These convicts were then sent to work on the railroads as a form of cheap, unskilled labor.
The suppressed feelings towards blacks during pre-Emancipation times were unleashed after and the attitudes and actions became more gruesome and intense.

Russ said...

Following the confederate defeat in the civil war the economy of the southern states was left in ruin. Free laborers could not be subjected to the same work conditions and demands that the owners forced the slaves to endure. Therefore the southern economy was unable to recover until a system of conscripted convict labor was instituted to substitute for slave labor. Under this system private enterprises could hire out convicts from the state penitentiaries to perform labor as part of their sentence. These laborers were essentially worked to death on plantations or railroad camps. Because of the Jim Crow laws and the racial bias of southern courts the populace of these conscripted laborers was almost entirely composed of blacks. The treatment of these convicts was so brutal that even southern whites found themselves unable to condone this system of labor until the development of scientific racism created a basis for it. It was argued that “…the Negro would not exerts himself to do so by hunger or force. ‘None of them feels that work per se is good; it is only a means to idleness’…” (83) This statement implies that it is not sufficient punishment for a black to be incarcerated because that reinforces their idle nature. Therefore the only adequate punishment for a black was forced labor. The deaths of these conscripted laborers were justified in the belief that “…the average black convict was a moral degenerate who entered prison with the ‘seeds of disease’ already in his system. The convict appeared normal until he was ‘put to hard labor’ at which time the seeds flowered and the poor fellow dropped dead.” (84) Armed with this pseudoscience which was based on nothing more than racial bigotry the south continued to exploit its black population in an attempt to rejuvenate its economy and supplant the loss of slave labor.

benjamin said...

I agree with Erika. Overall, the negative racial attitudes held by Southern whites toward African-Americans during the period known as Reconstruction and “Redemption” did not change per se: they only intensified. Ultimately, the African-American citizen became a symbol for all of the devastating political and economic change (destruction of infrastructure, loss of political autonomy, etc.) that had occurred within the South during and after the Civil War. Liberated into a society for which they had no preparation or training, most African-Americans remained on the farms on which they had been enslaved, but some (about 40%) moved to different territory during or immediately following the Civil War, reinforcing “the image of the lazy, indolent field hand, shuffling lazily through life” (WTS, 17-18) within the minds of both upper- and lower-class Southern whites. Sadly, however, also noticing the rise in petty crime (committed by African-Americans just trying to keep themselves and their families alive), Southern whites attributed these perceived moral flaws not to society but to the articulated but misguided belief that the African-American was something less than human. “Scientific racism” (as discussed by Ryota), which had been used to justify the institution of slavery, was viewed as the “proof” of such notions. I especially like Ryota’s comment about the view that hard labor was the only “cure” for such “moral defects” (ultimately manifested in the practice of “conflict leasing,” as discussed later)
Using such terrorist organizations as the Ku Klux Klan and the White Man’s Society, as well as through the election of such fanatic bigots as James Kimble Vardaman to the highest positions in the state governments (which, after the Compromise of 1877 were more influential within the South than the federal government), Southern whites retained a “minority control” over Southern society as a whole. Southern whites used their disdain of the free African-American to their economic advantage by means of “convict leasing,” a system in which free blacks were arrested for petty crimes and then were leased as a source of labor to private owners for periods of time which they probably would not survive (quite ridiculous in proportion to the severity of most of the crimes). As justification for this horrible practice, Southern whites claimed that the normal penal system was not hard enough on the African-American criminal, for “he [the criminal] seemed to welcome the jail cell as a refuge from hard work, a place to lounge about with other loafers, free from the cares of the world” (WTS 83). Although the focus of WTS is primarily on Mississippi, this system was employed to the economic advantage of all of the former Confederate states. This even occurred in Florida, where convicts were leased to private corporations, primarily for land development and the harvesting of natural resin and turpentine gum from the abundance of trees within Florida (ex. J.C. Powell). Stories of convict leasing have even been told about Gainesville, from which James Peterson, the “professional thief” who “drove an axe through his foot” (WTS, 72) in order to avoid work, originated.
In the end, I feel that the rationale for such increased hostilities toward the African-American community in the South, as shown by such gruesome practices as forced convict labor and lynching, is best explained by the “power threat hypothesis of lynching” of Hubert Blalock, who claims that “lynching was an expression of political concerns, not sexual or morality based ideologies” and that “lynching was used by whites as a means of controlling the black population through terror and intimidation” (qtd. from “Incidence of Lynching in Mississippi 1865-1890 as a Function of the Severity of Civil War Damages” by Richard B. Stevens, Although his thesis pertains particularly to lynching, I feel it is perfectly applicable to all forms of black suppression within the South, including the convict labor system (the overwhelming majority of which consisted of African-Americans). Blalock is ultimately saying that much of the racial hatred and prejudice held against African-Americans in the South came not through inherent racial hatred but through the association of the introduction of African-Americans into the free political and economic realm of the South with the devastation inflicted upon Southern society as a whole by the Civil War.

Carly. said...

In the late nineteenth century, it seemed that white southerners were dead set on segregation. After the emmancipation, their feelings towards blacks had hardly changed at all, if not made worse by the sudden change in social structure. When a so called justification of the abundant racism and segregation arose, it seemed that whites had attempted to modify science in order to support their apparant racism. "Scientific racism" is nothing but another excuse from southerners to validate their racist attitudes. By mereley implying outrageous accusations, such as blacks benefited from slavery or that segregation - "seperate but equal" - benefited both races, it is obvious that this "theory" was not good science. The "evidence" presented could not be deemed accurate in any way. What seemed even more horrible was that any intellegent southerner knew that the data supporting "scientific racism" was completely flawed. To stand back and do nothing when you know something is wrong is almost as worse as doing something wrong yourself. But of coarse many whites just seemed to not care. If there was a theory that may justify their personal beliefs, correct or incorrect, then they're certainly not going to stand in the way of it. What these people were claiming would be similar to claiming that the Holocaust was completly justified. To supporters of segregation, a case was needed to support their racist claims, so they went about finding one with this corrupt theory.

a.eagle said...

The Antebellum period consisted of harsh treatment towards the black man. In most cases of slavery, less than adequate care was provided for a slave by the master, along with cruel punishments resulting from poor behavior. Slaves were not interested in working hard for their master, only just enough to avoid a beating. The Civil War acted as a “revolution” for slaves; justice and freedom was finally obtainable. Unfortunately the Antebellum period was not justified by the end of the Civil War. On the contrary, conditions for the colored population of America worsened, rather than improved.
In response to the liberation of African-Americans, the average to low class white man felt inferior to the black man. The post Civil War era provided African-American’s with the right to vote, thus angering the average white man because of their “equality” with the insignificant negro. In response several organizations formed, like the Klu Klux Klan. Their anger and aggression was portrayed through lynching and killing of innocent freed black men and women. Unfortunately black men and women were unable to use the law for justice; unwritten laws in the south became solid, leaving the black population helpless. Obviously, the end of the antebellum period was, for the time being, “worse than slavery.”

gabriela said...

Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is widely viewed by America as the novel that defines American Literature. The language in which he utilizes is effective and unique. However, there are critics who believe that Twain shies away from the real moral dilemma at hand during the mid to late 1800s which is of course slavery.
The cruelties of slavery are essentially not depicted in Twain's novel. Mark Twain barely acknowledges the importance of the slave, Jim, and his desire for freedom. Towards the second half of the novel, Jim is either left on the raft in the river while Huck helps two frauds, the Duke and the King, to perform their evil trickeries, or he is shown as Huckleberry's assistant. Some critics believe that at the end of Huck Finn's adventures, Twain fails to convey the brutalities of slavery.
In response to this notion, critics propose that "Uncle Tom's Cabin” a heartrending novel written by Harriet Beecher Stowe truly depicts the horrors of slavery and the effects that slavery has on its victims. Twain's novel does not even compare to the dramatic but true events in "Uncle Tom's Cabin."
However not even the terrorizing occurrences in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" come close to the atrocities that occur in Oshinsky's novel, "Worse Than Slavery." In his novel, a U.S. senator conveys convict leasing on a particular plantation: "He claimed that conditions on Smith's plantation were worse than those described by Harriet Beecher Stowe in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." (66) There are many more instances in Part I of "Worse Than Slavery" in which black freedmen are tortured to death while “a thousand spectators were on hand, eating hard broiled eggs, sipping lemonade, and swigging whiskey.” (102) The sights portrayed in Oshinsky's novel are excruciatingly sickening and unfortunately true. Therefore, the depiction of mistreatment towards blacks, whether in slavery or post-Civil war in the system of convict leasing, is much more brutal in "Worse Than Slavery" than in both "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Keeley said...

The Gilded Age, which was summed up by none other than Mark Twain, seemed to ooze perfection - perfection in industry, economy, people, and supposedly an equal standing for African Americans. The word Gilded means "covered or highlighted with gold." The key words here are covered or highlighted. Most people happened to miss the underbelly of the so-called Gilded age, which consisted of horrible treatment of African Americans by extremely racist white people. Not the least bit perfect in any way, shape, or form. Whites treated African Americans horribly, worse than they would dogs, in fact.
They arrested blacks for extremely petty crimes, some of which they didn't even commit. The justice system was extremely corrupt as well, they leased out prisoners to railroad companies and places that made turpentine, and many prisoners there were worked to death, literally. The average life span of a healthy prisoner sent to a working camp was about seven years.
The pictures of the postcards depicted on the website show the attitude of southern whites when it came to something as serious as a man being lynched. Lynching, unfortunately, was a common procedure in the south post-civil war. Again, whites didn't really even see African Americans as things that qualified as people, they assumed them to be just as good as animals. The pictures reveal that southern society wasn't as "perfect" as it seemed to be. Most people consider southern society to consist of mainly planter types, but that wasn't the case at all. The planters were a small percentage both pre and post civil war, but they were the face of the south, and the lynching and cruel treatment of African Americans was never really seen by outsiders. All they got to see was a glimpse of gilded perfection.

James said...

The science established was not valid and was named scientific racism for a reason. The reason being it was science used to justify racism and justify the inferiority of blacks. One such reason for their inferiority was their incredibly high criminal rate however these rates were incredibly skewed by practices such as convict leasing which demanded a high number of convicts for industrial work. Due to a shortage of convicts sheriffs and the companies would draw up lists of fit black men and the sheriff would go out, arrest them, find them guilty as charged and send them off to work for the company. The blacks would not even have to be guilty of a crime to be arrested, they just had to be unfortunate enough to be caught by the sheriff. Thus, already for that reason the statistics are skewed. For, the reportedly high number of black criminal acts would be significantly if they were not arrested unjustly for convict leasing.

will keith said...

“Scientific racism” (p. 95) was not part of a seditious plot to use science as propaganda, at least it was not seen as such by those authors which gave scientific racism its ugly history. The authors believed what they were saying, which is why they would not have viewed it as the manipulation of science; they were not knowingly misleading the public. However the truthful merit of scientific racism (or rather the lack thereof) can not be disputed; the manipulation of science was exactly what took place, albeit (as said above) not necessarily knowingly or deliberately. Rather, scientific racism was more the manifestation of terrible racism and arrogance. For those supporters of scientific racism such as Governor Vardaman, Philip Bruce, Dunbar Rowland, Charles Otken, Dr. H. B. Frissel, Dr. Robert Bean, Dr. William Bevis, Dr. Robert Shufeldt, Charles McCord, Walter Wilcox, and Fredrick Hoffman their respective theories reflected ideas that they probably thought sounded impressive, or that they believed explained the “inferiority” (p. 94) of the black race; never mind if they have neither scientific proof nor fact to back up scientific statements and/or hypotheses.
Charles McCord’s theories were particularly interesting in that they revealed both the real explanation for high crime rates in the south, and a deep contradiction shared by most of the racist south. McCord began by providing a “social explanation” (p. 95), saying that “the black defendant… ‘without money, and without influence’ faced very long odds. A combination of prejudice and poverty increased his conviction rate, lengthened his sentence, and lessened his chances for pardon or parole (p. 95).” After speaking on these tragically true realities of southern post civil war life, McCord reveals both his own racism and an inherent contradiction of southern expectation for the ideal post slavery black community. McCord “observed… blacks… lacked ‘independence of character’” (p. 95). It is remarkable that a sociologist failed to realize the ridiculousness of judging a formerly enslaved population on its lack of “independence”. That southerners believed placing convicts in slave-situations would correct this lack of “independence” is ludicrous.

Heather said...

As formerly stated by many, the pre-emancipation and post-emancipation racial situations were largely similar and with changes that only progressed the attitudes previously formed against the “inferior race”. Oshinsky’s purpose for part one of the novel is to make us aware that the racial attitudes of whites against blacks changed only in a negative aspect through emancipation, contrary to what was expected to result. Although freed, black former slaves were no where near “equal” to whites from the perspective of those such as white southerners, separation seemed to be the next step. “With slavery abolished, Mississippi was moving toward a formal – and violent – separation of the races.” (13). The separation of races that took place seemed to make the whites form more tension against the blacks, while the blacks suffered through harsher treatment than they went through as slaves. I agree with Ryota when he states that the white “loss of dignity” was the primary cause for even more of the bitter treatment of the blacks and the spark for the separation between the races. The thought that these former slaves could have almost the same rights and supremacy as everyone else was unheard of to the whites. They would, in any way possible, try to prevent blacks from having these rights. “In a perverse way, emancipation had made the black population more vulnerable than before.” (29). The white mobs and courts even did everything in their power to keep blacks from exercising their new rights and to establish the thought that whites supremacy would always be present. The separation being created only enticed these racial attitudes further because it somehow seemed morally acceptable to the white population to have these separate but “equal” groups.
The pre and post emancipation periods only allowed the gradual worsening of racial attitudes. When the confederates lost, it only made the white southerners angrier at the blacks that they no longer had control over. The drastic measures of gang violence, legal unjustness, convict leasing, and every other mistreatment towards the blacks showed the fear the southern whites had in becoming equal to this “inferior race”. I agree completely in the statement that “Freedom, he said, had been a disaster for the Negro.” (92).

James said...

However, many professional statistics professors came up with racial reasons as to why the statistics were so high. One statistics professor, McCord, provided a "social explanation" as to why the black crime rate was higher. He claimed that the black defendant was ignorant, without money and without influence of any kind thus he was naturally inclined to be found guilty as charged and serviced to work for various industries. McCord explained this ignorance as a natural reason, he explained that it was for genetic reasons that blacks were naturally inferior and less capable. He claimed their genetics caused them to be naturally impulsive and irrational, without character, and unable to overcome hostile surroundings. These inabilities were due to their genetics which caused their brain to not be as capable and thus making them naturally ignorant and in need of white governing. However, one should know that there is no genetic difference between a black person and a white person that causes their brains to develop differently and also causes one race to be more intelligent than the other, the whole idea is absurd.
However, many other prominent statistics professors such as Walter Wilcox, a professor at Cornell, and Frederick Hoffman, the chief statistic adviser for Prudential Financial, published studies saying that the black race was naturally inferior and that educating the race was futile as they are not able to develop virtues and a character.
These statistic analysis' were incorrect and were only a way of asserting that the white race was superior. For, with the passage of the emancipation proclamation, the last advantage that separated a poor white man from the slaves was the color of his skin and once that was abolished many persons in the south fought to re-establish the idea of racial superiority by "scientific racism" and other false methods. Thus, in conclusion the science was based on false evidence and was only done to reinforce pre existing racial attitudes.

Michael G. said...

Pre Civil War southern blacks had a place in society where if they stayed they were tolerated by the southern whites to a certain extent but at least had some protection. Post Civil War this was not the case however. With the slaves emancipation came the disintegration of their original place and this infuriated white southerners. Rather then gaining acceptance the ex-slaves lost what little protection and security they had before. The average southern white, which included most of the white population, also lost what form of superiority they felt they had. Which was based on the idea that slavery was only to help the inferior race and keep them in line. Without protection from these average white citizens who were seeking to still show their superiority the ex-slaves were subject to much racial injustice in the forms of lynching, bias laws, and constant harassment of character. Post Civil War the racial relations ended up worsening if anything.
All whites now targeted southern blacks where as originally slaves were mostly only treated badly by their owners. As Mr. Beckman said they became the South’s “scapegoat” and punching bag for their anger about the outcome of the war. This was especially evident in Mississippi where they suffered over 78,000 deaths from the war and where most of their land was pillaged and destroyed by northern troops. With no protection and a bias system they were now also unable to fight back. Racial relations, already worsened by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, decreased even more with the issuing of the Jim Crow laws. Now only working blacks had some form of protection and really only from their employers. This was evident when the idea of deporting the blacks came up and one editor said, “Every white man would be glad to have the entire race deported—except his own laborers.” (19)
As a result of the Civil War racial relations really can only be seen as worsened with a racial war possibility and constant arguing over equality the idea of peace seemed only obtainable if “the negroe acknowledged his permanent inferiority to whites” for as the editor said, “One must be superior--- One must be dominant… and if the negroe should be the master… There will be another civil war in the South.” (18) The idea that without a white superiority complex there will be a war just shows how bent on putting blacks in what they thought should be their place southern whites were.

Gene said...

When comparing racial relations between Southern Whites and African Americans in David Oshinsky’s real world descriptions to the various character relations in Mark Twain’s fictional story of Huckleberry Finn, distinctions can be easily made between the two works. In Worse Than Slavery, racial prejudice escaladed with the new found freedom of the slave. Economically speaking, the loss of the slave in the south meant the loss of property and profit, specifically for the elite planter class. Emancipation for the low-class white farmer, “erased great distinctions between himself and the Negro.”(WTS 14) This distinction between the Negro and the poor farmer intensified the idea of white supremacy. “The farmer was white and free; the Negro was black¬¬-¬but also free. How best to preserve the remaining distinction-white supremacy- would become an obsession in the post Civil War South.” (WTS 14) In Huck Finn, Mark Twain seems to embody the idea’s of white supremacy in the character of Pap, Huck’s father. Specifically in chapter six, Pap describes a meeting between himself and a black professor. After learning that the black man can legally vote, Pap swears never to vote again. “ I says I’ll never vote agin. Them’s the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me.” (HF 1260) However, this small jester of an unwillingness to vote does not compare at all to the lynching parties and other various horrific events against the Negro, as a result of white supremacy, found in Oshinsky’s book.
I like what Gaby is saying about how Twain does not truly deal with the horrors of slavery. Specifically, the critic Jane Smiley in her essay Say it Ain’t so Huck, believes that Twain does not establish the character of Jim’s longing for freedom and Huck’s ultimate want to help Jim escape bondage. Therefore, the lack of this establishment of slavery results in the ultimate failure of the book. However, I feel that Twain’s novel deals not with slavery, but with the relationship between the white and the black man. Huck Finn was published in 1884, when slavery and reconstruction was over and all blacks were free. However, extreme racial prejudice as a result of white supremacy still endured. Oshinsky’s novel primarly deals with these extreme racial prejudices manifesting itself in the cruel chain-gags of Mississippi. Through the relationship of Jim and Huck, Twain is exposing common prejudices during Twains time by having Jim act a paternal figure to Huck. Chapter 15 of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the relationship between Huck and Jim experiences a slight turning point. Towards the beginning of the novel, the relationship between the two characters seemed playful and perhaps comical. For the relationship seemed to derive mostly from experiences of past meetings, superstitious stories, and/or pranks played by Huck on Jim. A prank played on Jim would in fact be the catalysis for an explosion of paternal, camouflaged feelings. Therefore, the comparison between Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Huck Finn should not be made. Uncle Tom was a novel written during slavery, concerning slavery. Huck Finn was a novel written after slavery, concerning the relationship between white and black men, although set during a time of slavery.

Maesy said...

As slaves were emancipated in the South, southern whites’ anger grew towards black citizens. There was most certainly an embarrassment that the whites of the South harbored from their loss in the Civil War and the losing of their slaves. They had been such a controlling force over the slaves for so long, that when the slaves were freed they still wanted to have that control. It is quite evident that the reason for why there were so many more black prisoners than white prisoners in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the South was because the blacks were convicted with much more haste and lack of justice. Whites southerners merely saw black southerners as a population that still needed close watch and must be harshly reprimanded, even for the slightest, often not at all, offense. The leasing program was simply a way to use and abuse blacks, for often petty crimes, to serve the state, whether it be with railroads or mining.
Southern whites seemed so collected in their hateful and suppressive feelings towards blacks: What made mob violence so terrifying in Jim Crow Mississippi was the virtual absence of opposition (105). It was noted by many that the lower class whites were more vigorous in their torturing and accusing of blacks, but the upper class were no help to blacks either. As seen during slavery times, the upper class whites were the ones owning the slaves and making the laws to repress blacks, as with Governor Vardamar, also known as the White Chief, an intense white supremacist, did.
The whites of the South saw blacks in their regions the same before and after the Civil War. The brutality and superiority that the whites treated the blacks with was as much present before and after the war. The whites felt a sense of selfish loss when emancipation took place that they knew they had to reinforce, even more after emancipation, the notion that the blacks were inferior to whites no matter what the blacks’ condition of labor was.

theresa said...

One might assume that after slavery was ended in the South, that race relations would improve. Sadly, the opposite seems to be true. Before emancipation, southern whites mostly treated slaves poorly, but they did not usually injure them badly or kill them because it was economically unsound to do so. Also because blacks were slaves to whites, the whites easily felt that they were the superior race. After emancipation, whites felt threatened because they felt that white supremacy might disappear. They responded to this in several ways. A major way being the creation of laws that would strictly punish petty felonies. These laws were directed almost exclusively at blacks and the laws were not enforced fairly between the races. Thus, the prisons in the South were almost entirely made up of African Americans. Convict leasing was created which was basically worse than slavery. The convicts were forced to work sometimes for sixteen hours a day, regardless of the weather. Also, convicts were not considered valuable as slaves were, because they could easily be replaced. This allowed many horrors to befall on these “criminals.” They were kept in horrible conditions, chained so that they could not escape, and beaten or killed if they did not keep up with the work. They sometimes would just collapse and die from heat exhaustion. Disease was also common. The punishment that these convicts suffered was far worse than the crime. “Alex Graves, a moonshiner, ‘suffering with a fractured skull’; Moses Mullins, an arsonist, who ‘lost all of his toes from frostbite’; and ‘Convict #723’…whose ‘open bullet wound’ was discharging ‘very offensive’ pus (46). These poor people usually died before they finished their sentences. These grim situations show how the treatment of African Americans after emancipation seems worse than their treatment as slaves.

Monica said...

In the Antebellum south, the typical African American man was not much better off than he had been before emancipation. White feelings of hostility and racism were still there and, if anything, had become intensified. White men of lower income were now one the same social level as the freedmen and they could not stand it, they would do anything in their power to prove their “superiority.” They tried to prove this with many actions, one of which was lynching, which was done quite frequently and became a social event. If you went to a lynching it would probably look more like a fair or party rather than a murder. People would go and bring their entire family, have a picnic, and chat with their neighbors while they were watching a freeman get killed for a “crime” that he supposedly committed. In some of the pictures you can see the crowd of people standing behind the lynched body, proud of what they had done. The main thing that people were lynched for is the hypothetical rape or sexual assault of a white woman. This “sexual assault” could be anything from accidentally bumping into a lady to just saying good morning as he walked by.
This system was completely unfair and horribly brutal. Many of the people lynched were not even guilty of their crimes, and the whites did not care. They figured that if the man was innocent he was serving as an example to other African Americans and it was not like any of their lives mattered to these men, anyhow. This was an act so deeply rooted in this culture that no one dared to criticize it. Newspapers either ignored it or they advertised the lynching and told people all the details so they and their families could come to this horrible “party” as well.
All in all, these were horrible times for the African American man. The whites had intensified hostility towards them and lynched and tortured these poor people. Twain really summed up this era very well with the term, “The Gilded Age.” One would think that with this newfound freedom African Americans would finally be equal to whites in society. But that freedom was just a façade; people were treated the exact same way and even worse in some cases. People tried to sugarcoat their actions with “scientific research” and claims that freedmen were inferior beings but these people’s actions are unjustifiable.

Tiffany said...

“Scientific racism” is a theory that promotes the idea of different human characters within different human races. The idea of course, is foolish, and in the late nineteenth century was definitely used as justification to segregation and the cruel treatment and punishments, inflicted upon African- Americans. Part three of chapter four goes into detail about the ideas behind this theory, and the kind of people who backed it up. The whole society of the time period was extremely manipulated by few men in power, and desperate efforts were made to justify their actions. Most of them felt that slavery had civilized the part of African- Americans to which they had no control, because it was their instinct.
Dr. H. B. Frissel was a white superintendent at the Hampton Institute, which was an all- black school in Virginia. Oshinsky points out, on page 93, that even Frissel thought that slavery was useful to the character of a slave. He said, “While it kept Negroes from being educated, it also kept them from being criminal.” And about emancipation, “The naturally depraved and criminal class of Negroes…such men began, naturally, to confound license with liberty, and they have instinctively degenerated since slavery days.” Such uses of the words “naturally” and “instinctively” propose that African- Americans are among a totally different species than whites altogether.
On page 94 it is written that doctors and scientists used biological excuses for the actions of African-Americans, saying that they have “smaller brains” and “primitive urges,” an excuse used commonly for freedmen who were accused of sexually assaulting white women. Those accused were hardly ever proven guilty before being murdered by a mob or even, through the courts. Whites in the late nineteenth century simply did not want to deal with blacks, especially if they were put on the same level as themselves. This is why their crimes were made to look especially heinous, and therefore, their punishments “should be worse” than white’s.
“Scientific racism” was made up as an excuse by whites to justify and satisfy their own desires to reinforce a slave- like environment to which they were “depraved” after slavery was abolished. The idea itself is sickening, but the desperate attempt to make it believable, and the fact that it was actually embraced in the late nineteenth century, is extremely startling, and obviously reflects an unbalanced, unjust, unfair, and racist society.