Another side to the Story of Reconstruction(Part 31) by Bill Vallante

While it would appear that at least initially, most Freedmen sided with the Radical Republicans during Reconstruction, there were some who refused to run with the herd. While some modern day readers might find it uncomfortable to read some of their thoughts on what they experienced, their words and stories do deserve to be heard and considered.

*Note – “Red Shirts” is a reference to the paramilitary rifle clubs used by Wade Hampton during his run for governor of South Carolina in 1876. The “clubs” were used to counter the tendency on the part of the Radical Republicans to use the (primarily black) state militia to enforce its will. There were also a number of black “Red Shirt Rifle Clubs”.

Beaufort South Carolina – 90% black. Hampton met at the station by a Red Shirt escort that included a contingent of blacks. Among these black Red Shirts may have been “the mounted black cadre”, a group that traveled to Join Hampton at some of his campaign stops around the state. Several in the cadre were black Confederate veterans.

[- Wade Hampton, Confederate Warrior, Conservative Statesman, Brian Cisco, P. 239]

Ed Barber, South Carolina, (The Slave Narratives)

"It’s been a long time since I see you. Maybe you has forgot but I ain’t forgot de fust time I put dese lookers on you, in ’76. Does you ‘members dat day? It was in a piece of pines beyond de Presbyterian Church, in Winnsboro, S. C. Us both had red shirts.

Martha Lowery, South Carolina, (The Slave Narratives)

"My parents were free Negroes and were considered in comfortable circumstances when I was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1853," said Martha Lowery.

"By that time the government, a so called carpet bag government, backed by troops had a backing known as Freedmen’s aid and government was by ex-slaves and white men, mostly from the North. I have always thought that if the ex-slaves had been advised at that time and lead by South Carolina white men a great deal of the reconstruction confusion would have been avoided. As it was there was too much graft in it, and far too little interest.

"The 1876 campaign was between General Hampton and Governor Chamberlin, a so called carpetbagger, who ruled by the federal bayonet right, and the carpetbag outfit made a tremendous effort to poll all the black vote, but Negroes generally know much more than they were given credit for and they refused to be lead as sheep to the slaughter, and a vast majority of them voted for their friend, General Hampton. At that time there was plenty signs that the leadership of the South intended to make full citizens of the Negroes and live in accord with them.

Henry Green, Arkansas, (The Slave Narratives)

"Well, Boss Man, yo done ax me en I sho gwine ter tell yo de truf. Yes sir, I sho is voted, on I ‘members do time well dat do niggers in do cotehouse on de Red Shirts hab ter git ’em out. Dat was do bes’ thing dat dey eber do when dey git de niggers outen de cotehouse en quit ’em frum holdin’ de offices, kase er nigger not fit ter be no leader….

D. Davis, Arkansas, (The Slave Narratives)

"Atter de war dey hed de carpet-baggers en de Klu Klux bofe, en de white folks dey didn’t lak de carpet-baggers tolerable well, dat dey didn’t. I don’t know who de carpet-baggers was but dey was powful mean, so de white folks say. You know sum way er udder de Yankees er de carpet-baggers er sum ob de crowd, dey put de niggers in de office at de cote house, en er makein de laws at de statehouse in Jackson. Dat was de craziest bizness dat dey eber cud er done, er puttin dem ignorant niggers whut cudn’t read er write in dem places. I tell yo, Capn, den whut put doss niggers in de office dey mus not had es much since es de niggers, kase dey mought know dat hit wudn’t wuk, en hit sho didn’t auk long. Dey hed de niggers messed up in sum kind er clubs whut dey swaded dem to jine, en gib em all er drum ter beat, en dey all go marchin er roun er beatin de drums en goin ter de club meetins. Den ignorant niggers wud sell out fer er seegar er a stick er candy.

Campbell Armstrong, Arkansas, (The Slave Narratives)

"I knew Jerry Lawson, who was Justice of Peace. He was a nigger. a low-down devil. Man, then niggers done more dirt in this city. The Republicans had this city and state. I went to the polls and there was very few white folks there. I knew several of them niggers—Mack Armstrong, he was Justice of Peace. I can’t call the rest of them. Nothing but old thieves. …..

Aaron Ray, Texas, (The Slave Narratives)

"De day dat Marse tolt de slave dat dey was free, dem niggers jes’ nacherly went wild. Dey shouted, danced, sang an’ was more dan happy. Dey jes’ was drunk wid de joy. Some ob dem ran off in de woods er shoutin’ ‘I kin run whar I wanter now, ain’t no dogs ner no patty roller eber gwine git me agin’.’ Some ob ’em jes’ run clar off an’ I don’ know whar, case dey didn’t cum back eber. But de mos’ ob de oldes’ ones, dey calmed down ’bout de nex’ mawnin’ an’ den dey begin ter ask ‘Whar us gwine stay, an’ how us gwine eat? Dar ain’t no Yankee mans cum ter gib us noddin’.’ No’m dey didn’t gib us noddin’ much, case all de w’ite folks hab lef’ atter de war, was jes’ de lan’ dey lib on…

….Dar sho’ was some ‘citin’ times har ’bout 1871. Dat year dey had a special ‘lection. An’ stid ob hit bein’ one day lak now, dey had hit fer four whole days an’ eberyboddy from all ober de county had ter come right here to Waco to vote. Dey had hit f’om October 3 to de 6th. An’ dar was two ‘Publicans an’ two Democrats dat helt dis here ‘lection. Dem Democrat men wore pistols in er holster under dere arms an’ dey didn’t know but what dey git shot eny minnit. De Davis militia was all ‘roun de court house, an a lot ob nigger who was jes’ crazy ober gittin’ freed an’ so swole up wid ‘portance dey lak er bus’. Ebery time a Southern man ‘ud come to vote, dese soljers an’ de cullud police ‘ud jeer an’ take on an’ ‘sult dem. Dey made dese Southerners walk one atter de odder on a plank lane between de Yankees soljers an’ dese negro police ter git ter de place ter vote. De ‘lection was at de ole Court House on de Square.

Joshua, Rivers, South Carolina, (The Slave Narratives)

"This ended de fightin’, daddy say, but it defeated Governor Chamberlain, ’cause he say de white vote turn its back on Chamberlain, and vote for General Hampton. And some of de niggers, too, vote for General Hampton, so he was ‘lected, and when Governor Chamberlain leave Columbia, de nigger power was over. I has thought ’bout it a good deal over de years, and I think it was providential for de white folks to win. I can see that de nigger, which had just gained his freedom, was not fit to govern de State."

Hamp Simmons, Mississippi, (The Slave Narratives)

"The Yankees promised niggers a gray mule and forty acres when they were freed, but the niggers ought to have known that wasn’t so, because there wern’t that many gray mules in the United States." (1)

Henri Necaise, Mississippi, (The Slave Narratives)

……It was dem Carpetbaggers dat ‘stroyed de country. Dey went an’ turned us loose, jas’ lak a passel o’ cattle, an’ didn’ show us nothin’ or giv’ us nothin’. Dey was acres an’ acres o’ lan’ not in use, an’ lots o’ timber in die country. Dey should-a give each one o’ us a little farm an’ let us git out timber an’ build houses. Dey ought to put a white Marster over us, to show us an’ make us work, only let us be free ‘stead o’ slaves. I think dat would-a been better’n turnin’ us loose lak dey done.

Matilda Pugh Daniel, Alabama, (The Slave Narratives)

"Durin’ de war us warn’t bothered much, but atter de surrender, some po’ white trash tried to make us take some lan’. Some of ’em come to de slave quarters, an’ talk to us. Dey say ‘Niggers, you is jus’ as good as de white folks. You is ‘titled to vote in de ‘lections an’ to have money same as dey,’ but most of us didn’t pay no ‘tention to ’em.

Joe Oliver, Texas, Slave Narratives

"After freedom my daddy went to political conventions at Austin in de days of reconstruction, an’ helped to pass de laws, but de Yankees sent so many rascals down here to run things dat de Texas men would not stand for dis. Dey was called de carpet baggers, dey took de vote away from de very men dat had freed Texas from Mexico, kase dey had fought for de rebels, den dey put de nigger troops over at Tyler, kase hit was de headquarters for de Yankees. Dey put two niggers troops here, an’ so dey did’nt have any better sence den to think dey could run de town, de men an women bof’ was not safe to go anywhar at night for fear of dese soldiers, w’en all of a sudden dey was de Ku-Klux a ridin’ up an’ down de streets at night, dey was robed in w’ite, an’ not a sound did dey make but dey horse hoofs a poundin’ de pavements, an’ in de road dat led into de city. "De next mornin’ dey would be de bodies of de soljers a hangin’ to de trees, sometimes dey would be out in de cemeteries. Dey put de soljers guards from de nigger troops to guard de roads dat led into de town but de guards body would be found hangin’ jes de same as de soljers. De soljers called dem "de w’ite devils", but pretty soon dey commenced to behave demselves, an’ let de w’ite folks go ’bout dey business, an’ so de troops had enough of de Ku-Klux an’ was soon sent some other place.

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