Slavery, Jim Crow, and Now Swastikas

A dusty 145-year-old report details how white Southerners ignored defeat in the civil war and terrified former slaves into submission again.

Many of the nightriders wore disguises as they randomly murdered innocents, rampaged through black homes, and spread terror among cowering victims.

Their unrelenting hate fills the 13-volume Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, made to the two Houses of Congress February 19, 1872.

I concentrated on atrocities in Georgia because my lawyer and I recently won a court case to unseal secret grand jury testimony from an unsolved lynching of two African American couples near Monroe, Georgia in 1946. Barring an appeal by the U.S. Attorney, I will scrutinize an estimated 5,000 documents and add an addendum to my 2016 book, The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town.

The volume on Georgia is chilling. It is proof positive of how elements of the former Confederate State rode roughshod over emancipation and legal protections given to everyone of color under new Amendments to the Constitution.

White supremacists occasionally rode up and down city streets, wielding weapons with menacing intent.

One eyewitness told congressmen, “Thousands of things are done that are never reported in the papers, and nobody ever knows anything about them.”

Most times vigilantes rode in the night, beating up and shooting blacks at random. In one case typical of their brutality, horsemen disguised in caps and white gowns pierced with eyeholes, dragged an elderly man outside his dwelling and beat him mercilessly while his wife and children screamed for help.

The fly-by-night terrorists favored whipping defenseless blacks. “Impudence” by a black person to any white was enough to justify the lashing.

A group of about 20 fanatics hollered at a black man to come outside. “Never mind about your pants! Come to the door!” one roared. When the victim saw the hooded group in his yard he fled back inside, but they shot him in the back of the head, stormed in and pumped half a dozen more shots into the corpse, then rode off.

A witness confided, “Sometimes they go by and shoot five or six balls through the door and ride on without stopping.”

Culprits lied brazenly to stymie arrests. Congressmen heard how “If a man knows one man for certain, that man gets 40 or 50 men to swear that he was at some other place that night.”

Sometimes black voters escaped assaults by making it known they had voted for the Democratic party opposed to the emancipation platform of Republicans. Intimidators warned black voters, “You had better vote the Democratic ticket.”

The anonymous terrorists flogged blacks to stay away from voting booths. Many men of color fled to the seclusion of woods or to hide among crowds in the cities.

A former captain in the Confederate army, who later became the State’s attorney for six Georgia counties, explained how whites justified violent actions of the robed Ku Klux, as they were known, “upon the theory that it is necessary to keep the colored people down, to keep them in subordination. They expect obedience and submission generally. The idea of the liberation of the slaves, and the conferring upon them of universal suffrage, is so obnoxious to the people that I think that is the cause of the whole of it.”

One white man testified, “Persons who have been raised in the South, and who have owned slaves – it is rather natural for them to domineer over the colored people.”

Today their violent heirs come from all parts of the country, baiting and provoking every minority. But now they are fearless. They don’t even wait for nightfall to flaunt their weapons and swastikas.

A president who said they included “some very fine people” validates and energizes them.

Anthony Pitch is a former journalist in America, England, Israel and Africa, and author of nonfiction history books, with 17 appearances on national TV.

About the Author
Anthony S. Pitch is the author of Our Crime Was Being Jewish. He was Associated Press Broadcast Editor in Philadelphia and a journalist in England, Israel and Africa before becoming a senior writer in the books division of U.S. News & World Report in Washington, D.C