History 17B Lecture 2 Race and Segregation Page 3

IV.   Radicalism Comes to Power

A.  Why?

Why does Radicalism come to power?  For that we need to look to several factors, most important of which is economic and the effect it had on the workforce.  In the urban regions, freed blacks and poor whites were suddenly competing for jobs.  In the rural regions, both black and white poor farmers were forced to work as sharecroppers - renting the land they farmed and falling further into debt.  The purpose of sharecropping was that the "risk" would be shared between the owner of the land and the tenant, but as the graph below shows, the risk was entirely with the sharecropper who could fall into debt quite easily should he have one bad year.

Add to this an economic depression in the 1870s and again in the 1890s, and economically desperate whites were starting to look for scapegoats for their misfortune.

1.  Psychic Crisis

Historians refer to this process as a psychic crisis in which individuals feel a need to lash out at the perceived forces afflicting them.  Blacks, of course, were not responsible for white economic hardship, but they served as a convenient target all the same, as well as a psychological salve for the injured egos of failed farmers and businessmen who sought confirmation of their superiority through black suffering.

Racial rhetoric was one way this psychic crisis took form.  This can certainly explain the constant cries against alleged black rapists.  If white men could not provide for their women materially as they had done before, they could certainly protect them from a greater perceived threat:  the outrage of their purity by black men.  Political leaders used racial rhetoric, warning of "Negro Power," to garner votes and come to power; and the message was welcomed by those most hit by economic change and a feeling that their manhood was at stake if they could not provide for their families.

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