History 17B Lecture 2 Race and Segregation Page 5


C.  The Institutionalization of Radicalism

As radical racism came to be the dominant mentality in the South at the turn of the century, it became institutionalized in three ways:

Disenfranchisement:  Blacks would be prevented from voting through legal means (poll taxes, literacy tests) or intimidation.
Segregation (aka Jim Crow Laws):  Blacks and whites would be separated in all public accommodations such as schools, hotels, trains and streetcars, restaurants, and even cemeteries in an effort to underscore the inferiority of blacks.  In other words, separate facilities would serve as a constant reminder to blacks that they were unequal to whites.
Economically:  As the South began to build industries, whites made it clear that industrialization would not include African Americans who were forced into low wage rural and domestic work.  Permanent underemployment would reinforce economic subordination.

Both blacks and whites were expected to uphold a racial etiquette intended to enforce this racism.  While whites were expected to display their superiority, an African American was always to give-way on the side-walk, always give a title of respect to whites, never expect the same respect in return, and never resist.  There was, in essence, no protection from the legal system should this etiquette be violated.


V.    Racism in American Culture

A.  Radical Racism

It is important to understand that racism is not just expressed through political and economic segregation.  Racism was infused throughout American culture in the 19th and 20th centuries in how blacks were portrayed by whites in all forms of media; and we can see the roots of Radical and Conservative thought here, as well.  Authors such as Thomas Dixon who penned the Leopard's Spots and The Clansman put forward the myth that ex-slaves had come to dominate political and social life after the Civil War; that Reconstruction was an era of Black domination by incompetent Black political leaders; that there was rampant corruption and sham governments.  
As I explained in our last lecture, D. W. Griffith's epic The Birth of a Nation (which premiered in 1915 and was based on The Clansman) embraces wholeheartedly the Radical interpretation of the Reconstruction period, to the point of even portraying the KKK as saviors of the South.  (If you haven't yet looked at the YouTube clips in Lecture 1of The Birth of a Nation, it's imperative you do so now. One of your Midterm Study Guide questions references Birth of a Nation.)


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