Once the Civil War was over reconstruction began; righting a wrong was paramount, Slaves were freed. Radical Republicans “unwisely and revengefully sought to give full and immediate equality to the former slaves. A Republican coalition came to power in nearly all the southern states and set out to transform the society by setting up a free labor economy, using the U.S. Army and the Freedmen’s Bureau.
By 1865, the Confederate dollar was worthless due to high inflation, and people in the South had to resort to bartering services for goods, or else use scarce Union dollars. With the emancipation of the southern slaves, the entire economy of the South had to be rebuilt. Having lost their enormous investment in slaves, white planters had minimal capital to pay freedmen workers to bring in crops. As a result, a system of sharecropping was developed where landowners broke up large plantations and rented small lots to the freedmen and their families. The South was transformed from an elite minority of landed gentry slaveholders into a tenant farming agriculture system.
The end of the Civil War was accompanied by a large migration of new freed people to the cities. In the cities, African Americans were relegated to the lowest paying jobs such as unskilled and service labor. Men worked as rail workers, rolling and lumber mills workers, and hotels workers. The large population of slave artisans during the antebellum period had not been translated into a large number of freemen artisans during Reconstruction. Black women were largely confined to domestic work employed as cooks, maids, and child nurses. Others worked in hotels. A large number became laundresses.
The Republicans believed that the best way for men to get political experience was to be able to vote and to participate in the political system. They passed laws allowing all male freedmen to vote. In 1867, black men voted for the first time. Over the course of Reconstruction, more than 1,500 African Americans held public office in the South; some of them were men who had escaped to the North and gained educations, and returned to the South. They did not hold office in numbers representative of their proportion in the population, but often elected whites to represent them.
Three Constitutional amendments, known as the Reconstruction Amendments, were adopted. The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified in 1865. The 14th Amendment was proposed in 1866 and ratified in 1868, guaranteeingUnited States citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States and granting them federal civil rights. The 15th Amendment, proposed in late February 1869 and passed in early February 1870, decreed that the right to vote could not be denied because of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. The amendment did not declare the vote an unconditional right; it prohibited these types of discrimination. States would still determine voter registration and electoral laws. The amendments were directed at ending slavery and providing full citizenship to freedmen. Northern Congressmen believed that providing black men with the right to vote would be the most rapid means of political education and training.
Many blacks took an active part in voting and political life, and rapidly continued to build churches and community organizations. Following Reconstruction, white Democrats and insurgent groups used force to regain power in the state legislatures, and pass laws that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites in the South. Around the start of the 20th century, from 1890 to 1910, southern states passed new constitutions that completed disfranchisement of blacks. U.S. Supreme Court rulings on these provisions upheld many of these new southern constitutions and laws, and most blacks were prevented from voting in the South until the 1960s. Full federal enforcement of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments did not occur until after passage of legislation in the mid-1960s as a result of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968).
So as we approach 2015, one hundred fifty years after the Civil War, it is time to take into account the successes and failures in its aftermath. A large percentage of Blacks and Hispanics have made it into the middle class, but others been left behind. Generations have failed to take advantage of the opportunities that have presented themselves. And we questioned why. But not to prejudge the reasons for abysmal scholarly results in the communities left behind we turn to an abominable force, Herman Badillo, who passed away last week. Telling it like it is was Herman’s greatest’s attributes. Never one to place blame, but always touted individual responsibility.
From the New York Post by
Over his long life, Herman Badillo achieved many firsts. The first Puerto Rican elected to Congress, the first as Bronx borough president, and so on. Yet those historic breakthroughs were mere stepping stones for his greatest accomplishment.
Badillo, who died last week at 85, rescued the idea of high standards as a saving grace for the poor and disadvantaged. And he did it almost single-handedly.
The battleground was the City University of New York, a once-admired institution that had debased itself with a policy of open admissions. During a dumbed-down era lasting 30 years, admission to CUNY required little more than the ability to draw a breath and spell your name.
It was a classic example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Designed to remedy chronically low enrollment of black and Latino students, the policy turned CUNY into a second-rate scrapyard. Good students and top-notch faculty avoided it like the plague, and once-proud alums from its heyday as the poor man’s Harvard hid their diplomas.
Until Herman Badillo saved the day. Gov. Pataki and Mayor Giuliani, who controlled the CUNY board, agreed in 1999 to promote Badillo to chairman and support his vision. The plan involved re-establishing entrance standards to senior colleges and beefing up courses so graduates could join the world of work and become full citizens.
The opposition ranged from principled to foolish. Some argued that the public system needed space for underachieving strivers, so open admissions largely were kept at community colleges.
The foolish flank claimed that standards anywhere are by definition racially discriminatory. One state Regent said colleges should be like hospital emergency rooms that never turn away anybody.
Giuliani and Pataki were courageous, but two non-Hispanic white Republicans didn’t stand a chance against the Democratic-led racial onslaught. Badillo was another matter, and his life story served as his calling card.
Born in Puerto Rico, he was an orphan at age 5 and came to New York when he was 11, eventually settling with an aunt in East Harlem.
An excellent New York Times obituary recounted how he learned English and worked as a dishwasher and pin setter at a bowling alley. He got into City College on the merits, graduated with high honors and earned his law degree at Brooklyn Law School, where he finished first in his class.
He became a Democrat and an activist, and his political career began with seven years in Congress, where he championed bilingual education and similar liberal programs.
He became a deputy mayor under Ed Koch, but couldn’t resist the political arena. Six times he ran for mayor, and six times he lost. He became a Republican, but never won another election.
Yet the best was yet to come, for his campaign to rescue CUNY was absolutely magnificent. He never tired of citing his life story as proof that black and Latino students could meet high standards.
Claiming otherwise, he argued forcefully, was a form of prejudice.
He routinely delivered thunderbolts, such as singling out Latino parents for failing to make education a priority for their children. He could be genial and withering in the same breath, yet always insisted that America is the land of opportunity. It was, I wrote at the time, his finest hour.
CUNY students today owe their quality education to his stubborn courage, and many had the privilege of meeting him in touching receptions. Even from a wheelchair in recent years, he continued to urge them to work hard and reach for the stars.
I counted Herman as a friend and remain in awe of his profound commitment to high standards. And not just in education. He believed that striving for excellence in any field is a key to human fulfillment.
We lose him at a time when New York is experiencing another crisis of confidence in those values. Again, lowering standards is seen as a cure for failure.
Herman Badillo knew better, and his life proved it. He will be laid to rest today, but may his memory fuel our resolve to fight for the things that matter.