Violence and self-defense during Reconstruction, in Episode 5 of Reconstruction.

How the Federal Government Legalized Racial Violence After the Civil War

How the Federal Government Legalized Racial Violence After the Civil War

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Dec. 29 2017 5:00 AM
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When Tyranny Happened

The federal government’s legalization of racial violence after the Civil War.

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Photo illustration by Slate

The collapse of the antebellum Southern legal order left freed people exposed to violence from whites desperately trying to re-establish racial hierarchies. Some black people tried to defend themselves, acquiring weapons and forming militias. How common—and how effective—was that strategy?

In Episode 5 of Reconstruction: A Slate Academy, Rebecca Onion and Jamelle Bouie explore the legacy of the 1873 Colfax massacre and look at how black Americans responded to violence when they couldn’t rely on the government for defense. They’re joined by Kidada Williams, the author of They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence From Emancipation to World War I.