The national outrage and backlash to the Memphis and New Orleans massacres cannot be overlooked. During the 1866 midterm elections, voters made a political statement by giving Radical progressive Republicans victories in winning the U.S. House and Senate. In other words, common decency ultimately prevailed.
When I hear today’s Republicans refer to themselves as the Party of Lincoln, I have to stop and shake my head.
Do Republicans really know what the Party of Abraham Lincoln actually stood for? The Republicans of 2021 and those from 1866 are not the same. In fact, they are polar opposites.
The Republicans from 1866 were liberals who supported the cause of citizenship for freed slaves. They also supported the right for Black men to vote. A right which was vehemently opposed by white Southerners who at the time were conservative Democrats.
Early progressive efforts
In order to address the needs of the emancipated slaves, Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was created to help former slaves in the workplace by ensuring that they received fair wages and can freely choose their employers.
Special courts were created to settle disputes between Black workers and white employers. The Bureau provided food and medical aid to the former slaves while establishing schools which were attended by children and adults.
These progressive efforts, which were meant to bring full citizenship to Black persons, were supported by members of the Republican Party but hated by white Southerners and conservative Democrats. The resistance to the overall advancement of freedmen was made successful through special state laws referred to as black codes.
Giving freedmen the right to vote would mean a major shift in political power. A shift which the Republicans supported, and the conservative Democrats opposed. Giving freedmen the right to vote was a major step toward racial and economic equality.
A step which Republicans embraced, and conservative Democrats consistently attacked.
Remember the massacre
Many are unaware that July 30, represented the anniversary of the New Orleans massacre. As a nation, we should not continue to forget the events of that deadly day.
Therefore, honor should be given to those who were killed, wounded and who took the political courage to stand for fairness and common decency.
The massacre of 1866 started as a peaceful march. Black convention supporters and delegates were marching to the Mechanic Institute to attend the Louisiana Constitutional Convention.
The Republicans demanded that the Convention reconvene due to the Louisiana state legislature’s passage of black codes and the unwillingness to extend the right to vote to Black men. The Convention would have laid the foundation for a modified state government in Louisiana.
A mob of ex-Confederates, white supremacists along with members of the New Orleans police force wanted to keep the delegates from attending the Convention and holding the meeting. As the march continued, shots were fired into the crowd, some Blacks attempted to escape or surrender.
Some of those who surrendered were slaughtered on the spot. The mob rushed into the building and the attack continued. Others were dragged from the hall by the mob and were either killed, beaten or arrested. At least 37 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.
The lesson 1866 leaves
The event of 1866 shows us we have to be watchful and vigilant in regard to today’s state laws. The motives behind these laws can often appear innocent and harmless, but at times they are driven by the desire to maintain political, social and economic dominance.
In response to the 2020 presidential election, over 400 voter suppression-type bills were introduced in Republican controlled state legislatures throughout the nation. These restrictive measures are not intended to protect election integrity as they may claim, but the overall goal is to strategically keep targeted groups from achieving political power and political equality.
The election reforms vary from state to state, but the new Georgia law forbidding volunteers from giving food and water to voters standing in line undermines basic common decency. Many voters during the 2020 primary stood in lines for three hours or more.
This law is considered a misdemeanor, which is punishable with up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
It’s a cruel strategy, but it can be successful by making a difference in a razor thin election. This particular law needs to be higlighted.
It shows the degree of desperation by those who see the potential of the Black vote and its unwanted threat in future elections. As a result, we give honor and respect to those who died in 1866 by rejecting these restrictive measures and continuing high voter turnout at all costs.
Voter suppression backfire
1866 shows us that we have to have an unwavering response to repressive laws which prevents the rightful sharing of political power.
The Republicans and their supporters did not accept state laws which were morally wrong. The national outrage and backlash to the Memphis and New Orleans massacres cannot be overlooked. During the 1866 midterm elections, voters made a political statement by giving Radical progressive Republicans victories in winning the U.S. House and Senate. In other words, common decency ultimately prevailed.
The massacres were also a motivating factor in gaining the necessary support for the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Amendment, which would have been unlikely without Republican control of both chambers, granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States including former enslaved people. This was a major blow to the conservative Democratic agenda.
Can the same be done in 2022?
Can voter suppression laws backfire and be a motivating factor in next year’s midterm elections? Common decency is on the ballot, and it has never been a partisan issue.
Therefore, will people who believe in what the true Party of Lincoln stood for, which is equality and voting rights, make a political statement in 2022 where fairness and common decency prevails?
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.’’