Several of the latest neo-Confederate efforts to prevent progress revolve around Reconstruction, which neo-Confederates and their sympathizers abhor, describing it as the seed of the ‘upppityness’ which has made blacks unmanageable ever since slavery ended. They are currently exercising their antipathy by trying to prevent historic preservation efforts that will document and memorialize Reconstruction. Preservationists throughout the country have turned their attention to South Carolina, where Reconstruction began.
A bill shepherded through the U.S. Senate by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., has set aside $300,000 to complete two studies over three years.
One study would be a national search designed to identify U.S. sites and resources significant to Reconstruction.
The second would determine whether five Beaufort County sites with strong ties to Reconstruction should be added to the National Park System.
Second District Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of Lexington introduced a similar bill in the U.S. House that could be debated when Congress reconvenes next month, if Wilson pushes it.
The mainstream view of Reconstruction captures the complexity and hopefulness of the time.
Reconstruction was that period immediately after the war, from 1865 to 1877, when the Union tried to heal itself socially, spiritually and economically.
Factories were down, millions of former slaves had no education, land or other means of self-support, and families were torn apart. The country’s future seemed fragile.
“The term Reconstruction referred to the literal rebuilding of the war-ravaged South and the metaphorical rebuilding of the Union,” the National Park Service’s Brenda Barrett told Congress earlier this year.
The neo-Confederates, and most white Southerners who were brought up on the myth of the valiant South, disagree.
Popularly in South Carolina, Reconstruction is that period when the federal government imposed its will and blacks headed state government, ruling corruptly and ruining the lives of poor whites.
Though 60 years of historical research shows that view to be racist and wrong, it persists.
“Denigrating and dismissing black officeholders as illiterate, venal, propertyless rogues is one of the most enduring myths of Reconstruction,” USC history professor Walter Edgar wrote in “South Carolina: A History.”
“Most black legislators (87 percent) were literate; more than three-fourths were property-owners and taxpayers. A majority were middle-class artisans, farmers and shopkeepers — not former field hands.
“At least one in four had been free persons of color before the war. Contemporary whites and their descendants either refused to acknowledge or deliberately distorted the accomplishments of the state’s black leaders.”
About 190 blacks served in the S.C. Legislature during Reconstruction, more by far than in any other Southern legislature.
That is part of the state’s special history. It is one of the few to have been predominantly black and remained so into the 1890s. Like other states with large West African-derived populations, such as Alabama and Mississippi, South Carolina has a long history of using any means possible to subvert the political will of its black citizens.
The controversy there has been stoked by the increasingly radical Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Now dominated by the segregationist and secessionist League of the South, the SCV is more open than before about considering blacks and Northerners its archenemies. The drive to monumentalize the history of Reconstruction has members‘ blood boiling.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group of Civil War veterans’ descendants, wants to stop the effort to federally protect several sites honoring South Carolina’s and Beaufort County’s prominent historical roles in the post-Civil War period.
“If the National Park Service wants to honor blacks being free from slavery and blacks getting the right to vote, that’s fine,” said Michael Givens, first lieutenant of the state division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “Just don’t do it under the pretenses of Reconstruction.”