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The Militant South

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  •  Criticism of historians 
  •  American Civilization By Its Interpreters 
  •  John Hope Franklin PH.D. 
  •  The Militant South 
  •  The first edition of From Slavery to Freedom, A History of American Negroes was published on the twenty-second of September nineteen hundred forty seven, and it was not merely a coincidence that this was also the 85th anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The spine of the book, with its design of chains partially broken and with a thread connecting all of them, was the publisher's way of declaring that the path from slavery to freedom was a difficult one. 
  •  And even where the chains had been broken there was a thread of constraint that continued to dog the path of the Negro. This was essentially the theme of the volume and I believe that virtually every page of the volume of the work suggests this theme in some way. In 1947 I put it this way, "I have given considerable attention to the task of tracing the interaction of the negro and the American environment. It can hardly be denied that the course of American History has been vitally affected by the Negro's presence. At the same time it must be admitted that the effect of acculturation on the Negro in the United States has been so marked that he is as truly American as any member of other ethnic groups. 
  •  That is not to say that the story of the Negro is one solely of achievement or of success. Too frequently the Negro's survival in America has depended on his capacity to adjust, indeed to accommodate himself to the dominant culture. And the obstacles have at times have been too great to permit him to make a significant achievement in the usual sense of the word. The task here, I said, has not been to recite his achievements-though naturally some of them have been so outstanding as to warrant consideration. But to tell the story of the process by which the Negro has sought to cast his lot with an evolving American civilization. 
  •  Another important goal of the book was to indicate the manner in which the Negro was, despite all claims to the contrary, an integral part of the history of the United States. I have made a conscious effort, I said, to write the history of the Negro in America with due regard for the forces at work that have affected his development. This has involved a continuous recognition of the mainstream of American history and the relationship of the Negro to it. It has been necessary, therefore, to retell, to a considerable extent, the story of the people of the United States in order to place the Negro is his proper relationship and perspective. To have proceeded otherwise would have been to ignore the indisputable fact that historical forces are all pervasive and cut through the most rigid barriers of caste and race. Finally, I wanted to avoid any suggestion that this work was a mere recitation of the deeds of outstanding Negroes. 
  •  Not only would such a recitation have been bad history, but it would have ignored the fact that the history of American Negroes is not only what Negroes themselves have done, but what the white community has done to them. As a social historian I was as much interested in what the great numbers had done as to what the great men and women had done. I sought, I told my readers, to maintain a discrete balance between recognizing the deeds of outstanding persons and depicting the fortunes of the great mass of Negroes. To be sure, there were times when dominant personalities forged to the front and assumed roles of responsibility and leadership. But the history of the Negro in America is essentially the story of the strivings of nameless millions who have sought adjustment in a new and sometimes hostile world. 
  •  I have no intention at this time to review the contents of the work; it is a rather large volume, and happily the second enlarged edition is still in print. A third edition to commemorate the centennial of the Thirteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution has been planned for 1965. Much of From Slavery to Freedom is corrective in nature and it involved repeating much of the well-known story in order to indicate the points at which correction was needed. 
  •  For example, I had to retell the story of the Negroes introduction into the English colonies in order to establish the point that the first Negroes were not slaves. I had to do the same thing for the formation of the Constitution, in order to indicate that some parts of the Constitution were not necessarily to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity. I had to discuss abolitionism in order to emphasize the fact that Negroes, such as David Walker, Charles Ray, Charles Remend, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglas were as uncompromising in their abolitionism and as vigorous in their advocacy of freedom as any white reformers of Boston or Philadelphia. 
  •  Wherever I reviewed the history of the United States, my task was essentially the same-The Civil War, for example, a great struggle for union and freedom in which 180,000 Negroes participated as soldiers and countless others. They served the Union as spies, scouts, saboteurs, and fifth columnists. The first World War, for example, again, was ostensibly fought to save the world for democracy, but it was a struggle in which 367,000 Negroes served in segregated outfits and were not permitted to serve with white American troops overseas. Upon their return to the United States, thousands of them suffered unspeakable indignities at the hand of their white fellow citizens. The story was not entirely bleak; there were Negro educators, and poets, and novelists, and editors and ministers and others, who by their own deeds gave testament to their faith in their country. 
  •  And there were protest leaders, demonstrators, agitators who pricked the conscience of their country. They too were Americans, all of them. And if they were found no place in other histories of their country, they were given a place in From Slavery to Freedom. 
  •  In 1941, a young white Southern newspaper man, Wilbur J. Cash, published what I believe to be the most important book ever written on the nature and development of Southern civilization. This work, entitled "The Mind of the South," 
  •  had a most profound effect on me and had much to do with my decision to devote some attention to trying to understand and explain some facets of Southern life that completely intrigued me. 
  •  In an early chapter in his book, a chapter entitled "Of an Ideal and Conflict," Cash described the Southerner in these words, "From first to last, and whether he was a Virginian or a nouveau he did not, typically speaking, think, he felt, and discharging his feelings immediately, he developed no need or desire for intellectual culture in its own right, none at least, powerful enough to drive him past his taboos to its actual achievement." 
  •  Although Cash analyzed much of the Southern way of life, and traced in some detail its influence on the Southern mind, there were, for me, several unanswered questions. I wanted to know more about the historical antecedents of the cavalier tradition, the relationship of agriculture to the development of the man in the center, the influence of slavery on Southern character and temperament, the nature of the frontier atmosphere in the South, and the components of the South's predisposition to act precipitously in crisis situations. 
  •  From the Social Science Research Council I received a grant to do research on what I called the "militant South." This is the project on which I was working when I decided to write the history of the American Negro and it is the project to which I returned when From Slavery to Freedom was completed. My research on this problem covered a wide range of topics as well as territory. I was particularly interested in what outside observers had to say about Southern hyper-sensitivity, about the Southern penchant for military titles, the persistence of dueling virtually everywhere in the South, and the martial air that can be seen in many places. 
  •  Visitors from Britain and from the continent may have the detachment and insight to say something significant about these phenomena and many of them did. I wanted to see what Southerners were saying about themselves and about each other. 
  •  And I read thousands of letters and diaries and commentaries in the effort to find out. I worked at Southern archives ranging from Virginia to New Orleans, and almost everywhere I was received with generous cooperation and welcome. It was difficult to explain in a few words to an archivist or to a librarian precisely what I was doing and almost invariably I was misunderstood. 
  •  The thing that got through to them most frequently was that I was making a study of local military organizations in the antebellum South. And invariably they showered me with accounts, including exciting manuscript material of the Washington Light Artillery of New Orleans or the Natchez Blues, and the Montgomery County Rough and Ready Invincibles. This was important of course, but my study went far beyond the citizen soldiery of the South. 
  •  In the course of my research, I read scores of novels written in the South in the generation before the Civil War. I wanted to get some notion about Southern values and ideals, and I read hundreds of political essays, those written by the local leader and those written by Calhoun, and Yancey, and the other masters of the political cut and thrust. I reviewed the many analyses and defenses of the institution of slavery, with the hope of finding some clue to the role of slavery in the development of the Southern ideal, which the man at the center was so quick to defend. I read rather widely in the field of social psychology in order to gain some understanding of group psychodynamics. 
  •  I even had a long session with a psychiatrist, but one who was particularly interested in the motives of, and dynamics of mental lives of groups of people instead of individuals, and certainly he was not particularly interested in me. I made an exhaustive study of the practice of dueling, everything I could find on military schools, schools that were popping up all over the South during a thirty year period ending in 1860. The task of organizing the material and writing the book that was taking shape in my mind was easily the most difficult one I had ever undertaken. After several false starts and after the numerous distractions with which a teacher-scholar is always faced I found that the task was becoming somewhat easier. 
  •  One thing that helped immensely was an invitation from the program committee of the Southern Historical Association to read a paper on the subject of the association's annual meeting in nineteen-hundred forty-nine. I decided to write a general paper on the entire subject; this gave me the opportunity to think through the entire problem with great care and to distill my conclusions into a paper of some forty minutes in length. After that was done I had a relatively simple task of enlarging that paper from my rather copious notes into a book that was published in 1956 as a Belanant book by the Harvard University Press and that was published in 1964 as a Beacon Press paperback. 
  •  The book, entitled The Militant South 1800-1861, seeks to deal with those phases of Southern life and culture that indicated a penchant for militancy that at times reached excessive proportions. The persistence of the rural environment, the Indian danger, the fear of slaves, an old world concept of honor, an increasing sensitivity to criticism, or even to free and open discussion, and an arrogant self satisfaction with things as they were - all of these contributed to this predisposition. 
  •  I sought to identify those phases of life that won for the antebellum South a reputation of being a land of violence. I was concerned not merely with the formal and conspicuous revelations of bellicosity, but also with those varied conditions of life which not only reflected, but explained this tendency. 
  •  Militant race superiority evolved out of the defense of plantation culture and became an ingredient in Southern life. The South's dread of real and fancied Indian scalpers kept many Southerners trigger-happy, 
  •  while the section's jingoistic expansionism added to the flavor of militancy--the growing interest in military education, the incredibly widespread interest in military activities in everyday life. Dozens of things, including the readings of Scott's novels, and the staging of military balls, indulging in medieval military games, all of these reflected a warm attachment to things of military nature. 
  •  Despite the contention of several historians who reviewed the book, I did not assert, or even imply that all Southerners, or even almost all of them, were bellicose militants. I pointed out that there were elements in the South that regarded violence and other forms of precipitous action as revolting. I pointed out, and I believe correctly so, that these elements dominated neither thought nor action in the crucial generation preceding the Civil War. Like the anti-slavery elements in the South, they lost most of their influence as the controversy between the North and the South became intense. 
  •  These elements that called for peace were shouted down, voted down, and fought down, by those Southerners, who, though they might have been in the minority, subscribed to a code of conduct and a plan of action that were the antithesis of moderation and conciliation. 
  •  Nor did I suggest, as some of my critics have insisted, that the condition of life that I described were the exclusive possession of the South. The North had its problem of law and order, the West had its Indian dangers and more than its share of violence, and almost everywhere in young America rugged individualism pushed men dangerously close to an obnoxious imperiousness. 
  •  But in the North, and even in the West, as the inhabitants grew into maturity and responsibility they tended to shed their cruder frontier characteristics and take on new traits, sometimes no less violent to be sure, that were the product of change and increasing complexity. 
  •  But in the South, even in the old areas, there was a tendency to retain the traits usually associated with the frontier and in the new areas of cotton and sugar the inhabitants nurtured a frontier militancy and violence that became almost as much a part of the scene as staple crops and Negro slaves. 
  •  The excessive degree of these manifestations and their persistence throughout the antebellum period made the South worthy of the special consideration I gave it in the book. 
  •  For some 25 years I have been privileged to teach courses covering the middle period of the history of the United States. At times my course would cover Sectionalism, Civil War and Reconstruction, and at another time it covered the war and post-war period and still at another time it covered merely the period of the Reconstruction. As I worked through this period I came to the conclusion that the Reconstruction was easily the most controversial period of American history, and perhaps the most widely distorted, and misrepresented and misunderstood. 
  •  Most of the standard works on the Reconstruction date back to the early years of the present century, when passions had not yet abated. They were written when the national climate tolerated an interpretation that conceded to the Confederate South its claim of having been mistreated at the hands of the very sinister combination of carpetbaggers, scallywags, and Negroes. 
  •  As I followed the emerging literature on the Reconstruction I noticed a significant movement to revise the earlier interpretations. In 1935 William E.B. Dubois came out with his rip roaring, bare-fisted, neo-Marxist interpretation of the Reconstruction. Though one might quarrel with much of his argument and some of his conclusions, one cannot argue against his basic insistence that the prevailing picture of the Reconstruction represents a gigantic distortion and misrepresentation of what actually happened. 
  •  Carpetbaggers and scallywags were not all selfish, sinister conspirators against the best interest of the South and the nation, and not all Negroes were ignorant, irresponsible goons and buffoons. 
  •  In 1940 Howard K. Beale in an article entitled "On Rewriting Reconstruction History," said that it was about time that we studied the history of the Reconstruction without first assuming that carpetbaggers and Southern white Republicans were wicked, that Negroes were illiterate incompetents, and that the whole South owes a debt of gratitude to the restorers of white supremacy. 
  •  Then there were others that were studying the Reconstruction period: Harrisman Bond who studies in Alabama, pointed to new approaches to the study of Reconstruction in that state, and Vernon L. Whorhin, whose study of Mississippi clearly indicated that the Reconstruction of that state merited a thorough re-examination. 
  •  I continued to teach courses on the Reconstruction and to gather material for what I had no doubt would someday constitute my own statement about the period. The opportunity came when I was invited to contribute a volume on the Reconstruction to the University of Chicago, History of American Civilization. I had amassed a considerable amount of data on the subject but I was not entirely satisfied. I did additional research in the Library of Congress and various depositories in the South; I read and reread numerous articles and monographs that were by this time appearing each year and that were themselves contributions to the revisions of the standard view of Reconstruction. 
  •  And when I began to write I was certain that some substantial revision of the period was clearly called for. Since most studies of the Reconstruction, from The Tragic Era by Claude Bowers to the novels by Thomas Dixon, glossed over the early years of Reconstruction and concentrated on the so-called "Negro rule" period, I decided to take a closer look at the first two years following the Civil War. These were the years when former Confederates were in control in every state in the South and although they did not enjoy representation in Congress they held a complete sway in their local and state governments. 
  •  Earlier historians give attention to the work of these Confederates only by pointing out that they enacted the black codes that, they claim, moved the former slaves on the road to freedom. These historians had neglected to point out many of the things I sought to emphasize. One, for example, was that the former Confederates not only made no provisions for the education of Negro children in the systems of education that they established just after the Civil War, but they bitterly opposed Northern philanthropists and federal officials who attempted to instruct Negroes in the fundamentals. 
  •  Much had been made over the ruthless military rule established in the South by the Northern victors. I examined the War Departments and discovered that demobilization was so rapid that within one year after the war scarcely a skeleton of the wartime army remained. And even when it became necessary to re-institute military control in 1867 and '68 this military control remained only so long as the so-called radical governments could become established. Indeed it was clear that the governments were in no position to sustain themselves, and without military support from Washington they began to collapse almost immediately in the face of the attacks by the Klan and others. 
  •  Some historians have been as critical of the governments established under radical rule as the former Confederates were. They have devoted more attention to how black some of the officials were than to how well or indeed how poorly they might have governed. A closer examination makes it clear that Negroes were never in control in any southern state and that when radical rule came it was not so radical. Scallywags were opposed to any far-reaching social reformation and carpetbaggers, many of them were conservative--Northern businessmen, who only wanted an opportunity to invest their capital and reap their returns. 
  •  A close examination also revealed the fact if there was corruption in government and if there was dishonesty in the business community it was a failing in which all shared: white and Negro, Northern and Southerner, former Confederate and Unionist. 
  •  Although historians have referred to the Reconstruction as the "long dark night" and the "tragic decade," the period was actually of short duration. In Virginia, for example, radical rule ended the very year it was supposed to begin, when in 1870 the conservatives won the election and threw the radicals out. In 1870 also, the radicals in North Carolina lost their grip after a mere two years of difficult and uncertain rule. In 1870 the state of Tennessee went conservative, and three years later Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas went the same way. Ten years after the close of the Civil War only three states were in any way under the control of the so-called radicals. By that time every former Confederate state lived under the best constitution it had ever had and enjoyed public institutions the like of which it had never before seen. Thus, that night was not all dark and at any rate, it was not long. 
  •  These things, and more, I covered in Reconstruction After the Civil War, a paperback edition of which appeared in 1962, one year following the original publication. The restrictions placed on the length of the volume by the editor of the series precluded its being a definitive study. Within the space allotted to me I attempted to correct some of the more glaring distortions and misrepresentations of this highly controversial period. 
  •  Its relevancy to the present seemed obvious, for one thing stood out and that was: whatever the faults of Reconstruction, and there were many, this period that is roundly condemned by most present day opponents of Civil Rights legislation is not at all what they claimed it to be. If Civil Rights opponents do not want to return to the Reconstruction period, as they always say in the face of Civil Rights proposed legislation, it should not be because it was a period of Negro rule for it was certainly not that, and it should not be because Southerners were ground down under the heel of radical rule for they were not. 
  •  They should not want to return to it if they don't want to return, because it provides all too little in the way of a guideline for solving fundamental social, economic, and political problems. But they have not offered this as a reason for not wanting to return. I have not been surprised that this volume has been received with mixed reactions. Some whites have regarded it as a flagrant distortion of the truth--a not unlikely reaction of some historians and some others who have a vested interest in the unrevised interpretation. 
  •  Some Negroes have regarded it much too easy on the former Confederates and lacking in a sufficiently bitter denunciation of those who did not protect the Negro--a not unlikely reaction for people filled with frustration and despair. I have not been surprised, but I have been distressed that in their review of the book some historians have seen fit to ascribe to me statements which I did not make and to insist that I cannot write the history of the Reconstruction from an armchair in New York City. 
  •  Historians who misquote another historian are guilty of fundamental dishonesty and the historians who accuse one of not doing the fundamental research required of a work without being certain of their facts are, at best, irresponsible. I've not had the time to discuss with you, some other efforts of mine in the field of historical research and writing. I've edited several books and, in 1963 I published a volume on the Emancipation Proclamation. Some of the articles I have written and published have been as important in my own growth and development as some of the books that I have written. The historian must within his own specialty seek to illuminate his period and his own insight in a variety of ways and he must be diligent in his efforts to bring to his craft whatever talents and resources that he can summon. Most of all he must realize that he is neither prescient nor infallible he must rest his case with his readers and his critics, that he has not consciously overlooked any salient consideration and this is what I try to do. 
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Title:The Militant South
Description: John Hope Franklin delivers a 30-minute lecture based on his 1956 work "The Militant South." Professor Franklin visited the University of Texas at Austin in January 1964 to deliver two lectures as part of “The History of American Civilization by Its Interpreters,” a videotaped series featuring leading historians discussing their areas of expertise. Professor Franklin’s other lecture is entitled, “The Making of a Historian.”
Country:United States
CreatorRadio/Television Department, University of Texas at Austin
Franklin, John Hope (lecturer)
Location:4116 (LSF Inv# 3780019)
Source:KLRU-TEMP Videotape Collection
Contributor:Frantz, Joe B. (project director)
Squier, Robert D. (television director)
Hendricks, Lyle (art, set, and titles)
PublisherDolph Briscoe Center for American History
Rights:Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:2 inch videotape

The initial rich media version of this video was created by Emily Vinson, and edited by Janelle Dupont, both in 2009. Their work was made possible by the School of Information, University of Texas at Austin and the Institute for Museum & Library Services.