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A Historical Footnote On Race And Politics


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. Today, we begin a month-long series on race and politics based on conversations generated by you. We'll also hear from NPR's news analyst Juan Williams about how race has often played a divisive role in American politics. But we begin with this historical footnote.

(Soundbite of documentary "How the South Won the War")

Unidentified Actor #1: They always said this was a white man's government, and that the colored man had no rights that white men are bound to the respect.

HANSEN: "Between Civil War and Civil Rights" is a radio documentary series by independent producer Alan Lipke. You're listening to some excerpts adapted from one of the shows, "How the South Won the War."

Following the south's surrender in 1865, four million impoverished ex-slaves roamed free. Defeated Confederates found their society in ruins. One of them was army officer J.C. Lester.

(Soundbite of documentary "How the South Won the War")

Unidentified Actor #2: The young men of Polaski said, boys, let us get up a club or society of some description.

HANSEN: They took the name Ku Klux Klan. It started as a way to have fun and pull pranks, but they soon found those pranks could be used to scare and intimidate newly freed slaves at a time when racial tensions were high.

(Soundbite of documentary "How the South Won the War")

Unidentified Actor #3: (As Charles C. Jones, Jr.) If insensible to every other consideration, terror must be made to operate upon their minds, and fear prevent what curiosity and desire for utopian pleasures induce them to attempt. Charles C. Jones Jr., ex-colonel of Confederate States Army, ex-mayor of Savannah.

HANSEN: The Klan and other groups used scare tactics that escalated to floggings and violence. In 1871, after President Ulysses S. Grant reported 5,000 acts of terror throughout the Union-occupied south, a reluctant Congress held hearings into the unrest.

(Soundbite of documentary "How the South Won the War")

Unidentified Actor #4: (As Larry White) My name is Larry White. I live in Jackson County, Florida. I had to deny voting radical just to save myself. After I'd said that, they seemed to excuse me and said, oh, Larry, he's a good nigger. They should all be like him.

HANSEN: Witness Plaid O'Durham(ph) defended the Klan.

(Soundbite of documentary "How the South Won the War")

Unidentified Actor #5: (As Plaid O'Durham) The idea that outrages upon negroes have been committed by that organization is in my opinion preposterous. The obligation was to support the Constitution of the United States, to protect each other, and to vote for white men for office.

HANSEN: Six months of rancorous, partisan hearings revealed lynchings, torture, and other brutality. Those acts were meant to control blacks and keep them from exercising their rights as citizens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.