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Disfranchisement–then and now

They “disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”

It sounds like what North Carolina Republicans might have said behind closed doors while they were gerrymandering legislative and congressional districts to assure their party’s continuing dominance.

However, the words came from a white Democratic state senator more than 100 years ago. Legendary historian C. Vann Woodward used the quote to show the thinking behind the white supremacy political movement in the late 1800s.

Both efforts, the post-Reconstruction “disfranchisement” and the 2011 redistricting, reduced the influence of African Americans in state government.

What made me think about the link between these two events, separated by more than 100 years?

First, an early reading of an upcoming biography of Josephus Daniels by Lee Craig reminded me of the Democratic Party’s successful efforts to minimize or eliminate African American influence in North Carolina politics at the turn of the last century.

Secondly, talking recently to a Democratic former state legislative leader, I suggested that Republicans had gone much further in redistricting to marginalize opponents than Democrats ever had. He smiled, and said, “Oh no, we would have done as much [after the 2000 census] if we had had the tools and hadn’t had Republican judges looking over our shoulders.”

Was there an element of revenge in the modern Republicans’ gerrymandered redistricting plan? It was certainly there in post-Reconstruction politics. Here is more of Woodward’s quote: “One main object was [so] to redistrict the state that for the next ten years not a Republican can be elected to the Legislature…I believe in the law of revenge. The Radicals disfranchised us, and now we intend to disfranchise them.”

As Reconstruction came to an end, white Southerners blamed all their political problems on newly enfranchised blacks and their Republican or Radical allies, which they called “the Negro problem.”

“The Democrats employed a variety of devices to diminish the Republican vote,” according to Michael Perman in “Pursuit of Unity: A Political History of the American South.” “One tactic was to redraw electoral districts so as to disperse black voters throughout the white-majority districts and consolidate the remaining black vote into one, perhaps two, congressional seats. Through similar gerrymandering schemes, they also diluted the black vote for the state legislature.”

In North Carolina during early post-Reconstruction times, black areas were put into separate governing units, which were controlled by the white Democratic-controlled state government. Meanwhile, white areas were given “home rule,” the power to govern locally.

These efforts to limit black participation were marginally successful. But they did not prevent blacks and Republicans, joined by white Populists in a Fusion partnership, from taking over state government in 1896 and dismantling many of these white-control devices.

In response, white Democrats mounted the successful white supremacy campaigns of 1898 and 1900 that finally “solved” the Negro problem by freezing blacks almost completely out of the electoral process.

In today’s North Carolina, the Republican program to disperse blacks and Democrats into Republican districts and crowd the remainder into a very few districts has been, like the white supremacy campaign, successful in minimizing African American influence.

With the shift from a Democratic majority in the legislature and the results of new redistricting plan, African Americans have gone from being a powerful minority in a majority party to a powerless majority in a minority party.

The warning a supporter gave to a new female African American legislator says it best. “[Y]ou’re going into a war where you are a minority in every sense of that word. Not just because you’re a woman, not just because you’re black, but because you are one of the few Democrats.”

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage

This week’s (January 13, 17) guest is Bland Simpson, author of “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bookwatch Classics airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). Wednesday’s (January 16) program features Anthony Abbott, author of “Leaving Maggie Hope.”

Bland Simpson’s new book covers the Civil War era from two different perspectives. The first is that of a talented waterman and captain, but one who was enslaved and badly treated. The second perspective is that of a naval officer who had his own set of challenges as he served first the United States and then the Confederacy. It is hard to see how anyone could bring these points of view together in the same book, but Simpson, has done it in “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.”

Next week’s (January 20, 24) Bookwatch guest is Wilmington’s Emily Colin’s author of “The Memory Thief.”

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/disfranchisement-then-and-now/

North Carolina Books For Last Minute Gifts

Just in time for holiday giving, here are some good ideas about a variety of North Carolina related books, one or two of which might be perfect for a last minute gift.

But first a bit of news about UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch’s broadcast schedule. Beginning in January, the program will air on Sundays at 12 noon, with a repeat on the following Thursday at 5 p.m.

Now, back to possible gifts, here is an idea for any beer lover on your list, “North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries” by Hillsborough craft brewer, Erik Lars Myers. “Once upon a time,” says Myers, “I would have said brewing beer was my hobby. Now, it’s my life.”

In his new book he shares his bountiful knowledge about the history of the craft beer business in North Carolina and where you can go to get the freshest and best local brews at small breweries all across the state. He will share more of that knowledge on North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend. (Friday, December 21, at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday December 23, at 5 p.m.)

For a North Carolinian who is interested in World War II, here is a perfect suggestion: “War Zone—World War II off the North Carolina Coast.” Author Kevin Duffus reviews the first seven months of the war when German U-boats destroyed U.S. ships off the North Carolina coast at will. He also tells some of the human interest stories that accompanied military action in the North Carolina zone of that war. (Dec. 28, 30)

A book that will be important to people who like to read about the Civil War and those interested in the struggle for Civil Rights is David Cecelski’s “The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves’ Civil War.” Galloway was an escaped slave from Wilmington, who became a James Bond-like agent for the Union Army. After the war, he turned his charisma and savvy to politics and ran circles around his white fellow legislators. Cecelski’s great storytelling gifts make this biography better reading than much of today’s historic fiction. (Note: This weekend the schedule will change. North Carolina Bookwatch will air on Sunday, January 6, at 12 noon, and Thursday, January 10, at 5 p.m.)

Cecelski’s friend, Bland Simpson, has a new book that covers the Civil War era from two different perspectives. The first is that of a talented waterman and captain, but one who was enslaved and badly treated. The second perspective is that of a naval officer who had his own set of challenges as he served first the United States and then the Confederacy. It is hard to see how anyone could bring these points of view together in the same book, but Simpson, has done it in “Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War.” (Sunday, January 13, and Thursday, January 17)

In Emily Colin’s debut novel, “The Memory Thief,” a young woman begs her mountain-climbing husband not to take on Mount McKinley in Alaska. He goes anyway, promising, “I will come back to you.” But, as she feared, he falls to his death. Still, that promise to return is haunting. Learning how it is fulfilled is the backbone of the novel. (January 20, 24)

Finally, an idea for children and young teens if you are wondering what they are reading now that the Harry Potter series has come to an end. Sheila Turnage faces this challenge in “Three Times Lucky” by introducing us to the crime-solving talents of two pre-teens from Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. Mo LoBeau is sassy, charming, and smart. She and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, lead Turnage’s readers through a most entertaining murder investigation. (January 27, 31)

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV until the end of December. For more information or to view prior programs, visit the webpage at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/ A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/one-on-one/north-carolina-books-for-last-minute-gifts/