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February 21, 2007

Amnesia on the Death of Reconstruction

I am going to pick on Brad Delong precisely because he is a brilliant and well-educated academic-- and his list of "constitutional moments" where the Supreme Court rewrote American law against the decisions of elected officials is glaring in its silence about the Supreme Court murder of Reconstruction after the Civil War.

This amnesia about the Supreme Court judicially striking down a series of Reconstruction Civil Rights laws in the 1870s and 1880s, de facto licensing the Klan to murder at will, and sanctioning segregation and disenfranchisement of black voters is all too common, a point I made in this piece a few years ago. In fact, that Brad so easily forgets this piece of constitutional history is a triumph of rightwing historiography and it's remarkable that it has persisted so long:

Distorting the history of Reconstruction and the New Birth Amendments was a deliberate and sustained project of racist historians and legal scholars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries...While the worst revisionist history has been removed from textbooks, it has been replaced mostly by silence. Teachers mention Reconstruction in passing, if at all. In most American schools, it is as if history stopped at the end of the Civil War and did not resume until the Gilded Age and the emergence of populism near the end of the nineteenth century.

There is no question in my mind that every other action by the Supreme Court pales in comparison in the effect of this judicial murder of Reconstruction after the Civil War. It not only helped usher in the injustice of American Apartheid but turned the South into a peculiar enclave of rightwing politics whose effects persist to this day.

And the history of how that came to be is still foreign to even many of the most educated Americans.

Posted by Nathan at February 21, 2007 08:48 AM