Community & Government

What They Didn't Teach You About the End of the Civil War

Nikole Hannah-Jones unravels the truth about what happened after emancipation, beginning with the Great Nadir. Black codes were introduced, Black businesses were destroyed, and Black Americans were terrorized by the practice of lynching.

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Topics include: The Great Nadir • Special Field Order 15

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] - So the way that you are commonly taught about the history of slavery is that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. And then we all go into a free future together. And Black people disappear from the story until 1963 with the March on Washington. But what you've been taught is a history that has left out a lot of important information. And one of those is that, right at the end of slavery, there's a period called Reconstruction. And that is this brief moment where Black people start to achieve their rights of citizenship in this country, where we flirt with this idea out of the fires of the Civil War that we can create this multiracial democracy that was promised at our founding. Black people start to be elected into the highest offices in the land. That's where we first see our first Black senators and our first Black congressmen. That period only last 12 years, however, because the principal organizing factor of the United States has always been white supremacy. So what we have is this brief period of multiracial democracy where Black people have gained the franchise because of the 15th Amendment, where they are starting to work in coalition with white Republicans at that time, which was the Progressive Party at the time, to really reform our democracy to, pass public education laws, and to ensure programs for a common good. That all ends with the Great Nadir. And so what happens is in a contested presidential election, President Rutherford B. Hayes makes a deal to win the presidency and keep promises that he will pull out the Union troops from the South, which had been holding white supremacy in check, and will basically leave Black people to fend for themselves. What happens after that period is called the Great Nadir. It is where all of the brief gains that Black Americans start to make at the end of slavery are taken away. This is when we see the Black codes being introduced, grandfather clauses which deny Black people the franchise. This is where we see the introduction of Jim Crow laws, which are actually racial apartheid laws, but we like to use more benign terms like Jim Crow. This is a very low point in Black American life. Black people are being lynched daily in this country at that time. You're seeing Black businesses being destroyed. You are seeing segregation being implemented-- not just across the South, but across the Northeast. What you see is Black people become completely disenfranchised in the South. At that time, around the turn of the 19th century, Black people are-- 98% of Black Americans live in the South. And they completely lose their ability to vote. So we lose democracy-- the small foothold in democracy-- during that period of time, where Black people are not allowed to cast a ballot, disappear from public office, and really get forced back into what was considered a quasi-slavery. So that's why when sometimes you will hear people say that we are the oldest...

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From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

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Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

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