By Aly Sayani

Union Flag

Union Flag

In the United States of America, after the great civil war of 1865, the one everyone remembers as the landmark of the abolition of slavery and all of its filthy quirks, there was a period known as The Reconstruction. In this period, from 1865-1877, the civil rights of the black man were heightened in comparison to previous stature, inequality of opportunity between the white man and the coloured man began to dissolve and the political presence of every Black potential voter and politician, locally or challenging congress were of a greater magnitude than ever before. The republicans, who fought to end slavery held seats in the some of the southern states upon which previously slavery was infringed and bred. This allowed them to pose a military presence in the south to prevent unfair treatment of negroes and allow them to fulfil the promises which won them the war. In the deep south, and in the majority of neighbouring states, the newfound recognition of negroes heavily angered the white man, as their stated ideology for condemning the black man was directly connected with denial of political and social equality, and sexual fears of white men. The war had left them weak and rising negro power made them feel even weaker ideologically. This created divide, and for the democrats, an opportunity to pounce and depreciate a decade of positive change for the negro.

The new Latin phrase modus vivendi has two definitive meanings, one of those being a feasible arrangement or political compromise, especially one that bypasses difficulties. This essentially describes what happened following the circus in the election of 1876. The democrats had 184 seats, with 185 needed for a majority and the republicans had 166 seats. It may seem as if the republicans were out of the race, but the three states yet to offer their 19 electoral seats were Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina, all states in the south, bleeding economically from the reconstruction. After months of negotiation, the democrats allowed for all 19 seats to be given to the republicans, allowing republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes to become president. However, it wouldn’t be a modus vivendi without a worrying compromise. Southern Democrats accepted Republican Rutherford B. Hayes' election in exchange for the promise of more federal aid for rebuilding the Southern infrastructure and less federal intervention in Southern politics. As a result, many of the civil rights blacks enjoyed during the Reconstruction era (1865-1877) were revoked. The republican governments in Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina promptly collapsed and the Reconstruction was over.

The second meaning of the phrase modus vivendi, is ‘a way of living’. The compromise was reached by White Americans at the expense of the Blacks. The recovery of the South led to an increase in hate towards the Black man, and an increase in the ignorance of congress to humanitarian issues, yet this was given considering that the new ‘way of living’ for the millions of black people in America, involved the congress failing to see them as human. Lack of federal intervention in the south led to an increase in the number of people supporting white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan, leading protests against civil rights for black people and violence against them too, as an increase in the number of Jim Crow laws and lynching, devolved the living standards and quality of life for every black man in America.

Jim Crow, a character in a minstrel show- a show which made fun of black people- was used as a cover for a series of laws that defined the social status and modus vivendi for black people for three quarters of a century after the election of 1876. They were designed to increase public segregation. For example, in many churches in the south whites were taught that they were ‘the chosen people’ and that blacks were ‘cursed’. One law was that a Black man and a white man could not shake hands as that would imply that they were of the same social status as each other, which the government did not want. Others included not being able to eat together, under no circumstances was a black man to offer to light the cigarette of a white woman, and that no white man was to call a black man with the prefix Mr or Mrs, but by their first name to imply a sense of disrespect. Now what may surprise you is that although these laws are a clear violation of every civil rights act ever established in favour of black people, in a court case in 1896 where a Homer Plessy, a black man, sat down in a whites only part of a train, and the 14th amendment which had an equal protection clause, did not save him. The Supreme court ruled that all Jim Crow laws were constitutional, in other words, made segregation legal and coined the phrase, ‘separate, but equal’. These laws were in place for over a half a century, and because the principal of what happened to Plessy transcended trains, states began to apply that segregational principal to all public areas, and for every amenity a black had access to. Black artist Big Bill Broonzy best described it in the chorus of one of his most famous songs, ‘Black, White and Brown’. A grotesque, unjust and fear ridden society was created from that very first political compromise in 1877, and haunts the legacy of the great grandparents of today’s generation of black people in America, and is a call to humanity to never let it happen again.

‘They says if you was white, should be all right
If you was brown, stick around
But as you's black, m-mm brother, git back git back git back’

Also read the article on the History of the Civil War