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Reconstruction Quotes

They Said It

"There has been houses broken open, windows smashed and doors broken down in the dead hours of the night, men rushing in, cursing and swearing and discharging their Pistols inside the house. Men have been knocked down and unmercifully beaten and yet the authorities do not notice it at all. We would open a school here, but are almost afraid to do so, not knowing that we have any protection for life or limb."

- African-American citizens of Calhoun, Georgia, requesting protection from federal troops, 186730
"I should like to lick a hundred free negroes jest once all 'round. If I didn't bring 'em to know their places, I'd pay ten dollars apiece for all I failed on."

- a white South Carolina planter after the Civil War31
"The future looks dark, and we predict, that we the are entering upon the greatest political contest that has ever agitated the people of the country-a contest, in which, we of the South must be for the most part spectators; not indifferent spectators, for it is about us that the political battle is fought. The issue is fairly joined."

- Loyal Georgian (black newspaper), 3 March 186632
"I do assure you, you might as well try to teach your horse or mule to read, as to teach these niggers. They can't learn. Some of [the house servants and urban blacks] were smart enough for anything. But the country niggers are like monkeys. You can't learn them to come in when it rains."

- a white woman, advising a teacher for the Freedmen's Bureau33
"Ole missus used tu read de good book tu us, black 'uns, on Sunday evenin's, but she mostly read dem places whar it says, 'Sarvints obey your masters,' an' didn't stop tu splane it like de teachers; an' now we is free, dar's heaps o' tings in dat ole book, we is jes' sufferin' tu larn."

- an elderly black man in Mississippi, excited to be able to read all of the Bible with his freedman's education, 186934
"There was one thing that the white South feared more than negro dishonesty, ignorance, and incompetency, and that was negro honesty, knowledge, and efficiency."

- W.E.B. Du Bois, 191535
Republican Reconstruction "pandered to the ignorant negroes, the knavish white natives and the vulturous adventurers who flocked to the North."

- historian James Ford Rhodes, 189236
"It was the most soul-sickening spectacle that Americans had ever been called upon to behold. Every principle of the old American polity was here reversed. In place of government by the most intelligent and virtuous part of the people for the benefit of the governed, here was government by the most ignorant and vicious part of the population for the benefit, the vulgar, materialistic, brutal benefit of the governing set."

- Columbia University professor John W. Burgess, 190537
The years of Reconstruction "were years of revolutionary turmoil, with the elemental passions predominant....The prevailing note was one of tragedy....Never have American public men in responsible positions, directing the destiny of the nation, been so brutal, hypocritical, and corrupt. The constitution was treated as a doormat on which politicians and army officers wiped their feet after wading in the muck....The southern people literally were put to the torture...[by] rugged conspirators...[who] assumed the pose of philanthropists and patriots."

- historian Claude G. Bowers, 192938

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