The Exodusters Book

Black Southerners After Slavery: After the Civil War (P. VIII) in 1865 and the end of slavery,  during what’s called Reconstruction, Blacks who were freed still had to deal with those who were trying to keep them powerless, immobilized, and landless. (P.VII) Legally they still had to deal with things such as the Black Codes, which limited ownership, marriage, and vagrancy amongst other things (P. X) Although identified as racial conflict,  it’s more accurately described as a labor conflict between the working poor and the rich owners (P. VIII). Either way this conflict was prompting Blacks in the South to feel as though leaving was their only reasonable option.

Motives Of Migration: The motivation for freed slaves to migrate away from the south was ultimately a lack of autonomy. Time and time again blacks expressed how they had been abused, deserved respect, should be viewed as human and how it was understandable that they would want to leave the South (P. 246, 254). Some people explained it was the Constitution being ignored which allowed Blacks to be abused (P. 241) and the government leaving Blacks out to dry in a manner of speaking (P. 245). A few politicians heard the plight and accused Democrats of promoting, hiding, and excusing violence against Blacks (P. 254) but that was not the typical stance of politicians. Some citizens thought that swindlers and “drummers” had artificially created this strong desire to migrate (P. 203, 206, 236), but those type of ideas were used to ignore the violent terrorism and poverty that actually prompted the movement (P. 190, 191,193, 197).

Why Kansas? One of the reasons Kansas was chosen to migrate to, over other places is that Kansas sought to allow black migrants the same as they allowed white migrants. There was nothing special offered to Blacks to come to Kansas, simply, there were no additional hurdles (P. 159, 238). But ultimately, poverty complicated the move, a few states away, to Kansas, and also for the most part prevented a move across the ocean with any of the back-to-Africa movements (P. 130).

Economic Slavery: It is unlikely slaves were freed with anything at all (P. 124), despite the fact they were supposed to have some economic help set in place (P. 92) they were left in poverty which in itself is hard to overcome (P. 90). In addition, the lack of education didn’t hold freedpeople back to the same degree as the structural inequality which was built into the land-tenure and crop-lien systems (P. 53). One of the former masters’ biggest issues was high taxes, which they got lowered in 1879, but did not pass on any savings to those laboring on their fields (P. 59), they left Blacks to shoulder the same costs and burdens. Blacks were forced to pay higher credit prices to get necessities, and regardless how abundant of a crop they grew or how high a cotton price they fetched at sale, they were kept in poverty (P. 62) by forces set against them.

Justice & Politics: What blacks suffered wasn’t just at the hands of a few random whites here or there, it was institutional. Even when the law wasn’t against them, local government did not enforce laws to their benefit (P. 171). Henry Adams, for example, surveyed and found that storekeepers would trump up debts to keep freedpeople in debt at approximately the same ratio (P. 59) and if they dared to disagree or refused to pay, the chances were slim that they would win any case in court. The courts harbored similar ambivalence in all areas of the law, as shown by cases which were not prosecuted against the so-called leaders of society, such as judges, lawyers, planters, and merchants, whether because of friendship or prejudice (P. 21). Henry Adams, noticed that blacks were taken to court by whites, jailed before indicted and if indicted they were typically convicted, whether man, woman or child. White women were never brought before the grand jury, and only one white man was indicted but wound up acquitted after a year (P. 80).

Somehow regardless of the violence, the economic enslavement, the lack of educational opportunities, the enforcement of laws, etc, the preferred method for Blacks dealing with this terrorism; this institutional racism; this subjugation, was to try peaceful, diplomatic, and political methods to attain respect and protection (P. 82, 124,170, 171, 220). They attempted to vote, wrote to senators, congressmen and a President asking for the law to be upheld regardless of what position was held, how wealthy, or how powerful a victimizer was (P. 31, 171). They knew their lives were held in the balance (P. 27). More and more when the peaceful and political ways made little to no difference (P. 229, 233), instead of becoming violent, the mass of Blacks started losing hope (P. 87).

Black Intelligence: Propaganda was spread that Blacks could not look out for their own best interest, especially politically (P. 22). The fact is that Blacks made sensible decisions even without formal education.  The freedpeople knew that the lack of education was a hinderance (P. 53) and they sought to have their children educated (P. 44) but there weren’t many options for it (P. 46) Blacks also understood their former slave-owners opposed their education. (P. 51, 241).

Education & Assimilation: Even when education was achieved, there were difficulties, such as the “implied assimilation to Euro-American culture and values” (P. 15) Some educated Blacks criticized rural lifestyles and beliefs and advocated alongside prejudice whites (P. 173) that uneducated Blacks needed to change their lives to avoid violence and terrorism (P. 16) and accept the natural order of things. This is probably one of the many reasons there were no true Black leaders; “Every Black man is his own Moses now” (P. 188). Neither local pastors (P. 189) nor relative celebrities (P. 213) were able to dissuade the masses of freed slaves from migrating to Kansas, because they came to common sense decisions in mass meetings where they debated options (P. 22) and then sent one person to deliver or carry out the decisions (P. 22). If these people grew to believe they had more of a leadership role they were rejected and abandoned by the masses (P. 25).

White Savior Trope: Some whites wanted Blacks to trust and allow them to save Blacks, one example was Southernizing (P. 40). Blacks did not align with that ideology. While Blacks acknowledged some whites did not engage in terrorism, some felt they were often accomplices because they did not protect or assist against the terrorism and violence (P. 19). Some believed non-violent whites financially supported the violent whites (P. 20). While the feeling is understandable, we do know that the same tactics of violence and terrorism were used on the allies of Blacks, such as white Republicans and white clergy (P. 10).

Reality? It could be said that these freed slaves were not looking at reality, but that is not to say that it is a bad thing. For blacks to accept reality it could be argued that they would have to acknowledge many, if not all of the following. First, that whites are naturally superior or advantaged for some reason. Second, that both local and federal government would not help even if they were equal to whites, or would definitely not help Blacks if it hurt whites. Third, only white people could help Blacks with their struggles. Fourth, that they could not afford to escape or mitigate their sufferings. Lastly, that they might as well just accept whatever little they could get and not resist the inevitable (P. 177).

Republican & Democrat: As far as politics, while “Reconstruction” was the Republican attempt at moving towards equality, “Redemption” was the Democrat response which attempted to restore certain aspects of slavery. Blacks tended to vote Republican and for good reason (P. 193, 13); Democrats were predominantly anti-working-class and anti-black, whereas Republicans were typically interested in working people, public education, and keeping personal property out of the hands of creditors (P. 35).With voting, the freedpeople and Republicans in general, faced polling places being changed last minute, lies regarding voter registration, confusion regarding ballot boxes, and fake votes placed or “counting out” (P. 96, 163). Blacks in particular were also subject to travel “passes”, and forced to claim membership to Democratic clubs for protection (p. 101) from illegal activities including numerous forms of violence (P. 98, 133, 160, 196). Democrats claimed the violence would end if they got control of the government, but violence continued even after Redemption (P. 34). In addition Blacks faced a proposed poll tax which would effectively eliminate their ability to vote even while doing the same to poorer whites (P. 36).

Working For Autonomy: Overall freedpeople were willing to continue working but not slaving. Their former masters believed they wouldn’t work without a whip to their back, that they needed “guidance and discipline” (P. IX) and some claimed that they were spending recklessly (P. 64).  Also though they were no longer slaves they were also expected to still show deference and not all freedpeople complied. Some cursed their former masters and a few even threatened at gunpoint. The freedpeople wanted to be treated as people, no longer as property and they bravely insisted on it by resisting beatings, for instance. They wanted autonomy (P. 5) but former slave-masters thought it was illegitimate for Blacks to engage in a “pursuit of happiness” (P. 6) and were more than willing to continue using violence and terrorism against the freedpeople (P. IX).

Whether unintentional or used as an excuse, the Blacks’ push for autonomy, and the need of solidarity, were both viewed by many as anti-white militance (P. 9). But time and again there is evidence to show that Blacks were not generally anti-white or violent towards whites as is shown by examples like the United Color Links in 1881, when they decided not to step in and work when whites were on strike (P. 119).

Black Solidarity: As with any group of people, all Blacks did not have the same experiences nor did they all support Black solidarity. For instance, their experiences made some skeptical of putting their hard earned money into the hands of anyone else for safe-keeping (P. 93). Although, there were blacks who conned Exodusters for financial profit (P. 208) and those who were in more difficult situations or maybe even simply myopic or just selfish (P. 209). Some blacks were unsure of how to proceed; wanting change but being noncommital (P. 210), others were more concerned with stoicism (P. 224), but overall, it seems most Blacks came together..

In the South, Blacks suffered violence that was unrelatable to Blacks in the North (P. VII). Many whites refused to acknowledge that if Blacks stood alone that they suffered worse victimization. So, one way Black solidarity expressed itself was “freedman’s aid societies” in which blacks supported each other en masse. Even as is under-acknowledged in many stories of the past, women again were present and active, banding together to “to combat infringements of Black’s civil rights” (P. 155). Despite the solidarity, “nightriders” or “bulldozers” threatened, terrorised and even killed Blacks one by one.

Black Solidarity & Politics: For those blacks who migrated, life was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, they escaped violence but still dealt with many difficulties. Black St. Louis Church folk gave $200 (P. 226) and assisted the Exodusters in whatever way they felt they could (P. 224) even while the St. Louis government was obstinate and unfair. St. Louis grudgingly gave only $550 to hundreds of Exodusters where they had previously given up to $300 to individual white families (P. 225, 232). By comparison the St. Louis Mayor proposed a $300 fine against bringing paupers into the city (P. 232) which was a direct assault against blacks.

Outcome of Migration: Fortunately by 1990 Blacks in Kansas were generally, if not overwhelmingly, more prosperous than their counterparts in the South; politically they were enormously better off. Although they might not enjoy their civil rights to the extent that white Kansans did, they were far freer and less discriminated against than were their peers in the South. Kansas was no Canaan, but it was a far cry from Mississippi and Louisiana.  Relative to those states, Kansas was better in the 1880’s and still better in the 1890s and early twentieth century. The sad fact was that first-class citizenship existed nowhere in this country for Afro-Americans. Any black movement seeking real freedom within America was destined to realize no more than a relative measure of success. To the degree that the Exodusters aimed to escape the South and the specter of reenslavement, they succeeded. All in all, the Exodus to Kansas was a qualified but real success (P.260).”

White Suffering From Abolition & Migration: The more Exodusters left for Kansas, newspapers eventually started advocating for protection of Blacks from the violence they were suffering, a stark contrast from their previous stance (P. 239). The concern, however, was primarily economic because their writing’s context was the economic health of the South (P. 241), not the lives of Blacks, and other whites still blamed their lack of progress on Blacks (P. 237).

Motives of Migration: Overall the Exodus presented proof that Afro-Americans did not quietly resign themselves to the political or economic order of the Redeemed South. They cared that their civil rights were extinguished; they missed public school education for their children; they minded that they were victimized economically, unless they bargained away some of their rights. But lacking the classic tool for public redress – the reasonably independent exercise of the vote – their best alternative was flight. Exodusters on their way to Free Kansas said no, we do not acquiesce in Redemption; we do not believe that this is the way of American democracy” (P. 260).


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