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Phoenician traders arrived on the North African coast around 900 B.C. and established Carthage (in present-day Tunisia) around 800 B.C. By the sixth century B.C., a Phoenician presence existed at Tipasa (east of Cherchell in Algeria). From their principal center of power at Carthage, the Carthaginians expanded and established small settlements (called emporia in Greek) along the North African coast; these settlements eventually served as market towns as well as anchorages. Hippo Regius (modern Annaba) and Rusicade (modern Skikda) are among the towns of Carthaginian origin on the coast of present-day Algeria.
As Carthaginian power waned, the influence of Berber leaders in the hinterland grew. By the second century B.C., several large but loosely administered Berber kingdoms had emerged.
As Carthaginian power grew, its impact on the indigenous population increased dramatically. Berber civilization was already at a stage in which agriculture, manufacturing, trade, and political organization supported several states. Trade links between Carthage and the Berbers in the interior grew, but territorial expansion also resulted in the enslavement or military recruitment of some Berbers and in the extraction of tribute from others. By the early fourth century B.C., Berbers formed the single largest element of the Carthaginian army. In the Revolt of the Mercenaries, Berber soldiers rebelled from 241 to 238 B.C. after being unpaid following the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War. They succeeded in obtaining control of much of Carthage's North African territory, and they minted coins bearing the name Libyan, used in Greek to describe natives of North Africa. The Carthaginian state declined because of successive defeats by the Romans in the Punic Wars; in 146 B.C. the city of Carthage was destroyed. As Carthaginian power waned, the influence of Berber leaders in the hinterland grew. By the second century B.C., several large but loosely administered Berber kingdoms had emerged. Two of them were established in Numidia, behind the coastal areas controlled by Carthage. West of Numidia lay Mauretania, which extended across the Moulouya River in Morocco to the Atlantic Ocean. The high point of Berber civilization, unequaled until the coming of the Almohads and Almoravids more than a millennium later, was reached during the reign of Masinissa in the second century B.C. After Masinissa's death in 148 B.C., the Berber kingdoms were divided and reunited several times. Masinissa's line survived until A.D. 24, when the remaining Berber territory was annexed to the Roman Empire.
THE ROMAN ERA
Increases in urbanization and in the area under cultivation during Roman rule caused wholesale dislocations of Berber society. Nomadic tribes were forced to settle or move from traditional rangelands. Sedentary tribes lost their autonomy and connection with the land. Berber opposition to the Roman presence was nearly constant. The Roman emperor Trajan (r. A.D. 98-117) established a frontier in the south by encircling the Aurès and Nemencha mountains and building a line of forts from Vescera (modern Biskra) to Ad Majores (Hennchir Besseriani, southeast of Biskra). The defensive line extended at least as far as Castellum Dimmidi (modern Messaad, southwest of Biskra), Roman Algeria's southernmost fort. Romans settled and developed the area around Sitifis (modern Sétif) in the second century, but farther west the influence of Rome did not extend beyond the coast and principal military roads until much later.
The Roman military presence in North Africa was relatively small, consisting of about 28,000 troops and auxiliaries in Numidia and the two Mauretanian provinces. Starting in the second century A.D., these garrisons were manned mostly by local inhabitants.
Aside from Carthage, urbanization in North Africa came in part with the establishment of settlements of veterans under the Roman emperors Claudius (r. 41-54), Nerva (r. 96-98), and Trajan. In Algeria such settlements included Tipasa, Cuicul (modern Djemila, northeast of Sétif), Thamugadi (modern Timgad, southeast of Sétif), and Sitifis. The prosperity of most towns depended on agriculture. Called the "granary of the empire," North Africa, according to one estimate, produced 1 million tons of cereals each year, one-quarter of which was exported. Other crops included fruit, figs, grapes, and beans. By the second century A.D., olive oil rivaled cereals as an export item.
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The beginnings of the decline of the Roman Empire were less serious in North Africa than elsewhere. There were uprisings, however. In A.D. 238, landowners rebelled unsuccessfully against the emperor's fiscal policies. Sporadic tribal revolts in the Mauretanian mountains followed from 253 to 288. The towns also suffered economic difficulties, and building activity almost ceased.
The towns of Roman North Africa had a substantial Jewish population. Some Jews were deported from Palestine in the first and second centuries A.D. for rebelling against Roman rule; others had come earlier with Punic settlers. In addition, a number of Berber tribes had converted to Judaism.
Christianity arrived in the second century and soon gained converts in the towns and among slaves. More than eighty bishops, some from distant frontier regions of Numidia, attended the Council of Carthage in 256. By the end of the fourth century, the settled areas had become Christianized, and some Berber tribes had converted en masse.
A division in the church that came to be known as the Donatist controversy began in 313 among Christians in North Africa. The Donatists stressed the holiness of the church and refused to accept the authority to administer the sacraments of those who had surrendered the scriptures when they were forbidden under the Emperor Diocletaian (r. 284-305). The Donatists also opposed the involvement of Emperor Constantine (r. 306-37) in church affairs in contrast to the majority of Christians who welcomed official imperial recognition.
The occasionally violent controversy has been characterized as a struggle between opponents and supporters of the Roman system. The most articulate North African critic of the Donatist position, which came to be called a heresy, was Augustine, bishop of Hippo Regius. Augustine (354-430) maintained that the unworthiness of a minister did not affect the validity of the sacraments because their true minister was Christ. In his sermons and books Augustine, who is considered a leading exponent of Christian truths, evolved a theory of the right of orthodox Christian rulers to use force against schismatics and heretics. Although the dispute was resolved by a decision of an imperial commission in Carthage in 411, Donatist communities continued to exist through the sixth century.
VANDALS & BYZANTINES
Led by their king, Gaiseric, some 80,000 Vandals, a Germanic tribe, crossed into Africa from Spain in 429. In the following year, the invaders advanced without much opposition to Hippo Regius, which they took after a siege in which Augustine died. After further advances, the Vandals in 435 made an agreement with Rome to limit their control to Numidia and Mauretania. But in 439 Gaiseric conquered and pillaged Carthage and the rest of the province of Africa.
The resulting decline in trade weakened Roman control. Independent kingdoms emerged in mountainous and desert areas, towns were overrun, and Berbers, who had previously been pushed to the edges of the Roman Empire, returned.
Belisarius, general of the Byzantine emperor Justinian based in Constantinople, landed in North Africa in 533 with 16,000 men and within a year destroyed the Vandal kingdom. Local opposition delayed full Byzantine control of the region for twelve years, however, and imperial control, when it came, was but a shadow of the control exercised by Rome. Although an impressive series of fortifications were built, Byzantine rule was compromised by official corruption, incompetence, military weakness, and lack of concern in Constantinople for African affairs. As a result, many rural areas reverted to Berber rule.
The Colonization of Africa
Between the 1870s and 1900, Africa faced European imperialist aggression, diplomatic pressures, military invasions, and eventual conquest and colonization. At the same time, African societies put up various forms of resistance against the attempt to colonize their countries and impose foreign domination. By the early twentieth century, however, much of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, had been colonized by European powers.
The European imperialist push into Africa was motivated by three main factors, economic, political, and social. It developed in the nineteenth century following the collapse of the profitability of the slave trade, its abolition and suppression, as well as the expansion of the European capitalist Industrial Revolution. The imperatives of capitalist industrialization—including the demand for assured sources of raw materials, the search for guaranteed markets and profitable investment outlets—spurred the European scramble and the partition and eventual conquest of Africa. Thus the primary motivation for European intrusion was economic.
The Scramble for Africa
But other factors played an important role in the process. The political impetus derived from the impact of inter-European power struggles and competition for preeminence. Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain were competing for power within European power politics. One way to demonstrate national preeminence was through the acquisition of territories around the world, including Africa. The social factor was the third major element. As a result of industrialization, major social problems grew in Europe: unemployment, poverty, homelessness, social displacement from rural areas, and so on. These social problems developed partly because not all people could be absorbed by the new capitalist industries. One way to resolve this problem was to acquire colonies and export this "surplus population." This led to the establishment of settler-colonies in Algeria, Tunisia, South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, and central African areas like Zimbabwe and Zambia. Eventually the overriding economic factors led to the colonization of other parts of Africa.
Thus it was the interplay of these economic, political, and social factors and forces that led to the scramble for Africa and the frenzied attempts by European commercial, military, and political agents to declare and establish a stake in different parts of the continent through inter-imperialist commercial competition, the declaration of exclusive claims to particular territories for trade, the imposition of tariffs against other European traders, and claims to exclusive control of waterways and commercial routes in different parts of Africa.
This scramble was so intense that there were fears that it could lead to inter-imperialist conflicts and even wars. To prevent this, the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened a diplomatic summit of European powers in the late nineteenth century. This was the famous Berlin West African conference (more generally known as the Berlin Conference), held from November 1884 to February 1885. The conference produced a treaty known as the Berlin Act, with provisions to guide the conduct of the European inter-imperialist competition in Africa. Some of its major articles were as follows:
- The Principle of Notification (Notifying) other powers of a territorial annexation
- The Principle of Effective Occupation to validate the annexations
- Freedom of Trade in the Congo Basin
- Freedom of Navigation on the Niger and Congo Rivers
- Freedom of Trade to all nations
- Suppression of the Slave Trade by land and sea
This treaty, drawn up without African participation, provided the basis for the subsequent partition, invasion, and colonization of Africa by various European powers.
The African Resistance
The European imperialist designs and pressures of the late nineteenth century provoked African political and diplomatic responses and eventually military resistance. During and after the Berlin Conference various European countries sent out agents to sign so-called treaties of protection with the leaders of African societies, states, kingdoms, decentralized societies, and empires. The differential interpretation of these treaties by the contending forces often led to conflict between both parties and eventually to military encounters. For Europeans, these treaties meant that Africans had signed away their sovereignties to European powers but for Africans, the treaties were merely diplomatic and commercial friendship treaties. After discovering that they had in effect been defrauded and that the European powers now wanted to impose and exercise political authority in their lands, African rulers organized militarily to resist the seizure of their lands and the imposition of colonial domination.
This situation was compounded by commercial conflicts between Europeans and Africans. During the early phase of the rise of primary commodity commerce (erroneously referred to in the literature as "Legitimate Trade or Commerce"), Europeans got their supplies of trade goods like palm oil, cotton, palm kernel, rubber, and groundnut from African intermediaries, but as the scramble intensified, they wanted to bypass the African intermediaries and trade directly with sources of the trade goods. Naturally Africans resisted and insisted on the maintenance of a system of commercial interaction with foreigners which expressed their sovereignties as autonomous political and economic entities and actors. For their part, the European merchants and trading companies called on their home governments to intervene and impose "free trade," by force if necessary. It was these political, diplomatic, and commercial factors and contentions that led to the military conflicts and organized African resistance to European imperialism.
African military resistance took two main forms: guerrilla warfare and direct military engagement. While these were used as needed by African forces, the dominant type used depended on the political, social, and military organizations of the societies concerned. In general, small-scale societies, the decentralized societies (erroneously known as "stateless" societies), used guerrilla warfare because of their size and the absence of standing or professional armies. Instead of professional soldiers, small groups of organized fighters with a mastery of the terrain mounted resistance by using the classical guerrilla tactic of hit-and-run raids against stationary enemy forces. This was the approach used by the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria against the British. Even though the British imperialists swept through Igboland in three years, between 1900 and 1902, and despite the small scale of the societies, the Igbo put up protracted resistance. The resistance was diffuse and piecemeal, and therefore it was difficult to conquer them completely and declare absolute victory. Long after the British formally colonized Igboland, they had not fully mastered the territory.
Direct military engagement was most commonly organized by the centralized state systems, such as chiefdoms, city-states, kingdoms, and empires, which often had standing or professional armies and could therefore tackle the European forces with massed troops. This was the case with the resistance actions of the Ethiopians, the Zulu, the Mandinka leadership, and numerous other centralized states. In the case of Ethiopia, the imperialist intruder was Italy. It confronted a determined and sagacious military leader in the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II. As Italy intensified pressure in the 1890s to impose its rule over Ethiopia, the Ethiopians organized to resist. In the famous battle of Adwa in 1896, one hundred thousand Ethiopian troops confronted the Italians and inflicted a decisive defeat. Thereafter, Ethiopia was able to maintain its independence for much of the colonial period, except for a brief interlude of Italian oversight between 1936 and 1941.
Another example of resistance was the one organized by Samory Touré of the emergent Mandinka empire in West Africa. As this new empire spread and Touré attempted to forge a new political order he ran up against the French imperialists who were also trying extend their territories inland from their base in Dakar, Senegal. This brought the parties into conflict. Touré organized military and diplomatic resistance between 1882 and 1898. During this sixteen-year period, he used a variety of strategies, including guerrilla warfare, scorched-earth programs, and direct military engagement. For this last tactic he acquired arms, especially quick-firing rifles, from European merchant and traders in Sierra Leone and Senegal. He also established engineering workshops where weapons were repaired and parts were fabricated. With these resources and his well-trained forces and the motivation of national defense he provided his protracted resistance to the French. Eventually he was captured and, in 1898, exiled to Gabon, where he died in 1900.
A Period of Change
It is quite clear that most African societies fought fiercely and bravely to retain control over their countries and societies against European imperialist designs and military invasions. But the African societies eventually lost out. This was partly for political and technological reasons. The nineteenth century was a period of profound and even revolutionary changes in the political geography of Africa, characterized by the demise of old African kingdoms and empires and their reconfiguration into different political entities. Some of the old societies were reconstructed and new African societies were founded on different ideological and social premises. Consequently, African societies were in a state of flux, and many were organizationally weak and politically unstable. They were therefore unable to put up effective resistance against the European invaders.
The technological factor was expressed in the radical disparity between the technologies of warfare deployed by the contending European and African forces. African forces in general fought with bows, arrows, spears, swords, old rifles, and cavalries the European forces, beneficiaries of the technical fruits of the Industrial Revolution, fought with more deadly firearms, machines guns, new rifles, and artillery guns. Thus in direct encounters European forces often won the day. But as the length of some resistance struggles amply demonstrates, Africans put up the best resistance with the resources they had.
By 1900 much of Africa had been colonized by seven European powers—Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. After the conquest of African decentralized and centralized states, the European powers set about establishing colonial state systems. The colonial state was the machinery of administrative domination established to facilitate effective control and exploitation of the colonized societies. Partly as a result of their origins in military conquest and partly because of the racist ideology of the imperialist enterprise, the colonial states were authoritarian, bureaucratic systems. Because they were imposed and maintained by force, without the consent of the governed, the colonial states never had the effective legitimacy of normal governments. Second, they were bureaucratic because they were administered by military officers and civil servants who were appointees of the colonial power. While they were all authoritarian, bureaucratic state systems, their forms of administration varied, partly due to the different national administrative traditions and specific imperialist ideologies of the colonizers and partly because of the political conditions in the various territories that they conquered.
Colonial Domination: Indirect Rule
In Nigeria, the Gold Coast in West Africa, and Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika in East Africa, for example, Britain organized its colonies at the central, provincial, and regional or district levels. There was usually a governor or governor-general in the colonial capital who governed along with an appointed executive council and a legislative council of appointed and selected local and foreign members. The governor was responsible to the colonial office and the colonial secretary in London, from whom laws, policies, and programs were received. He made some local laws and policies, however. Colonial policies and directives were implemented through a central administrative organization or a colonial secretariat, with officers responsible for different departments such as Revenue, Agriculture, Trade, Transport, Health, Education, Police, Prison, and so on.
The British colonies were often subdivided into provinces headed by provincial commissioners or residents, and then into districts headed by district officers or district commissioners. Laws and policies on taxation, public works, forced labor, mining, agricultural production, and other matters were made in London or in the colonial capital and then passed down to the lower administrative levels for enforcement.
At the provincial and district levels the British established the system of local administration popularly known as indirect rule. This system operated in alliance with preexisting political leaderships and institutions. The theory and practice of indirect rule is commonly associated with Lord Lugard, who was first the British high commissioner for northern Nigeria and later governor-general of Nigeria. In the Hausa /Fulani emirates of northern Nigeria he found that they had an established and functional administrative system. Lugard simply and wisely adapted it to his ends. It was cheap and convenient. Despite attempts to portray the use of indirect rule as an expression of British administrative genius, it was nothing of the sort. It was a pragmatic and parsimonious choice based partly on using existing functional institutions. The choice was also partly based on Britain's unwillingness to provide the resources required to administer its vast empire. Instead, it developed the perverse view that the colonized should pay for their colonial domination. Hence, the choice of indirect rule.
The system had three major institutions: the "native authority" made up of the local ruler, the colonial official, and the administrative staff the "native treasury," which collected revenues to pay for the local administrative staff and services and the "native courts," which purportedly administered "native law and custom," the supposedly traditional legal system of the colonized that was used by the courts to adjudicate cases.
In general, indirect rule worked fairly well in areas that had long-established centralized state systems such as chiefdoms, city-states, kingdoms, and empires, with their functional administrative and judicial systems of government. But even here the fact that the ultimate authority was the British officials meant that the African leaders had been vassalized and exercised "authority" at the mercy of European colonial officials. Thus the political and social umbilical cords that tied them to their people in the old system had been broken. Some astute African leaders maneuvered and ruled as best they could, while others used the new colonial setting to become tyrants and oppressors, as they were responsible to British officials ultimately.
In the decentralized societies, the system of indirect rule worked less well, as they did not have single rulers. The British colonizers, unfamiliar with these novel and unique political systems and insisting that African "natives" must have chiefs, often appointed licensed leaders called warrant chiefs, as in Igboland, for example.
Colonial Domination: Assimilation
The French, for their part, established a highly centralized administrative system that was influenced by their ideology of colonialism and their national tradition of extreme administrative centralism. Their colonial ideology explicitly claimed that they were on a "civilizing mission" to lift the benighted "natives" out of backwardness to the new status of civilized French Africans. To achieve this, the French used the policy of assimilation, whereby through acculturation and education and the fulfillment of some formal conditions, some "natives" would become evolved and civilized French Africans. In practice, the stringent conditions set for citizenship made it virtually impossible for most colonial subjects to become French citizens. For example, potential citizens were supposed to speak French fluently, to have served the French meritoriously, to have won an award, and so on. If they achieved French citizenship, they would have French rights and could only be tried by French courts, not under indigénat, the French colonial doctrine and legal practice whereby colonial "subjects" could be tried by French administrative officials or military commanders and sentenced to two years of forced labor without due process. However, since France would not provide the educational system to train all its colonized subjects to speak French and would not establish administrative and social systems to employ all its subjects, assimilation was more an imperialist political and ideological posture than a serious political objective.
In terms of the actual administrative system in its various African colonies—Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco in North Africa, and Senegal, French Guinea, French Sudan, Upper Volta, Dahomey, and others in West Africa, and Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville, Ubangi-Shari in Central Africa—the French used a system of direct rule. They also created federations in West Africa and Central Africa. In the colonial capitals the governors were responsible to the minister of colonies in Paris. Most laws and policies were sent from Paris, and the governors who ruled with general councils were expected to enforce them in line with France's centralist traditions. The colonies were also subdivided into smaller administrative units as follows: cercles under commandant du Cercles, subdivisions under chef de subdivisions, and at the next level, cantons were administered by African chiefs who were in effect like the British warrant chiefs.
While France tried to maintain this highly centralized system, in some parts of its colonies where it encountered strongly established centralized state systems, the French were compelled to adopt the policy of association, a system of rule operating in alliance with preexisting African ruling institutions and leaders. Thus it was somewhat like British indirect rule, although the French still remained committed to the doctrine of assimilation. In the association system, local governments were run with African rulers whom the French organized at three levels and grades: chef de province (provincial chief) chef de canton (district chiefs), and chef de village (village chief). In practice, the French system combined elements of direct administration and indirect rule.
In general, the French administrative system was more centralized, bureaucratic, and interventionist than the British system of colonial rule. The other colonial powers— Germany, Portugal, Spain, Belgium, and Italy—used varied administrative systems to facilitate control and economic exploitation. However, no matter the system, they were all alien, authoritarian, and bureaucratic, and distorted African political and social organizations and undermined their moral authority and political legitimacy as governing structures.
Ekechi, Felix. "The Consolidation of Colonial Rule, 1885–1914." In Colonial Africa, 1885–1939, vol. 3 of Africa, ed. Toyin Falola. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.
Iweriebor, Ehiedu E. G. "The Psychology of Colonialism." In The End of Colonial Rule: Nationalism and Decolonization, vol. 4 of Africa, ed. Toyin Falola. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.
Oyebade, Adebayo. "Colonial Political Systems." In Colonial Africa, 1885–1939, vol. 3 of Africa, ed. Toyin Falola. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.
Stilwell, Sean. "The Imposition of Colonial Rule." In Colonial Africa, 1885–1939, vol. 3 of Africa, ed. Toyin Falola. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.
The Senussi or Sanussi
The Senussi/Sanussi refers to a Muslim political-religious Sufi order and tribe in Libya and the Sudan region founded in Mecca in 1837 by the Grand Senussi, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi. The Senussi claim a direct lineage to the Prophet Muhammed. Senussi was concerned with both the decline of Islamic thought and spirituality and the weakening of Muslim political integrity. From 1902 to 1913 the Senussi fought French expansion in the Sahara, and the Italian colonisation of Libya beginning in 1911. In World War I, the Senussi fought against the British in Egypt and Sudan. During World War II the Senussi tribe provided vital support to the British 8th Army in North Africa against the German and Italian forces. The Grand Senussi's grandson became King Idris of Libya in 1951. An unknown part of the population in Libya continue to be affiliated with the Senussi movement.
The September 1969 Coup
On September 1, 1969, in a daring coup d'état, a group of about seventy young army officers and enlisted men, mostly assigned to the Signal Corps, and led by then 27-year-old army officer Muammar al-Gaddafiseized control of the government and in a stroke abolished the Libyan monarchy. The coup was launched at Benghazi, and within two hours the takeover was completed. Army units quickly rallied in support of the coup, and within a few days firmly established military control in Tripoli and elsewhere throughout the country. Popular reception of the coup, especially by younger people in the urban areas, was enthusiastic. Fears of resistance in Cyrenaica and Fezzan proved unfounded. No deaths or violent incidents related to the coup were reported. The officers abolished the monarchy, and proclaimed the new Libyan "Arab" Republic, with Gaddafi as it's leader. Muammar al Qadhafi thus became president for life.
Africa 3500 BCE
Most of Africa is home to bands of hunter-gatherers, but in the Nile valley, the civilization of Egypt is beginning to emerge.
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What is happening in Africa in 3500BCE
The area now covered by the Sahara desert was cooler and wetter than it is now, although at this date it is getting dryer. Farming peoples are slowly spreading along the north African coast, and the fertile strip of land along the river Nile is already home to a dense population of farmers. In this area, some powerful chiefdoms are now emerging which will, over the next few centuries, come under one ruler to form the kingdom of Egypt.
Further south, in Nubia, in modern-day Sudan, wide grasslands give rise to cattle-herding cultures. Throughout the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, small groups of hunter-gatherers, mostly related to modern day San bushmen and Pygmy peoples, live in small, temporary encampments as they follow their prey and forage for nuts, berries and other nutritious plants. Beside rivers and lakes, settlements of fishermen are situated.
North Africa During the Classical Period - History
Freedom&rsquos Story is made possible by a grant from the Wachovia Foundation.
&ldquoSomewhere&rdquo in the Nadir of
African American History, 1890-1920
Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore
Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History
National Humanities Center Fellow
©Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore ©National Humanities Center
There are two places where we can count on finding African Americans in U.S. history textbooks: in discussions of Reconstruction and in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. In the ninety-odd years that elapsed between the two events, black Americans rarely appear, save perhaps in the 1920s and 1930s, with a mention of the Great Migration or the cultural history of the Harlem Renaissance. In this simplified story, the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement arose directly from the ashes of slavery to challenge the South&rsquos long-undisturbed system of racial oppression after World War II.
In reality, African Americans emerged from Reconstruction in the 1870s with the protection of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, and took their places as free and increasingly successful citizens in the 1880s. Because more than 80% of the nation&rsquos African Americans lived in former slave states until well into the twentieth century, they had to exercise their new citizenship rights among ex-Confederates and their sons and daughters. During the 1880s in the South, African Americans continued to vote, serve on juries, be elected to public office, pursue education, and improve their economic status. Some white leaders accepted the outcome of losing the Civil War and the enfranchisement of the Freedpeople. One white man in Virginia commented in 1885, &ldquoNobody here objects to sitting in political conventions with Negroes. Nobody here objects to serving on juries with Negroes. No lawyer objects to practicing law in court where Negro lawyers practice. In both branches of the Virginia legislature, Negroes sit, as they have a right to sit.&rdquo 1
Although textbooks tend to portray the history of African Americans as if not much happened between 1870 and 1954, the period was actually a long war for civil rights. White southerners continually reinvented new ways to impose white supremacy on their black neighbors. Black southerners fought back against disfranchisement and unequal treatment, the imposition of segregation, and the violent white people who perpetrated racial massacres and lynching. Because the rapidly industrializing South set up a system of racialized capitalism that left black people in segregated jobs at the bottom of the ladder, they sought the self-sufficiency of land ownership and started small businesses. Despite the onslaught of white supremacy, African Americans held hope that they would win the war for civil rights.
Since we enter a story at its end, sometimes we forget that what is past to us was future to the people whose stories we tell. Too often, what we lose in the telling is what made our subjects&rsquo lives worth living: hope. African American&rsquos visions of the future included equal opportunities and full citizenship, even as white supremacists took control of southern governments in the 1890s and consolidated their power in the first two decades of the twentieth century.
The period from 1890-1920, is often called the &ldquonadir&rdquo of African American history, yet African Americans kept hope alive and forged new political weapons during this time. It may be helpful to think of southerners in 1890 as the baby boomers of the nineteenth century. Two decades after the Civil War, the southerners who came into power in that decade had been young during Reconstruction and educated after Emancipation. Members of this generation had not fought in the Civil War nor had they been enslaved. When they came of political age, the white people were determined to find new solutions to &ldquothe Negro Problem,&rdquo and their black cohort was just as determined to win its fair share of opportunities and resources.
In the Deep South, Mississippi had ratified a new constitution in 1890. It meant to disfranchise black voters by a literacy test that required a voter to &ldquobe able to read any section of the Constitution, or be able to understand the same when read to him, or to give a reasonable interpretation thereof.&rdquo It was actually a comprehension test, or as some called it, &ldquoan understanding clause.&rdquo White registrars would administer the law, and they would decide whether the constitutional interpretations that black voters gave qualified as &ldquoreasonable.&rdquo The new rules also required payment of a poll tax to be eligible to vote. A court case, Williams v. Mississippi, was already pending to test the law&rsquos constitutionality. Most African Americans believed that the federal courts would never let it to stand.
In addition to wanting to see firsthand a state that would take away his right to vote, Fonvielle wanted to see something else: the new forms of segregation that were springing up across the South in transportation and public space. He had heard that in some southern states the railway stations had separate black and white waiting rooms, and that sometimes the train stopped at the state line so that the conductors could force all of the black passengers in to a separate car. They called this car the Jim Crow car, naming it for a white minstrel who performed in blackface before the Civil War. Jim Crow first become a nickname for African Americans, and then African Americans appropriated it as shorthand for white oppression, disfranchisement, and segregation. 3
The year before Fonvielle&rsquos trip, 1892, had been incredibly violent: at least 230 people had been lynched, 69 of them white and 161 black. Fonvielle knew that this was a peak in the bloody record. Almost 1,000 people had been lynched in the past decade. 4 Most of the victims were black men, but some were black women. White southerners, particularly in the Deep South, were murdering black people who asserted their rights. The Seaboard Air Line train that Fonvielle boarded in North Carolina quickly crossed the South Carolina line. He hung out the window, eager to see a white man because he had heard that South Carolina was an especially violent place. Soon, one appeared. Fonvielle described him: &ldquoHe had on but one suspender, a cotton shirt, a frying pan hat, a pair of pantaloons. . . so I sat there and wondered if this tiller of the soil, this specimen of South Carolina manhood had ever helped lynch anybody.&rdquo