The following excerpts are from the Rev. Adam Russell Taylor’s book, “A More Perfect Union: A New Vision for Building the Beloved Community.” Order the book here.
Many historically important moments are often misunderstood or ignored entirely in our history books and collective memory. A few examples include the demise of Reconstruction, the emergence of the Southern Strategy, and the birth of the Religious Right. The first involves the period just after Reconstruction. We easily forget just how short-lived the period of Reconstruction after the end of the Civil War was— and the role an insidious political compromise played in reversing the gains of that era. The Emancipation Proclamation freed African slaves, and the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, fostered a short-lived rebirth or second founding of the nation after the Civil War, extending and protecting the rights of all citizens. However, it also resulted in a significant backlash, particularly in the South, culminating in the Compromise of 1877, in which Republican presidential candidate Rutherford Hayes struck a deal with Southern Democrats to settle the highly contested 1876 election. As a bipartisan congressional commission debated the outcome, allies of Hayes met in secret with moderate Southern Democrats to negotiate acceptance of Hayes’s election. The Democrats agreed not to block Hayes’s victory on the condition that Republicans withdraw all federal troops from the South. This consolidated Democratic control over the region. As the withdrawal of federal troops from the South commenced, Southerners reimposed new forms of enslavement under the guise of sharecropping and later through the system of Jim Crow segregation. Imagine how our nation’s history might have evolved differently without this bitter betrayal of Black freedom.
A second historically significant truth that is often ignored is the impact of the Republican Party’s ongoing embrace of the “Southern Strategy,” which has profoundly shaped and influenced our nation’s politics ever since, culminating in many respects in the election of President Trump. To understand the Southern Strategy, we must look at a pivotal moment: when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. President Johnson, who defied Southern Democrats in pushing this watershed legislation to guarantee Black Americans the right to vote, predicted that his support for this bill would cost the Democratic Party a generation of voters in the South.