The North claimed a moral imperative for its war against the South. Let’s look closer. Slavery was first instituted in the U.S. in the North as far back as the 1770s and abolished in the early 1800s, only to be replaced with a different enslavement through the “Black codes” and today’s Federal plantation. The Civil War was fought to abolish slavery. However, the War’s root issue was the economic upheaval that abolition overnight would wreck on the Southern states. Southern slave owners had invested some $4 billion (in 1860 dollars) in its work force. Its agricultural economy depended on cheap labor. Did the North offer to share the economic burden abolition would cost the Southern states? The Civil War cost the Federal States about $6 billion and the Confederacy about $2 billion, significant resources that could have been used for freeing the slaves through mutual concessions.
Another tragedy of the Civil War was the failure of the Federal government to provide for the emancipated slaves. Suddenly, almost 4 million slaves (1/3 of the South’s population) were set free, but with no jobs, no resources and little educational opportunities.
One must question whether the War was a continuation of the oppression by the English in the North of the Scotch and Irish settlers of the South, as Margaret Mitchell believed.
French researcher De Toqueville in Democracy in America, observed in 1840: “So the Negro (in the North) is free, but he cannot share the rights, pleasures, labors, grief, or even the tomb of him whose equal he has been declared; there is nowhere he can meet him, neither in life nor in death.
In the South, where slavery still exists, less trouble is taken to keep the Negro apart: they sometimes share the labors and the pleasures of the white men; people are prepared to mix with them to some extent; legislation is harsher against them, but customs are more tolerant and gentle.
As Georgia’s governor in the mid-1940s, Ellis G. Arnall, fought discriminatory freight rates, he declaimed “I realized that the South was merely a colonial appendage of the imperial domain called the North; that the South was the economic doormat of the United States as Ireland was of the United Kingdom. Eastern and Northern writers,” he observed, “had field days in steady criticism of the South, its poverty and problems.”
In 1945, the 13 Southern states had 28 percent of the nation’s population and more than 40 percent of its natural resources yet produced only 10 percent of the nation’s manufactured goods and had only 10 percent of the nation’s financial resources. Most of the South’s wealth was destroyed during the War. Its banking system ceased to exist, handicapped in recovering as few national banking charters were available for Southerners. The South was dependent upon the North for capital. Northern capitalists concentrated on the exploitation of the South’s plentiful natural resources, confining Southern plants to the crude processing of raw materials, shipping them North for final fabrication. Since this primitive type of industry demands the payment of low wages, the South was mired in poverty. Racial conflict resulted from there being only “half a loaf” available to share.
According to Arnall, “after the Civil War, instead of rehabilitation, the North inflicted upon our people a program of retribution, discrimination, and restrictions. If ever the opportunity came, I was committed to bringing about the readmission of Southern States into our Union as equals with comparable economic and commercial opportunities....”.
After his Chicago march in 1965 where Martin Luther King Jr. was struck by a brick, he stated “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and hateful as I’ve seen here today.” Earlier, King had been stabbed in Harlem.
The race riots of 1964 to 1967 occurred in Rochester, NYC, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Chicago, Watts, Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit and Milwaukee.
For Southerners to “forget,” Northerners must: cease applying the raciest card to Southerners when Northerners are culpable; cease proclaiming their genetic superiority, when regional differences stem from economics; and, cease portraying Southerners with irrational disdain on TV, in movies and other media.
Ken Kirk is a former professor of finance at Kennesaw State University and former member of the Marietta School Board.