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This Week in History – Johnson’s Impeachment, the 15th Amendment, and Lynchings

This week in history, we’ll take a look at Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address, Johnson’s Washington’s Birthday Address (and his impeachment). We’ll see the House pass the 15th Amendment, Tennessee abolish slavery, and the election of the first black US Senator. Finally, we’ll cover three of the forty some lynchings that took place this week in history, February 20 – 27.

1860
Lincoln’s Cooper Union Speech (Feb. 27) – Though not yet an official nominee for the 1860 election, Lincoln delivered what many regard as his greatest speech. Like so many of his speeches, it was a rebuttal against Stephen Douglas. Throughout, he discussed the expansion slavery into the territories, John Brown, and disunion. We’ve mentioned the speech before, but the full address can be read here.

1864
The Battle of Olustee, Florida (Feb. 20) – A Confederate victory turned into a little-reported massacre of black United States soldiers. According to Confederate cavalryman wrote after the battle: “The next morning I had occasion to go over the battlefield again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from place to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head.” More can be read here.

1865
Tennessee Abolishes Slavery (Feb. 22) – Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves in Tennessee due to the efforts of Andrew Johnson, the state’s Unionist governor. However, Johnson began calling for emancipation in his state in August of 1863, hoping for a gradual rather than immediate freeing. He also freed his own slaves at this time. In January of 1864, he called for a constitutional convention to usher in reconstruction, and emancipated all of the states slaves on October 24, 1864. But since emancipation was different from abolition, the new state constitution, approved on February 22, 1865, fully abolished the institution within the state. More can be read about it here.

1866
Johnson’s Washington’s Birthday Address (Feb. 22) – Given as an informal speech to well-wishers calling upon him at the White House, Johnson painted abolitionists with the same brush as the secessionists. “I have already remarked that there were two parties, one for destroying the Government to preserve slavery, and the other to break up the Government to destroy slavery.” He specifically called out Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and Wendell Phillips by name as traitors (in all but name), and asserted his desire for almost no Reconstruction. From there, it devolved into boasting and egoism. Pretty much classic Johnson. The full thing can be read here.

1868
The House votes to Impeach Andrew Johnson (Feb. 24) – Primarily, Johnson was impeached because he continuously stood in the way of both civil rights for black Americans and Reconstruction. Technically, he was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act, when he fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton on February 21. The Act was passed in the spring of 1867 in order to force Johnson to keep the remaining members of Lincoln’s cabinet. Johnson’s trial would begin on March 13, but by the end of it, in May, they would narrowly fail to obtain the two-thirds vote to convict him. More here.

1869
Congress passes the 15th Amendment (Feb. 25-26) – Ratified by the states almost a year later, this amendment declared that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Throughout the South, however, the implementation of literacy tests, poll taxes, and violent intimidation would essentially deny blacks the full right to vote until 1965. More here.

1870
Mississippi Fully Represented in the Union (Feb. 23) – Nine years after declaring secession, Mississippi became the ninth state whose senators and representatives were granted seats in Congress following the Civil War. Over the next six years, the state would continue to be overseen by Federal troops. This ensured that black Mississippians retained the right to vote. In 1877, local rule would take over and Black Codes enacted, effectively disfranchising African-Americans for most of the next century.

Hiram Revels to US Senate (Feb. 25) Revels was the first black American to serve in the United States Senate. At the start of the war, Revels was instrumental in recruitment efforts in Maryland, and served as a chaplain. Following the war, he entered Mississippi politics, becoming an alderman in 1868 and a state Senator a year later. Elected to a one-term deal struck between parties, Revels arrived in Washington as Senate Democrats were trying to block his admission. Read more here.

Johnson Mrs. Frazer Baker and children family of the murdered postmaster at Lake City, So. Carolina. Taken in 1899.
Mrs. Frazer Baker and children family of the murdered postmaster at Lake City, So. Carolina. Taken in 1899.

Lynchings

The era of lynchings, stretching nearly a century, is perhaps the darkest years of our history. While it is absolutely unpalatable to discuss, more light needs to be shed on this inhuman phenomenon. Because of the nature of the act, information is often lacking or incomplete. Sadly, even with the limited information at our disposal, there are simply too many known lynchings to list them all. For this week, we’ll focus upon three.

1889
Lake City, South Carolina (Feb. 22) – Frazier B. Baker became the postmaster of Lake City in 1897. From the beginning, local whites threatened his life and family, and burned down the post office. When the family reopened the post office in their own home outside of town, the locals, on February 21, 1898, took action. With the family inside, the white mob lit the house on ablaze, firing round after round into it. After a quick prayer, the family tried to flee, but gunfire killed the two-year old daughter, Julia, and wounded his wife, Lavinia. When he opened the door, Frazier himself was killed by gunfire. Lavinia grabbed the rest of her family and made their way to a neighbor’s house. Along the way, two of her remaining four children were wounded by shots fired from the white mob. The Bakers had committed no crime, and the lynching was defended by South Carolina Senator Benjamin Tillman. As with most lynchings, nobody was found guilty by the all-white jury. More can be read here.

1903
Griffin, Georgia (Reported Feb. 24) – William Fambro, a Negro, was shot to death on the outskirts of this city late last night by a mob of white men, who fired on his house. Fambro’s wife, who was in the house, escaped injury. The Negro some time ago was arrested on the charge of insulting a white woman and was tried and sentenced to a term in the county chain gang. His fine afterwards was paid by his employer. Over a thousand shots were sent into the building before the mob retired.

1914
Leland, Mississippi (Reported Feb. 24) – Sam Petty, a Negro, wanted on a trivial charge, killed deputy sheriff, Chas. W. Kirkland with a shot-gun when the officer entered a cabin late that day, in which the Negro had taken refuge. Petty was captured by a posse, bound and placed in an oil-soaked, dry-good box and the match applied. A moment later, the man, his clothing aflame, broke from his fastenings and started to run, but before he could gain headway, was shot dead. The body was put in a box, fresh inflammable were piled about it and within half an hour it was burnt to ashes.

In the book Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918 by the NAACP (from which the two previous reports are taken), there were at least forty lynchings in fourteen states between February 21 and 27 from those thirty years. I am currently trying to find a better, more complete source for lynchings across the entire United States. There are numerous reports, but not all of them cover the entire US – some cover only the South.

Eric
Eric has always had a love for history and the Civil War. During the 150th anniversary of the war, he wrote the Civil War Daily Gazette blog, which published daily for nearly five years. Wishing to continue the exploration, following the Charleston murders in 2015, and the activism around removing the Confederate Battle Flag, he decided to dig a little deeper into the causes and repercussions of the War.
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