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This Week in History – Slave Trade, Canadian Voting Rights, Cornerstone, Johnson Vetoes, and Lynchings

This week in history, we’ll briefly look at the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the British Empire, the voting rights of black Canadians, Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech, the Civil Rights and Reconstruction Acts vetoed by Andrew Johnson, the first sit-in protest, and the first impeachment of the governor.

Also, the weekly section on lynchings has been expanded to include not only a numerical overview, but contemporary reports of the violence.

March 21

1861
Alexander Stephens Delivers Cornerstone Speech

Newly-appointed Confederate Vice President spelled out in no uncertain terms how the new Southern government differed from the United States. The Unites States Constitution asserted, according to Stephens, “that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically.” The Confederate government, he claimed, was “founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” More here.

March 22

Governor William Holden
Governor William Holden

1871
SC Governor Ousted

Progressive Republican Governor William Holden became the first governor to be impeached in the United States. Due to his vigilance against lynchings of black citizens and the terrorism of the KKK, North Carolina conservative Democrats levied eight charges against him. These mostly had to do with the treatment of white citizens by the state militia, especially following the assassination of Republican Senator John W. Stephens. The majority-Democrat legislature voted for impeachment on this date. More here.

March 23

1867
Congress Passes, Johnson Vetoes Second Military Reconstruction Act

The First Reconstruction Act, passed over Johnson’s veto the year before, was strengthened by the Second, which Johnson also vetoed. This second act gave clearer instructions to military commanders remaining in the South concerning elections, as well as other changes. Johnson vetoed the act, but Congress again overrode his veto the following day. See here for more information.

March 24

1837
Canada Gives Black Citizens Voting Rights

With little controversy one way or the other, Canada extended voting rights to all males over the age of twenty-one who lived in Canada longer than three years. These were the same stipulations that white Canadians had to follow. Whites later tried to take away that right in 1851, but were outvoted by black Canadians and their supporters.

March 25

1807
Britain Abolished the Atlantic Slave Trade

Following decades of debate (and a few weeks after the United States criminalized it), the British Empire outlawed the Atlantic Slave Trade. They had attempted to abolish it in 1791, but had failed. Then, in 1806, with the influx of abolitionist Irish ministers into Parliament, and the new Prime Minister, William Grenville, a huge first step was taken to greatly reduce the trade. Through January and February of 1807, the bill made its way through the House of Lords until finally, on this date, it was passed and the slave trade was abolished. See here for more.

Kentucky Citizens Petition Against KKK
The black citizens of Frankfort, Kentucky sent a letter to the United States Congress asking for some kind of protection against the Klan. “Organizaed bands of desperate and lawless men, mainly composed of soldiers of the late rebel armies, armed, disciplined, and disguised, and bound by oath and secret obligations, have, by force, terror, and violence, subverted all civil society among colored people….” Complaining that the state legislature refused to act, they prayed that the United States congress “will take some steps to remedy these evils.” The full letter, detailing over 100 of the most recent acts of Klan violence, can be read here.

March 27

1866
Johnson Vetoes Civil Rights Bill

Though it had passed the Senate and the House by wide margins, President Andrew Johnson vetoed the act because it gave citizenship rights to anyone of any race born in the United States. Johnson was against doing this as long as the seceded states were unrepresented in congress. He also objected to the federal government effectively barring racial discrimination on the state level. Congress would overrule his veto a month later. Read his veto argument here.

First Sit-In for Equal Rights
Black Charlestonians had been barred from using the city’s street cars, but took it upon themselves to begin the process of change. On this date, several black men took to a streetcar, sat down, and refused to vacate, even after the police were called. They were arrested, but it sparked a movement that ended with the arrests of eleven black protesters. After catching the public’s eye with their direct action, they took to the courts. By May, Charleston’s street cars were open to all. A month later, all forms of transportation followed suit. These would, of course, be overturned following the surrender of Reconstruction and the implementation of Jim Crow laws. More here.

Lynchings

Spanning March 21 through March 27, over fifty lynchings are recorded in the various lynching databases. From 1886 to 1922, this week’s lynchings took place in every former-Confederate state, save South Carolina. Other states included Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Michigan, and Colorado.

What follows are reports of seven of these lynchings taken from Thirty Years of Lynching by the NAACP and 100 Years of Lynching by Raplh Ginzburg. Both books are collections of newspaper clippings. I’ve arranged them in chronological order by year.

Lynch Negro Who Testified For Another Negro (1900)
Ripley, Tenn., March 23 – This morning, in the heart of the city, the body of a negro, Louis Rice, was found dangling from a limb of a tree. The lynching grew out of a trial in the Circuit Court of Lauderdale county, during the course of which Rice testified in favor of one of his color who was charged with the murder of a white man named Goodrich.
-New Orleans Times-Democrat, March 24, 1900.

Inter-Racial Couple’s ‘Conduct’ Results in Lynching of Man (1910)
Pine Bluff, Ark., Mar. 25 – Resenting alleged improper conduct on the part of Judge Jones, a Negro, and a young white woman, a mob of forty men gathered at the county jail here tonight, overpowered the jailer and his deputies and hanged the negro.
-Chicago Tribune, March 26, 1910.

Pine Bluff city hall, 1910.
Pine Bluff city hall, 1910.

Pleaded in Vain for Trial (1921)
Monticello, Ark., Mar. 22 – Phil Slater, a negro, 50, who tonight confessed he attacked a white woman near Wilmar last week, was taken from the jail here tonight and lynched. In making his confession he said: “I did it, but please give me a trial.”
-Omaha Herald, March 23, 1921.

Doctor Rescues Negro Lad (1933)
Lowell, N.C., Mar. 26 – A physician here today saved a Negro from a lynch mob by hiding him in his cellar. A twenty-year-old youth stealthily approached the home of Dr. James W. Reid and told him that a mob was searching for him, having accused him of attempting to assault Miss Kathleen Jenkins, a 16-year-old white girl. The Doctor hid the youth in his basement as the mob combed the neighborhood around his house. After they left, the Doctor drove the Negro to Charlotte for safe-keeping in the Mecklenberg County jail.
-New York Herald-Tribune, March 27, 1933.

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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