By 1870, violence against black people had increased to extreme levels in the South. Elected black members of the state governments were forced out of office in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The new, white-controlled governments again began passing laws that discriminated against blacks. For example, one law prohibited black people from shopping at white stores. Another law required black workers to sign employment contracts in which they agreed not to participate in various political groups.
The federal government made a few attempts to restore order in the South and protect the rights of black citizens. Congress conducted an investigation of the Ku Klux Klan and similar organizations in 1871. Afterward, it passed several new laws designed to suppress the groups' terrorist activities. Racially motivated violence became a federal offense. This meant that anyone accused of such crimes would be put on trial in federal courts, where they would be more likely to be convicted than in Southern state and local courts. As a result, most white supremacist organizations disappeared by 1872, although less-organized violence continued.
As the situation in the South spun out of control, many people in the North became disgusted. They began pressuring President Grant to remove the remaining federal troops from the South. Some Northerners were willing to allow the South to return to white rule if it would put an end to the violence. Southern whites took advantage of this change in public opinion in the North. They used a variety of illegal methods to prevent black people from voting. As a result, the Democratic Party took control of many Southern state governments. In 1874, the Democrats captured a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since before the Civil War. The Republicans still held the presidency and a majority of the U.S. Senate, but they had considerably less power to protect the rights of blacks in the South.
Prior to the elections of 1875, white people in Mississippi openly admitted that they planned to use force to regain control of their state government from blacks. This announcement became known as the "Mississippi Plan." Democrats in the state formed armed militias (armies of regular citizens) and marched through black areas. They broke up meetings of Republican supporters and provoked riots with blacks. By the time the election took place, thousands of black voters were too afraid to go to the polls. White supremacists took over the government of Mississippi that
Samuel J. Tilden (above) lost to Rutherford B. Hayes by one electoral vote. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
year, and a similar pattern occurred in other Southern states in later years.
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