A reign of terror ensued: Black and white Republicans were intimidated, beaten, and killed. In March, black Republicans occupied the courthouse in the center of town, and a month later, white men attacked the courthouse and set it on fire. The white men slaughtered the black men as they tried to surrender.
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There is a monument in the Colfax cemetery that was built to honor the three white men who died during the massacre. Their deaths have been purposely forgotten. No memorial stands in the Colfax cemetery to honor their lives. Almost years have passed since the massacre at the courthouse in Colfax.
The Gilded Age
Yet the inhumanity of what occurred on Easter Sunday in appears eerily similar to the inhumanity that we are witnessing right now in our own time. No historical moment is entirely new. Shards and fragments of the past inevitably sediment into the present.
Historian Richard White, economists Thomas Piketty and Paul Krugman, and many other scholars have written that we are living through a second Gilded Age as we watch the stunning rise of the 1 percent, stagnant wages, soaring corporate profits, and unprecedented concentrations of wealth, and of course increasing inequality. Now, as then, the inequality was itself unequal: African Americans lost far more of their wealth than whites during the Great Recession. Gillian B. White observed that in , the net worth of white households was 13 times greater than that of black households.
The Reconstruction-era ambition of extending equal rights to African Americans was not achieved. Instead, it was trampled by racial violence and extinguished by the underlying indifference of the federal government that implemented those laws. In in Wilmington, North Carolina, a thriving black community was destroyed by a race riot that drove black officials out of office and left 25 African Americans dead. Between the years of and , two to three black Southerners were lynched each week.
Today, with our own eyes, we have seen black men and women brutalized and murdered by the police. Last July, we witnessed two deaths over two days: Alton Sterling was shot after being pinned to the ground, and Philando Castile was shot while sitting in his car with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter in the backseat. Men and women joined labor unions to demand better wages and safer working conditions. Richard John, Historian: The late 19th century United States was an anomaly in world history in a major way we… confronted all of the challenges that are associated with rapid industrialization, the labor conflicts, the tensions between one economic group and another within a government in which just about every white male and many African Americans, a decreasing number, but many African Americans, had the vote.
David Nasaw, Historian: People voted. From the moment they got off the boat at Castle Garden or Ellis Island, everybody voted and political participation was high. Strikes and boycotts in the summer of forced politicians to act and they jailed union leaders. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are in the grasp of big business. They have no interest in the problems of working people. Narration: Henry George did not look the part of political savior. An unassuming year-old author who dressed like a small-town merchant, George was not seeking a life in politics just then.
But he was intrigued by the offer. A native of Philadelphia, George had gone west to California, when he was just nineteen, to make his fortune. He tried his luck in the gold fields, set type in printing firms, and even sold hand-cranked clothes dryers door to door to support his young family. Nothing worked. His low point came the day his second child was born.
This is a country with plenty of land. What has gone wrong? Narration: George spent nearly a decade parsing the riddle, and emerged with an answer: a page tome describing the new American political economy.
He breaks with the American tradition, which always said poverty is the result of your own failures. Narration: Labor Parties had run candidates for Mayor in New York before; they rarely polled more than several hundred votes. But in the fall of , with little more than a month to Election Day, Henry George agreed to toss his hat in the ring on behalf of working people.
Richard White, Historian: He sees it as a way to popularize his ideas. So for him it seems the perfect example of the problems that he talked about in his book. O'Donnell, Historian: He accepts the nomination and over the next five weeks or so they launch the most incredible campaign in New York City history. He will give five, six, seven speeches a night all around the city. Is this by the will of our Divine Creator? It is by the fault of men…We are going to the polls.
He offered big new ideas like increased taxes on property owners, public ownership of mass transit and better working conditions.
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And began to realize something seems to be happening here. They figured he would poll five thousand votes, maybe ten thousand, not enough to beat the favored Democrat or the Republican challenger. He gets 68, votes, which is a lot more than just a few hundred, which is what a typical Labor Party candidate could get. The opportunity is closed off. Narration: J.
Pierpont Morgan valued order and stability above all else. He demanded routine.
The Gilded Age: Part 2
The year-old banker breakfasted each morning at his home at Madison Avenue and 36th Street enjoying his first cigar of the day while reading the financial news from Europe, which came in over his personal telegraph machine. By mid-morning he hopped in a hired carriage for the ride to his office building at the southern tip of Manhattan. Half an hour later, he was on the narrow cobblestone lane where modern American finance was being invented — Wall Street. When he closed the door to his glass office, J.
Morgan rarely looked up from his paperwork. Susie J. Pak, Historian: Morgan was definitely the boss. He was a very confident person and when he determined what was the right path of what to do he did it. He was undisputedly the final word. And Morgan understood at a very early age that money was what made everything else happen. His father had groomed him for business and he not only accepted it but I think also expected it of himself.
Narration: America had emerged as an urban and industrial powerhouse in the thirty years since Morgan followed his father into banking. There were only eight U. Now there were almost thirty.
36. The Gilded Age
The country was overtaking Britain and Germany in the production of iron, steel, oil and coal. European investors wanted a piece of the American action, and turned to Morgan to get it. Narration: The railroads pushing into the American West became the hot ticket investment in the s and s. Brands, Historian: The American industrial economy in the Gilded Age was a bare knuckles competitive arena.
Someone who had a rail line from New York City to Albany, okay, had that rail line.
America's Gilded Ages: Then and now, and how they differ
There could be cutthroat competition between the two. Morgan understands that the railroad business, unless it stops competing, unless it stops these wasteful parallel roads that lead to the same place is not gonna be able to pay off its debts and make money. He understands that competition has to be eliminated, that the railroads instead of competing with one another have to begin to cooperate.
Narration: In the Christmas season of — between tending to the plans for Madison Square Garden and paying for a holiday dinner for orphans at the East Side Newsboys Lodging House -- Morgan convened a gathering of fourteen key railroad presidents. O'Donnell, Historian: This is a guy who can beckon these corporate titans to his home and they show up. Steve Fraser, Historian: Morgan had already established a reputation for his commanding presence, his… own internal discipline.
He was a man of a kind of iron will and his purpose at that meeting is to begin to establish among them some kind of self-conscious reining in of their competitive instincts. Narration: Morgan hosted a series of meetings over the next three weeks, with harsh words cutting through the halo of soft electric light in his Madison Avenue mansion. Amid his growing trove of treasures — paintings, tapestries, medieval armor, ivories, and ancient bronzes — Morgan bullied and cajoled.