Violence against the Press: Policing the Public Sphere in U.S. History

By John Nerone | Go to book overview

County in northern Mississippi. Flournoy was also superintendant of schools for the county, and had become controversial by vigorously supporting African-American education and advocating integrated schooling and admission of African-Americans to the state university at Oxford. Charging that Flournoy's plan was to "put the negro over the white man," night riders affiliated with the Klan in early 1871 began visiting teachers who worked in African-American schools. Flournoy denounced these vigilantes in his paper as "prowlers, robbers, and assassins." On the night of 12 May, his print-shop foreman woke him up and warned him that disguised men were looking for him. Flournoy armed himself, gathered a few allies, including the sheriff and a local magistrate, and went to the street. There they encountered a column of masked horsemen, riding in two-by-two formation. When the sheriff ordered the horsemen to surrender, a shot was fired. Flournoy and his men returned the fire, downing one of the horsemen, who, before dying, confessed to the Klan's role in the action. Even though they'd faced down the attackers, Flournoy felt Republicans could not express their opinions in Mississippi without fear of personal violence. Indeed, threats had driven off his coeditor and some of his teachers. 57

Flournoy's case is exceptional mainly in the level of support he received from fellow whites, some of them Democrats. He had lived in Pontotoc County since 1856, and was fairly well established as a member of the community. Generally, Republican newspapers were seen as intruding forces of northern aggression and African-American domination.

The centrality of race deserves emphasis here, though the next chapter will focus on it more closely. Reconstruction Republicans were straightforward in their intention to use the enfranchisement of African-Americans to achieve political power. But courting the African-American vote was a portentous move in the southern mentality. Already pervasive violence had greeted assertions of simple freedom, like reluctance to stay on plantations. Traditionally, southern society had rested on a foundation of African-American labor, and in the minds of southerners the advent of African-American political activity meant the eventual collapse of the racial barrier that kept that foundation in place. Any activity promoting autonomy was subject to attack. And, as we shall see, the specter of "social equality," always implying miscegenation, was powerful enough to unite whites of all classes in the South in extralegal activity against African-Americans and their allies. In response, as Reconstruction failed, Republicans in the South increasingly adopted a "lily- white" stance, but even so it was rare that Republicans achieved electoral success in the south.


Conclusion

The Civil War era produced deep changes in several relevant areas. It occasioned a constitutional revolution that might be characterized as the triumph of liberalism. It also occasioned a new racial dynamic in politics, one that will be at the heart of the next chapter. And it enshrined ideas and government practices that would be important components of the period of industrialization that was to follow.

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Violence against the Press: Policing the Public Sphere in U.S. History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - The Press and the American Revolution 18
  • Conclusion 50
  • 3 - Antipress Violence and Politics in the Early Republic 53
  • 4 - The Crusade Against Abolitionism 84
  • Conclusion 110
  • 5 - The Civil War and Civil Liberties 111
  • Conclusion 126
  • 6 - Violence and Minority Media 128
  • Conclusion 163
  • 7 - Labor-Related Violence 165
  • Conclusion 195
  • 8 - Recent Violence Against the Mainstream Press 196
  • Conclusion 211
  • 9 - Conclusion 213
  • Appendix A - Survey Questionnaire 219
  • Appendix B - The Flow of Antiabolitionist Violence 221
  • Notes 231
  • Index 293
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