Yesterday Once More: African-Americans Wonder If New Era Heralds Return. Of Jim Crow Era
Why is it that African Americans are forced to relive their history over and over again?
Many African-American scholars, some in a rage, pose this question against the backdrop of recent federal court and legislative actions that echo post-slavery Reconstruction efforts gutted by the proliferation of Jim Crow laws that swept the land.
Why is it, they want to know, that when Blacks were given the right to vote in 1870, it took 80 years, a civil rights movement and another set of laws to grant them that right in 1965? Why is it that in 1875, when the first public accommodation law was passed, it took 91 years and another set of laws to allow them the full benefits of citizenship? And, why it is that today, in 1995, some 105 years since the Black land-grant colleges were established, the future of these institutions is in doubt?
"Clearly, there are parallels between what is happening today and what happened at the end of Reconstruction," insists Dr. Mary Frances Berry, the Geraldine Segal Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and chairwoman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
African-American students, elected officials and civil rights advocates have joined educators and ordinary citizens to form a chorus of concern regarding the magnitude of swiftly moving political events that seemingly are reintroducing chains in the same symbolic manner Reconstruction policies were eventually shackled.
With voting rights being curtailed with the goal of curbing Black representation in government; affirmative action being attacked for discriminating against whites; education and job-training programs being scrapped; funding for summer jobs and youth programs being phased out; welfare programs being scaled back to deny mothers and their babies assistance and hospitals that serve the poor being shut down on a regular basis, the era known as "Reconstruction II" is being crushed to ashes.
This is a period that began with a spate of landmark Supreme Court rulings in the early 1950s -- the most renowned being the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed segregated schools -- and were followed in the 1960s and early 1970s by executive orders and civil rights legislation that regained for the African American equal status in the eyes of the law.
Trying to find answers to the nation's pattern of exclusion and discrimination when it comes to African Americans has taken most of the 19th and 20th century, and, scholars say, unless there is a miracle, it will take much of the 21st. According to critics of this second post-Reconstruction era, a chorus of newly energized voices of white discontent in Congress -- some of whom answer to the homey names of Newt, Bob, Phil and Jesse -- are socking this message home in every nook and cranny of the country: It's time to wind back the clock to the good old days.
Their orchestrated volley of attacks on programs to help African Americans, who are disproportionately poor, is seen as "turning back the clock" by those who know what time it is.
Reminders of the original post-Reconstruction era abound as when the several hundred African Americans elected to serve in Southern state legislatures and in Congress dwindled to a handful, and then to none. Is this the fate, scholars ask, of the today's Congressional Black Caucus?
"Basically, we scholars in the African American community have been predicting for years that we are approaching the end of the second Reconstruction," says Berry. "We were wrong most times, but this time, we are probably right. There is no way to exaggerate the enormity of the crisis that the Black community faces," says Berry. "Congress is dead set against not only civil rights, but welfare and poverty -- everything that has a Black face."
Supreme Court Ironies
The latest blow to the national African-American psyche came this summer when the U. …