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Ellen G. White’s Use Of The Term “Race War”, and Related Insights - Contents
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    C. The Historical Setting

    History abounds with vignettes that portray the realities of the racial tensions of the post-Civil-War and Reconstruction period. But, as Ellen White had foreseen, the problems would take on a new appearance at the turn of the century. They would especially manifest themselves during the first two decades of the twentieth century, for it was these decades that set the pace for the following 30 to 40 years.EGWUTRW 14.2

    We will look briefly at three historical realities of the early 1900’s that directly relate to Ellen White’s prediction on race developments.EGWUTRW 14.3

    1. Emancipation into “more favorable slavery”EGWUTRW 14.4

    The post-Civil-War years were tumultuous, to say the least. Abraham Lincoln sought to ease the tensions after the war by assuring the Southern states, which had broken away from the Union, that his aim was to “bind up the nation’s wounds,” “with malice toward none.”EGWUTRW 14.5

    That was commendable, but there were problems—pulling the nation back together again, rebuilding the South, how to handle the four million freed slaves. Yet beyond those, there were deeper problems.EGWUTRW 14.6

    The state of affairs required a whole new way of thinking about blacks, since they were now legally free and citizens with rights equal to those of whites. It was this adjustment in thinking that many whites found impossible to make.EGWUTRW 15.1

    Blacks, on the other hand, found themselves faced with the realities and adjustments of freedom. As families had been separated when they were sold into slavery, blacks tried to locate and unite with their lost relatives. They had to find work and a place to live. Education and a sense of purpose were vital, but many factors dimmed these realities.EGWUTRW 15.2

    While some whites were glad that blacks were no longer slaves, many feared the new condition, with its implications and possibilities. And in too many situations that fear mushroomed into malignant, open hatred and hostility.EGWUTRW 15.3

    These social and historical dynamics quickly expressed themselves into what Ellen White referred to as “slavery just as verily as it had been, only on a basis more favorable and secure to the white people.” There was, in fact, an avalanche of discriminatory legislation in the decade following the Civil War (circa 1870 and following), especially around the turn of the twentieth century. During the period, also, these new conditions settled and cemented into the structure of society. In the history text, The American People, it is said about this period:EGWUTRW 15.4

    The Civil War officially ended slavery in the United States, but in the postwar decades of Reconstruction and the rebuilding of the “New South” slavery was replaced by other forms of economic and social bondage. Sharecropping and peonage plus the persistence of racial segregation in the form of “Jim Crow” laws, assured White Southerners of continued control over the black population. 26David Burner, Eugene D. Genovese and Forrest McDonald, The American People (New York: 1980), p. 481.

    2. Jim Crowism, the master of the new slaveryEGWUTRW 16.1

    Jim Crow, the name that came to represent the legally sanctioned laws and system of segregation of blacks and whites, showed itself in the various strata of society. The “slavery” that Ellen White referred to that would be “more favorable and secure to the white people” was, in fact, just that. The black race could still be controlled, contained, and confined, but now without the responsibility of feeding, housing, attending to needs as in the former slavery system. This new “slavery” surfaced in all the strategic areas that related to blacks:EGWUTRW 16.2

    a. Legislative

    This racial bondage expressed itself in a succession of decisions by the United States Supreme Court that were all in place by the turn of the century:

    1) Slaughter House Cases of 1873

    United States v. Reese, 1876

    United States v. Cruikshank, 1876

    (The Court drastically curtailed the privileges and immunities recognized as being under federal protection, thereby removing the protection of the government of the rights of blacks.)

    2) Civil Rights Case of 1883

    (The restrictive parts of the Civil Rights Act were virtually nullified. C. Vann Woodward says of these laws that “the court held that the Fourteenth Amendment gave Congress power to restrain states but not individuals from the acts of racial discrimination and segregation.”) 27Jim Crow, p. 71.

    3) Hall v. deCuir, 1877

    (The court ruled that a state could not prohibit segregation on a common carrier.)

    4) Louisville, New Orleans and Texas Railroad v. Mississippi, 1890 (The court ruled that a state could constitutionally require segregation on carriers.)

    5) Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896

    (The court decided that “legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts,” therefore laid down the “separate but equal” rule for the justification of segregation.)

    6) Finally, two years later (1898) in Williams v. Mississippi: “The court completed the opening of the legal road to proscription, segregation and disfranchisement by approving the Mississippi plan for depriving the Negroes of the franchise.” 28Jim Crow, p. 71.

    Each of the above legislative decisions endorsed and made legal this more “favorable slavery,” and set the stage for the tolerance of “race war” thinking.EGWUTRW 17.1

    b. NationalEGWUTRW 17.2

    After the imperialistic exploits of the United States following 1898 by which it suddenly had under its jurisdiction some eight million people in the Pacific and Caribbean area, the nation took on many of the Southern attitudes on the subject of race. This reality was voiced by the editor of the Atlantic Monthly when he said: “If the stronger and cleverer race is free to impose its will upon the new-caught sullen people on the other side of the globe, why not in South Carolina and Mississippi?” 29Allen Weinstein and Frank Gatell, eds., The Segregation Era (New York: 1970), pp. 78, 79. In subsequent references this book will be notated as Segregation. This led to a national retreat to the doctrine of Anglo-Saxon superiority and to all the implications of the “bloody shirt.”EGWUTRW 17.3

    Senator Tillman, an anti-black, disfranchisement proponent, said: “Not even Governor Roosevelt will now dare to wave the bloody shirt and preach a crusade against the South’s treatment of the Negro. The North has a bloody shirt of its own. Many thousands of them have been made into shrouds for murdered Filipinos, done to death because they were fighting for liberty.” 30Ibid., pp. 78, 79.EGWUTRW 17.4

    c. IntellectualEGWUTRW 17.5

    At the same time as the previous considerations, the doctrine of racism reached its crest of acceptability. It even had a high degree of popularity among scholarly and intellectual circles. Everywhere white biologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and, beyond them, journalists and novelists, gave support to the doctrine that races were discrete entities and that “Anglo-Saxon” or “Caucasian” was superior to them all. As Woodward says: “It was not that Southern politicians needed any support from learned circles to sustain their own doctrines, but they found that such intellectual endorsement of their racist theories facilitated acceptance of their views and policies.” 31Ibid., p. 79. This theory paved the way for the racial intolerance and white supremacy that gave rationality to the more “favorable slavery” and “race war.”EGWUTRW 17.6

    In 1895 Ellen White capsulized the supporting sentiments of this new type of slavery in the following words: “Judges and jurors, lawyers and citizens would, if they had a chance, bring decisions which would bind about them rites which would cause much suffering, not only to the ones whom they term guilty of breaking the laws of their state, but all the colored people everywhere would be placed in a position of surveillance, and under cruel treatment by the white people, that would be no less than slavery.” 32The Southern Work, 72, 73. The realization of this prediction is depicted in Appendix B.EGWUTRW 18.1

    d. CivilEGWUTRW 18.2

    By 1900 the form of segregation was “cast” but it had yet to harden and lock in place. Allen Weinstein says about the period: “Once white southerners regained full political power in their states in the 1870’s, even the few outward trappings of black power disappeared or began to recede. Northerners increasingly contented themselves with self-congratulation over ending slavery and restoring the Union, while ignoring or deprecating the economic and political problems of the freedmen. Conservative white ‘Redeemers’ in the South drew closer to their northern counterparts, while rebuilding a strong Democratic party in the region; and as the Grant Era drew to a close, the ‘Negro Question’ seemed safely pigeon-holed as a matter for local authorities to handle. Southern blacks and a tiny band of northern white sympathizers knew quite well what ‘Redemption’ meant for the Negro; peonage in freedom replaced peonage in slavery for most blacks.” 33Weinstein and Gatell, Segregation, p. 57.EGWUTRW 18.3

    After the turn of the century, one state after another enacted the process of legislative bondage. One of the key aims was the total disfranchisement of blacks. Into the state constitutions were written clauses that had the primary goal in mind to eliminate the black voter. Whether by the literary qualification rule (inclusive of the “understanding,” grandfather or “good character” clauses), the poll tax or the white primary, the end was the same—to hold blacks down by silencing the means of expressing themselves and effecting change. This was the time that the black historian, John Franklin, called “a long dark night.”EGWUTRW 18.4

    This new type of slavery was summed up well by the historian, C. Vann Woodward: “If the psychologists are correct in their hypothesis that aggression is always the result of frustration, then the South toward the end of the nineties was the perfect cultural seedbed for aggression against the minority race. Economic, political, and social frustrations had pyramided to a climax of social tensions.” 34Jim Crow, p. 81.EGWUTRW 18.5

    By the end of the first decade in the new century (1910), segregation was not only legislatively established, it had become an accepted part of society in both the North and the South. From the President and the Supreme Court, to the average citizen it was the way for the day. There was resistance to segregation in some quarters, especially by blacks, but overall it had gained the status of “the American way of life.”EGWUTRW 18.6

    3. “Race War”—the extreme and undesirableEGWUTRW 19.1

    Beyond speaking of the “more favorable slavery,” Ellen White also specifically stated that a “race war would be introduced.” It has already been shown that there is a difference between “slavery” and “race war,” with “race war” directly being equated with flagrant and identifiable hostility and violence between the races.EGWUTRW 19.2

    Did this “race war” happen according to Ellen White’s prediction? Was this prophecy fulfilled? Emphatically Yes! The history of racially inspired wars, riots, or battles is too well attested to historically to be questioned.EGWUTRW 19.3

    In explaining the tactics used to sell the disfranchisement platform, C. Vann Woodward explains that the leaders of this movement resorted to an intensive propaganda of white supremacy, Negrophobia, and race chauvinism. Such a campaign preceded and accompanied disfranchisement in each state. Stories of the Carpetbaggers, the history of the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camelia, the heroes of the Home Rule, were all sensationally played up in speeches, newspapers, and books. Everywhere there were trumped up stories of Negro crime, charges of rape, attempted rape, alleged instances of arrogance and impertinence, surly manners, or lack of prompt and proper servility in conduct.EGWUTRW 19.4

    Lynchings, beatings, and other forms of violence were perpetrated by white supremacist groups who were out to keep blacks in “their proper place.” It was in this context that Ellen White also made the prediction that:EGWUTRW 19.5

    I said that perilous times were coming, and that the sentiments that could then be expressed in regard to what should be done along missionary lines for the colored people could not be expressed in the future without imperiling lives. I said plainly that the work done for the colored people would have to be carried on along lines different from those followed in some sections of the country in former years. 35Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church 9:206 (California 1948). In subsequent references this book will be notated as 9T.

    And again, as in other areas, her prediction was unerringly accurate.EGWUTRW 19.6

    She further said that “As time advances and race prejudices increase, it will become almost impossible, in many places, for white workers to labor for the colored people.” 36Testimonies for the Church 9:207, 208.EGWUTRW 20.1

    It should be noted here that Ellen White was not predicting for the mere sake of predicting; she was warning of the coming strife and seeking to motivate the church to do the work at hand. Through the articles she wrote for the Review and Herald in the mid-1890’s she set forth the same principles in greater detail (see The Southern Work, 19-65).EGWUTRW 20.2

    The reality of the need for this warning is seen in conditions at the turn of the century:EGWUTRW 20.3

    The new century opened tragically with 214 lynchings in the first two years. Clashes between the races occurred almost daily, and the atmosphere of tension in which people of both races lived was conducive to little more than a struggle for mere survival, with a feeble groping in the direction of progress. 37John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans (New York: 1980), pp. 266, 267. In subsequent references this book will be notated as Slavery to Freedom.

    There are at least three well-documented areas that validate the fulfillment of the “race war” prediction.EGWUTRW 20.4

    LynchingsEGWUTRW 20.5

    A modest approximation of the lynchings that took place during the first two decades of the twentieth century was around 1,800 that were recorded. Lynching was a form of punishment administered by hanging (and sometimes included burning) and was normally done by a mob in a spirit of revenge, malice, or frenzy.EGWUTRW 20.6

    The first two decades saw a decline in lynching in general but a rise in the lynching of blacks in the South. Statistics show that in the first decade of the twentieth century, 90 percent of the lynchings took place in the South, with more than 85 percent of its victims being black (NAACP: 30 Years of Lynching in the U.S., 1889-1918, pp. 29, 30). This increasing phenomenon of violence toward blacks accurately marked the rise of racial hatred. The irony was that in fewer than one-fifth of all the lynchings was there a charge of a crime deserving of capital punishment.EGWUTRW 20.7

    In a letter to Frank Belden, dated October, 1899, Ellen White made what might be her only direct allusion to lynching:EGWUTRW 21.1

    The colored people have had before them the example of commonness and adultery. These evils are all through our world, but when the poor, wretched, ignorant race, who know scarcely anything of purity and righteousness, do commit sin—sin that committed by white people is scarcely condemned—colored people are tortured to death whether proved guilty or not. And the nation that permits this bears the name of Christian. God says, “Shall I not judge for these things?” 38Race Relations, p. 112.

    The use of the word war in the “race war” phrase takes on even stronger meaning when one understands that during this period most lynchings took place in mob settings of whites against a black, or blacks. Sometimes blacks would seek to defend themselves, although most such attempts proved to be unsuccessful, in the light of weapons, numbers, and sometimes even the authorities being against them.EGWUTRW 22.1

    In reaction to a bloody lynching at Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 1911, one black writer warned whites that the “Negroes had had enough ... if we are to die, in God’s name let us perish like men and not like bales of hay.” 39Melvin Drimmer, ed., Black History: A Reappraisal (New York: 1968), p. 365. In subsequent references this book will be notated as Black History. Again when blacks in Gainesville, Florida, failed to resist an attacking white mob in 1916, a black editorial entitled “Cowardice” insisted “that they should have fought in self-defense to the last ditch....” 40Ibid., p. 365.EGWUTRW 22.2

    Acts of Violence 41The more well known of the acts of violence were against blacks in the last half of the twentieth century, such as (1) the massacre at East St. Louis, Ill, in 1917; (2) the multiple lynchings of Brooks and Lowndes Counties in 1918; (3) the Chicago riots in 1919; (4) the Elaine, Ark. massacre in 1919EGWUTRW 22.3

    Lynchings were only part of the antagonism. There also were beatings, stabbings, whippings, house burnings, gang molestations, and rape. This violence became so common against blacks that it is generally agreed that it regularly occurred without any documentation. Citizens from every strata of society took part in it—editors, churchgoers, professors, and clergymen. It is documented that in some cases law enforcers legally condoned the violence by observing, or, in some extreme cases, by taking part themselves. 42Weinstein and Gatell, Segregation, p. 112. The Atlanta (1906) and Tulsa (1921) violent disturbances bear out such instances.EGWUTRW 22.4

    A low point was reached, and the reality of Ellen White’s words were forcibly felt. It was not until the third decade that a significant decline of lynching and blatant violence took place in the South, as well as nationally, but even afterward violence surfaced at times of crisis. 43Ibid., p. 185. The defeat of the Arkansas lynch law in the Moore v. Dempsey case (1923) was a milestone in marking the legal reaction against racial violence. This will be developed further.EGWUTRW 23.1

    Race Wars 44For an account of an actual war fought in 1920 known as The Eruption of Tulsa, see Appendix B-2EGWUTRW 23.2

    As intimated earlier, there was a backlash of violence in some cases from blacks against whites. Thus, interspersed between the lynchings and acts of violence there were bloody racial wars or battles fought between the years 1908 and 1921. 45Peter M. Bergman and Mort N. Bergman, The Chronological History of the Negro in America, (New York: 199), see pp. 350-400. This section referred to in The Chronological History provides a complete chronological record of significant events related to Black history during the 1908 to 1921 period.EGWUTRW 23.3

    Six major race riots occurred between 1900 and 1910. In the riots the North vied with the South in both the number and scope of the violent outbreaks. And while there may be some temptation to minimize the seriousness of these riots in the light of more recent civil disorders, there is an essential difference between the riots of the first decade of this century and those of more recent vintage. The riots before 1910 entailed far less death and destruction, but they were authentic “race riots” in that they involved mobs of white citizens perpetrating crimes against Negro life and property, and Negro citizens returning the favor. Thus far, the recent riots have generally been directed toward symbols of economic and social oppression, not so much against persons of the opposite race. Mobs of white citizens were virtually unheard of in the riots of the 1960’s. Very few, if any, have been killed recently by white private citizens, and extremely few by Negro citizens. 46Race Relations, pp. 24, 25.EGWUTRW 23.4

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