After Slavery: Educator Resources

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11. Black Workers Petition Governor Scott against Extortion

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Six: Pursuing Citizenship: Justice & Equality in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Among the most common charges levied against the Republican state governments established under Radical Reconstruction by their enemies was corruption. White conservatives, searching for a strategy with which to undermine the Radicals in 1867 and afterwards, organized taxpayers' conventions and other assemblies which brought together propertied, 'respectable' whites to rail against the 'wasting' of public funds on newly expanded services (like public schools) which overwhelmingly benefited the poor of both white and black races. Beyond this, conservatives popularized an image of the Reconstruction state governments that associated them with pervasive corruption, fraud, and officially-condoned graft. There was substance to some of the charges, though the Republican regimes had no monopoly on such practices at the dawn of America's 'Gilded Age', a period when men of wealth came to dominate both political parties. More importantly, those who benefited from such corruption were not the recently freed slaves most committed to Radical Reconstruction, but the moderates and unprincipled men—white and black—who would continue to dominate the Party after Reconstruction's collapse. In the following document a group of black workers appeal to Governor Scott of South Carolina to protect them against corrupt county commissioners in Charleston.

Black Workers Petition Governor Scott against Extortion

[undated, circa. summer 1872]
We pen this note knowing you to be a friend to the coloured people you always did attend to our rights when you was a general, and we chose you to be our Governor on that account We have been working for the County for the past nine months, and during all that time we never received any money, except from the store [we] took provisions from, the Storeman told us that he had to charge us twenty cents on every dollar as he had to pay the County Commissioners ten cents on each dollar and had to make ten cents for the loan of this money. We don't find fault with the Storeman making something but we do find fault with the County Commissioners who has been elected by our Votes making ten cents on the dollar out of our labour, the Storeman say he would not charge us any percentage on our groceries more than if we had the money if we had to pay the County commissioners ten percent on the dollar on all groceries sold us. I don't see why we can't get our money and buy our own things. This is just what the Democrats told us, the Republicans would do to us we don't believe all this as we know how these people treated us in former times we believe there has been some bad men put in office, But we know you to be a friend of ours and we thought we would right [sic] and let you know how we have been treated,

and see if you could do something for us, we could sign our names to this but we are afraid we would be removed and get no work, we will refer you to Mr. Miller Cor. of King and Broad streets, I think he will tell you the truth about paying the ten cents on the dollar, although he is grand rascal, has cheated us in weight and in every other way he possibly could, The store we trade in now is Mr. Leinstead Cor[ner] Calhoun and King streets. He is a gentleman and sell us good goods, he will have no hesitation in telling you that he pays the Commissioners ten percent, as he has told several gentlemen we know of We think very strange that these gentlemen we put into office by our vote should try to rob us of our honest labour, we are only paid 75 cents per day and we think that little enough at the high price of provisions without the Commissioners cheating us out of ten cent on the dollar.

Source: "From Many Freemen," [Charleston] to Governor Robert K. Scott (undated: circa: 1872), Governor Scott Papers, South Carolina Department of Archives and History


Questions to Consider

  1. According to the petitioners, how did Scott come to be elected Governor?

  2. The freedmen composing this letter are concerned that the corruption they've encountered will play into the hands of conservatives (Democrats). Explain? Do they have a point? On what basis are the conservatives trying to appeal to freedmen for their votes?

  3. Why will those submitting the letter not sign their names? What does this suggest about the limits of freedom in Reconstruction Charleston?

  4. Imagine yourself as part of this group of freedmen. Describe the process by which you all agreed to submit the letter: how the discussion was initiated; how the group decided what points to include (or exclude) in your submission; and how you decided which of you should actually compose the letter? What other issues might you discuss while going through this process? What response do you expect from Scott?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Six