After Slavery: Educator Resources

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8. White Conservatives Complain that the Union Leagues are Organizing Labor Strikes South of Charleston

African American workers on Cape Fear River rice plantation, North Carolina, 1866,&nbsp;<em>Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper</em>, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

African American workers on Cape Fear River rice plantation, N.C. Threshing, North Carolina, 1866, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Two: Freed Slaves Mobilize in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

Propertied whites were taken aback by the level of militancy evident among freedpeople, which in 1867 and 1868 manifested itself in a series of chronic clashes between planters and 'free' black laborers. Here, in an excerpt from an article in the conservative Charleston Mercury, editors fret over the effects of Republican agitation in the South Carolina lowcountry. They see the hand of both Republican officials and the Union Leagues in a rash of strikes across St. Paul's Parish, south of Charleston, around harvest time in 1868. By this time the Mercury had been a newspaper noted for its defense of slavery for nearly fifty years; in the years immediately preceding the Civil War it had been the mouthpiece of the most fervent secessionists. One might therefore question its sympathy for the "deluded freedmen" who it describes here as the "abject slaves" of a local Republican official.

White Conservatives Complain that the Union Leagues are Organizing Labor Strikes South of Charleston

The comparative quiet of this Parish has been suddenly broken by a meeting held near this place on the 29th ult., which was addressed by Captain J. W. Grace and J. S. Craig. Captain Grace holds, he says, the office of Magistrate; and this added to the machinery of the League, causes the deluded freedmen to consider themselves his abject slaves. It was no surprise therefore to hear them state that they were 'ordered' to assemble...[in an] account derived from the statements of numerous freedmen... Finding upon this occasion that politics alone did not interest their audience, these orators painted for them a diabolical picture of their condition, should the Democrats succeed. Rebels would, they said, reduce them to a state worse than slavery; passes would be required to move from one point to another, permits would be necessary to sell anything, labour would be exacted and wages could not be collected, no meetings could be held and no arms were to be carried; their schools and churches would be leveled to the ground, and General Hampton was represented as stumping the State to disfranchise the coloured race. Craig stated that if the Republicans were defeated he must leave the country, or be hung to the nearest black jack. Captain Grace was more jovial, and promised a supply of whiskey at a future meeting.

As a result of these harangues, labour strikes have begun, and the lives of foremen reporting misconduct to their employers are threatened. Some of the most sensible of the freedmen seem quite relieved when informed that the Democrats are not such demons as depicted, but others of them in this vicinity are so excited that the desire is expressed openly, even amongst their own women, to 'shoot every rebel and Democrat from the face of the earth.'

Source: "Things in St. Paul's," Charleston Mercury, 10 Sept 1868


Questions to Consider 

  1. According to the article, what motivates freedpeople to take part in labor strikes and political agitation? In what ways might this reflect prevailing white ideas about blacks' capacity for independent thought?

  2. How much cajoling would it require for freedpeople to suspect that their former owners, organized in the Democratic Party, might resubjugate them along the lines suggested in the article? Assuming that they did respond to Republican warnings in this regard, were they unreasonable to do so?

  3. A substantial proportionperhaps a majorityof the foremen on affected lowcountry plantations were of African descent. How might strikes and other forms of labor conflict affect the black community?

  4. From the perspective of the editors of the Mercury, what are the notable qualities by which the "most sensible" freedmen can be distinguished? What of the rest? Why do you suppose they mention freedwomen specifically?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Two