The True Motives of the US Government

Truman’s Committee:

“Those with competing philosophies have stressed- and are shamelessly distorting- our shortcomings… They have tried to prove our democracy an empty fraud, and our nation a consistent oppressor of underprivileged people. This may seem ludicrous to Americans, but it is sufficiently important to worry our friends […] the final triumph of the democratic ideal is not so inevitable that we can ignore what the world thinks of us or our record” (President Truman’s Committee 449).


The above quote speaks to the true motives of the US government’s actions taken toward civil rights. The intent behind the small steps that the US government took came from a calculated power play and popularity struggle. Devoid of morals, the government determined that civil rights were indeed necessary. However, they came to this conclusion in order to appeal to the opinions of other nations and therefore to secure their spot as a national superpower. This quote also suggests that the idea of America as an oppressor is ridiculous. Even going so far as to call the accusations, “shamelessly distorting” of American shortcomings. This quote proves that despite the strife and struggle of leaders and activist groups the US government was still oblivious to the moral necessity of equality for African Americans.

“An Area of Intimidation”- Kennedy

“…it was a sellout. It was a takeover. … They controlled it so tight, they told those Negroes what time to hit town, where to stop, what signs to carry, what song to sing, what speech they could make, and what speech they couldn’t make, and then told them to get out of town by sundown…” -Malcolm X (Zinn, Ch 17)

The 1950’s & 1960’s were a period of time in the United States that was plagued with racial unrest that resulted in many civil rights demonstrations, some peaceful, others not so much. The black community was struggling with deciding what they should do to confront the people that were destroying their lives; they wanted an end to segregation in public schools, the passage of a meaningful civil rights legislation, they wanted equality, and this was when the ideas of influential leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King arose. These two men were both highly respected within the black communities, but they had a difference in opinions regarding how confrontational their demonstrations should be. Malcolm X was a more radical activist; he brought forth anger and the idea of black power in order to motivate blacks to become involved in their own process of liberation. He had a confrontational attitude towards slavery, his ideas spoke to young people, and he (to some extent) promoted the idea of defending oneself with violence.
This idea that Malcolm X was promoting scared many whites, which is mentioned in Zinn’s text. During the March on Washington of 1963, many whites, including those in the White House, feared that violence would arise. President Kennedy originally opposed the March because he felt that if things got out of control, the legislature would vote against the civil rights laws that he was backing. So when he couldn’t stop the march, he decided to join it. His involvement led the Kennedy administration to be accused of being too involved. As Malcolm X says in the quite above, the administration went from opposing the march to almost controlling it totally. They decided what was going to be said, where it was going to be said, and who was going to say it. In a fight for freedom from the oppression by whites, the blacks were still being told how to fight, when to fight and who could do the fighting. With this help from the Kennedy administration the March paved the way for an end to segregationist laws, but to what extent should the federal government have taken precautions when it came to this demonstration? Were these political leaders trying to help the movement, or were they just taking on the role of “puppet masters” just as they have throughout history up on to this point?

Black Codes of Mississippi (1865) Penal Laws

Sec. 1. “….. it shall be the duty of every civil and military officer to arrest any freedman, free negro, or mulatto found with any such arms or ammunition, and cause him or her to be committed to trial in default of bail.”

Sec. 5. “If any freedman, free negro, or mulatto, convicted of any of the misdemeanors provided against in this act, shall fail or refuse for the space of five days, after conviction, to pay the fine and costs imposed, such person shall be hired out by the sheriff or other officer, at public outcry, to any white person who will pay said fine and all costs, and take said convict for the shortest time.”


The Civil War ended, and the slaves were now free.  They were not given the exact same rights as white men, but still, the former slaves became free to a certain extent.  Now they could move to wherever they pleased, get paid for their labor, own properties, and etc.  But all the freedom that they ever dreamed of was obliterated when ex-Confederates once again took control over the South.

According to the Section 1 of Penal Laws under the Black Codes of Mississippi, the authorities can arrest any freedman if they are found possessing any type of weapon.  Basically, the blacks had no means of self-protection from any danger or harm in their way.  What’s more, is that the authorities could easily abuse this law and arrest anyone they wanted, and simply make a false claim that they were carrying a weapon.  Once arrested, bailing was not an option, and it is highly unlikely that most blacks had the money to pay the fine.  Then, it is what seems like a slave auction all over again.  The Black Codes were truly slavery by another name.

Lee Guidon – Klan Terrorism in South Carolina (1872)

“During the early 1870s the Congress held hearings to investigate reports that the Ku Klux Klan was engaging in widespread intimidation and violence against blacks in the South. The following three documents relate to a series of racial incidents in York County, South Carolina, in 1871. Throughout the South, where Radical Reconstruction was being implemented, blacks were joining Union Leagues, Republican organizations that also had secret rituals. The first document is an article from the Yorkville Enquirer describing the rash violence in the community. The second document is the courtroom testimony of an African American woman, Harriet Postle, whose family was assaulted by Klansmen. The third document is the testimony of Lawson B. Davis, a white Klansmen accused of such terrorism.”

Such acts of terrorism and violence describe an era of social unrest and instability right after the civil war and freedom of the former black slaves. Racism, poor economy in the south, rise of Radical Republicanism and general contempt for the loss of the civil war drove whites, mainly the Ku Klux Clan to commit such deliberate acts of malice toward African Americans. Congress caught on to the events unfolding in the South, and realized it must act on such. This created even more hatred for the North, republicans and blacks for being reprimanded on such actions which would continue far past the era of reconstruction and radical republicanism, abet on a smaller and more clandestine scale.

Jourdon Anderson, Letter to My Old Master (1865)

“Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be my advantage to move back again.” 


It is pretty clear from the passage “Letter to My Old Master” by Jourdon Anderson, that slaves never liked to be under the control of the white master. And who could blame them; they were constantly beat, threatened, and even killed. There was no mutual trust established, thus that is why Jourdon asks for some money for his past service, as a sign of trust and appreciation. Plantation owners previously, would never pay a slave a cent, making it even harder for them to do it now. Never did it before, why start now? Thus money, would be a great sign of mutual trust.

Now, many would argue that the freed slaves were acting “too brave”, as if they were in control when it came to whites. But in reality, the newly freed were acting with much diplomacy. With the anger they had build up against their old masters, who treated them with little to no respect, who could blame them for being extra cautious. If anything, a rebellion or even a conspiracy against the master would be surely expected.  Instead, Jourdon understands that his safety, family’s well being and financial means are suffering, thus he makes a beneficial proposition for both parties, to his previous plantation owner. Although the proposition might’ve been a bit risky, it was worth a try. At this point, nobody could bring him and his family back to his “Old Master”, so a bargain would not hurt. Everywhere was dangerous for the newly freed and finding a place they could trust and stay at was the hardest part. Jourdon’s diplomatic skills came to light as he ensures his loyalty to his master, “Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear at your being hurt”, and then goes on to ask about a possible opportunity at the old plantation.

The newly freed did not have a choice but to be “brave”; they had to survive in a world that was turned against them. The smarter ones, the more diplomatic ones, survived, understanding that they have to give in order to get. Although slavery was abolished, the idea of free labor was firmly stuck inside some white’s heads, making it harder for the freed slaves to survive on their own.

Black Codes of Mississippi (1865)

     “… If any freedman, free negro, or mulatto shall fail or refuse to pay any tax levied according to the provisions of the sixth section of this act, it shall be prima facie evidence of vagrancy, and it shall be the duty of the sheriff to arrest such freedman, free negro, or mulatto or such person refusing or neglecting to pay such tax, and proceed at once to hire for the shortest time such delinquent taxpayer to any one who will pay the said tax, with accruing costs, giving preference to the employer, if there be one.”

     The Civil War gave the end of the slavery. It might seem blacks get freedom; however, southern whites who have white supremacy for a long time did not accept freedom of blacks or regard blacks as who have same right of whites. Therefore, they made “Black Codes” to control blacks. In other words, they made another name of slavery using word of black rather than using word of slavery. One of the black codes is about “vagrant law” which only applies for blacks. This law represents what kinds of behaviors can be a vagrant. Even if, blacks who do not have lawful employment have to be fined and if they do not pay such fine or tax, they immediately hired to employer by the sheriff. Worse than all, blacks easily can be a vagrant because they hard to getting their own property, jobs and low wages.

Organization and Principles of the Ku Klux Klan (1868)

“Second: To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and all laws passed in conformity thereto, and to protect the States and the people thereof from all invasion from any source whatever.” 

After the Civil war, the south was in complete chaos. After losing the war, many white people were not used to the idea of blacks being free. Due to the fact that blacks were considered property and not even seen as human beings, slave owners were not accustomed to the idea of slaves being free or even equal to them. In reaction to this, the Ku Klux Klan was formed to try and preserve the idea of white supremacy. The Ku Klux Klan vowed to “protect and defend the constitution of the United States,” conflating patriotism with their racist ideology. They still considered blacks as property and believed that by freeing the slaves, the federal government was violating their constitutional rights. They believed that in order to protect the rights of the people of the United States, they needed to rebel against this new concept of treating black people as equals.

New York Times, from The Late Convention of Colored Men (1865)

“..yet when you and our immediate oppressors met in deadly conflict upon the field of battle, the one to destroy and the other to save your government and nationality, we, with scare an exception, in our inmost souls espoused your cause, and watched, and prayed, and waited, and labored for your success.”

Despite the hardships and the discrimination that the slaves had to endure from the whites, the slaves were undoubtedly still willing to help the federal government and with two hundred thousand colored troops as evidence it was clear that the slaves were willing to put their lives on the line to help. In return for helping, it is only obvious that the slaves should be granted “freedom”, however this freedom wasn’t exactly the type of freedom the slaves were looking for. Disregarding the slaves’ devotions and their sacrifices, they were left at the mercy of the “subjugated but unconverted rebels.” The only thing the blacks asked for was equality between them and the whites and having acknowledgement of their presence and the right to vote. It is only right to grant them their wish and pass down laws that will be able help them protect themselves.

Address to the First Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association (1867)

“It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this battle once fought we shall not be coming to you anymore. You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like  a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.”

Sojourner Truth ever wrote this statement in her letter. She wanted to beg colored men to help them to earn their own rights from the government. During the civil world in 1861, blacks have very important roles in the battle. They helped the government to do reunion. After the civil war, salves gained their freedom, but they had no property, no money and little education. Therefore, they were not really free, so they started to fight for their rights. Eventually, they won, and the 14th amendment gave colored men rights, but not for women. Even women did same things as men did, women have their own abilities to earn money, but they did not have a chance to gain the same rights from the government. Seems this event holds for a long time, women were awake like Sojourner Truth. They implored men to help them fighting for their own rights. They thought they were deserved, because they did most things like men did. Sometimes, they acted like a slave under their husband. They have to work, and sometimes their salaries were took out by men, but they still hoped men will fight for their rights one day.

Civil Rights of Freedmen in Mississippi (1865)

“… All freedmen, free negroes, or mulattoes who do now and have herebefore lived and cohabited together as husband and wife shall be taken and held in law as legally married, and the issue shall be taken and held as legitimate for all purposes: that is shall not be lawful for any freedman, free negro, or mulatto to intermarry with any white person; nor for any white person to intermarry with any freedman, free negro, or mulatto: and any person who shall so intermarry, shall be deemed guilty or felony, and on conviction thereof shall be confined in the state penitentiary for life; and those shall be deemed freedmen, free negroes, and mulattoes who are of pure negro blood, and those descended from a negro to the third generation, inclusive, though one ancestor in each genration may have been a white person.”

when slaves were free after the civil war, they used to think that they would have their whole rights back. However, through this statement above, government didn’t look like that they were ready to accept those freedmen get into their life and society. The Black Codes still limited some rights of black people, espeacially in marriage. The statement explicated that the marriage rights for black people were discriminated, restricted and unfair. It determined that black people can legally get married or cohabited together, but only with black people. it would be committed to a crime if black people get married or lived with white people, even would get into the jail. it’s kind of unfair because what freedom actually means  is a unlimit for any one who can do anything under the morals and laws. Limited the choice of marriage was an imcomplete and unfair provision to against the true meaning of freedom.