Commemorating CHM: Terrorism

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404px-Benjamintillman.jpg

As a final entry on CHM, I want to suggest one last thing that should never be forgotten--the Confederate cause not only gave us the white supremacist who killed Lincoln, it also gave us the  most infamous domestic terrorists group in this country's history--the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was formed by Confederate vets. Among them, Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose troops massacred surrendering black soldiers at Fort Pillow. John B. Gordon, who fought at Gettysburg and Antietam, headed the KKK in Georgia. 


The Klan was initially defeated in the 1870s by some of the same generals who defeated the Confederacy, and some of the same black soldiers who fought the Confederacy in the 1860s. Holdovers morphed into other groups, like the Redshirts of South Carolina who were little more than the thug-wing of the state's Democratic party. "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, (pictured above) who fought as for the Confederacy as a very young man, was a Redshirt.

Tillman also was the state's governor and a United States Senator. He used that latter office to defend lynching, and the flouting of the Constitution:

I want to call the Senator's attention to one fact. He said that the Republican party gave the negroes the ballot in order to protect themselves against the indignities and wrongs that were attempted to be heaped upon them by the enactment of the black code. I say it was because the Republicans of that day, led by Thad Stevens, wanted to put white necks under black heels and to get revenge. There is a difference of opinion. You have your opinion about it, and I have mine, and we can never agree. 

I want to ask the Senator this proposition in arithmetic: In my State there were 135,000 negro voters, or negroes of voting age, and some 90,000 or 95,000 white voters. General Canby set up a carpetbag government there and turned our State over to this majority. Now, I want to ask you, with a free vote and a fair count, how are you going to beat 135,000 by 95,000? How are you going to do it? You had set us an impossible task. You had handcuffed us and thrown away the key, and you propped your carpetbag negro government with bayonets. Whenever it was necessary to sustain the government you held it up by the Army. 
Mr. President, I have not the facts and figures here, but I want the country to get the full view of the Southern side of this question and the justification for anything we did. We were sorry we had the necessity forced upon us, but we could not help it, and as white men we are not sorry for it, and we do not propose to apologize for anything we have done in connection with it. We took the government away from them in 1876. We did take it. If no other Senator has come here previous to this time who would acknowledge it, more is the pity. We have had no fraud in our elections in South Carolina since 1884. There has been no organized Republican party in the State. 

We did not disfranchise the negroes until 1895. Then we had a constitutional convention convened which took the matter up calmly, deliberately, and avowedly with the purpose of disfranchising as many of them as we could under the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. We adopted the educational qualification as the only means left to us, and the negro is as contented and as prosperous and as well protected in South Carolina to-day as in any State of the Union south of the Potomac. 

He is not meddling with politics, for he found that the more he meddled with them the worse off he got. As to his "rights"--I will not discuss them now. We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him. I would to God the last one of them was in Africa and that none of them had ever been brought to our shores. But I will not pursue the subject further.

Tillman didn't give this address in the backwoods of South Carolina, he delivered it on floor of the United States Senate. The Confederacy birthed the Ku Klux Klan. It introduced century of criminality and lawlessness which was tolerated for over a century. The South is still recovering. 

There's a statue of Ben Tillman in front of the South Carolina statehouse. Some of the legislators want the statue removed. The statue should stay--and they should add a plaque with excerpts from this speech. 

Never forget that any of this happened. Never fear talking to the willfully ignorant about their history. Soon enough, they'll be begging you to stop.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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