We Will Be Satisfied With Nothing Less

We Will Be Satisfied With Nothing Less: The African American Struggle for Equal Rights in the North during Reconstruction

Hugh Davis
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    We Will Be Satisfied With Nothing Less
    Book Description:

    Historians have focused almost entirely on the attempt by southern African Americans to attain equal rights during Reconstruction. However, the northern states also witnessed a significant period of struggle during these years. Northern blacks vigorously protested laws establishing inequality in education, public accommodations, and political life and challenged the Republican Party to live up to its stated ideals.

    In "We Will Be Satisfied With Nothing Less", Hugh Davis concentrates on the two issues that African Americans in the North considered most essential: black male suffrage rights and equal access to the public schools. Davis connects the local and the national; he joins the specifics of campaigns in places such as Cincinnati, Detroit, and San Francisco with the work of the National Equal Rights League and its successor, the National Executive Committee of Colored Persons. The narrative moves forward from their launching of the equal rights movement in 1864 to the "end" of Reconstruction in the North two decades later. The struggle to gain male suffrage rights was the centerpiece of the movement's agenda in the 1860s, while the school issue remained a major objective throughout the period. Following the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, northern blacks devoted considerable attention to assessing their place within the Republican Party and determining how they could most effectively employ the franchise to protect the rights of all citizens.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6364-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xx)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 1-5)

    The 145 delegates who assembled for the National Convention of Colored Men in Syracuse, New York, in October 1864 were motivated by a complex mix of optimism and anxiety. Now emboldened to act above all by the emancipation unfolding across the South as well as the enlistment of black troops in the Union Army, they aimed to launch an equal rights movement. In addition, the rise to power of the Republican Party held out the hope of improved race relations. Yet these men and women also faced a very uncertain future. The Lincoln administration had acted cautiously against slavery, and...

  6. 1 Launching the Equal Right Movement
    (pp. 6-39)

    A half-century after the American Revolution, slavery had nearly disappeared in the North. Yet legal freedom seldom translated into fundamental rights and opportunities for northern blacks. Comprising only a small fraction of the northern population, they confronted pervasive and deep-seated racial prejudice among whites, who tended to favor colonization, expulsion, or segregation for African Americans. While the patterns of segregation and discrimination were varied and uneven, northern blacks were generally relegated to low-paying menial jobs; denied political rights; segregated in or altogether excluded from public schools, public transportation, and public accommodations; and frequently subjected to verbal abuse and physical intimidation.¹...

  7. 2 Toward the Fifteenth Amendment
    (pp. 40-71)

    In a speech before the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in May 1865, Frederick Douglass warned that if abolitionists failed to press for “immediate, unconditional, and universal suffrage . . . we may not see, for centuries to come, the same disposition that exists at this moment.”¹ Douglass and other black equal rights activists who demanded suffrage rights confronted immense obstacles. African American males were fully enfranchised in only five New England states (Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine); taken together, these states held only a small percentage of the northern black population. In New York blacks could vote only...

  8. 3 The Crusade for Equal Access to Public Schools, 1864–1870
    (pp. 72-96)

    Although the delegates to the Syracuse Convention in 1864 focused their attention primarily on the suffrage issue, they also condemned public school systems that either provided African American children with an inferior education in racially segregated schools or denied them a public school education altogether. In their Declaration of Wrongs and Rights, they bemoaned the contradiction: blacks were “denounced as incurably ignorant” yet were “debarred from taking even the first step toward self-enlightenment and personal and national elevation” that an adequate education would provide.¹ Many of these delegates had been involved in the antebellum struggle to eradicate racial barriers to...

  9. 4 The Equal Rigths Struggle in the 1870s
    (pp. 97-132)

    Having worked on attaining the franchise for so long, northern black men anxiously awaited the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in early 1870. Frederick Douglass exulted that this watershed event would mean “that color is no longer to be a crime; and that liberty is to be the right of all.” In a similar vein, in an invitation to Wendell Phillips to attend a celebration of the amendment’s ratification, Massachusetts black activists found “a smoldering enthusiasm” among African Americans as they awaited President Ulysses S. Grant’s proclamation of the amendment’s addition to the U.S. Constitution.¹ During the first half of...

  10. 5 The Republican Retreat from Reconstruction
    (pp. 133-148)

    Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, the moderate Republican New York Times asserted that there was nothing in the legislation which was “of very great consequence to the Negro or the white race.”¹ This statement was far from comforting for even the most optimistic northern black. Indeed, they faced a very uncertain future. Many congressional Republicans had ultimately chosen to place political expediency above a principled stand on the school integration clause, which was especially important to northern African Americans. The message appeared to be that Congress would pass no more civil rights legislation. Moreover, in...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 149-150)

    The northern black struggle for full citizenship rights continued through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. New leaders, such as Timothy Thomas Fortune, publisher of the New York Age, and W. E. B. DuBois, a prominent intellectual and activist, emerged as forceful advocates for black civil and political rights. Moreover, African American women collaborated more actively with men in the cause and established the women’s club movement to agitate for suffrage and other rights for all blacks. But the movement also drew heavily on the Reconstruction-era cause for leadership, organizational structure, and inspiration. Douglass, Langston, and many other veterans...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 151-182)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-210)