In the Lion's Mouth

In the Lion's Mouth: Black Populism in the New South, 1886-1900

Omar H. Ali
Foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley
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  • Book Info
    In the Lion's Mouth
    Book Description:

    Following the collapse of Reconstruction in 1877, African Americans organized a movement--distinct from the white Populist movement--in the South and parts of the Midwest for economic and political reform: Black Populism. Between 1886 and 1898, tens of thousands of black farmers, sharecroppers, and agrarian workers created their own organizations and tactics primarily under black leadership.As Black Populism grew as a regional force, it met fierce resistance from the Southern Democrats and constituent white planters and local merchants. African Americans carried out a wide range of activities in this hostile environment. They established farming exchanges and cooperatives; raised money for schools; published newspapers; lobbied for better agrarian legislation; mounted boycotts against agricultural trusts and business monopolies; carried out strikes for better wages; protested the convict lease system, segregated coach boxes, and lynching; demanded black jurors in cases involving black defendants; promoted local political reforms and federal supervision of elections; and ran independent and fusion campaigns.Growing out of the networks established by black churches and fraternal organizations, Black Populism found further expression in the Colored Agricultural Wheels, the southern branch of the Knights of Labor, the Cooperative Workers of America, the Farmers Union, and the Colored Farmers Alliance. In the early 1890s African Americans, together with their white counterparts, launched the People's Party and ran fusion campaigns with the Republican Party. By the turn of the century, Black Populism had been crushed by relentless attack, hostile propaganda, and targeted assassinations of leaders and foot soldiers of the movement. The movement's legacy remains, though, as the largest independent black political movement until the rise of the modern civil rights movement.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-780-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Robin D. G. Kelley

    Omar H.Ali has thrown down the gauntlet. He rescues the Black Populist movement, particularly the Colored Farmers’ Alliance, from its longstanding place as a footnote to Populism writ large, and restores the men and women who built this powerful movement to their rightful place within the black radical tradition. In an age when black farmers are still struggling with the federal government to receive just reparations for their collective loss of land through discriminatory lending practices and outright theft, this book stands as a potent reminder of just how long and deep this struggle has been.

    In the Lion’s Mouth:...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-12)

    Great hopes paraded down the main street of Raleigh, North Carolina, on the afternoon of September 29, 1892.¹ The recently formed People’s Party, also known as the Populist Party, organized a show of strength that day for all in the community to see and to join.² Cheered by crowds lined along the main dirt road leading to the city’s Brookside Park, the parade featured the new party’s presidential candidate, James B. Weaver. Flanking Weaver, a brevet brigadier general in the Union army twice elected to Congress on the Greenback Party ticket, were some 350 men on horseback and mules, 50...

    (pp. 13-47)

    The brutality of southern paramilitary politics that began in the antebellum era, and took its deadliest toll during the Civil War, continued beyond Reconstruction. Violence permeated the ongoing struggle over black labor in the final two decades of the nineteenth century. Quasi-free labor had replaced slave labor through sharecropping and tenant farming and almost anywhere rural African Americans asserted their rights, they were met with armed force. Nowhere were the reactions more explosive than in Mississippi, where African Americans comprised the majority of the population. There, in the early 1880s, the combined votes of African Americans with white independents posed...

    (pp. 48-77)

    On December 11, 1886, a group of sixteen African Americans and one white farmer met near a cotton farm in Houston County, Texas, where they inaugurated what would become the nation’s largest black agrarian organization: the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Co-Operative Union (Colored Alliance, for short).¹ With the fervor of a religious awakening, the order’s leaders drove one of the most dramatic expansions of any reform group—black or white—in the late nineteenth century. The creation of the Colored Alliance in the mid-1880s was a collective undertaking. Hundreds of grassroots organizers tapped into preexisting networks of black farmers,...

    (pp. 78-112)

    The spectacle of two thousand armed white Populists converging to prevent one of Georgia’s Black Populists, the Reverend Henry S. Doyle, from being lynched in the fall of 1892 was unlike anything southerners had seen in a generation. Former Democrat Tom Watson, now a white Populist leader from Georgia who issued the call to arms, was dubbed insane by the press for aiding Doyle, a former Republican who worked with the Prohibition Party but who was now building the People’s Party. One Democratic newspaper editor shuddered that the South was being “threatened with anarchy and communism.”¹ Even high-ranking Democratic officials...

    (pp. 113-149)

    By midmorning of July 25, 1896, several hundred black and white delegates, reporters, and observers from across the nation had arrived in St. Louis for the People’s Party nominating convention.¹ Just four years earlier, Colored Alliance delegates had gathered in the city with their white counterparts to establish the national People’s Party. After helping to create the third party as an instrument for breaking the Democratic Party’s political monopoly in the South, African Americans now found themselves in the position of trying to persuade white delegates not to support the Democrats’ nominee. William Jennings Bryan had offered a powerful speech...

    (pp. 150-167)

    With the exceptions of North Carolina and east Texas, Black Populists were unable to produce democratic political reforms, greater funding for public education, or a revival of black officeholding. By the summer of 1891, tens of thousands of African Americans across the South were actively participating in local chapters of the Colored Alliance, the People’s Party, or other organizations of the movement. Moving beyond its initial focus on agrarian cooperation and economic reform in the 1880s, Black Populists in the 1890s called for reforming the electoral process itself. As Gerald Gaither succinctly notes, “political reform [would need to] precede economic...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 168-176)

    A century after Black Populists in Raleigh paraded alongside their presidential candidate James B. Weaver in a display of political power, over half a million African Americans cast their ballots for another independent presidential candidate, H. Ross Perot. The Texas billionaire had apparently decided he had had enough of the bipartisan establishment and called upon voters to “turn the government back to the people and take it away from the special interests [i.e., the two major parties].”¹ In all, nearly 20 million voters (approximately 20 percent of the total electorate) came out to the polls in 1992 and cast their...

  13. Historiographical Essay
    (pp. 177-182)

    While there are dozens of state-based and regional studies on the white-led Populist movement, there is significantly less scholarship on Black Populism.¹ Several distinguished scholarly works, widely used American history textbooks, and popularly written books encompassing the period and region either entirely omit the work of African American leaders or identify them only as peripheral to the Colored Alliance or the People’s Party. For instance, among the sixteen essays inBlack Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier, not a single scholarly contribution discusses the work of Black Populists. One of the most recent scholarly...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 183-216)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-236)
  16. Index
    (pp. 237-244)