‘Underground railroad,’ as defined by Raleigh Register

“Whatever its origin, the phrase soon became ubiquitous…. By 1853, the New York Times could observe that ‘the underground railroad’ had ‘come into very general use to describe the organized arrangements made in various sections of the country, to aid fugitives from slavery.’

“That same year, a North Carolina newspaper [the Raleigh Daily Register] offered its own definition: ‘An association of abolitionists whose first business is to steal, or cause to be stolen, seduced or inveighed…. slaves from southern plantations…. to steal [a slave] from an indulgent and provident master, to carry him to a cold, strange, and uncongenial country, and there leave him… to starve, freeze and die, in glorious freedom.’ ”

— From “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” by Eric Foner (2015)

 

Former slaves built schoolhouse whites never did

“Throughout the South, blacks in 1865 and 1866 formed societies and raised money among themselves to purchase land, build schoolhouses, and pay teachers’ salaries. Some communities voluntarily taxed themselves, while in others black schools charged tuition, although often a certain number of the poorest families were allowed to enroll their children free of charge….

“Contemporaries could not but note the contrast between white families seemingly indifferent to education and blacks who ‘toil and strive, labour and endure in order that their children “may have a schooling.” ‘ As one Northern educator remarked: ‘Is it not significant that…  one hundred and forty-four years since the settlement [of Beaufort, North Carolina], the Freedmen are building the first public school-house ever erected here?’ ”

— From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

 

It took a lot of deference to satisfy Southern whites

” ‘Southern whites,’ a Freedmen’s Bureau agent observed, ‘are quite indignant if they are not treated with the same deference that they were accustomed to’ under slavery, and behavior that departed from the etiquette of antebellum race relations frequently provoked violence….

“One North Carolina planter complained bitterly to a Union officer that a black soldier had ‘bowed to me and said good morning,’ insisting blacks must never address whites unless spoken to first.”

— From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

 

White elite feared rule by ‘dregs of society’

“[In the early days of Reconstruction] North Carolina Conservatives harped upon the specter of integration in the new public schools, where white children would ‘take in all the base and lowly instincts of the African.’

“Racial appeals, however, often went hand in hand with revulsion at the prospect of governments controlled by what North Carolina Governor [Jonathan] Worth called ‘the dregs of society.’ Universal suffrage — government by ‘mere numbers,‘ Worth wrote, ‘I regard as undermining civilization.’ Civilization he defined as ‘the possession and protection of property.’ It was clear that such remarks did not apply to blacks alone….

“If North Carolina’s constitution needed revision, Worth and other Democratic leaders preferred a return to the frame of government of 1776, which contained substantial property requirements for voting.”

– From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

 

Freedmen’s Bureau more valued than Union army

“To the very end of Reconstruction, blacks would insist that ‘those who freed them shall protect that freedom.’ The strength of their commitment to this principle, and to the [Freedmen’s] Bureau as an embodiment of the nation’s responsibility, became clear in 1866 when President Johnson sent generals John Steedman and Joseph S. Fullerton on an inspection tour of the South. Johnson hoped to elicit enough complaints to discredit the agency, but in city after city, blacks rallied to the Bureau’s support….

“In Wilmington, North Carolina, 800 blacks crowded into the Brick Church to voice support. ‘If the Freedman Bureau was removed,’ one speaker insisted, ‘a colored man would have better sense than to speak a word in behalf of the colored man’s rights, for fear of his life.’

“Somewhat taken aback, General Steedman asked the assemblage if the army or the Freedman’s Bureau had to be withdrawn, which they would prefer to have remain in the South. From all parts of the church came the reply, ‘The Bureau.'”

— From “Reconstruction, America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (2002)

By 1869 the role of the Freedmen’s Bureau had been greatly diminished, and it was closed in 1872. 

Against ‘bombastic, high-falutin aristocratic fools’

“Outside of East Tennessee the most extensive antiwar organizing took place in western and central North Carolina, whose residents had largely supported the Confederacy in 1861. Here the secret Heroes of America, numbering perhaps 10,000 men, established an ‘underground railroad’ to enable Unionists to escape to Federal lines.

“The Heroes originated in North Carolina’s Quaker Belt, Piedmont counties whose Quaker and Moravian residents had long harbored pacifist and antislavery sentiments. Unionists in this region managed to elect ‘peace men’ to the state legislature and a member of the Heroes as the local sheriff. By 1864 the organization had spread into the North Carolina mountains, had garnered considerable support among Raleigh artisans and was even organizing in plantation areas (where there is some evidence of black involvement in its activities).

“Confederate governor Zebulon Vance dismissed the Heroes of America as ‘altogether a low and insignificant concern.’ But by 1864 the organization was engaged in espionage, promoting desertion and helping escaped Federal prisoners reach Tennessee and Kentucky….

“Most of all, the Heroes of America helped galvanize the class resentments rising to the surface of Southern life. Alexander H. Jones, a Hendersonville newspaper editor, pointedly expressed their views: ‘This great national strife originated with men and measures that were … opposed to a democratic form of government.… The fact is, these bombastic, high-falutin aristocratic fools have been in the habit of driving negroes and poor helpless white people until they think … that they themselves are superior; [and] hate, deride and suspicion the poor.’ ”

— From “The South’s inner Civil War” by Eric Foner, American Heritage, March 1989

The high cost of refusing to educate blacks

“Gov. Jonathan Worth, elected in 1865, had earlier in his career steered to passage the bill establishing public education in North Carolina, but he now persuaded the legislature to abolish the state school system altogether…. The governor feared that if white children were educated at public expense, ‘we will be required to educate the negroes in like manner.’

“To avoid having to expend public monies on black education, Worth and his legislature authorized localities to establish tax-supported private academies, risking, as one ally warned, ‘the entire alienation of the poorer class’ of whites, and destroying the South’s only extensive system of public education.”

— From “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (1988)

Wilmington church displayed racial schism

“The ownership of church property provoked bitter controversy [during Reconstruction]. A case in point: the Front Street Methodist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina,  whose congregation before the war numbered about 1,400, two-thirds of them black.

“When Union soldiers occupied the city early in 1865, the black members informed Rev. L. S. Burkhead ‘that they did not require his services any longer… he being a rebel,’ and proceeded to elect a black minister in his place. Gen. John M. Schofield, emulating Solomon, ordered that the spiritual day be divided equally between the races, each with a minister of its own choosing. The conflict continued into 1866, with Rev. Burkhead preaching in the old manner (although a few blacks, he complained, ostentatiously attempted to sit downstairs during his sermons).

“Eventually, the white minority regained control, and most of the blacks left to form an independent congregation.”

— From “Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877” by Eric Foner (1988)