Aftershock: Beyond the Civil War. DVD (91 min.) A History Channel production. Dir. David W. Padrusch. Prod. Matt Koed. New York : A&E Home Video; dist. by New Video, 2007. A&E Home Video item AAE-77017.
The theme of this engaging and informative documentary is the violence that marked the Reconstruction period. For at least a decade following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, racially motivated massacres occurred. Newly freed slaves suffered the most; there were probably thousands killed in every city, county, and state in the South. There were some brutal, grotesque, carnival-like incidents that Whites came out to view. This period also marked the rise of paramilitary groups, including the Ku Klux Klan.
The documentary begins by discussing the conditions that fostered this violence in the South. White landowners wanted to keep the free labor that slaves had provided. Many of them either refused to release their slaves or tried to force the freed slaves to keep working for them, as laborers, just as hard as before. John Wilkes Booth's assassination of Abraham Lincoln was probably the first act of Southern violence during Reconstruction. Many Southerners refused to display mourning for Lincoln. The Civil War killed around 260,000 Southern men. By the end of the war, one in four White Southern males of military age were either dead or seriously wounded. Southern cities were destroyed beyond recognition, crops were ruined, orphans wandered the streets, homelessness was rampant, and people were starving. Because slaves were now free blacks—people with rights—one-half of the capital of the Southern states was gone. The slave trade had been a two-billion-dollar industry (equivalent to thirty billion dollars in today's currency).
Politically, the Radical Republicans (the leftists of their day) wanted immediate change. They wanted rights granted to the freed slaves; therefore, they became instant targets in the South. The Radical Republicans created the Freedmen's Bureau, which was responsible for the general welfare of the freed slaves; but this program was severely understaffed. Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson (formerly a senator from Tennessee), was an anti-slavery Unionist but was not in favor of granting rights to free Blacks. A White supremacist, he did not want to elevate the freedmen to racial equality. He was lenient to the ex-Rebels, making it easy for them to return to the Union with no punishment.
Most of the former Rebel States enacted black codes in an effort to control the movement and activity of Blacks and force them back onto the plantations as laborers. The black codes amounted to de facto slavery. They forbade Blacks from owning firearms, buying liquor, or engaging in any other trade except farming. Many Blacks could not collect earnings and starved to death. Some states legalized beatings of Blacks who "misbehaved"—for example, not moving off the sidewalk when a White walked by.
This documentary includes several segments on racial violence in specific Southern communities, one of which is Robeson County, North Carolina during the Lowry Band era. The following are the topics of segments:
• In New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1866, two hundred Black Union Army veterans marched on a convention that was assembled in the Mechanics Institute. This state convention was preparing to vote on giving freed slaves the right to vote. The Black veterans, using the march to demand the right to vote, were confronted by a deputized citizen police force of ex-Rebels. The melee at the convention site, in which the Black veterans were attacked from behind, was dubbed the "New Orleans Massacre." The Black veterans were shot and cruelly beaten, and their dead bodies were mutilated—in some cases by women—with knives and razors. The insurgents (including New Orleans police officers and fire department members) then tried to get inside the convention building and attack the delegates. Delegates tried to jump out of windows or run to other buildings, but they were then shot by police or by citizens. The melee turned into a hunt by the police for anyone who had any connection to the state convention that was assembled. By the time Union forces (which had been requested in advance) arrived to quell the riot, it was over. The official tally was that the mob had killed 50 and wounded over 200, but historians believe the number was much larger. Nobody was indicted for the violence.
• In Tennessee, William G. Brownlow (later known as "Bloody Bill Brownlow"), a Methodist preacher who published an anti-Confederate newspaper, was elected governor. His newspaper, the Knoxville Whig, published the names of Confederate soldiers who were returning home, making them targets. Some of them were gunned down, but no one was prosecuted. In Pulaski, Tennessee, six Confederate soldiers came home and were forced to say an oath of allegiance to the United States. These men, the Pulaski Six, went on to create the Ku Klux Klan as a paramilitary form of resistance. Membership soared, and they became famous for their night rides, which had a chilling effect on local Blacks. This segment of the documentary focuses on the growth of the Ku Klux Klan, noting that it was essentially continuing the war, with white sheets as the new Confederate uniform. The segment also discusses the Klan's work, under Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest, to galvanize the Democrats into a campaign to disrupt the elections of 1868. Although the voter registration rolls for 1868 showed 100,000 more Blacks than Whites, Klan violence against Blacks caused Black voter turnout to plummet.
• In Arkansas, D. P. (Daniel Phillips) Upham, a leading Radical Republican who gained a House seat, waged a war in his hometown, Augusta, against a gang of 30 Klansmen. The Klansmen attacked Lee's plantation. After several skirmishes, Lee and the local militia suppressed the entire Klan in Arkansas.
• In northeast Texas, Bob Lee, called "the maneater," waged a war in July, 1865 against Lewis Peacock, a scalawag. "Lee's Raiders" launched an attack to punish carpetbaggers, scalawags, and corrupt Freedmen's Bureau staff.
• The segment on the Lowry Band era in Robeson County, North Carolina begins with Dr. Linda Oxendine discussing the ways in which the North Carolina Constitution of 1835 denied rights to the Lumbee by classifying them as free persons of color and leaving them in a status only slightly above Black slaves. She also discusses the theft of land from Lumbees by Whites and, by the time of the Civil War, the famine and poverty that were rampant among the Lumbee. Josephine Humphreys discusses Fort Fisher and the starvation and malaria among those conscripted (including the Lumbee) to build the fort. Lawrence Locklear, Speaker of the Lumbee Tribal Council, discusses the Home Guard, who were searching for young Lumbee males who were "lying out" in the swamps of Robeson County to avoid conscription. Harvey Godwin, Jr., a descendant of Henry Berry Lowry, explains that Lowry was just seventeen when the incidents occurred that provoked his formation of the Lowry Band. Godwin notes Lowry's role as the Robin Hood of the Lumbee, robbing wealthy landowners, then dispensing food and grain in the Lumbee Settlement area. Other details of the Lowry Band era are discussed in the segment, including the fact that the band's fame grew to the point that the Jesse James Gang, in the middle of one of their robberies, called out, "We're the Lowry Gang." The segment's narrative of the major events during the Lowry Band era continues to the point of Lowry's disappearance, a week after stealing (on February 16, 1872) $20,000 in goods, plus the safe containing $22,000 in cash, from a general store in Lumberton.
• James M. Smallwood, in the conclusion of the documentary, notes that Reconstruction was essentially "a second Civil War in all these states"; the specifics different, but it played out over and over again.