The ending of Reconstruction and the Radical Republicans slowly rolled back any semblance of protection for the African American community. By the aughts of the 20th century, lynching of Black people were steadily rising all over the country, but particularly in the South. The election of Woodrow Wilson, 28th U.S. President (1913-1921), who was an unabashed racist and white supremacist, the final nail was loudly hammered into the coffin of a better U.S., at least before 1960. Wilson was a descendant of the Confederacy and an avid drummer in the “Lost Cause” narrative. According to the “Lost Cause,” the South wasn’t a bunch of white supremacist racist traitors. They were simply noblemen trying to preserve a decent rural way of life against culture less and crude northern industrialists. States have rights you know!
In 1915 “Birth of the Nation” was the first film in history shown in the White House. President Wilson screened it with his family and members of his Cabinet. Thomas Dixon, the author of “The Clansman,” the book the film was based on and the screenwriter D.W. Griffith were in attendance. As put by Dixon, a liar, “it repeated the triumph of the first showing.”
Wilson, unapologetically backed the Ku Klux Klan. It was HIS rhetoric supported by mainstream media that inspired and cheered on violence. Violent white mobs that set Black people’s towns and businesses on fire. Wilson encouraged the Klan’s violent disenfranchisement of Black people in the early 20th century. Wilson’s record as president oversaw the resegregation of multiple federal government agencies where professionally skilled and college-educated Black people worked. Agencies integrated by Radical Reconstruction decades earlier.
Black people who had attained a dignified life were told if they wanted to keep their government jobs, they would have to work in cages. Then were fired anyway for “stealing” white men’s job.
During the summer of burning the NAACP sent this telegram to Wilson:
“…the shame put upon the country by the mobs, including United States soldiers, sailors, and marines, which have assaulted innocent and unoffending negroes in the national capital. Men in uniform have attacked negroes on the streets and pulled them from streetcars to beat them. Crowds are reported …to have directed attacks against any passing negro….The effect of such riots in the national capital upon race antagonism will be to increase bitterness and danger of outbreaks elsewhere. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People calls upon you as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the nation to make statement condemning mob violence and to enforce such military law as situation demands.”
Wilson did not —and the burning continued through 1921.
Never underestimate the power of media messaging, because it is one of the most potent weapons to liberate and murder.
Dr. George Edmund Haynes listed in detail the white mob violence in a report called the Haynes Report. The New York Times article “For Action on Race Riot Peril,” published on October 19, 1919 is the only publicly archived available record of the summary of the report: