Toward A New Narrative

The 2nd Reconstruction Breaks Out


Dr. King and Stokely Carmichael
March in Mississippi, 1966

The tensions of the 1940s persisted into the 1950s, despite the rise of McCarthy and anti-communism. By 1954-55, a 2nd Reconstruction finally emerged. After hard-fought legal battles waged by Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court rendered the ‘Brown vs. Topeka’ decision desegregating schools. This was followed by the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the Freedom Rides and sit-ins across the South. This time the events were dramatically broadcast on television, giving them far more impact than radio and print. These campaigns went through several additional upsurges, especially peaking in August 1963 with the March on D.C. and MLK’s famous ‘Dream’ speech. The new movement finally won, under LBJ, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

By 1970, however, these gains were met with a white backlash. The 2nd Reconstructionists were violently set back earlier by the murders of Malcolm X, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. With the murder of MLK, Blacks rose in rebellion in more than 100 cities. The FBI’s COINTELPRO program responded by instigating killings, repression, and political trials against many others.

Realignment in the two parties

Concurrently, most Southern Redemptionists and their white allies nationwide began to leave the Democratic Party. Following Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy,’ the segregationists briefly backed George Wallace but ‘realigned’ under the GOP tent, accelerating significantly with Reagan and continuing through Trump in 2016.

Reagan backed this backlash and crackdown by launching his victorious 1980 presidential campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi, the site of the murder of three civil rights workers. Reagan ignored their fate while speaking a mass events in the area. But he pledged his support for the ‘state’s rights’ platform that reached back through Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats to John C Calhoun’s antebellum affirmation of slavery as a ‘positive good.’

In the Reagan years, the 2nd Reconstructionists persisted from below. The Harold Washington campaign won the Mayor’s post in Chicago in 1983, and Jesse Jackson ran ‘Rainbow Coalition’ campaigns for President in 1984 and 1984. While he didn’t win the nominations, Jackson’s several statewide victories reminded other Democrats that the 2nd Reconstruction forces could only be ignored at their peril. The Democratic party and the GOP had been realigned significantly, and major adjustments were in order. Next Page