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19 1 A ­ Gambler’s World of Liq­ uor, Vice, and Home­ town Pol­ i­ tics in the Post–Civil War Era We never be­ fore saw just such a lot of dark­ ies in our life. Uncle Toms, Aunt Cloes and Top­ seys were abun­ dant. There were about 500,000,000,000 baby dark­ ies. Cairo Daily Demo­ crat, 21 Au­ gust 1862 When the Civil War ended in 1865, ­ nearly every­ one in the North be­ lieved that they had pre­ served the Union and had freed the ­ slaves—and that it was time for their ­ troops to go home. For many, the Union army an­ swered the prom­ ise of re­ turn­ ing its sol­ diers to farms and towns in the North al­ most im­ me­ di­ ately. It re­ leased full reg­ i­ ments one after an­ other and ­ loaded them on river trans­ ports or ­ trains for a rapid re­ treat from the South. But some—and cer­ tainly Scott was one of those—found a re­ turn to a cer­ tain place no ­ longer ap­ peal­ ing. Cairo was an at­ trac­ tive op­ tion and had more op­ por­ tu­ nities for suc­ cess than ­ places left be­ hind when the war began. Cairo had ­ changed and was no ­ longer ­ solely a white town. ­ Nearly all of its pop­ u­ la­ tion in 1864 and 1865 was con­ nected in some way to mil­ i­ tary oc­ cu­ pa­ tion and to a be­ lief that pros­ per­ ity would con­ tinue in­ def­i­ nitely. Peo­ ple had ac­ cu­ mu­ lated sig­ nif­i­ cant and ­ quickly ac­ quired ­ wealth in busi­ nesses that ca­ tered to sol­ diers and their wives and later to newly em­ ployed non­ mil­ i­ tary per­ son­ nel, often in the form of “small, ­ highly spe­ cial­ ized es­ tab­ lish­ ments” that sold “shoes, cloth­ ing, hard­ ware, and other non­ per­ ish­ able items.”1 Bil­ liard halls, drink­ ing sa­ loons, “bawdy ­ houses,” gam­ bling rooms, and res­ tau­ rants also had flour­ ished ­ thanks to ­ Cairo’s gen­ der im­ bal­ ance,­ caused by the pres­ ence of large num­ bers of sin­ gle mil­ i­ tary and river com­ merce per­ son­ nel.2 Even bowl­ ing al­ leys and gym­ na­ siums be­ came pop­ u­ lar dur­ ing and after the war.3 For ­ William ­ Thomas Scott, Cairo rep­ re­ sented a venue where a black man with ex­ pe­ ri­ ence in the liq­ uor and vice busi­ nesses just might suc­ ceed.4 A Gambler’s World 20­ Cairo’s com­ mer­ cial world was in tran­ si­ tion when the war ended. The war had al­ tered the ­ city’s ra­ cial com­ po­ si­ tion and had pro­ duced a siz­ able pop­ u­ la­ tion of 2,083 ­ blacks, a fig­ ure large ­ enough to sup­ port ­ black-operated en­ ter­ prises and cer­ tainly large ­ enough for a new­ comer such as Scott to en­ gage in pol­ i­ tics—if­ blacks were to ob­ tain the right to vote.5 His cus­ tomer base was ad­ e­ quate, and his sup­ plies were re­ li­ able. Busi­ ness op­ por­ tu­ nities—­ within lim­ its and so long as per­ mis­ sions were ob­ tained from those ­ whites who reg­ u­ lated them—re­ mained, as did the pro­ tec­ tion that came with a con­ tin­ u­ ing mil­ i­ tary pres­ ence and new rules being ap­ plied dur­ ing a pe­ riod of na­ tional re­ con­ struc­ tion and rec­ on­ cil­ i­ a­ tion. Still, Cairo had been an oc­ cu­ pied city, and it re­ mained so when the war ended, “a south­ ern city, not only geo­ graph­ i­ cally but ra­ cially.”6 Its total pop­ u­ la­ tion was­ nearly a quar­ ter black in 1865, and the di­ vide ­ between the races was pal­ pa­ ble.7 John M. Lans­ den, who was the Re­ pub­ li­ can mayor of Cairo ­ between 1871 and 1873 and the au­ thor of ­ Cairo’s stan­ dard his­ tory, de­ scribed a pre­ vail­ ing at­ ti­ tude of res­ ig­ na­ tion and pa­ ter­ nal­ ism that dom­ i­ nated the think­ ing of ­ Cairo’s white com­ mu­ nity when he pub­ lished his his­ tory in 1910...


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