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131 6 The End of Woodward’s Second Reconstruction? African American Political Participation in the South Charles S. Bullock III And he will write of how conservatives of North and South, East and West came together regardless of party and called a halt, and how Negro leaders were divided in council and fell out with each other, and how their white allies withdrew in silence and confusion and timidity, and how some of them and some of their Negro friends tacitly acquiesced in the consensus of tokenism, and how a few took high office and endorsed it. Then, observing that since in the first instance the cycle ran from 1865 to 1877 and in the second from 1954 to 1966, our future historian may tentatively hypothesize that a baker’s dozen years is par for the course. —C. Vann Woodward, The Burden of Southern History (1968) In this chapter, Charles Bullock, the Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia, argues that Woodward was premature when he argued that the “Second Reconstruction” had ended. When Woodward published The Burden of Southern History, he saw similarities between the time following Civil War Reconstruction and the time following the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Specifically, Woodward witnessed the congressional defeat of a civil rights bill in 1966, increased national attention focused on the Vietnam War, and young people across the nation showing greater concern for other issues instead of civil rights. Woodward believed that this growing indifference among citizens in the nonSouth would signify a halt in the progress of civil rights and equality among African Americans—similar to the halt in progress following the Civil War Reconstruction once the federal government became focused on other national concerns. Bullock argues that while Woodward may have been correct about the waning interest in civil rights among nonsouthern citizens and the federal government, he failed to foresee the significant influences, and long-term effects, that would be produced by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Bullock argues that, in contrast to the post–Civil War 132 Charles S. Bullock III Reconstruction era, the contemporary period has seen substantial progress for African Americans. He claims that Woodward, in his revised editions to Burden, was too pessimistic regarding ongoing civil rights reforms. Bullock points to increased voter registration and voter turnout among African Americans following the Voting Rights Act, growing numbers of African American legislators, particularly at the state level, and the election of President Barack Obama as proof that Woodward was too pessimistic in his declaration that the Second Reconstruction period had ended. • In one of the essays in Woodward’s The Burden of Southern History, the noted southern historian rings down the curtain on what he has identified as the Second Reconstruction. As noted in James Cobb’s essay (chapter 1), by the time Woodward added the passage cited in this chapter’s epigraph to the revised edition of The Burden of Southern History, he had become less optimistic than when the collection originally appeared in 1960. The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed the following year had not ushered in an era of racial harmony. In this lament, initially published in Harpers, Woodward sees the previous twelve years as similar to the post–Civil War Reconstruction in terms of an expansion of opportunities for African Americans. But with the congressional defeat of a civil rights bill in 1966, which came after summers of urban riots and a growing concern , especially among young whites, about the expanding scope of war in Vietnam, Woodward concluded that the nation’s interest in and support for expanding the rights and opportunities of African Americans had passed. Woodward was not alone in believing that the federal effort to encourage and protect African American political participation had for a second time in history come apart on the Scylla and Charybdis of southern opposition and northern indifference. Woodward quotes Leslie Dunbar: “Everywhere you look with people in a position of power and authority, they have things they regard as more important.”1 The perception that the expansion of civil rights culminating with the 1965 Voting Rights Act served as a prelude to a massive federal retreat persisted in some quarters. Three decades later, Woodward’s former doctoral student J. Morgan Kousser published a book with the title Color Blind Justice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction.2 While Woodward had a keen understanding of the past...


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