A new documentary about Reconstruction is set to begin airing on PBS tomorrow night and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was on MSNBC's Morning Joe to talk about it. What started as an interesting conversation about the history of post-war America during the Reconstruction Era quickly degenerated into a segment that compared President Trump and the conservative members of the Supreme Court to the Klansmen and Jim Crow supporters of that era.
After Gates cited a statistic that said there were 130,000 black men registered to vote in 1898, but by 1904 that number had shrunk to 1,342, co-host Joe Scarborough asked Gates if readers could expect similar content in his book Stony the Road. "Oh, yes absolutely. Look, voter suppression and a very conservative Supreme Court in 1883 declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. So think about, twelve years of black freedom followed by an alt-right rollback and a President who refused to renounce white supremacy, Andrew Johnson. Does this sound familiar," Gates replied.
AP White House Reporter Jonathan Lemire asked Gates what parallels he sees between post-Reconstruction America and today, particularly how the elections of Barack Obama and Donald Trump have had on the rise of violent white nationalism and white supremacy.
"It's the perfect parellel," Gates declared. "The reason that Dyllan McGee and I decided to do this series now was because eight years of black freedom as it were under Barack Obama drove a lot of people crazy," he continued. Gates declared that, "the closest historical parallel to what we're seeing today, with the rise of white supremacy is a backlash to the Obama Administration, is the collapse of Reconstruction."
Scarborough concluded the segment and the show by asking if Gates was hopeful about the future, considering Democrats won the House in November and changing demographics. Gates said that if Democrats had not won, he "would really be worried" but "I'm still worried about a very conservative Supreme Court. Think about affirmative action is under attack, the right of a woman to have an abortion is under attack." What abortion has to do with white supremacy, Gates never explained, but did show that the definitions alt-right and white supremacist have been dumbed down to mean anyone who disagrees with the left.
Here is a transcript for the April 8 show:
8:56 AM ET
HENRY LOUIS GATES JR. Starting in 1890, the former Confederate states started constitutional conventions that suppressed the black vote. I'll give you a dramatic example. In 1898 there were 130,000 black men registered to vote in Louisiana. By 1904 that number had been reduced to 1,342. Think about that.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: That happened in large part because the terror campaigns, because of the Klan, because governments weren't doing their jobs? Is this what we're going to also read about in "Stony the Road"?
GATES: Oh Yes, absolutely. Look, voter suppression and a very conservative Supreme Court in 1883 declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. So think about it, twelve years of black freedom followed by an alt-right rollback and a President who refused to renounce white supremacy, Andrew Johnson. Does this sound familiar?
JONATHAN LEMIRE: I was going to bring up that moment. What parallels do you see to today's climate where we're seeing acts of white nationalism. white supremacy, violence attached to it? Those numbers are rising according to statistics. How is that-- what roles did the election of Barack Obama play to this and then now, is President Trump stoking those fears and that violence?
GATES: It's the perfect parallel. The reason that Dyllan McGee and I decided to do this series now was because eight years of black freedom as it were under Barack Obama basically drove a lot of people crazy. We saw this rise of white supremacy that I don't know about you but I thought had been long buried. This is like a bad Dracula movie. You thought, “Damn, aren't you dead? Didn't we put a stake in your heart?” And then it comes back. So the closest historical parallel to what we're seeing today, with the rise of white supremacy is a backlash to the Obama Administration, is the collapse of Reconstruction. That's why I wrote the book and why we did this series.
SCARBOROUGH: So professor, let me ask you, are you a bit more hopeful though where we are today, the results of 2018, the demographic changes that are happening in this country? Do you see the rise of Donald Trump and these forces that we're so concerned about, do you see that more as a death rattle as perhaps white supremacists' last stand before the new-- we called it the Obama coalition, the Obama majority, before that really is felt in America in a permanent way?
GATES: Well, if we had lost the House in the last election, I would really be worried, but fortunately we didn't. Now we have checks and balances. But, I'm still worried about a very conservative Supreme Court. Think about affirmative action is under attack, the right of a woman to have an abortion is under attack. The lesson of reconstruction is that things, values, principles, that we think are permanent, are actually quite fragile. I want to trumpet the fact that the black community was alive with participation in the electoral process two years after the abolition of slavery, to regenerate the desire to vote, and to participate in the next election within the African-American and by extension throughout the other minority communities in the United States. Casting a vote…
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: All right
GATES: … was the real black power and that's what can make a difference.