What did conservative Democrats support in the post-reconstruction South?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Democrats in the post-Reconstruction South were, generally speaking, almost uniformly conservative on the issue of race. It was the actions of conservative Democratic politicians that brought about the collapse of Reconstruction in the first place, and with the end of Reconstruction, they proceeded to reestablish white supremacy in the South. They accomplished this through a variety of methods, including poll taxes and literacy tests, to keep blacks from voting. Once their power had been consolidated, they established a society strictly segregated along racial lines through a collection of laws that have become known as "Jim Crow." They also went to great pains to avert possible "Fusionist" coalitions between reform-minded whites, especially small farmers, and black voters.

In one particularly telling example from 1898, North Carolina Democrats mobilized to essentially mount a coup d'etat, driving black Republican and Fusionist office-holders from power in Wilmington, North Carolina, an event that has become known as the "Wilmington Race Riot." In many other ways, Southern Democrats were more progressive. Many favored education reform, more state involvement in regulating railroads and other industries, and many had a modern vision for the development of industry in what was becoming known as the "New South." But on the most salient issue in late nineteenth century politics and society, the race question, Southern Democrats were strongly reactionary.