George Washington Cable

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How do reconstruction politics appear in section VI of "The Haunted House" by George W. Cable?

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Section VI demonstrates the reconstruction politics of the time clearly and unequivocally. In the section, members of the White League terrorize teachers into expelling their black students. As my colleague has already documented the important details for you, I will concentrate on the type of reconstruction politics that led to this terrible state of affairs.

After the Civil War, President Johnson continued what was called Presidential Reconstruction, which lasted from 1865 to 1867. However, unlike his predecessor, Lincoln, Johnson was pro-slavery. He allowed each of the Southern states to decide on the best course of reconstruction, and pro-slavery legislators took full advantage of this. In many cases, former Southern legislators who were pro-slavery and who fought on the side of the Confederacy were returned to power. States like Louisiana enacted what was called the Black Codes, which essentially denied freed blacks the same rights as white citizens.

This state of affairs infuriated the Radical Republicans, who wanted to ensure that freed slaves received the full rights they gained as a result of the Civil War. In 1866, the election saw two thirds of congressional seats gained by Radicals who were now able to overturn any of Johnson's presidential vetoes. After the election, Congress passed the Military Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which required any Southern state that wanted to join the Union to ratify the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. These states had to accept the right of freed slaves to vote, to hold public office, and to become judges and members of law enforcement.

Meanwhile, pro-slavery Southerners were furious at the new developments. In New Orleans (where Section VI is set), school integration had already taken place, and this angered white supremacists who insisted that integration was anathema to social stability. So, supremacist organizations such as the White League formed in order to terrorize freed blacks as well as their white supporters.

In New Orleans, the White League was especially strong. Members participated in random and indiscriminate raids and lynchings. The main purpose of the killings was to terrorize the entire city into compliance. A major event, the Battle of Liberty Place, was fought on September 14, 1874 on the streets of New Orleans. The purpose of the battle was to wrest back control of New Orleans from the Radicals and to thwart the further integration of freed slaves into society. Read about the Battle of Liberty Place from the online encyclopedia of Louisiana.

After taking back control of New Orleans from the Radicals, the White League and members of other supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan were able to set their own politicians in power. This led to a series of school riots in December of 1874, where White League members terrorized whole schools, demanded the removal of suspected black students, and vandalized buildings in New Orleans. So, the events in Section VI are realistic: black students really were forced to leave their schools under duress, and white mobs often waited for them.

Because of white supremacist organizations, the South was terrorized into completely rejecting the major tenets of Reconstruction. As my colleague states, the Southern Democrats did take over much of the South after these events. For more, please read PBS's excellent account of Reconstruction (1865-1877).

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When Reconstruction began after the Civil War, freed slaves were entitled to a public education, an idea that was very unpopular with many southerners. Because of these "impracticabilities of place and time," it was difficult to integrate schools for whites and blacks and, instead, many separate schools are established. In this story, the one school that is integrated is located in the abandoned house of the LaLauries, who were notorious for being driven out of town for chaining, starving, crippling, and torturing their slaves.

While the two races are together in school, this

....experiment of a common enjoyment of public benefits by the daughters of two widely divergent races, [was] without the enforcement of private social companionship.

This shows that, despite attending school together, not all the students harmonize with one another socially. Racial divisions still very much inform their interactions.

Outside the confines of the school, there are two very hostile parties:

...the one striving to maintain government upon a co-citizenship regardless of race in all public relations, the other sworn to make race the supreme, sufficient, inexorable condition of supremacy on the one part and subjection on the other.

Further, the story describes how the "Radical" party in Louisiana begins to become corrupt. In reaction, a "White League" springs up, and this group proposes to wrest the state government from the "Radicals" through the use of force. One day, before the iron gates close at the school, a large group of men mount the winding staircase with "measured, military tread towards the landing," on which the principal and her assistants gather so that they can confront the men. When one of them shows his badge, the White Leaguer says,

“We have come remove the colored pupils. You will call your school to order.” 

The "White Leaguers," who overpower the faculty, question each child, retain some and send the others out into the street to an angry mob. Their interrogations of the students reveal the deeply entrenched racism of the "White Leaguers" and the act of forcing the young non-white pupils to face an angry mob demonstrates the extreme resentment of some southerners for integration. Ultimately, the separation does not last long as the "Radical" party re-establishes itself. The Radical party is later replaced by a Democratic school board. So, some of the children who were evicted by the "White League" end up graduating from the school. In its last years, the school is a "colored" school; then, it becomes a music conservatory. Concerts are often conducted in the old dining hall of Madame LaLaurie. Describing the new room, an auditor says:

The scene was “much changed, ...but the ghosts were all there, walking on the waves of harmony."

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