The Capitol Riot is an Eerie Repeat of this Tense Era in American HistoryBreaking News
tags: Reconstruction, political violence, Capitol Riot
On April 11, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln delivered what would be his last speech from a window at the White House to the crowd below. They had gathered there expecting a celebratory speech on Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender to Ulysses S. Grant just two days earlier.
But that evening, Lincoln's speech was about Reconstruction, readmitting Louisiana into the Union and a proposal for "giving the benefit of public schools equally to Black and White, and empowering the Legislature to confer the elective franchise upon the colored man."
Plantation-owning elites, Southern Democrats and White supremacists, however, would not easily concede political power to those who had so recently been their slaves. That evening among the crowd of listeners was an enraged John Wilkes Booth, who would go on to assassinate the President just three days later at Ford's Theatre.
For decades after Lincoln's death, White supremacists would wage a war of intimidation, murder and massacre on anyone, Black or White, who dared covet a share of their power. Yet, Black people persisted.
And between 1865 and 1880, over 1,500 Black men took political office; most not for long, as their efforts were cut down by mobs of violent White men.
Oscar James Dunn was one of those determined men. He became the country's first Black lieutenant governor in Louisiana in 1868 but died mysteriously in office only four years later.
For some experts, the 2021 Capitol riots are a present-day example and a legacy of the same kind of violent push back against the rise of Black men that Dunn and others experienced after the Civil War.
For the second story in our series, History Refocused, we spoke with historian Brian K. Mitchell, who spent years unearthing Dunn's life -- a passion ignited as a child after learning that he and Dunn were uniquely linked.
"Oscar Dunn's story cannot explain the entire notion of Reconstruction," Mitchell said. But "It does give students a very tangible person that they can wrap their minds around."
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