The American Civil War (1861-1865) was incited by the Confederacy’s secession from the United States. Their secession was due to Abraham Lincoln’s policy on slavery. Southern states had come to depend on slaves to uphold their economy, and Lincoln intended to limit and eventually abolish slavery.
“The Civil War was about slavery,” John Green says in this video. This is an important idea to remember; many today argue that the Civil War was about southern independence or some other non-slavery related reason.
Memphis was highly affected by the Confederacy’s loss of the Civil War. As a major location for slave trade and cotton production, its dependence on the successful secession ultimately caused the city to rely on subjugation tactics like sharecropping.
Abraham Lincoln’s assassination after the Civil War stunted the government’s ability to reintegrate the rebellious southern population and the former slave population into the United States.
Andrew Jackson, America’s next President, did nothing to prevent or ameliorate the continuation and embedding of institutionalized racism in the United States. He formed all-white governments to control the recovering south. These white governments, realizing the necessity for forced servitude to uphold the economy, allowed sharecropping and other racist practices.
Memphis was not an exception to disorder and near lawlessness of Reconstruction.
In the early stages of Reconstruction, the Memphis riots of 1866 occurred. These riots were based on political and racial tension between the white and black populations after slaves had been freed.
A shooting arose between white policemen and black soldiers from the Union army, and that incited chaos. Mobs of white Memphians raided and attacked black neighborhoods, killing black men, women, and children.
This was only the beginning of racism and hatred in Memphis.