(NNPA)—In the years after enslavement, Southern Whites did all they could to return to a manner of slavery. No White “owned” a Black person, but many Whites behaved as if they did. Theoretically, Blacks were free to come and go as they pleased, but if they went to the wrong store, sat in the wrong part of the bus, or failed to yield narrow sidewalks to Whites, they could expect a physical confrontation. All a White woman had to do was cry “rape” for a Black man (and usually the wrong man) was beaten or lynched. Whites expected deference from Black people, and when they didn’t get it, they demanded it with physical threats or worse.
In the months after World War II, 12 million soldiers returned home. Seven percent of them—nearly 800,000 Black soldiers—got something less than a hero’s welcome. Indeed, thousands of Black World II veterans were beaten, often because these men wanted the same rights at home that they fought for abroad. Their sense of dignity and equality seemed to embolden the Ku Klux Klan, which was responsible for soldiers in uniform being pulled off busses, beaten and shot. In some cases, these soldiers had their eyes gouged out; in some cases they were castrated, tortured and lynched.
Whites engaged in the writing of Jim Crow laws that were imposed on Blacks such as vagrancy laws that made it possible to jail a Black man because he had no money. These unequal laws made it as easy to find a nearly free labor market as it had in slavery. There was no relief from this unfairness until the late 1960s and early 1970s. And Whites attempting to reinforce the myth of White superiority by reinstituting the practice of deference found a Black population less ready to defer, more willing to engage the courts (and in some cases the streets) in a quest for equality.