On A Congressional Expulsion

When the state legislature voted to expel the black congressmen, many in the nation were justifiably outraged. Unfortunately, many Americans, especially in the state where it happened, cheered the action.

Politics in the country had grown poisonous to the point of revolt and armed insurrection. The justification of racism by religion across much of the conservative political spectrum had brought the United States to the point of making any political interaction a potentially violent enterprise. Add the pervasive, omnipresence of guns to the equation, well, it all added up to a recipe for disaster, a powder keg that was only needing a spark to explode.

State and Federal Courts were appealed to after the expulsion, and rightly so. Justice is always depicted as being blindfolded because all people are considered equal before the law. The reality, of course, is that we all bring our biases and prejudices to any decision. Conservative judges, appointed by radical politicians, chose to defer rather than decide, thereby giving themselves an “out” in the situation.

And then the campaign of intimidation and threats of violence began. The racists, for a time shamed into keeping their hatred and anger private, had been embolden by their political leaders to give loud voice to their opinions. The expelled Black congressmen and their allies were harassed and berated and became the objects of scorn and malice.

Of course, media, as it usually does, tried to “both sides” the issue. Instead of calling out the obvious injustice and blatant racism behind the expulsion, the media only poured more gasoline on an already blazing fire. They pointed out the numerous negative interactions between White policemen and Black suspects over the years, but then they often portrayed Blacks as being uneducated or vaguely threatening or somehow almost deserving of the treatment they received at the hands of law enforcement. All of this served to only muddy the public consciousness about the way the Black congressmen were treated.

Yet, all of this happened in the state of Georgia in 1868. Thirty-three Black legislators were expelled by a coalition of White Republicans and Democrats. But the courts eventually allowed all the expelled members to retake their seats in the Georgia congress. However, within 30-odd years, all Black members of the Georgia legislature were either harassed or gerrymandered, or else Jim Crow laws took away enough Black votes that the congressmen were replaced by White legislators.

Yes, the group, known as the Original 33, were the beginning of several decades of racist behavior that took away any rights Blacks may have gained as a result of the American Civil War and the passage of several constitutional amendments. Eventually, the Civil Rights movement of the 20th Century restored many of these.

But surely such a racially-motivated expulsion of Black congressmen by the legislature of a former Confederate state couldn’t happen again.



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