Abstract and Keywords
On May 7, 1904, Benjamin Davis, the African American owner and editor of the newly established Atlanta Independent, placed a picture of Captain Jesse Jones on the front page of his weekly newspaper. Davis used his paper to inspire, teach, direct, politicize, and inform blacks locally, regionally, and nationally about the achievements of African Americans. He further sought to prove to whites that black Americans were more than “buffoons” unworthy of admittance to positions of power, authority, manhood, and citizenship. The placement of a respected and long-serving black militiaman on the front page of the ...
On May 7, 1904, Benjamin Davis, the African American owner and editor of the newly established Atlanta Independent, placed a picture of Captain Jesse Jones on the front page of his weekly newspaper. Davis used his paper to inspire, teach, direct, politicize, and inform blacks locally, regionally, and nationally about the achievements of African Americans. He further sought to prove to whites that black Americans were more than “buffoons” unworthy of admittance to positions of power, authority, manhood, and citizenship. The placement of a respected and long-serving black militiaman on the front page of the Independent was intended first to energize black Atlantans to shake off their “lethargy” and embrace the “military spirit” still alive in the distinguished personage of Captain Jesse Jones. Second, Davis sought to stir African Americans especially, and also whites, “to give encouragement to [Jones’s] … deserving company,” Atlanta’s Fulton Guards. Third, Davis appears to have wanted to prove through this photograph, along with the supporting brief article, that African Americans still had white allies in a community that was increasingly embracing white supremacy, legislating Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement, and endorsing as well as perpetrating antiblack violence. White supporters, Davis implied, recognized that there were blacks who embodied respectability, service, commitment, manliness, and dignity: characteristics blacks had pursued since the end of the Civil War and hoped to have demonstrated by participating in the Spanish-American War, the Cuban War of Independence, and the Philippine-American War, which were fought between 1898 and 1902.1
Exercising and living daily such characteristics, as well as incorporating them into the standards of militia membership, made these African Americans ready for inclusion in southern society as full citizens. Furthermore, being a militiaman was directly associated with manly and responsible citizenship. Davis both covertly and directly, with this page-one (p.2)
display and photograph of Jesse Jones, promoted the characteristics of manhood and citizenship that white supremacists sought to deny African Americans. The photograph of Captain Jesse Jones of the Fulton Guards, erect and immaculately uniformed, presented a gallant, respectable, and fine physical specimen of a black man. Jones’s physically fit black persona highlighted for the public an important nineteenth-century characteristic of the American militiaman: the strong male body. The healthy body assured the public that their investment of financial resources in militiamen was well spent and indicated that the militia had a secure link to the community it served. Yet the new twentieth century marked a significant change in how the militiaman would be connected to the community he served and in the place of black militiamen in the nation’s militia. These changes began in the 1890s, as militiamen’s commitment to community (p.3) gave way to the individualized twentieth-century militiaman, who was incorporated within the national reorganization of the nation’s military defense force in 1903. This reorganization was followed three years later by antiblack violence in Atlanta, with the 1906 riot. The disfranchisement of blacks in Georgia followed a year later.2
Yet the image Captain Jones conveyed contradicted nineteenth- and early twentieth-century stereotypes of black racial inferiority, which whites used to justify their racism. Jones and his fellow African American militiamen had spent the last quarter of the nineteenth century engaged in activities, actions, and professionalization intended to challenge stereotypical charges of racial inferiority that had plagued African Americans at least since emancipation. Jones’s twentieth-century appearance was an attempt to forestall the ever-rising tide of white supremacy manifested in Jim Crow segregation on public conveyances, abortive statewide disfranchising proposals, lynching, and antiblack rural and urban violence. The militia captain’s public persona also represented the range of capabilities black people had acquired since the end of slavery in the United States, in 1865. Black Georgians had declared themselves to be citizens of the nation and the state. As militiamen in the nineteenth century they were members of that century’s state-sponsored militia, the Georgia Volunteers, and the twentieth century’s new state militia and National Guard, the Georgia State Troops.3
Jones, a veteran of the early-twentieth-century Georgia State Troops, Colored, the segregated black component of the state’s National Guard organization, had been a member of the nineteenth-century state-sponsored militia, the Georgia Volunteers, Colored, since 1888. From his initial militia membership, Jones had risen through the ranks to his position of command through a dogged dedication to maintaining a black presence in the Georgia Volunteers, Georgia’s official military. Beginning in 1888 as a private in another Atlanta-based black militia company, the Governor’s Volunteers, Jesse Jones, within a year, was elected by his peers to officer rank as second lieutenant. According to the Independent, Jones continued as a member of the Governor’s Volunteers, serving “with credit to the soldiery of Georgia and his race in particular until the disbandment of the company in 1900.” By August 1901, Jones was affiliated with the Fulton Guards as a second lieutenant. He joined former members of the Governor’s Volunteers who changed their affiliation to the Fulton Guards upon the demise of that militia company. Two years later, in 1903, the Fulton Guards elected Jones as their captain and commanding officer. This honor (p.4) was celebrated with the support of “a host of friends … throughout the state both white and black who desire[d] to see him succeed.”4
Conflicting Black Militia Images
By August and September 1904, white supremacy’s advocates were attacking the integrity and capabilities of black militiamen. At a national encampment of National Guard units that included white regiments from Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas and black militiamen from Connecticut, a white Georgia subaltern refused to salute an African American
(p.5) captain. Caricatures of black militiamen followed in the Atlanta Constitution, portraying black militiamen as unkempt, clown-like incompetents with overly large protruding lips who simply played at being a soldier. In contrast, white subalterns, privates, and corporals were in the same cartoon portrayed as qualified to serve in the militia because they wore the uniform smartly and correctly and possessed the proper manly military bearing.5
Whites had questioned black militia service since Reconstruction. Conservative white supremacist and South Carolina attorney Theodore D. Jervey authored a monograph, The Slave Trade: Slavery and Color,6 that
(p.6) critiqued Reconstruction and black South Carolina’s militiamen. Jervey presented three photographic images from the 1890s of what he claimed were black South Carolina militiamen. Two of the three militiamen had carved out highly public and active political careers inside the state. A third was a black militiaman-politician noted for his collaboration with white antiblack Reconstruction. In spite of his efforts at accommodation and his display of a manly military bearing, he was denied the respectability he had earned.7 This third photograph, on the contrary, caricatured the black militiaman, who was pictured mounting a cow in a disheveled military uniform. This imagery depicted the militiaman as more farmer than military personage.
The farming image confirmed the attitudes whites espoused during the last four decades of the nineteenth century. The proper place for blacks, according to such thinking, was on the farm being subservient to whites. Specifically, the antiblack Nashville, Tennessee, Union and Dispatch and Atlanta’s New South promoter Henry W. Grady argued that blacks needed to go “back to the cornfield where they belong!” Grady also urged young white men eligible for militia duty and employment in the emerging commercial-industrial economy to rise up and meet the challenges of a rapidly approaching new century that would include removing black men from positions of responsibility. By implication, Grady suggested that the new openings would be filled by white men in need of a job and enhanced status. Blacks, according to these white newspaper editors, needed to be controlled as they had been during slavery. Such a restoration of white supervision over black labor could re-create a lost moment of racial harmony during the tumultuous days of change that defined the post–Civil War South, Reconstruction, and the last decades of the nineteenth century. Black militiamen in the United States South, especially Georgia, nevertheless nurtured a counter image: They publicly marched, drilled, and sustained themselves as citizens, soldiers of the state, and voters sharing in local- and state-level governance and public policy decisions.8
The militia was integral to black Georgians’ collective search for freedom, citizenship, and belonging after the Civil War. African American Georgians ultimately participated in that search through two kinds of militia companies: independent companies and state-sponsored companies. Separately and collectively the black independent and state-sponsored militia (p.7) companies defined the search for freedom in post–Civil War Georgia. The black militia company at the end of the Civil War simplified an institution heavily tied to a new ruling regimen in the South, the Republican Party. Yet the historiography describing these militiamen presents a biracial, and sometimes racially and physically segregated, state-sponsored militia struggling to find its way as the bloodshed of civil war ended and the brutal political and military combat over who would rule the South began. This process, as described in Otis Singletary’s Negro Militia and Reconstruction (1957), defined the field and continues to set the parameters of black militia studies in the United States into the twenty-first century.9 Show Thyself a Man challenges the narrow range of this study and suggests that we broaden our examination of black militia service, within both the confines of Reconstruction politics and the remaining three and a half decades of the nineteenth century. Singletary presented black militiamen and their companies as a failed experiment with an “inconsiderable amount” of “angry … racial violence” that was “directly connected with the Negro militia movement.” The “Negro militia movement” was also part of the “ensuing program” that “contained the seeds of social revolution for the South.”10 While these assertions come close to blaming black militiamen for the violence levied by white conservative opponents of the new governing structures proposed by the Republican Party, Singletary contended that the primary functions envisioned for the Negro militia had been “defensive” and “protective”: The military force was to defend Republican Party post–Civil War governance in the United States South.11
Negro Militia and Reconstruction appeared during the early stages of another social revolution, the post–World War II civil rights movement, specifically, in the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955–1956. Singletary, as a result, had “reason for fear[ing] a [white] resurgence of racial violence in the South” similar to the white response to black militiamen and the African American vision of freedom almost a hundred years earlier. Singletary’s black militia study focused on mixed-race and racially segregated, state-sponsored, Republican Party–legislated militia companies. These units were created by Radical Republicans “to fill the power vacuum that resulted from the withdrawal of Federal troops when the [southern] states had complied with the conditions [readmission to the Union] set forth in the Reconstruction Acts.”12
While Singletary’s Negro Militia and Reconstruction is a state-by-state study of violent white southerners’ responses to Radical Reconstruction (p.8) governments that established black and white militia companies to defend the newly formed post–Civil War state governments, it is not a study of black expressions of freedom, citizenship, autonomy, political empowerment, and community building that Show Thyself a Man seeks to examine. Singletary’s work focuses on the white response to the presence of a military force defending a “foreign” governing body, the Republican Party, in a postwar South. This white southern response, aimed at the restoration of white home rule, was violent. It fabricated black militia abuses of helpless white civilians and created a public image of black militiamen as aggressive, abusive, aberrant, and an “affront” to white public visions of the post–Civil War South. The affront was so severe that “this protective force caused so violent a reaction that it guaranteed the obstruction of the very thing it was created to protect,” namely, Republican Party governance.13
The black militiaman, Singletary argued, joined these southern state militias for “a personal defense of his freedom.” Yet very little of this important work examines African American conceptions of militia service and citizenship. Singletary instead contends that black field hands, bored with their obligations as plantation workers, sought relief from this “drudgery” by pursuing monetary rewards through militia service. Blacks found militia service attractive because of the “perennial appeal of the uniform.” They also liked the “plume or feathers” adornments and the public allure of “the drills, parades, barbecues, and speeches” that broke “the monotony” of daily life. Black women additionally shamed “suspected [black male] shirkers” into militia service. Essentially black militiamen were engaged in “a delightful game” of “‘playin sogers.”14
In fact post–Civil War black militiaman in Georgia pursued militia service for other, more concrete reasons. African Americans who joined militia companies in Georgia after the Civil War pursued multiple aims, not least of which was the defense of their personal freedom. While Georgia’s Radical Republicans did not legislate any defense force into existence, as happened in Tennessee and North Carolina, African Americans formed county-level independent militia companies that served not only to defend black and white Republicans but also to be an instrument of what historians Elsa Barkley Brown and Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie have characterized as “collective responsibility.” Black men in Georgia were part of an independent militia tradition whose roots extended back to the antebellum black collective defense of the race against slavery. These two scholars present black communal responsibility as an important African American (p.9) ideal focused on common goals and shared responsibility for members of the race. An ideal developed within the antebellum and immediate post–Civil War lives of African Americans attempting to establish their collective right to citizenship and national belonging: a personal and communal vision of political, economic, and social freedom far different from the individualized worldview “of the larger white society.”15
Brown and Kerr-Ritchie’s work informs the central tenets of Show Thyself a Man: Georgia’s black militiamen hoped to utilize the militia company as one of their key instruments in the collective search for racial freedom.16 Black militia studies of the United States South, in such states as Tennessee, North Carolina, and Louisiana and written at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century, present state-sponsored African American militiamen as an arm of the Republican Party responding to white violence against the state and local communities. Ben H. Severance, Samuel B. McGuire, James Hogue, and Rebecca J. Scott each examine the role of black and white militia units as peacekeepers in these three southern states against the backdrop of white conservative political violence. These studies not only affirm Singletary’s focus on Reconstruction, with regard to the Republican Party governments’ military defense needs, but also note the failure of white governors to utilize their militias to challenge white violence. The studies, with the exception of Scott’s, end with Reconstruction and the triumph of antiblack white violence.17
Militia scholarship, including Scott’s work, in the twenty-first century has moved beyond its previous focus on Reconstruction and on white-male military history and constitutional debates over the place of the militia within the nation’s military structure.18 This study joins the expanded effort to examine black militia service beyond the end of Reconstruction the focus of Show Thyself a Man. New scholarship transcends the earlier focus on the militia as a military force only. My study is more a political and social history. It joins Eleanor Hannah’s Manhood, Citizenship and the National Guard: Illinois, 1870–1917, which combines race, gender, and social and political change in the late nineteenth-century United States. Hannah’s work outlines the importance of masculinity, manhood, and community for all militiamen regardless of race. The militia was an evolving institution throughout the nineteenth century. Its late nineteenth-century position was subject to changes initiated by the Civil War and capital industrialization that defined race, gender, citizenship, and “freedom, (p.10) liberty, and equality.” These changes also sparked the rise of Jim Crow segregation, as southern whites sought a new system and culture that might regulate “the modern forces of capitalism.” Georgia’s militiamen wrestled with the transformative forces of the late nineteenth century, inside the state, the region, and the nation. These forces included debate about the militia’s role in a changing American context of imperial expansion, race and racism, and definitions of citizenship, manhood, and inclusion within the social, political, and economic fabric of freedom.19
Late nineteenth-century state politics in the context of national, regional, and local change also shaped the post–Civil War and Reconstruction state-sponsored militia. Roger D. Cunningham’s case study of Kansas’s African American communities and black militia formation connects black state-sponsored militiamen to the ebb and flow of local community development, state politics, and the rise and fall of black political power. Cunningham also chronicles African American efforts to be citizens of the state. African American votes did have an, albeit limited, impact on Kansas’s late nineteenth-century governors, who controlled militia company formation and determined militia leadership locally. Black enlistment and access to military training were also key experiences that made the difference between white militiamen’s abilities to lead men and the obstacles that denied African Americans leadership experiences as militiamen. The paucity of black political power in Kansas in turn restricted how blacks could participate in the activities of state-sponsored militia, including leadership training: two circumstances that kept black Kansans from accessing mainstream militia training from the Civil War to the dawn of the twentieth century. In North Carolina and Illinois, on the other hand, black political power had a significant role in shaping the evolution of the state-sponsored militia and in mobilizing and securing resources for the Spanish-American War.20
Black people’s post–Civil War search for freedom in Georgia involved efforts to transcend restricted political power, inadequate militia funding, and a one-party rule that defined Georgia’s late nineteenth-century state militia politics. Georgians debated whether they wanted a militia, who should fund state units, and the shape of federal financing and control of the state’s military. These issues determined how African Americans participated in post-Reconstruction politics. The Georgia Volunteers, Colored, survived federal, state, and militia politics for over thirty years, from 1872 to 1905. This book tells that story alongside that of the broader African American search for freedom and inclusion in Reconstruction and (p.11) post-Reconstruction Georgia society as citizens of the state, region, and nation.
The Western Hemisphere and the Militia
Black Georgians additionally belonged to a broader story concerning African-descendant people in the Western Hemisphere. Late nineteenth-century black Georgia militiamen’s search for freedom was part of a Western Hemisphere–wide and transnational effort by African-descendant people to find freedom, citizenship, and belonging and to secure the end of slavery. Black militiamen serving in wars in defense of Western European colonial possessions and in civil wars for independence in the Americas offered their military service in exchange for freedom and the recognition of their status as citizens within a newly emergent nation-state or as subjects of a colonizing imperial power. Black militiamen also fought during the early to mid-nineteenth century’s Age of Revolution, directly contributing to the creation of nation-states in the Western Hemisphere in such places as Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, and the United States. Their combat service in each of these emergent nation-states contributed to the creation of new nations, new forms of republican governance, and the abolition of slavery. Blacks served in anticipation of the rewards of freedom, citizenship, and inclusion in nation building and a seat at the table of governance. Their actions shaped the societies they sought to serve.21
Black militiamen in the Western Hemisphere operated within the confines of European transatlantic military systems that changed as colonial needs evolved, both in Western Europe and within their American colonies. African descendant militiamen served European states’ colonial domestic needs against Native Americans, runaway and revolting slaves, civil disorder by laborers of all colors, and white independence movements. Wars for independence and slave revolts, sometimes led by black militiamen, were important events that affected the function and position of black militiamen in the Americas. Such service, Ben Vinson III, has argued, dates the black militiaman to Mexico’s defense system, as early as the 1550s. The “free-colored militia,” a group of pardo, moreno, and mulatto soldiers who were both volunteers and conscripted draftees, served the Spanish monarchy in Mexico. In exchange for their military service to the colony, free-colored militiamen could secure rights, “access a host of government officials,” and leverage the system of colonial governance (p.12) to benefit not only themselves but also, in some cases, the people in the communities they served.22
That said, members of Mexico’s free colored military were defined by Spanish society as the “lowest members of the colonial racial matrix,” and free blacks never attained the status of full citizenship, despite their militia service. From the 1550s to the completion of Spain’s thirty-year Bourbon military reform/reorganization at the end of the eighteenth century, free black men defended Mexico’s coastal region from external and internal incursions, meeting the needs of rural and urban communities. In 1556 colonial authorities, albeit reluctantly, integrated free-colored militiamen into the regular army as auxiliaries in Mexico, and free-colored militiamen served throughout the Spanish Empire under similar circumstances: in Havana (Cuba) in 1555, in Puerto Rico two years later, in Cartagena (Colombia) twice, in 1560 and 1572, and in Santo Domingo in 1583.23
Free-colored militiamen became critical to Mexico’s defense system in 1683, when pirates raided for an entire week. Additional mobilizations of the black militia between 1685 and 1725 reinforced its importance. During these years African-descendant militiamen secured additional responsibilities, training, and a definitive public presence as the legal arm of colonial authorities or state-sponsored militia service. Free-colored militia power also encompassed involvement in local politics and the exercising of black rights. But royal reorganization and restructuring by the Spanish Crown, known as the Bourbon Reforms, reflected Spain’s attempt to have an efficient global-colonial military. Bourbon reform undermined free-colored militia autonomy by reducing the number of black militiamen, from 1300 to 500; by whitening militia leadership; by standardizing military training with white regulars who controlled the process; by curtailing black legal rights; and by empowering poor, fragmented, and racist colonial leadership to make policies that negatively affected African-descendant militiamen and people. By 1795, Vinson notes, “for all intents and purposes, the era of widespread free-colored service had ended” in Mexico. Nevertheless, it appears that from the 1670s through the 1750s, free-colored militiamen persistently pursued ways “to determine the exact social impact that the militia would have upon their lives.” During these years, blacks defined and controlled the militia as an institution that served African-descendant people.24
Mexico’s African-descendant militiamen earned economic and political autonomy, a driving force among Georgia’s post–Civil War independent black militiamen, before the Bourbon Reforms. Seventeenth-century (p.13) free-colored militia companies could act with a significant degree of freedom: They controlled their own money, black officers led the militia companies, and they attained the legal rights conveyed to all of Spain’s military personnel. Yet “blacks were called to duty … reluctantly.” This reluctance was based on authorities’ uncertainty about arming blacks and about recognizing all African-descendant people as having full status equal to whites. Some worried that blacks would use their equal status to overthrow the colonial administration. Indeed, free-colored people in Mexico joined slaves on several occasions in the sixteenth century to overturn colonial rule. These concerns would remain for hundreds of years throughout the Spanish Empire.25
More broadly, militias with African descendant militiamen were among the early institutional structures developed by blacks to address their needs in the Americas. Free blacks and mulattos, George Reid Andrews has asserted, used their free status to “organize collectively,” just as nineteenth-century Georgia’s black independent militiamen would mobilize African Americans at the county level in the late 1860s into the early 1870s for collective political action. Outside the United States African descendant militiamen participated in building such institutions as the militia, “Catholic religious brotherhoods, extended families, African based mutual aid societies and religious organizations” to organize and mobilize black people for collective and communal action. As Andrews notes, “Militia service in particular paved the way for extensive black participation in the [Western Hemisphere’s] wars of independence, which in most of Spanish America were fought and won in large part by soldiers and officers of color.” As a result, Andrews noted, the militia provided Afro-Latin Americans with opportunities for “black initiative and advancement,” as well as secured for blacks access to the machinery of governance elevating black militias to be the “balance of power” in deciding the major political shifts in Latin American society at the local and national levels. Independence for Afro-Latin Americans mirrored the national commitment of early postcolonial black Americans to black freedom. According to Benjamin Quarles: “The Negro’s role in the [American] Revolution can best be understood by realizing that his major loyalty was not to a place nor to a people, but to the principle…. Whoever invoked the image of liberty … could count on a ready response from blacks.” This idea, Andrews contends, also defined black freedom in Latin America, because “whichever side, colonials or rebels,” made “the clearest commitment to striking down” slavery and racial discrimination and championing “full (p.14) racial equality” received Afro-Latin militia support. Such was the case in nineteenth-century Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Cuba.26
A similar case arose in nineteenth-century Brazil. Hendrik Kraay asserts that black officers and enlisted militiamen struggled to get white elite colonial Brazilians in Salvador to recognize their capabilities, status, leadership, and loyalty. Black Salvadorian militiamen between 1798 and 1831 and Georgia’s Captain Jesse Jones seventy years later found themselves engaged in an ongoing struggle by all black people in the Western Hemisphere to maintain a black presence in state-sponsored militias—a presence often, and especially in the nineteenth century, directly tied to citizenship, freedom, and autonomy for African-descendant people in the Americas. By the first quarter of the nineteenth century, whites, despite black militiamen’s consistent service to the Portuguese colonial mission in the eighteenth century, followed by their participation in creating a Brazilian nation-state in the nineteenth century, debated black status in the new nation of Brazil. Black Brazilian militia officers, like Captain Jones in Jim Crow Georgia, walked a fine line. For black Brazilian militiamen, their forty-plus year challenge was negotiating the fine line between the two major political and ideological poles of Brazil’s independence movements: liberal and conservative. Within this political maelstrom, the ultimate objective of black militia officers was to carve out a place for themselves in an independent Brazil where freedom meant they held “a special role as leaders and representatives of Afro-Brazilians.” Their socio-political place was shaped by their persistent pursuit of “integration into the state apparatus, just as the [Portuguese] colonial regime … confirmed their status within the military.” After 1824 and the battles for Brazilian independence, blacks and mulattos in the militia outnumbered whites 1,500 to 483 and possessed the battlefield and patriotic credentials that qualified them for leadership and command. As a result, they expected “to emerge as one of the pillars of the new regime,” because militia service carried with it “an essential attribute of citizenship.” Black militiamen also felt that “reward and recognition for services” rendered was due them as a “debt of gratitude.”27
Brazilian independence, however, ushered in a host of negative results for black Brazilian militiamen. Republican governance resulted in military reorganization, marginalization of free black militiamen, their economic ruin, and conflicting political visions that were incompatible with liberalism. According to Kraay, to counter these challenges and changes in status, African descendant militiamen attempted to justify their existence (p.15) by publicizing their long history of service. Afro-Brazilian militiamen, as most if not all black militiamen in the nineteenth-century Western Hemisphere, “had no idiom other than the language of service and reward” to make their case for continuing as militiamen and sustaining requests for citizenship. Thus the white “debt of gratitude” to black militiamen for their service became Afro-Brazilian militiamen’s primary justification for a position in the new Brazilian government in 1829. The debate among whites culminated with the conclusion that black militiamen had no place in the newly emergent nation-state; the militia was abolished in 1831 and twenty-two of the thirty-one black militia officers were executed.28 The United States moved in a similar direction more than sixty years later. In both of these instances in the Western Hemisphere, post–civil war nation building adversely affected state-sponsored black militia companies and inclusive citizenship. Black efforts to get their history of service recorded and recognized, too, became a hemisphere-wide contest between those whites who supported black militia service and those who opposed such service and the lengths to which each side would go to state their case.
Afro-Cubans and the Militia
Afro-Cuban freedom would be a much more complicated process. In Cuba in the early nineteenth century, militiamen utilized both the militia and the cabildo, as Philip Howard has argued, to organize slaves and free people of color. These two institutions—the militia, initiated by whites for defense of the colony, and the cabildo, a brotherhood–mutual aid institution operated and controlled by Afro-Cubans—functioned to preserve African language, ethnicity, and religious practices. It also provided financial assistance to its members, both slave and free, to purchase freedom, if need be, to invest in black businesses, and most importantly to acquire land. The cabildo, for Afro-Cubans, also performed a political function, as the independent militia company would do in post–Civil War Georgia. Afro-Cubans and black Georgians used the cabildo in Cuba and the independent militia company in North America, respectively, as the institution for organizing and mobilizing African-descendant people for political action.29
Matt Childs contends that Afro-Cubans came together in 1812 to challenge the existence of slavery, which was expanding with the commitment to sugar as a plantation crop at the end of the eighteenth century. Slavery’s expansion in Cuba, like Spain’s Bourbon Reform and Jim Crow in Georgia, (p.16) undermined free black rights. This erosion of rights within Cuban-Spanish society encouraged nineteenth-century antiblack discrimination, especially by public officials. In response to their loss of status several black militiamen, including José Antonio Aponte, used their military training and service to unite the free black and slave communities in protest. Aponte and other militiamen, Howard asserts, organized Afro-Cubans through the cabildos representing such African slave and free black ethnic communities as Mandinga, Carabali, Ashanti, and Mina Guagui. Their combined objectives were terminating slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, which fed the expansion of Cuban slavery. In this vein they also hoped to “overthrow colonial [governmental] tyranny,” which protected slavery’s exponential growth. In its place they proposed “substitut[ing] the corrupt and feudal regime with another [government that would be] Cuban in nature, and without odious discriminations.” Aponte called for Africans to see themselves as one people united so that Afro-Cubans could acquire freedom. Howard further argues that the militia and cabildo became instruments for black political organizing and blacks’ search for freedom. Both institutions also helped create a black commitment to a national Cuban identity that would define nineteenth-century Cuban independence movements, wherein Afro-Cubans played a definitive role in shaping the nation’s profile as a unified nation-state.30
Spanish officials in Cuba just over a generation and a half later, in 1844, accused black militiamen of once more organizing against slavery and colonial rule. According to Michele Reid-Vazquez’ study, the “Conspiracy of La Escalera” combined the protests, revolts, and insurgencies of creoles, British abolitionists, and slaves in the 1840s in resistance to plantation society, especially slavery’s nineteenth-century encroachment on free rights and status for all people of color. All three groups sought to establish Cuba as a free society. In response, authorities pursued policies that increased the restrictions on Afro-Cubans regardless of status. The Conspiracy nevertheless had a major impact on the future of black service in the militia.
The black militia company, under Spain’s tutelage up to the mid-nineteenth century, had enabled African-descendant people to carve out positions of “honor and imperial loyalty” while accessing through military service “upward mobility” within Cuban and Spanish colonial society. The Age of Revolution in the Western Hemisphere “circulated [ideals concerning freedom] throughout the Atlantic” world, creating “the language of freedom and equality.” Late eighteenth-century black militiamen “had (p.17) clearly incorporated military service as a core part of their personal and group identity,” particularly because militia duty had yielded to free blacks more rights and elevated their status. As a result, Jane G. Landers and Reid-Vazquez both note, free blacks appreciated the exemptions and privileges military service provided blacks, both slave and free, within the Spanish colonial system. These advantages of freedom also encouraged them and other blacks to begin “demanding rights beyond those tied to military service.” From 1812 onward, however, and into the 1830s, Spain’s attempts to control discussions of and white colonists’ efforts to attain freedom, liberalism, and independence from Spain “chipped away at free blacks’ previous colonial recognition for proven fidelity to the empire.” Specifically black rights within the system had been under attack since the late eighteenth century’s introduction of sugar and the plantation slave economy. Collectively these policies, which were intended to regulate, constrict, and control black rights, undermined the colonial militias and led to revolts in the 1830s spearheaded by militia officers.31
The repression perpetrated by the colonial government following the Conspiracy of La Escalera, in 1844, brought to an end black volunteer militia service in Cuba. The colonial response, Reid-Vazquez has concluded, caused Afro-Cubans to no longer view militia service as a beneficial institution that offered blacks a viable avenue to freedom and citizenship within the Spanish Empire. In response Afro-Cubans, ten years later, in 1854, declined to participate in colonial administrative attempts to restore “pardo and moreno militia units” that colonial officials had terminated in the wake of the alleged 1844 conspiracy. In that context, from 1854 onward, the effort to restore the militia as a component of the Cuban defense system met both white and black resistance. Whites raised concerns “about the risks of arming men of African descent” who might challenge slavery and the slave trade as they had done in the past not only in Cuba but also in other Spanish colonies. Afro-Cubans, in the wake of the colonial administration’s destruction of the black militia companies in 1844 and the ensuing assault on free people of color’s public and citizenship rights, no longer viewed the militia as a black-friendly institution promoting, securing, and protecting the participatory rights of African-descendant membership in Spanish society.
Further, as Reid-Vazquez writes, “The Escalera repression and its social and economic aftershocks, combined with the expansion of [white] peninsular [Spain-based military] forces in Cuba, forced militiamen of color and [the] free black community at large to recast militia service as a low (p.18) priority.” The collective Afro-Cuban refusal to embrace the militia after 1844 makes a case for wholesale black resistance against the attack on black rights, which included “foreign-born expulsion orders, coerced emigration, and prohibitive urban employment codes,” all of which were part of a discriminatory antiblack structure. In response to these impositions and curtailed rights, black “resistance to colonial policies [was] informed by the politics of race, freedom, and empire.”32
By 1865 Cuban colonial administration (Havana’s Consejo de Administracion/Administrative Council) had entered a new phase in its assessment, acceptance, and acknowledgment of the attributes of “the militia of color.” The decade-long effort to reconstitute the militia had failed because ten years, 1854 to 1865, of official anti-Afro-Cuban discrimination inside and outside of Cuba and extending to Mexico had undermined Afro-Cuban loyalty to Spain. Economic restrictions and attempts to force blacks to serve in a reconstituted militia also destroyed Afro-Cuban confidence in Spain’s Empire as a place conducive to black freedom and citizenship. Debate among colonial officials was focused on finding a way to encourage and resurrect black militia enlistment, even to the point of making militia membership voluntary, as it had been during the more positive eighteenth-century days of black militia service, with the added incentive of “raising the militia’s status and restoring it as an ‘honorable force’” before 1844.
Yet colonial administration was not a monolithic entity. Colonial officials were divided, as “the detractors on the Council” countered the proposal for restoration with the hemisphere-wide white fear of blacks with guns. Officials, while acknowledging the decades-long black militia service to the colony and empire, argued that arming blacks had been a futile exercise. Instead of recalling black militiamen’s successful defense of the colony over time, detractors in essence rewrote black militia history by claiming that “the militias of color are more dangerous than useful.” Black militia utility was at an end, the detractors argued, because Spain had increased the number and presence of white troops in Cuba and had enhanced police protection. These constabulary forces made the “militia of color” of “no ‘great necessity,’” especially since black militia units “had become a financial drain.” As a result, in “September 1865, the committee voted unanimously to minimize and, ultimately, dissolve the pardo and moreno militias.”33
Thus came to an end the “militia of color” in Cuba for a second time in twenty years. Its demise, Reid-Vazquez asserts, had been caught up (p.19) in a continuous debate “throughout the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” about the wisdom of arming blacks against the backdrop of the expanding plantation economy in Cuba. This debate also encompassed how the colonial administration should deal with black “[m]ilitiamen’s demands for fairer treatment” and “the impact of revolutions in Haiti and Spanish America,” and “the exclusion of libre de color from Spanish citizenship heightened officials’ fears of social and political upheaval at the hands of soldiers of color.”34
Nineteenth-Century Black Militia Parallels
Nineteenth-century Western Hemisphere government officials, regardless of their ethnicity, contested the viability of black militiamen. They separately utilized the same glossary of justifications when officials terminated the existence of black militia companies within their jurisdictions. In Cuba and in Georgia, officials debated whether to maintain black state-sponsored militia companies when they questioned the utility of blacks with guns, the cost effectiveness of black units, and African-descendant militiamen’s reliability during a domestic crisis. Black contributions to Spanish colonial or southern U.S. society over the years disappeared from the record as history was rethought, reconceptualized, and rewritten. Justifications for termination of black militias proceeded in both cases over nearly a decade of white debate, and black challenges to retain the militia, signs of inclusion, and discussions around potential disbanding made the fate of black militia service a difficult process to predict. This process coincided with social, political, and economic assaults on the rights of black people as members of colonial Cuba and of post–Civil War southern societies embracing Jim Crow and, as Grace Elizabeth Hale has concluded, an exclusive “culture of segregation.” Antiblack repression in Cuba occurred over a thirty-year period, between 1812 and 1844, with increased repression in the wake of the Conspiracy of La Escalera, which initiated the disbanding of Cuba’s black militia units, and a second dismantling of the pardo and moreno militia companies in 1865. While the emergent Cuban nationalism, championed by Afro-Cubans, in the second half of the nineteenth century offered a place for blacks in Cuban society up to the Spanish-American War, the Cuban War of Independence, and the Philippine-American War, all fought between 1898 and 1902, Afro-Cuban citizenship and inclusion, Ada Ferrer finds, was a casualty of that final nineteenth-century war and the process of early twentieth-century (p.20) independence. Blacks were excluded from Cuban citizenship in the early twentieth century despite major black leadership and military contributions to Cuban nation building dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth century.35
The ideas and concepts presented here and the impact of postconflict nation building reflect the duality of the black militia experience in the Americas. African-descendant people across the Americas pursued a self-defining persona that reflected their positive self-image as productive, self-confident representatives of black people. African descendant militiamen, who endeavored to serve the society that acknowledged them as citizen soldiers and empowered them with the right to bear arms, the right to self-defense, and the right to defend the colony or nation-state, were part of the process of being a citizen in the nineteenth-century Western Hemisphere, whether in the United States or elsewhere. At the same time black militiamen implemented their personal agendas and sometimes those of the broader community of black Americans using the institution of the militia to carve out a political, economic, and social place for themselves and the race within the colony, state, or nation-state.
Black Militias Reimaging: Disfranchisement, Defense, and Status
In Georgia and in other black militia traditions in the United States, black militia service was notable for its direct association with the state governmental revocation of the black right to vote, the rise of white assaults on black rights, and antiblack violence. This occurred during the early and late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Disfranchisement in the 1820s in Rhode Island, for example, coincided with a violent assault upon black home-ownership rights, political participation, and status within the state. The service of the black militia in the 1840s, which restored order in Rhode Island after white laborers revolted, resulted in the restoration of black suffrage rights and status. In the late nineteenth-century South nearly sixty years later, North Carolina black militiamen and African American volunteers rallied to defend the nation during the Spanish-American War, the Cuban War of Independence, and the Philippine-American War. Black political power in North Carolina had resulted in the election of Republican governor Daniel Russell. His “political debts to African Americans ran deep and wide,” to the point that “he wanted to include black volunteer troops in the state’s [war] mobilization quotas.” Russell more than successfully lobbied the federal government “for (p.21) authorization to create a black battalion” commanded by black officers. This circumstance was repeated in only two other states, Kansas and Illinois, where black political power also successfully influenced the thinking and actions of the governors to authorize the marshaling of black troops and to sanction black officers to lead the units. The resulting black troop recruiting campaign in North Carolina created the Third North Carolina Volunteer Regiment.36
While North Carolinians of all races celebrated the valor and commitment of the Third North Carolina in the spring of 1898, by the fall of 1898, with the Democratic Party controlling state government, the rationale for having black troops had dramatically changed. Members of North Carolina’s Democratic Party “invert[ed] the patriotic symbolism of a black man in uniform” from a gallant patriot to the threatening specter of “imposters as sheep in wolves’ clothing.” Further, in “October, when the [Democratic Party’s] white supremacy campaign centralized the party line and asserted that blacks were incapable of voting and office holding,” black political influence was no longer a positive in the state and instead constituted a threat to the Democratic Party’s commitment to whiteness. To cement the power of white supremacy “[w]hites infantilized” the black soldiers of the Third North Carolina Volunteer Regiment as “children in cowboy costumes” playing at soldiering.37 White supremacy’s political triumph and rewriting of militia history was followed, in November 1898, by an antiblack race riot in Wilmington, North Carolina, disfranchisement, and the dismantling of the black militia. Each of these antiblack acts occurred as the twentieth century dawned and as Jim Crow segregation emerged as the new system and culture intended to regulate the industrial capitalism now triumphant across the South and the United States. In parallel, white Georgians had also begun what would be a ten-year discussion concerning whether black militiamen were cost effective, reliable, and worthy of the title and whether black officers’ rank made them soldiers deserving of white respect. In Cuba, North Carolina, and Georgia, black political recognition, power, and presence in their communities had helped bring the militia into existence. Detractors with official power and political clout questioned black power and African descendant militia service in a changing late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century world.
The nineteenth century had nurtured black militia service across the Western Hemisphere. African-descendant people had used the black militia—an institution created by whites to defend whites in the absence of the regular military—as one way to secure black freedom. The search (p.22) for freedom within nineteenth-century slave societies had been opened by black militia service. Throughout the Americas, black militiamen used sustained militia service as the vehicle that would, first, secure them recognized citizenship and a more stable place in society; second, provide them with access to respectability and status within white-controlled institutional structures; and third, help black men realize their definitions of manhood, through military service to the state and to their race, with an accompanying feeling of belonging as a member of the colony or new nation-state. African-descendant militiamen viewed themselves as real men, even as white authorities debated whether to disband black militia companies. In late nineteenth-century Georgia, the search for freedom would be performed by two kinds of militia units: independent units and state-sponsored units. The Civil War and black military service had transformed a divided state into a nation in search of its self, and black people mobilized to be a part of that search.
(1.) For Benjamin Davis’s philosophy, see The Atlanta Independent 1904–1928; Gregory Mixon, “The Making of a Political Boss: Henry A. Rucker, 1897–1904,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 89 (Winter 2005): 485–504; Gregory Mixon, “The Political Career of Henry A. Rucker: A Survivor in a New South City,” Atlanta History: A Journal of Georgia and the South 45 (Summer 2001): 4–26; “Captain Jesse Jones,” Atlanta Independent, May 7, 1904. For the relationship militiamen had with their community during the nineteenth century and how that relationship changed at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, see Eleanor L. Hannah, “From the Dance Floor to the Rifle Range: The Evolution of Manliness in the National Guards, 1870–1917,” The Journal of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era 6, no. 2 (April 2007): 149–177, especially, 155, 157–160, 165, 169–170, 173, 175; hereafter cited as “Dance Floor.”
(3.) See Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow (New York: Vintage Books, 1998); Steven Hahn, A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South From Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 2003). For the rise of white supremacy, Jim Crow segregation, lynchings, and mob violence and the repression of the black quest for inclusion and citizenship, see Gregory Mixon, The Atlanta Riot: Race, Class, and Violence in a New South City (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005).
(5.) See “An Amusing Book,” Atlanta Constitution, August 28, 1904; “At Manassas—Lieut. Vanderbilt was Overcome by the Heat,” Atlanta Constitution, September 8, 1904; “Private Jimmy Writes of Political Dysentery—‘The Only Hero Was a Georgia Boy Who (p.344) Refused to Salute a Nigger,’” Atlanta Constitution, September 11, 1904; Gregory Mixon, “Constructing Atlanta’s Auditorium-Armory, 1904–1909: The Public and Private and Race,” unpublished manuscript, 1–37, in possession of the author.
(6.) Theodore D. Jervey, The Slave Trade: Slavery and Color (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), v–vi, 183–185.
(7.) For a detailed history of this African American militiaman and his political career, see John David Smith, Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and the American Negro (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002).
(8.) For a discussion of the issues of white and black power after the Civil War, see Henry W. Grady, The New South Writings and Speeches of Henry Grady (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1971), 11, 20–24, 47–52, 73–85, 91–92, 95, 99–101, 105, 136–140; Ferald J. Bryan, Henry Grady or Tom Watson? The Rhetorical Struggle for the New South, 1880–1890 (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1994); Lawrence Friedman, The White Savage: Racial Fantasies in the Postbellum South (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970), chapter 3; Paul M. Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Myth Making (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970), 124–125, 130–135, 140; Mixon, Atlanta Riot, 1; Ben H. Severance, Tennessee’s Radical Army: The State Guard and Its Role in Reconstruction, 1867–1869 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005), 119; The Union and Dispatch was quoting a black man. My thanks go to Mr. Kerry Wilson, who suggested the farmer image.
(9.) Otis Singletary, Negro Militia and Reconstruction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1957); Otis Singletary, “The African American Militia during Radical Reconstruction,” in Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865–1917, ed. Bruce A. Glasrud, 19–33 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011). Hereafter cited as “African American Militia.”
(11.) Ibid., vii–viii, 15–16, 35, 145, 151–152; “African American Militia,” 20–23, 26. On the evolution of scholarship “focused on the actions of whites and of white institutions in creating and maintaining a system of white supremacy” in contradistinction to black agency, see Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Unequal Freedom: How Race and Gender Shaped American Citizenship and Labor (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), chapter 4.
(15.) Elsa Barkley Brown, “To Catch the Vision of Freedom: Reconstructing Southern Black Women’s Political History, 1865–1880,” in African American Women and the Vote, 1837–1965, ed. Ann D. Gordon, Bettye Collier Thomas, John H. Bracey, 66–98 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997), especially 66–67, 69, 71, 74–76; Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Freedom’s Seekers: Essays on Comparative Emancipation (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014), chapters 1–2, 6; Jeffrey R. Kerr-Ritchie, Rites of August First: Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), chapters 3–7; Glenn, Unequal Freedom, chapter 4, especially 95–96, 127–128.
(17.) See Severance, 143–145, 176–177, 229–233; Samuel B. McGuire, “The Making of a Black Militia Company: New Bern Troops in the Kirk-Holden War, 1870,” The North Carolina Review 91, no. 3 (July 2014): 288–322, especially 314–317, 320; James K. Hogue, Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 192–194; Rebecca J. Scott, “Fault Lines, Color Lines, and Party Lines: Race, Labor, and Collective Action in Louisiana and Cuba, 1862–1912,” in Beyond Slavery: Explorations of Race, Labor, and Citizenship in Postemancipation Societies, ed. Frederick Cooper, Thomas C. Holt, Rebecca J. Scott, 61–106 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000); and Rebecca J. Scott, Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba After Slavery (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 2005).
(19.) Eleanor L. Hannah, Manhood, Citizenship and the National Guard: Illinois, 1870–1917 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007), introduction. See also Glenn, Unequal Freedom, chapters 1–4, 7. For the white response to capital industrialization during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, see Grace Elizabeth Hale, Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890–1940 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), introduction and chapter 3; Nathan Cardon, “The South’s ‘New Negroes’ and African American Visions of Progress at the Atlanta and Nashville International Expositions, 1895–1897,” Journal of Southern History 80, no. 2 (May 2014): 290; and Glenn, Unequal Freedom, chapters 3–4.
(20.) Roger D. Cunningham, The Black Citizen-Soldiers of Kansas, 1864–1901 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008). For Illinois, see Hannah, Manhood, and for North Carolina, see Glenda E. Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996), 78–80.
(21.) See Gregory Mixon, “‘Merecemos tratamiento mejor’: Auge y Caida de las Milcias Negros en el Hemisferio Occidental durante el siglo XIX,” [“We deserve better treatment”: The Rise and Fall of the Militia in the Nineteenth Century Western Hemisphere] Boletin Americanista 64, no. 1 (2014): 55–76; George Reid Andrews, Afro-Latin America, 1800–2000 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), chapters 2–3; Kerr-Ritchie, Freedom’s Seekers, chapters 1, 2, 6; Kerr-Ritchie, August First, chapters 3–7; Roger Norman Buckley, Slaves in Red Coats: The British West Indies Regiments, 1795–1815 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), chapters 1–2, 4, 6, conclusion.
(22.) Ben Vinson III, Bearing Arms for His Majesty: The Free-Colored Militia in Colonial Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 1–2, chapter 6.
(26.) Andrews, Afro-Latin America, 8–9, 11, 46, 87–89, 94, 107–108; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1961), vii.
(p.346) (27.) Hendrik Kraay, “The Politics of Race in Independence-Era Bahia: The Black Militia Officers of Salvador, 1790–1840,” in Afro-Brazilian Culture and Politics: Bahia, 1790s to 1990s, ed. Hendrik Kraay, 30–56 (Armonk, N.Y,: M. E. Sharpe, 1998), especially 30, 37–40, 43.
(29.) Philip A. Howard, Changing History: Afro-Cuban Cabildos and Societies of Color in the Nineteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998), 17–48, for the militia and cabildo, and 57–77, for the cabildo; Matt D. Childs, The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 96–118.
(31.) Michele Reid-Vazquez, The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 117–119; Jane G. Landers, Atlantic Creoles in the Age of Revolutions (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2010), 7–14. See also Childs, 1812 Aponte Rebellion, 71, 77, 79, 82–96.
(35.) See Ada Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999); Aline Helg, Our Rightful Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1995). For the evolution of Afro-Cuban status, see Howard, Changing History, chapters 7–epilogue. For the “culture of segregation,” see Hale, Making Whiteness, chapter 3.
(36.) Robert J. Cottrol, The Afro-Yankees: Providence’s Black Community in the Antebellum Era (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982), chapters 2 and 3; Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow, 78–80. For the positive influence of black political power and militia service during the War of 1898, see Hannah, Manhood, chapter 5; Eleanor L. Hannah, “A Place in the Parade: Citizenship, Manhood, and African American Men in the Illinois National Guard, 1870–1917.” In Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865–1917, ed. Bruce A. Glasrud, 86–111 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011); Cunningham, Black Citizen-Soldiers of Kansas, chapter 7.