Reconstruction followed the Civil War, but as soon as northern troops were pulled out of the south for other wars and military operations, southern politicians and businessmen soon put their feudal system back into place, a system which ensured that, no matter what blacks did to improve their education and status in life, they were still viewed as less human than whites. The so-called “Jim Crow” laws and other policies used widely across the south established a system of “separate but equal” establishments and services for whites and blacks. The truth of the matter was, however, that the separate systems for blacks were not equal to the quality of systems for whites. In most places in the south, blacks could not vote, were not guaranteed a fair trial if accused of crimes, often did not even receive “due process of law” in which they were afforded certain rights after arrest, were not treated equally by the law and courts, and were not given equal access to public services and commercial establishments.
It is hard to fathom in our modern day and age that such a system would ever exist, but such racist policy was not peculiar to America. Indians, inspired and led by Mahatma Ghandi and others, also fought and won the right to self-rule from the sometimes brutal colonial authority of Great Britain, under which Indians in their very own native country, no less, were often treated as less than equal, as inferior to the white rulers of their country. Moreover, the Hindu caste system, the disenfranchisement and subordinate status of women, and other such systemic problems in India created a stratified society in which only certain privileged people were treated as equal and deserving of dignity, full human rights, due process of law, and the right to vote for political leaders. Furthermore, many of us can remember, in our lifetime, the struggle of native South Africans against the colonial system of Apartheid. It was against just such an unfair and unequal system in America that civil rights leaders were fighting against, and one of the tools they used most effectively was civil disobedience, an act of defiance against unjust laws that Henry David Thoreau made famous in his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience.”
More on this tomorrow. I pray that you will all thank God that we live in a free country today where all people are free, created equal by our Loving God, and treated equal under the law.