Lily-white movement

The Lily-White Movement was an anti-civil-rights movement within the Republican Party in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement was a response to the political and socioeconomic gains made by African-Americans following the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated slavery.

During Reconstruction, following the U.S. Civil War, black leaders in Texas and around the country gained increasing influence in the Republican Party by organizing blacks as an important voting bloc via Union Leagues and the biracial Black-and-tan faction of the Republicans. Conservative whites attempted to eliminate this influence and recover white voters who had defected to the Democratic Party. The effort was largely successful in eliminating African-American influence in the Republican Party leading to black voters predominantly migrating to the Democratic Party for much of the 20th century.

The term lily-white movement was coined by Texas Republican leader Norris Wright Cuney, who used the term in an 1888 Republican convention to describe efforts by white conservatives to oust blacks from positions of Texas party leadership and incite riots to divide the party.[1] The term came to be used nationally to describe this ongoing movement as it further developed in the early 20th century,[2] including through the administration of Herbert Hoover. Localized movements began immediately after the war but by the beginning of the 20th century the effort had become national.

According to author and professor Michael K. Fauntroy, "the 'Lily-White Movement' is one of the darkest, and under-examined [sic], eras of American Republicanism."[3][4]


Immediately following the war all of the Southern states enacted "Black Codes," laws intended specifically to curtail the rights of the newly freed slaves. Many Northern states enacted their own "Black Codes" restricting or barring black immigration.[5] The Civil Rights Act of 1866, however, nullified most of these laws and the federal Freedman's Bureau was able to regulate many of the affairs of Southern blacks, who were granted the right to vote in 1867. Groups such as the Union League and the Radical Republicans sought total equality and complete integration of blacks into American society. The Republican Party itself held significant power in the South during Reconstruction because of the federal government's role.[6]

During Reconstruction, Union Leagues were formed across the South after 1867 as all-black working auxiliaries of the Republican Party. They were secret organizations that mobilized freedmen to register to vote and to vote Republican. They discussed political issues, promoted civic projects, and mobilized workers opposed to certain employers. Most branches were segregated but there were a few that were racially integrated. The leaders of the all-black units were mostly urban blacks from the North, who had never been slaves. Historian Eric Foner reports:[7]

By the end of 1867 it seemed that virtually every black voter in the South had enrolled in the Union League, the Loyal League, or some equivalent local political organization. Meetings were generally held in a black church or school.

— Eric Foner, Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century

During the 19th century numerous African Americans were elected to the United States Congress, all members of the Republican Party. In the South the party was a voting coalition of Freedmen (freed slaves), Carpetbaggers (recent arrivals from the North), and Scalawags (Southern whites, especially men who had been Unionists in the War). In Texas, blacks comprised 90% of the party members during the 1880s.[8] The first black senator was Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi. The first black representative was John Willis Menard of Louisiana. Over the course of the century, an additional black senator (from Mississippi) would be elected and more than 20 black representatives would be elected from Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Blacks held other powerful political positions in government. P. B. S. Pinchback was elected lieutenant governor of Louisiana and even served briefly as governor. Pierre Caliste Landry became mayor of Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Edward Duplex became mayor of Wheatland, California.

In the South the Republican party gradually came to be known as "the party of the Negro."[9] In Texas, for example, blacks made 90% of the party during the 1880s.[10] The Democratic party increasingly came to be seen by many in the white community as the party of respectability.[9] The first Ku Klux Klan targeted violence against black Republican leaders and seriously undercut the Union League.[11]

In the 1870s through early 1890s, Democrats in Southern states used various methods to suppress the vote of blacks, largely intimidation, violence and fraud.[citation needed] Republicans responded by challenging the election results and overturning them in order to count the votes of blacks.[citation needed] This was much more successful when Republicans held an uncontested majority of the US House than otherwise.[citation needed]

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