ABSTRACT

By the mid-1870s, black Americans’ prospects for a place of equality and respect in the United States had begun a long downward trajectory. That slide did not hit bottom until the mid-twentieth century. The March 4, 1877, inauguration of President Rutherford B. Hayes, made possible by Republican Party pledges to withdraw the last US army troops from the former Confederate states, marked the end of Reconstruction. In fact, during President Ulysses S. Grant’s second term, Reconstruction efforts had largely been thwarted by the Democratic Party majority elected to the House of Representatives in the 1874 midterm elections. While President Hayes vetoed a number of congressional bills designed to impede black voting, continuing Democratic domination of Congress blocked any efforts the president made to protect blacks. After Hayes, decades of presidential passivity-or worse-hostile congresses and regressive Supreme Court decisions combined with national indifference to enable the almost complete disenfranchisement of blacks, the emergence of repressive Jim Crow laws, and increasing marginalization of African Americans. There were, however, twice moments of hope with the ascension to the presidency of two dynamic personalities, Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 and Woodrow Wilson in 1913. African Americans had reason to be optimistic about presidential support from both Roosevelt and Wilson. They were sorely disappointed. Nor did the man who served in the White House between them, William Howard Taft, contribute to their struggle.