|As Ida Wells pointed out in the
introduction to her lynching report, A Red Record, when blacks were no longer
enslaved, they posed a threat to the political and economic supremacy that whites had
claimed for their own. In 1884, when Grover Cleveland became the first democratic
president elected since the Civil War, there was much concern among the black leadership.
But President Cleveland steered "dead center" with respect to black civil
rights, making few changes at all (R. Logan 61). It was during the term of Republican
president Benjamin Harrison, the second term of Cleveland, and the first term of William
McKinley - the period from 1889 to 1901 - that blacks felt most severely the Southern
Democrats' counterattacks against legislative efforts to improve their condition. In 1896,
with Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court made legal the doctrine of separate
but equal. Mobile, Alabama, established a 10:00 P.M. curfew for blacks. Black people were
disfranchised through grandfather clauses attached to literacy and property tests. George
H. White, the last black congressman of the post- Reconstruction era, completed his term
in 1901, at the end of McKinley's first administration.
As one of the respondents to the query "The Democratic Return to Power - Its Effect?" in the fall 1884 issue of AME Church Review, Frances Harper advised that black people concentrate less on external politics and more on developing internal moral and spiritual resources: "If for the next twenty years the colored people take no feverish interest in the success or failure of manhood, and a tender, strong and true womanhood, we can afford to wait for political strength while developing moral and spiritual power" (223). Harper's was not a call for accommodation but an appeal for self-improvement in the midst of adversity.
As if in response to such advice, black public intellectuals turned inward, partially in the belief that middle-class respectability would eventually make the masses more acceptable to whites. But racial uplift's inward gaze also developed out of the belief that through education, economic independence, and sanitary living conditions, black people could thrive.