Film / TVRace

hbo’s ‘confederate’ & amazon’s ‘black america’ both minimize the massive injustices the u.s. were founded on

August 8, 2017
By Nick Douglas*, AFROPUNK Contributor

The premise of HBO’s forthcoming Confederate is that it is a “what if” show where The Confederacy won the Civil War and slavery is institutionalized.

But this fictional premise is not so far from the actual reality of post-Civil War America.

During Reconstruction, the brief 12-year period following the Civil War, blacks were granted freedom by the 13th Amendment, equal protection under the law by the 14th Amendment, and the right to vote by the 15th Amendment. But these gains were reversed after 1876, with the pull-out of federal troops from the South.

Black Americans were virtually re-enslaved by Jim Crow, Black Codes and institutionalized discrimination. Former Confederate soldiers and their sympathizers were allowed to regain control of state legislatures. The right to vote for black Americans was taken away by enacting poll taxes, grandfather clauses and literacy tests. Black Codes were passed to limit the movement of black Americans, to limit their right to bear arms, to testify and serve in courts.

What rights that weren’t legislated away were taken away by intimidation and murder at the hands of racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Riders, tactics also used on Mexican Americans and Native Americans. Lynching was unpunished in thousands of documented cases, with unrecorded cases also likely in the thousands. From the 1880s to 1940s, mobs of white Americans inflicted wanton destruction upon black neighborhoods and property, in cities with large black populations like New York, Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans. Not until the Civil Rights Movement led to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act in 1965 did legislation begin to protect the rights of black citizens again.

Better Than Fiction—A“What If” Scenario From The Pages of Black History

In 1866 two white legislators, Senator Charles Sumner and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, submitted legislation to Congress to prohibit political participation and office holding by former Confederate soldiers and sympathizers and to guarantee and enforce full civil rights for all freed slaves.

Charles Sumner

Thaddeus Stevens

Entertaining the idea of this actual proposal from American history is better than HBO’s fiction. How much suffering, inequality and injustice could have been prevented or reversed if this legislation had passed? That would make a wonderful “what if” TV program.

Amazon’s Black America

The premise of Amazon’s forthcoming Black America is a “what if” scenario where black Americans receive three of the United States as payment of reparations for slavery. With these three states they form their own country, “Black America,” which then has a tumultuous relationship with a larger “White America.”

Many of us are familiar with the struggles and successes of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. But Black Americans and other people of color have been leading a tumultuous relationship with the white settlers even before the first slaves arrived in the 1620s. As early as 1526, slaves and Native Americans who had become hostile to Spanish settlers near the Pedee River in present-day South Carolina combined forces to wipe out the Spanish colonists. This was the first in a series of thousands of revolts and by people of color that continued throughout colonial and U.S. history.

Amazon’s “what if” scenario, assigning black Americans to a separate country to resolve the conflicts of slavery, is eerily similar to plans once formulated in American history.

More than 200 years ago, on December 21, 1816, an elite group of white males met in Washington, D.C. to form the American Colonization Society (ACS). “Colonization” consisted of helping free people of color emigrate from the U.S. to Africa.

The ACS comprised two diametrically opposed groups: abolitionists and clergy, and slaveholders and racists. The abolitionists and clergy favored emigration for free people of color as a way for them to actually achieve racial justice, by forming their own society in Africa. The other group favored emigration for free people of color as a way to continue slavery in the U.S.  This second group believed by removing free people of color from the U.S., they would no longer be a threat to agitate against slavery or help slaves revolt. (Later Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator himself, would join this second group.)

The ACS with the help of the U.S. government purchased land for the colony in present-day Liberia, in Africa. Over the course of more than a hundred years, only 13,000 black Americans emigrated to Liberia. The ACS and its mission was a double failure. It did not alleviate the race problem in the U.S. nor prolong slavery.

American immigrants to Liberia were not accepted by the indigenous people. Local indigenous tribes continually attacked the first Liberian settlers.  Liberia has had internal conflicts throughout its history between the indigenous population and the descendants of Americans sent there. A failed domestic policy, sending black Americans to a separate country, also turned into a failed foreign policy.

Better Than Fiction—A“What If” Scenario From The Pages of Black History

In Amazon’s “what if” scenario, black Americans received land as reparations payment for slavery. But when the ACS purchased land for black Americans before the Civil War, it was not for reparations but rather to solve the “race” problem by shipping black Americans out of the U.S.

In 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman actually granted 400,000 acres of land to newly freed slaves in South Carolina and Georgia with Special Field Order 15. The allotments were in 40-acre plots plus one surplus Army mule to each plot (the source of “40 acres and a mule”).  The order was nullified by President Andrew Johnson the next year. In 1866, Senator Charles Sumner and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens submitted legislation to Congress proposing reparations payments to black Americans. Representative John Conyers of Michigan has been consistently fighting for a congressional hearing on reparations since 1989. So far he has not been able to get Congress to even have a hearing on the matter.

General William Tecumseh Sherman

In Amazon’s Black America, black Americans receive three of the United States as reparations payment for slavery. Yet slavery, discrimination and Jim Crow are estimated to have generated one-quarter of all the wealth of the U.S.—estimates go as high as $24 trillion. (That’s 24,000 billion.) To be a reasonable “what if” scenario, reparations would have to encompass 12 states or more.

Until 1776 in the British colonies and 1763 in the Louisiana Territory it was legal to enslave Native Americans. Reparations for Native American enslavement, along with all the treaties and land stolen from the Native Americans if tallied up and totaled with estimated reparations owed to black Americans would leave a small sliver of land for “White America.” Maybe a more appropriate “what if” show would be to put white Americans in 3 states.

These two forthcoming shows minimize the massive injustices this country was founded on. Rather than consuming these corporate fictions, we can get to know the “what if” scenarios actually provided by Black History. We can seriously entertain the policies of equity and equality that heroic patriots like Gen. Sherman and Sen. Sumner once championed. Or the present day calls for Congressional hearings on reparations by Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.

*Nick Douglas is the author of Finding Octave: The Untold Story of Two Creole Families and Slavery in Louisiana and the forthcoming book Reclaiming Black History: Finding Admirable Ancestors, a Wealth of Heroism and Traits that Shatter Defeatist Clichés. You can contact him at
*Names and bios of ACS members who promoted emigration with the aim to continue slavery:
These included Rev. Robert Findley, Presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, Bushrod Washington, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster.
Both Jackson and James Monroe held slaves while serving as president. Jackson faced fierce criticism during his presidential campaign because he was a slave trader. Bushrod Washington was the nephew of President George Washington and a slaveholder like his uncle.
Henry Clay, a slaveholder from Kentucky, had a long career in politics in the House, Senate and as Secretary of State. Clay had a hand in numerous compromises that forestalled the Civil War, including the 1820 and 1850 Compromises. He was known as the “The Great Compromiser.” He was idolized by Abraham Lincoln, who later became an advocate of emigration for free people of color.
*Lincoln’s statement about black people
In 1858 during his fourth 4th debate with Steven Douglas, Lincoln made a statement  clearly described his viewpoint.
“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”