Following the collapse of Reconstruction, African Americans created a broad-based independent political movement in the South: Black Populism.
Between 1886 and 1898 Black farmers, sharecroppers, and agrarian laborers organized their communities to combat the rising tide of Jim Crow laws. As Black Populism asserted itself and grew into a regional force, it met fierce resistance from the white planter and business elite that, through the Democratic Party and its affiliated network of courts, militias, sheriffs, and newspapers, maintained tight control of the region. Violence against Black Populism was organized through the Ku Klux Klan, among other white terrorist organizations designed to halt or reverse the advance of black civil and political rights.
Despite opposition, Black Populists carried out a wide range of activities:
Black Populism found early expression in various agrarian organizations, including the Colored Agricultural Wheels, the southern Knights of Labor, the Cooperative Workers of America, and the Colored Farmers Alliance. However, facing the limitations in attempting to implement their reforms absent of engaging the electoral process, Black Populists helped to launch the People’s Party and used the then left-of-centre Republican Party in fusion campaigns. (Today though, after the Republican Party moved to the right, and the Democratic Party in the South was abandoned by the White Populist Dixiecrats who had opposed integration in the 1960s, most African Americans who vote cast ballots for Democratic Party candidates).
By the late 1890s, under relentless attack – propaganda campaigns warning of a “second Reconstruction” and “Negro rule,” physical intimidation, violence, and assassinations of leaders and foot soldiers – the movement was crushed. A key figure in the attack on Black Populism was Ben Tillman, the leader of South Carolinas white farmers movement. As realistic politicians, the Southern Populist knew that they had only two possible alternatives in the fight against the