Charlotte NC was an integrated city in 1890. Then poor whites and blacks started banding together politically into a “fusion party”. In response, the white elite enacted segregation laws and deed restrictions. Divide and conquer.
“Segregation didn’t just happen,” said Charlotte historian Tom Hanchett. “It was invented.”
Back in the 1890s, Charlotte wasn’t a segregated city — white people and black people lived on the same block all over the city. They mixed together. But all that changed in the early 1900s.
On this week’s CharlotteFive Podcast, Hanchett, the former staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South, explains just how Charlotte became a segregated city.
In the 1890s, the country was rocked by an economic depression. In response, black and white working-class people came together to create a “fusion” party to try to better their situation, Hanchett explains. The white elite — the property owners — didn’t like that, and worked to “end this rule of Negroes and low-class whites,” according to Hanchett.
And so segregation was invented. That’s when you started seeing “white supremacy,” poll taxes and literacy tests, and the separate facilities for white people and black people. And that is what led to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and beyond.
You can still see the remnants of this 1900s segregation by looking at Charlotte’s wedge and crescent: The wedge of wealthy people in south Charlotte and the crescent of high-poverty areas stretching from the west, up to the north and over to the east.
On this week’s podcast, Hanchett dives deep into the story of how Charlotte became segregated, and how it was different than other Southern cities.
For some background reading: Hanchett has written about this issue in his book “Sorting Out the New South City,” and The Atlantic also talked to Hanchett for a story it published recently titled “Segregation Had to Be Invented.”
There are various theories out there, with varying levels of evidence, that the power elite use the strategy of divide and conquer to pit one segment of the population against another: Rodney King riots, rise of gangsta rap, etc. This is a podcast with a historian who explains how it provably happened in Charlotte in the late nineteenth century.
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