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Ideas Surrounding Segregation

During the seventeenth century, when Europeans arrived in what later became the United States, the intellectual ideas that supported the segregation of people of European descent from the American Indians was predicated on the belief that Europeans were culturally superior. The idea that education and conversion to Christianity could civilize American Indians was abandoned because they were thought to be biologically different from whites. The segregation of American Indians must be understood in economic terms. The colonists were in competition with the American Indians for arable land in the North, and planters in the South needed large tracts of land to produce cash crops. The segregation of American Indians was justified in religious terms—God ordained whites to have the land. John Winthrop and John Cotton contended that the diseases that killed many American Indians in New England were sent by God and that this cleared the way for the whites to possess the land. The political architects who ensured the segregation of American Indians were the "founding fathers" (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe). The segregation of American Indians was justified on cultural and legal grounds by the ideology of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson—both believed that American Indians were children and savages who could not survive in the larger society.

Before slavery was abolished in the United States, ideas among African-American intellectuals about segregation were mixed. Martin Delany and Edward Blyden believed that people of African descent would never be integrated into American society. Frederick Douglass believed that blacks should remain and fight for their full citizenship rights. Booker T. Washington, the most powerful African-American at the beginning of the twentieth century, endorsed social segregation. He argued that African-Americans should forego political and social equality until they achieved economic equality. At the same time, the most influential African-American intellectual, W. E. B. Du Bois, vehemently opposed Washington's views on segregation. He argued that African-Americans should demand their full economic, political, and social rights and call for an end to all forms of segregation.

The emergence of the Ku Klux Klan following the Civil War illustrated how wedded some whites were to segregation. It was formed in 1866 by Nathan Bedford Forrest, who strongly believed that the South's way of life was being undermined by the northern Republican government and the former slaves. The idea behind the Klan was to reestablish white rule in the South. The Klan was revived in 1915 by William J. Simmons, who espoused the ideas of patriotism, Protestantism, traditional American values, and American nativism. Simmons's Klan was revived within the context of large influxes of immigrants who were not Protestant or Anglo-Saxon. The Klan was revived again in 1922 under Hiram Evans, who believed white American values needed to be preserved. Later figures associated with the Klan who espoused the values of nativism and white supremacy included Robert Shelton during the 1950s and David Duke in the 1980s and 1990s.

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