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Post-Civil War Era

(1866-1949)

Lost Cause Ideology and the Reconstruction

History Text for Children

Title page from "A History of Virginia for Boys and Girls" by John W. Wayland. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1920. First edition.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

Title page from 'A History of Virginia for Boys and Girls' by John W. Wayland.

Following the Civil War, the idea of the “Lost Cause” began to emerge. Among the key aspects of Lost Cause ideology were beliefs that the Civil War was not fought over slavery and that the South was doomed to fail in the conflict yet fought anyway. During Reconstruction, much literature emerged promulgating these ideas. One can see Lost Cause mentality in booklets like one collected by Special Collections titled Acts of Kings, published in 1868 by G. L. CarletonThis propaganda portrays the North as being “like unto locusts, so exceeding great that they could not be outnumbered” while the South was doomed to fail as they were “valiant, but few in number.” As this ideology went uncontested for so long, it became cemented into Southern society. Textbooks for children, like John W. Wayland’s A History of Virginia for Boys & Girls, first published in 1920, gloss over Reconstruction, instead glorifying the life of Robert E. Lee after the war. Groups dedicated to honoring the South as imagined during the Civil War began to sprout up, often with strong female involvement. Women’s memorial groups for the Confederacy formed, and there were also bands dedicated to performing old rebel songs, such as the Dixie Girls, whose memorabilia is shown in this exhibit. 

Dixie Girls

Photographs and ribbon from a Dixie Girls performance in New Market, Virginia, 1909.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

Photographs and ribbon from a Dixie Girls performance in New Market, Virginia, 1909.

Although the Civil War reconciled the legality of slavery, the Lost Cause continued ideas of racial hierarchy. Propaganda promulgating the Lost Cause also pushed racist caricatures and stereotypes. For example, Acts of Kings, characterizes African Americans as simply a voting block for the Republican party while contributing nothing else. The booklet states of the freed slave, “Yea, [he] shall become utterly unreliable, save as a voter, and the Radical Bureau shall feed him.” This fear of Blacks as voters is directly reflected in the 1902 Virginia Constitution.  The 1902 Virginia Constitution curbed African Americans' ability to vote by purposefully introducing racial segregationist “Jim Crow” laws, such as literacy tests and poll taxes for Black and poor white voters.

Acts of Kings Cover

The acts of kings: a biblical narrative of the acts of the first and second kings of the first province, once Virginia: including the doings of the first and second tycoons of the city of Richmond, from the surrender to the present time. New York: G.W. Carelton, 1868.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

The acts of kings: a biblical narrative of the acts of the first and second kings of the first province, once Virginia: including the doings of the first and second tycoons of the city of Richmond, from the surrender to the present time. New York: G.W. Carelton, 1868.

Acts of Kings Page 26

The acts of kings: a biblical narrative of the acts of the first and second kings of the first province, once Virginia: including the doings of the first and second tycoons of the city of Richmond, from the surrender to the present time. New York: G.W. Carelton, 1868.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

The acts of kings: a biblical narrative of the acts of the first and second kings of the first province, once Virginia: including the doings of the first and second tycoons of the city of Richmond, from the surrender to the present time. New York: G.W. Carelton, 1868.


Lost Cause Seals

Print. Untitled Lost Cause print. Early 20th century.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

Print. Untitled Lost Cause print. Early 20th century.

The Last Hanging in Augusta County

Summons

Lawrence Spiller Execution Summons for William A. Burnett, 1894.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

Lawrence Spiller Execution Summons for William A. Burnett, 1894.

This is a ticket to the execution of Lawrence Spiller, a biracial or African American man who was charged with the rape and murder of a teenaged white girl named Lottie Rowe. Spiller was executed on June 8th, 1894 after a quick arrest and later a conviction by a mixed-race jury.  His would be the last judicial hanging to occur in Augusta County, Virginia. At the time of his impeding execution, a state newspaper, the Richmond Planet, editorialized that Spiller’s death sentence was not about the races of those involved, but rather about the crimes of rape and murder. They called that any man, whether Black or white, should be hung for the same crime. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, from 1900 to 1999 only African Americans were executed for the crime of rape in Virginia. This fact shows that though many, like the Richmond Planet, were demanding equal treatment and punishment under the law, there was a much heavier hand applied to those who were not white. The execution summons might thus be considered a primary source showing the imbalance of punishment in Virginia regarding African Americans. 

Voter Registration Form

Voter Registration

Samuel E. Ray voter registration certificate, Rockingham County, Virginia, 1905.

Bridgewater College Special Collections

Samuel E. Ray voter registration certificate, Rockingham County, Virginia, 1905.

This is the digitized image of a voting registration form submitted by Samuel E. Ray to the McGahesyville precinct of Rockingham County Virginia, in 1905.  Ray registered to vote as a thirty-year-old teacher.   He registered three years after the new Constitution of Virginia with stringent “Jim Crow” voting laws was codified. 

The voter registration certificate includes a section where the applicant must mark their race.  Ray was African American, and thus subject to a poll tax.  He paid $4.50 along with the form (in today’s money it would be about $140). 

In 1971, a new Virginia Constitution overturned the 1902 Virginia Constitution.  Ratified by popular vote, the 1971 constitution ended the codification of racial discrimination in Virginia voting rights.