NYU Black Renaissance Noire Fall 2015 Volume 15.2 - Page 90

m Chester A. Arthur Chester A. Arthur was a New York attorney who became the 21st President of the United States due to tragedy. He had been elected Vice President and assumed the presidency when James Garfield became the second American president to be assassinated. 88 By the time Arthur became president, the Reconstruction Era had been over for five years. As a result the remnants of the leadership of the Confederate States of America rose again wearing the uniform of Democrats. The supporters of the Republicans were mostly former slaves and the Democrats immediately and successfully disenfranchised them for almost a hundred years. Given the weakness of the southern Republicans President Arthur sought to build a coalition with the Readjuster Party, a short-lived political movement that pursued a progressive agenda in the South, including the funding education for blacks and whites along with the abolition of the poll tax and the whipping post. For a time the Readjuster Party was seen as being the political vehicle that could provide blacks in the South some level of protection and support and Arthur’s support was important. Nevertheless, the platform of the Readjusters was not sustainable in the South and it disappeared. To make matters worse for black Americans, in 1883 the Supreme Court of the United States declared the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. President Arthur expressed his disapproval of this court decision but was unable to get Congress to pass any laws in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. Perhaps President Arthur’s most notable act regarding race was to overturn the court martial of black West Point cadet Johnson Whitaker on the grounds that the case was illegal and based on racism. Arthur’s actions were as remarkable as the reality of racism at West Point was unremarkable.