Between Reconstructions: Congressional Action on Civil Rights, 1891-1940

Prior analyses of congressional action on the issue of black civil rights have typically examined either of the two major Reconstructions. Our paper attempts to fill the large five-decade black box between the end of the First Reconstruction and the beginning of the Second, routinely skipped over in scholarship on Congress, parties, and racial politics. Using a variety of sources—bill-introduction data, statements by members in the Congressional Record, roll-call votes, and newspaper reports, among others—we challenge the common assumption that civil rights largely disappeared from the congressional agenda between 1891 and 1940, documenting instead the continued contestation over racial issues in Congress. By examining several failed anti-lynching initiatives, this article uncovers a largely untold story about how and when the Republican and Democratic Parties reorganized around race, finding that the realignment began earlier than is commonly understood.