Some 2,000 Black people were killed from 1865 to 1876, during the Reconstruction era, the result of a widespread effort to use white supremacist terror to maintain economic, political and social control over newly emancipated Black people, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. This reign of terror worked to stamp out any semblance of Black progress after slavery, working hand in hand with oppressive Jim Crow laws that enforced legal segregation throughout the country for decades.
A white man is accused of continuing this legacy of white supremacist terror on Saturday when he allegedly traveled to a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, and killed 10 people, most of them Black.
Experts say his act was not episodic or unprecedented, but is part of America’s violent history of using racial terror to intimidate and exert power over Black people. In the days since the shooting, conversations about hate crimes and gun control have consumed the nation. But experts say the Buffalo shooting must be viewed within the context of both historical racist backlash to Black existence and the white supremacist violence that has increasingly become normalized in the country today. The Buffalo shooting, experts say, is not a dangerous turning point for the country, but a continuation of the broad violence Black people in the U.S. have experienced for centuries.
“This is the product of America’s culture of violence, its deeply entrenched racism,” said Bernard Powers, director of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston and the College of Charleston’s academic liaison for the Universities Studying Slavery consortium. The shooting “cannot be separated from it. It’s the product of the unwillingness of most white Americans to deal with and address white supremacy and white supremacist tendencies in their own communities.”
Gendron’s allegedly wrote that he was radicalized on 4chan due to boredom during the early months of the pandemic in 2020. But this theory is not native to 4Chan — Manisha Sinha, an American and African American history professor at the University of Connecticut, said its origins stretch back even further, to slavery and the Reconstruction era. Although fear of Black autonomy and power in the country has long existed, “great replacement” began to take shape as a definitive theory in the late 19th century.
“This is an idea that was organized at the height of Jim Crow and scientific racism,” Sinha said. “You have a situation where people in the post-war South just cannot accept the idea of people of African descent as equal citizens and fellow citizens in the republic. This kind of racist opposition to Black rights and Black citizenship is one of the long, lingering legacies and afterlife of slavery in this country. So you have this huge campaign of racist terror.”