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The Department of Justice – From Deep in the Rabbit Hole Looking Up

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

It can be stated unequivocally the DOJ continues to run in the opposite direction from its historical trend today. We are now entering the rabbit hole.

The irony of the history of this country is that it screams its desire to be known even as there are millions of white people who would rather die to ensure the fallacy of white supremacy is sustained; literally willing to take up arms and die as they did when they owned human lives in an attempt to prove superiority. Living within this paradox of people who both deny the existence of a system designed to continue a legacy of denial and discrimination against Black people since the Enslavement to today, yet working vehemently to deny full equality, is the undeniable truth that if they were not working so hard to maintain their self-ascribed superiority, there would be no need for the system of Racism to support it. Black people would be “equal” in all areas of human activity and the ideology of whiteness and superiority would dissolve like snowflakes on a hot vent. Moreover, other supremacy class caste distinctions involving value-based metrics like meritocracy would likely disappear as well, muting the top-down, patriarchal structures of competition and ownership among white males as best of breed.

It is almost laughable in the 21st century that these Racists and supremacists believe Racism only exists as a popularity contest, a culturewar over who hates the other most, rather than as a system that was necessary in order to perpetuate the very notion of any sort of superiority based on an assignment of the colors black and white to the pigments of human skin. The absence of slavery meant potential loss of sovereignty among white men. It is evident they saw crafting Racism as the only way they could ensure little to no competition in any human activity among people they must have gathered were amazingly resilient, not lazy, and fully capable of functioning as a viable community, despite the horrendous atrocities and living conditions they were placed under during the Enslavement.

There is so much rich, important history that is available but not discussed and certainly not taught in the schools. With the threat of book bans, laws and regulations to keep their own history out of schools, if the individual states manage to do what they did during the fall of Reconstruction, the nation may find itself cloistered into individual Jim Crow states reloaded. So many people are completely unaware of attempts to provide full equality, whether in education, justice or employment and labor, that were thwarted in much the same way that the Republican Party is moving to do within the states today.

This essay will examine one area of the Federal government created specifically to help Black people as much as the system of Racism was created specifically to oppress, and why they have vigorously concentrated on state and local government almost religiously in the same way as in the 1870s. It is no secret the white supremacists’ and Racists’ cry for “small government” and “states’ rights” have raged through bullhorns for generations, primarily because these two areas were key to full equality, equity and opportunity for Black people and they know states must cede power to the Federal government or risk civil war.

This is a discussion of the Department of Justice, or the DOJ, part of the Executive Branch of the Federal government. Many may or may not be aware of its original purpose and why it was formed. Created in 1870 during Reconstruction, it was headed by an unlikely character named Amos T. Akerman, who was a former enslaver, a Civil War officer with the Confederacy, and a Democrat. It is important to note for people who do not happen on American history or its politics, and especially those who think its present partisan makeup is the same as it was back some one hundred fifty years ago, Democrats were today’s Republicans, and Republicans were today’s Democrats in relation to their views on Race, and particularly the newly emancipated Black people.

According to Bryan Green, a contributing writer for the Smithsonian Magazine, Ackerman’s mission was much broader than any Attorney General since 1789 when the new Constitution was ratified, and his primary responsibility was:

“…enforcing the 14th and 15th Amendments and new legislation delivering long overdue rights to four million formerly enslaved black men and women. This department’s work on behalf of the emancipated population was so central to its early mission that Akerman established the department’s headquarters in the Freedman’s Savings Bank Building. [1]

The key phrases in those statements are (a) “long overdue rights for four million formerly enslaved men and women,” and its work (b) “on behalf of the emancipated population being so central to its early mission.” The significance of being headquartered in the Freedman’s Savings Bank was clear: created in 1865 by a group of likeminded businessmen religious people and activists in support of Black people, it stood for what they knew would be needed in support of and education for the emancipated people to “become financially secure.” Ackerman was well aware of this and did so obviously as a show of commitment and solidarity.

There are, of course, revisionist historical accounts which state that its purpose was not primarily for the benefit of the newly emancipated and some that attempt to poke holes in its mission. For example, Jed Handelsman Shugerman of the Stanford University Law Review stated:

The founding of the DOJ had less to do with Reconstruction, and more to do with “retrenchment” (budget cutting and anti-patronage reform). [2]

It is interesting to note here that Mr. Shugerman is not incorrect in his overall assessment, except that he missed a central point about white supremacism and how it operated to ensure its continued existence and maintenance, not as a primary mandate of the DOJ at its inception, but as a later conclusion, the ramifications of which we still struggle with today. Mr. Shugerman admitted his interpretation was a new one, stating “the DOJ’s creation runs in the opposite direction from one historical trend.” The “historical” trend is that of its original purpose, which was conceivably to benefit Black people in their quest for full equality. It can be stated unequivocally the DOJ continues to run in the opposite direction from its historical trend today. We are now entering the rabbit hole.

In the 1840s, Ackerman left his party and joined the Republicans, and as a U.S. District Attorney began working on the side of Black people by prosecuting voter intimidation cases in Georgia. He stated:

“Some of us who had adhered to the Confederacy felt it to be our duty when we were to participate in the politics of the Union, to let Confederate ideas rule us no longer….Regarding the subjugation of one race by the other as an appurtenance of slavery, we were content that it should go to the grave in which slavery had been buried.”

This was a most unpopular view for many still tied to the ideology of supremacism upon which their entire lives were centered. However, President Ulysses S. Grant found him to be credible and reliable, and on July 1st, he created the Department of Justice and placed Ackerman as the head, to battle the onslaught of litigation arising out of Reconstruction and the desire to keep Black people disenfranchised. He focused on protecting Black voting rights by attacking the Ku Klux Klan. Under his leadership, the DOJ fought back hundreds of Klansmen from the Southern states. Quoting historian William McFeeley in his book on Ackerman, Green wrote:

“Perhaps no attorney general since his tenure…has been more vigorous in the prosecution of cases designed to protect the lives and rights of black Americans.”

Furthermore, with the passing of the Ku Klux Klan Act, on April 20, 1871, Akerman was given tools which had been heretofore unprecedented in dealing with the Klan. According to Green:

The KKK Act authorized the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which allowed the Justice Department to detain suspected Klan members, keep them in custody, and not immediately bring them to trial. The department could also withhold disclosure of the identities of suspects and the evidence against them, which allowed Akerman to make mass arrests and gather evidence without the parties conspiring with each other. Using these tools, Akerman obtained hundreds of convictions in South Carolina and throughout the South.

Green also recounted a statement made by McFeeley during an interview where he said in order for him to understand the 1960s Civil Rights movement, he studied the 1860s. Clearly anyone could posit that in order to understand this twenty-first century, it will take examination and study of both the 1860s and the 1960s, because the nation is teetering on the precipice of what could easily be determined as another reconstructive fall.

Imagine the ire of the white supremacists over the successful prosecutions of Klansmen and others in support of equality for Black people. It must have enraged them to be detained indefinitely, without the power to regroup. Needless to say, the outrage over the treatment of white men on behalf of Black people must have pressured Grant until he fired Ackerman after just 18 months into his tenure as Attorney General, citing some obscure reasons regarding land deals with railroad barons and the government. This lends to Shugerman’s assessment of the DOJ’s function as budget cutting and anti-patronage reform. Nevertheless, McFeeley placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the nation’s “attachment to white supremacy.” He also said:

“Men from the North as well as the South came to recognize, uneasily, that if he was not halted, his concept of equality before the law was likely to lead to total equality.

McFeeley acknowledged the essence of white supremacism as it existed then by both the North and the South and how it persists today. Ackerman had to be stopped, lest his ideals of “equality before the law” would end their entire ideology of superiority over the millions of emancipated Black people.

Indeed, Walt Whitman, if not a founding father, certainly considered one of the fathers of this nation, equated black citizenship rights in the former “Slave States” as “black domination, but little above the beasts” hoping any lasting vision of equality would never become permanent. He also wrote: “how if the mass of the blacks in freedom in the U.S. all through the ensuing century, should present a yet more terrible and more deeply complicated problem?”[3] Mr. Whitman was, like many white supremacists, against any true equality for people he considered “little above the beasts” and was tired of continued efforts toward those goals as espoused and acted upon by Ackerman.

Today, the mission of the Department of Justice is exactly like Shugerman’s Law Review article details and not at all the bastion of civil rights envisioned by Ackerman. Rather than an entire Department laser focused on litigating the rights of enfranchisement and justice, it has been watered down considerably to a small division within the body of the agency with little to no power to do anything unless the Attorney General agrees. Moreover, with the appointment of Merrick Garland, a member of the white supremacist group, Federalist Society, the DOJ guarantees there will be little to no prosecution or adjudication at the Federal level without first jumping through the myriad of “legal” barriers strategically placed in the way, systemically, institutionally Racist . Therefore, this nation may continue to be mired in its paradox of feigned superiority at the expense of Black people, all for an egotistical fallacy they created generations ago.


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