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Lynch Law: The Root of US imperialism April 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Human Rights, Imperialism, Race, Racism, Torture, War.
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Roger’s note: there are strong words.  Back in the late 1960s those of us protesting the US aggression in Vietnam were criticized for using the word “fascist” to characterize the U.S. government.  It seemed to many then, as it may seem to many now, that  the use of such language was going overboard.  I disagreed then, and I disagree now.  And believe me, friends, in terms of the kinds of governmental actions that can be described as fascist, we have come a long way since then.

 

Domestic U.S. lynch has morphed into imperialist terrorism. “Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources.”

 

by Danny Haiphong; http://www.blackagendareport.com, April 1, 2014

The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s ‘kill list’ or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a ‘terrorist’ label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its ‘national security.’”

The political and economic foundation of the United States is built on the corpses of legal lynching, or “lynch law.” Without the genocide and enslavement of Black and indigenous peoples, the US capitalist class could not have amassed its profits, wealth, or power. Following the passage of the 13th Amendment that supposedly ended Black chattel slavery at the close of the Civil War, the US capitalist class moved quickly to reorganize the capitalist economy so newly “freed” Blacks would remain enslaved. Convict-leasing, sharecropping, and legalized segregation ensured Black exploitation and white power. These brutal forms of exploitation were kept intact by white terrorism in the form of lynching.

Thousands of Black people were lynched by white supremacists from the end of the Civil War until 1968.  Ho Chi Minh, the first revolutionary president of socialist Vietnam, worked in the US in the mid-1920s and examined the horrors of lynching.  He described the gruesome details of white vigilantes torturing and killing Black people with impunity.  Local law enforcement officials protected white lynch mobs like the KKK and Black Legion and often participated in lynching alongside their white counterparts. ‘Uncle Ho’ states in his work Lyching (1924) that “the principal culprits [of lynching] were never troubled, for the simple reason that they were always incited . . . then protected by the politicians, financiers, and authorities . . . “ It wasn’t until Black people organized themselves to defend and arm their communities that white mobs were forced to curtail their racist murder sprees.

80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law.”

The so-called end of “Jim Crow” racism only changed the form in which Black people would be lynched by the US racist order. The US capitalist class responded to the force of the Black liberation movement by institutionalizing “lynch law” into its criminal injustice system.  Today, some form of law enforcement murders a Black person in this country every 28 hours.  Nearly half of the estimated 3 million US prisoners are Black and nearly all are “people of color.” 80,000 mostly Black prisoners are caged in solitary confinement, which by definition is torture and illegal under international law.  Numerous states in the US have “Stand your ground” laws that allow white supremacists to murder Black people with impunity. Sound familiar? And President Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of US imperialism, is too concerned with pathologizing Black America than forwarding substantive policies that address “lynch law” on behalf of his most loyal constituency.

In this period of heightened exploitation for the oppressed in general and Black America in particular, the propertied classes are becoming increasingly paranoid about the potential for popular unrest. “Lynch law” is becoming the law of the land for the entire populace. A homeless man in Albuquerque, New Mexico was shot dead by local police for being homeless on March 16th.  More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period. The surveillance US imperialism had to conduct in secret on radical dissent in the past has expanded to the entire population through a massive surveillance state of federal intelligence agencies, private contractors, and US multinational corporations. The prospect of being lynched by Obama’s “kill list” or detained under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is just a “terrorist” label away from any American the US government finds a threat to its “national security.”

More US citizens have been murdered by US law enforcement in the last decade than have died in the US invasion of Iraq over the same period.”

“Lynch law” is also a global tactic for US imperialism to maintain its global domination.  Washington uses a nexus of intelligence and military institutions to lynch the world’s people of their lives and resources. This can be examined in specific instances like the thousands of people in the Middle East and Africa murdered by Obama Administration drone strikes or the NATO bombing of Libya that killed tens of thousands and nearly exterminated the Black Libyan population. The CIA has overthrown over 50 foreign governments since the end of World War II. These are just a few important examples of how Washington and its masters, the capitalist class, must lynch the majority of the world’s people to obtain their wealth and power.

The increasing violence, suffering, and social death imposed on oppressed people by US imperialist “lynch law” exposes the bankruptcy of the liberal wing of the capitalist class. Propped up by the corporate media like MSNBC, this self-proclaimed “left” actively participates in bi-partisan lynching in all of its forms to further their careers with the liberal imperialist Democratic Party and the untouchable fascist Commander-in-Chief, Barack Obama. Any movement that depends on this corporate brand of leftism to bring about the end of US lynch law is destined to fail.  A people’s movement for complete justice will have to be led by the struggle of Black America’s oppressed majority and all communities suffering from US fascist rule.  We must spend each day building a movement that empowers oppressed people to demand the power to collectively determine their own destiny. This movement is far from victory’s reach, but each day we fail to act, another exploited human being is lynched by the US imperialist system.

Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager. You can contact Danny at: wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com.

The Gospel of the Penniless, Jobless, Marginalized and Despised January 9, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Poverty, Race, Racism, Religion.
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Roger’s note: I have nothing but respect for those who participate in the struggle for social justice from religious motivation.  But I have serious quarrels with the negative aspects of religion.  Unlike what is suggested in the article below by Chris Hedges in his analysis and interview with James Cone, I see absolutely nothing in common philosophically with the cross and the noose; with those who suffer and those who cause suffering; with those who lynch and those who are lynched.  While I recognize the comfort that oppressed Peoples take from religion, I also recognize the passivity it inspires, the notion that the reward for suffering is in the next (after) life.  I think Karl Marx was spot on, even though his “opiate of the masses” quote is taken out of context and misunderstood.  Here is that quote in context (all the italics are in the original):
Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.  Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.  It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness.  The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions.  The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers from the chain, not in order that man shall bear the chain without caprice or consolation but so that he shall cast off the chain and pluck the living flower.  The criticism of religion disillusions man so that he will think, act and fashion his reality as a man who has lost his illusions and regained his reason; so that he will revolve about himself as his own true  sun.  Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve about himself.
… thus the criticism of heaven is transformed into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics.
Monday 9 January 2012
by: Chris Hedges, Truthdig                 | Book Review

(Photo: Michael Kalus)

“The Cross and the Lynching Tree are separated by nearly two thousand years,” James Cone writes in his new book, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” “One is the universal symbol of the Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy. Despite the obvious similarities between Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of thousands of black men and women strung up to die on a lamppost or tree, relatively few people, apart from the black poets, novelists, and other reality-seeing artists, have explored the symbolic connections. Yet, I believe this is the challenge we must face. What is at stake is the credibility and the promise of the Christian gospel and the hope that we may heal the wounds of racial violence that continue to divide our churches and our society.”

So begins James Cone, perhaps the most important contemporary theologian in America, who has spent a lifetime pointing out the hypocrisy and mendacity of the white church and white-dominated society while lifting up and exalting the voices of the oppressed. He writes out of his experience as an African-American growing up in segregated Arkansas and his close association with the Black Power movement. But what is more important is that he writes out of a deep religious conviction, one I share, that the true power of the Christian Gospel is its unambiguous call for liberation from forces of oppression and for a fierce and uncompromising condemnation of all who oppress.

Cone, who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, writes on behalf of all those whom the Salvadoran theologian and martyr Ignacio Ellacuría called “the crucified peoples of history.” He writes for the forgotten and abused, the marginalized and the despised. He writes for those who are penniless, jobless, landless and without political or social power. He writes for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those who are transgender. He writes for undocumented farmworkers toiling in misery in the nation’s agricultural fields. He writes for Muslims who live under the terror of war and empire in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he writes for us. He understands that until white Americans can see the cross and the lynching tree together, “until we can identify Christ with a ‘recrucified’ black-body hanging from a lynching tree, there can be no genuine understanding of Christian identity in America, and no deliverance from the brutal legacy of slavery and white supremacy.”

“In the deepest sense, I’ve been writing this book all my life,” he said of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” when we spoke recently. “I put my whole being into it. And did not hold anything back. I didn’t choose to write it. It chose me.”

“I started reading about lynching, and reading about the historical situation of the crosses in Rome in the time of Jesus, and then my question was how did African-Americans survive and resist the lynching terror. How did they do it?” [Nearly 5,000 African-American men, women and children were lynched in the United States between 1880 and 1940.] “To live every day under the terror of death. I grew up in Arkansas. I know something about that. I watched my mother and father deal with that. But the moment I read about it, historically, I had to ask how did they survive, how did they keep their sanity in the midst of that terror? And I discovered it was the cross. It was their faith in that cross, that if God was with Jesus, God must be with us, because we’re up on the cross too. And then the other question was, how could white Christians, who say they believe that Jesus died on the cross to save them, how could they then turn around and put blacks on crosses and crucify them just like the Romans crucified Jesus? That was an amazing paradox to me. Here African-Americans used faith to survive and resist, and fight, while whites used faith in order to terrorize black people. Two communities. Both Christian. Living in the same faith. Whites did lynchings on church grounds. How could they do it? That’s where [my] passion came from. That’s where the paradox came from. That’s where the wrestling came from.”

 

“Many Christians embrace the conviction that Jesus died on the cross to redeem humankind from sin,” he said. “Taking our place, they say, Jesus suffered on the cross and gave his life as a ransom for many. The cross is the great symbol of the Christian narrative of salvation. Unfortunately, during the course of 2,000 years of Christian history, the symbol of salvation has been detached from the ongoing suffering and oppression of human beings, the crucified people of history. The cross has been transformed into a harmless, non-offensive ornament that Christians wear around their necks. Rather than reminding us of the cost of discipleship, it has become a form of cheap grace, an easy way to salvation that doesn’t force us to confront the power of Christ’s message and mission.”

Cone’s chapter on Reinhold Niebuhr, the most important Christian social ethicist of the 20th century and a theologian whose work Cone teaches, exposes Niebuhr’s blindness to and tacit complicity in white oppression. Slavery, segregation and the terror of lynching have little or no place in the theological reflections of Niebuhr or any other white theologian. Niebuhr, as Cone points out, had little empathy for those subjugated by white colonialists. Niebuhr claimed that North America was a “virgin continent when the Anglo-Saxons came, with a few Indians in a primitive state of culture.” He saw America as being elected by God for the expansion of empire, and, as Cone points out, “he wrote about Arabs of Palestine and people of color in the Third World in a similar manner, offering moral justification for colonialism.”

Cone reprints a radio dialogue between Niebuhr and writer James Baldwin that took place after the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls. Niebuhr, who spoke in the language of moderation that infuriated figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Baldwin, was disarmed by Baldwin’s eloquence and fire.

Baldwin said:

The only people in this country at the moment who believe either in Christianity or in the country are the most despised minority in it. … It is ironical … the people who were slaves here, the most beaten and despised people here … should be at this moment … the only hope this country has. It doesn’t have any other. None of the descendants of Europe seem to be able to do, or have taken it on themselves to do, what Negros are now trying to do. And this is not a chauvinistic or racial outlook. It probably has something to do with the nature of life itself. It forces you, in any extremity, any extreme, to discover what you really live by, whereas most Americans have been for so long, so safe and so sleepy, that they don’t any longer have any real sense of what they live by. I think they really think it may be Coca-Cola.

“If Niebuhr could ignore it, there must be something defective in that faith itself,” Cone said. “If it weren’t defective then they wouldn’t put black people on crosses. Niebuhr wouldn’t have been silent about it. I look around and see the same thing happening today in the prison industrial complex. You can lynch people by more than just hanging them on the tree. You can incarcerate them. How long will this terror last? I’m Christian. Suffering gives rise to faith. It helps you deal with it. But at the same time suffering contradicts the faith that it gave rise to. It is like Jacob wrestling with the angel. I can’t give up with the wrestling.”

Cone wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Swiss theologian Karl Barth. But Barth, he admits, never moved him deeply. Cone found his inspiration in the black church, along with writers such as Baldwin, Albert Camus and Richard Wright, as well as the great blues artists of his youth. These artists and writers, not the white theologians, he said, gave him “a sense of awe.” He saw that “for most blacks it was the blues and religion that offered the chief weapons of resistance.” It was religion and the blues that “offered sources of hope that there was more to life than what one encountered daily in the white man’s world.” In the words of great poets and writers, in the verses of the great blues singers and in the thunderous services of the black church, not in the words of white theologians, Cone discovered those who were able to confront the bleak circumstances of their lives and yet defy fate and suffering to make the most of what little life had offered them. He had through these connections found his own voice, one that was powerfully expressed in his first work, the 1969 manifesto “Black Theology & Black Power.” Cone understood that “when people do not want to be themselves, but somebody else, that is utter despair.” And he knew that his faith “was the one thing white people could not control or take away.” He quotes the bluesman Robert Johnson:

I got to keep movinnnn’, I got to keep movinnnn’,     Blues fallin’ like hail     And the day keeps on worrin’ me,     There’s a hellhound on my trail.

“I wanted to go back to study literature and get a Ph.D. in that at the University of Chicago in the 1960s and do it with Nathan Scott [who was then teaching theology and literature at the University of Chicago],” he said. “But the freedom movement was too urgent. I said to myself, ‘You have a Ph.D., if you ain’t got nothing to say now you ain’t never going to have anything to say.’ I’ve never taught a course on Barth.”

“I like people who talk about the real, concrete world,” he said. “And unless I can feel it in my gut, in my being, I can’t say it. The poor help me to say it. The literary people help me to say it—Baldwin is my favorite. Martin King is the next. Malcolm is the third element of my trinity. The poets give me energy. Theologians talk about things removed, way out there. They talk to each other. They give each other degrees. The real world is not there. So that is why I turn to the poets. They talk to the people.”

“Being Christian is like being black,” Cone said. “It’s a paradox. You grow up. You wonder why they treat you like that. And yet at the same time my mother and daddy told me ‘don’t hate like they hate. If you do, you will self-destruct. Hate only kills the hater, not the hated.’ It was their faith that gave them the resources to transcend the brutality and see the real beauty. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery how African-Americans, after two and half centuries of slavery, another century of lynching and Jim Crow segregation, still come out loving white people. Now, most white people don’t think I love them, but I do. They always feel strange when I say that. You see, the deeper the love, the more the passion, especially when the one you love hurt you. Your brothers and sisters, and yet they treat you like the enemy. The paradox is, is that in spite of all that, African-Americans are the only people who’ve never organized to take down this nation. We have fought. We have given our lives. No matter what they do to us we still come out whole. Still searching for meaning. I think the resources for that are in the culture and in the religion that is associated with that. That faith and that culture, it was the blues of the spiritual, that faith and that culture gives African-Americans a sense that they are not what white people say they are.”

Cone sees the cross as “a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This idea, he points out, is absurd to the intellect, “yet profoundly real in the souls of black folk.” The crucified Christ, for those who are crucified themselves, manifests “God’s loving and liberating presence in the contradictions of black life—that transcendent presence in the lives of black Christians that empowered them to believe that ultimately, in God’s eschatological future, they would not be defeated by the ‘troubles of the world,’ no matter how great and painful their suffering.” Cone elucidates this paradox, what he calls “this absurd claim of faith,” by pointing out that to cling to this absurdity was possible only when one was shorn of power, when one was unable to be proud and mighty, when one understood that he was not called by God to rule over others. “The cross was God’s critique of power—white power—with powerless love, snatching victory out of defeat.”

“It’s like love,” he said. “It’s something you cannot articulate. It’s self-evident in its own living. And I’ve seen it among many black Christians who struggle, particularly in the civil rights movement. They know they’re going to die. They know they’re not going to win in the obvious way of winning. But they have to do what they gonna do because the reality that they encounter in that spiritual moment, that reality is more powerful than the opposition, than that which contradicts it. People respond to what empowers them inside. It makes them know they are somebody when the world treats them as nobody. When you can do that, when you can act out of that spirit, then you know there is a reality that is much bigger than you. And that’s, that’s what black religion bears witness to in all of its flaws. It bears witness to a reality that empowers people to do that which seems impossible. I grew up with that. I really don’t ever remember wishing I was white. I may have, but I really don’t remember. It’s because the reality of my own community was so strong, that that was more important than the material things I saw out there. Their [African-Americans’] music, their preaching, their loving, their dancing—everything was much more interesting.”

“How do a people know that they are not what the world says they are when they have so few social, economic and political reasons in order to claim that humanity?” he asked. “So few political resources. So few economic, educational resources to articulate the humanity. How do they still claim, and be able to see something more than what the world says about them? I think it’s in that culture and it’s in the faith that is inseparable from that culture. That’s why I call the blues secular spirituals. They are a kind of resource, a cultural and mysterious resource that enables a people to express their humanity even though they don’t have many resources intellectually and otherwise to express it. Baldwin only finished high school. Wright only the ninth grade. But he still had his say. And B.B. King never got out of grade school. And Louis Armstrong hardly went to school at all. Now, I said to myself, if Louis could blow a trumpet like that, forget it, I’m gonna write theology the way Louis Armstrong blows that trumpet. I want to reach down for those resources that enable people to express themselves when the world says that you have nothing to say.”

“People who resist create hope and love of humanity,” he said. “The civil rights was a mass movement, but a movement defined by love. You always have both sides. You have bad faith and good faith. I like to write about the good faith. I like to write about faith that resists. I like to write about faith that empowers. I like to write about faith that enables people to look another in the eye and tell ’em what you think. I remember growing up in Arkansas. There were a lot of masks. I wore a mask in Arkansas as a child, not in my own community but when I went down to the white people’s town. I knew what they could do to you. But I kept saying to myself ‘one of these days I’m gonna say what I think to white people and make up for lost time,’ and so the last 40-something years that’s what I been doing. I write to encourage African-Americans to have that inner resource in order to have your say and to say it as clearly, as forcefully, and as truthfully as you can. Not all would be able to do that ’cause white people have a lot of power.”

“Now white churches are empty Christ churches,” he said. “They ain’t the real thing. They just lovin’ each other. That’s all, that’s all that is: socializin’ with each other, that’s what they do most of the time. You seldom go to a church that has any diversity to it. Now how can that be Christian? God was in Christ reconciling the world unto God’s self. Well, it’s in white churches that God and Christ separated us from white people. That’s what they say. And I’m sayin’ as long as you are silent and say nothin’ about it, as Reinhold Niebuhr did, say nothin’, you are just as guilty as the one who hung him on the tree because you were silent just like Peter. Now if you are silent, you are guilty. If you are gonna worship somebody that was nailed to a tree, you must know that the life of a disciple of that person is not going to be easy. It will make you end up on that tree. And so in this sense, I just want to say that we have to take seriously the faith or else we will be the opposite of what it means.”

“My momma and daddy did not have my opportunity, so when I write and speak I try to write and speak for them,” he said. “They not here. They never had a chance to stand before white people and tell ’em what they think. I gotta do it somehow. I try to do that all over the world. I think of Lucy Cone and Charlie Cone, and of all the other Lucy Cones and Charlie Cones that’s out there who cannot speak. I think of them, I don’t think of myself, I think of them. It deepens my spirituality. It gives me something to hold on to, that I can feel and touch. It’s a very spiritual experience, because you are doin’ something for people you love who cannot and will never have a chance to speak in a context like this. So, why do I need to speak for myself? I need to speak for them. If you feel passion in my voice, you feel energy in this text, that’s because I was thinkin’ of Lucy and Charlie, my daddy, and my mama. And as long as I do that, I’ll stay on the right track.”

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Chris HedgesChris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

Everything you know about the Civil War is wrong June 9, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in History, War.
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Roger’s note:I have long mused over the question of whether the Civil War with its death toll of a half million was the only way to end the disgusting and inhuman institution of human slavery in the United States.  Among other reasons, I believe the question is important because the noble objective of ending slavery is what we have always used to qualify the Civil War as a “just war.”  Just as historian David Goldfield demonstrates complexities and underlying motives in play alongside the Abolitionist project, we find a parallel in the hidden dynamics behind the loose and disingenuous logic used by Obama and others to qualify as “just war” the aggressions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya … I am going to stop listing countries here because the under the emerging Bush/Obama Doctrine the so-called war
against terrorism “justifies” the making war on each and every inch of the globe.

Thursday, Jun  9, 2011 09:01 ET

Almost. Historian David Goldfield exposes how evangelical Protestants turned a conflict into a bloody conflagration

On the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, Americans are engaged in new debates over what it was about. Southern revisionists have long tried to claim it wasn’t about slavery, but rather “Northern aggression” – which is a tough sell since they seceded from the Union despite Lincoln’s attempts at compromise on slavery, and then attacked the federal Fort Sumter in South Carolina. That would be Southern aggression, by any standard.

But there’s still room for smart revisionism. Instead of the traditional view that finds the Civil War a great moral and political triumph, David Goldfield calls it “America’s greatest failure” in his fascinating new book, “America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation.” It killed a half-million Americans and devastated the South for generations, maybe through today. And while many Northern Republicans came to embrace abolishing slavery as one of the war’s goals, Goldfield shows that Southerners are partly right when they say the war’s main thrust was to establish Northern domination, in business and in culture. Most controversially, Goldfield argues passionately — with strong data and argument, but not entirely convincingly — that the Civil War was a mistake. Instead of liberating African Americans, he says, it left them subject to poverty, sharecropping and Jim Crow violence and probably retarded their progress to become free citizens.

Whether or not you accept that premise – more on that later – Goldfield shows definitively that Northern evangelical Protestants were the moral force behind the war, and once they turned it into a religious question, a matter of good v. evil, political compromise was impossible. The Second Great Awakening set its sights on purging the country of the sins of slavery, drunkenness, impiety — as well as Catholics, particularly Irish Catholic immigrants. Better than any history I’ve seen, Goldfield tracks the disturbing links between abolitionism and nativism. In fact, he starts his book with the torching of the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown, Mass. in 1834, a violent attack on Catholics which Goldfield shows was “incited” by Lyman Beecher, the father of the Beecher clan, most of whom turned out to be as anti-Irish Catholic as they were anti-slavery. To evangelical Protestant nativists, Catholicism was incompatible with democracy, because its adherents allegedly gave their loyalty to the Pope, not the president, and the religion’s emphasis on obeying a hierarchy made them unfit for self-government. Also, rebellious Irish Catholics didn’t show the proper discipline or deference to conform to emerging industrial America. The needs of Northern business were never far from some (though not all) abolitionists’ minds.

Still, though nativism was widespread in the North, and within the Republican Party (which  absorbed some old Know-Nothing and nativist Whig party remnants), abolitionism remained at the party’s fringe. Most Republicans were seeking compromise, not the abolition of slavery, in the years before the war, including Abraham Lincoln. Our first Republican president didn’t like slavery, and he fiercely opposed its extension to the Territories, but he also expressed doubts about African-Americans’ capacity for democracy, and he opposed black suffrage. Lincoln supported the Fugitive Slave Act, which let slave-owners call on law enforcement even in free states to capture their runaway “property.” (As a lawyer, he’d represented a slave owner trying to recapture a fugitive slave.)

And as a strict constitutionalist, Lincoln resisted abolitionism, because like it or not, the Constitution made room for slavery. The president disliked slavery, but his priority was the union. He famously told abolitionist Republican Horace Greeley (who later turned against Reconstruction and ran for president as a Democrat, abandoning African Americans as did too many other abolitionists): “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”

In fact, during Lincoln’s 1860 presidential campaign, Republicans went so far as to argue that they were the real White Man’s Party, because their commitment to keeping the Territories slave-free wasn’t about the evils of slavery; it was about keeping the West white, so white families alone could enjoy the bounty of the frontier without competition (except from Indians, who would be eradicated.) Democrats insisted they were the White Man’s Party, because slavery liberated white men to be the property owners and entrepreneurs God intended them to be, while an inferior race did their manual labor, for free. Most Republicans and Democrats agreed on white supremacy; they differed on the right way to maintain it.

Yet as the war went on, Lincoln came to see slavery as a moral cause, and he wouldn’t entertain compromise armistice proposals that let the South keep black people in bondage. In a book with few heroes, Lincoln emerges as one over time, virtually alone as an American politician in blending compassion for slaves with compassion for white Southerners. It’s popular to suggest that had Lincoln lived, Reconstruction would have been more successful. But Lincoln’s pattern of compromise throughout his political career makes speculating on what he’d have done very difficult. Goldfield makes clear, though, that Lincoln wanted reconciliation with the South, not Southern humiliation. In his subdued Second Inaugural Address, he refused to blame the war on the Confederacy, or trumpet the righteousness of the Northern cause. Because the Founders legalized slavery, he believed the country, North and South, shared responsibility for it. Lincoln closed with words made more poignant by the fact that the outcome he envisioned didn’t come to be (and still hasn’t):

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Lincoln even proposed a plan to compensate slaveowners for their losses. That might make our blood boil today, but it was actually the way slavery had been abolished in other countries. Clearly, the Southern economy was destroyed, and families suffered hugely. Most of the war took place on Southern battlefields, destroying farms, homes, churches, businesses. A quarter of Southern men between the ages of 20 and 40 died; more than 28 million Southerners, white as well as black, fled the devastated Confederate states in the decades after the war. And while Northern wealth increased 50 percent between 1860 and 1870, the South lost 60 percent of its wealth in those years, roughly half of it human “property.” Lincoln proposed legislation establishing a $400 million fund to compensate Southerners for giving up slavery, if they would recognize national sovereignty and ratify the 13th Amendment emancipating the slaves. We don’t know what Southern leaders would have said; Lincoln’s own cabinet nixed the idea.

It’s also possible Lincoln might not have taken from Confederate leaders the right to vote and hold office away, while giving it to former slaves, as Congress did after his death. Again, however fair that may seem from our distant (presumed) consensus that the pro-slavery Confederacy deserved whatever it had coming, it let Southern leaders complain they’d been “disenfranchised,” even though the stricture only affected a fraction of the Southern male population. It was also rank hypocrisy, as eight northern states rejected black suffrage, while forcing it on the former Confederacy. But we’ll never know what Lincoln would have done; he died. Meanwhile, the view of Henry Ward Beecher, staunch anti-Catholic (and a villain in this book, if it has one) prevailed: In a speech just before Lincoln’s death, he gave a sermon at Fort Sumter:

The whole guilt of this war rests upon the ambitious, educated, plotting, political leaders of the South…A day will come when God will reveal judgment and arraign at his bar these mighty miscreants…And then [they] will be whirled aloft and plunged downward forever and ever in an endless retribution.”

Contrast that with Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and then try to figure out which man is the actual Christian leader.

….

Goldfield’s book has been well-reviewed, because if it’s sympathetic to Southern whites, it depicts the savagery of slavery and post-war white terrorism with unflinching and gut-wrenching clarity. (Literally. The book’s tales of slaves’ abuse and Southern white post-war savagery will make you sick.) Still, this Civil War history challenges the absolutism of the “Northerners were heroes, and Southerners were vicious, violent racists” school of history. He exposes and excoriates Southern whites’ violence against black people before and after the war. But he also links the war to the pro-business evangelical Protestant crusade to eradicate native American Indians, Mexicans, Irish and German Catholic immigrants, and an emerging class of landless Northern laborers – anyone who stood in the way of their vision of clean, hard-working, business-friendly American progress. And he counts the South as a victim of that Northern evangelical crusade. Southerners were another group that simply wasn’t conforming to their doctrine of “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men,” as the title of Eric Foner’s equally complicated and fantastic Republican Party history puts it.

Republicans were first and foremost the party of small business, an emerging class of industrialists, the nascent middle class, and anti-Catholic nativists. They despised the working class – or denied it existed. Lincoln himself talked of the emerging caste of wage-earners optimistically as “young beginners,” who would work for a time, save money, then buy land and/or their own business. Republicans either couldn’t imagine an America with a permanent class of laborers (like Lincoln), or they dreamed of one, but found ways to convince those workers it was all in their interest. In their defense, in the decades after the Civil War, the Horatio Alger, rags to riches story was never more true.

It’s indisputable that Republican zeal for the liberation of black people was always a fringe sentiment – and even among that fringe, it was short lived. After the war, Northerners wanted to get back to business, and they did, with a vengeance. During the war, the federal government had flexed muscles of taxation, conscription and land annexation. The post-war era’s emerging robber barons pointed to the Union army’s successes as a justification of their march toward monopoly. “Who can buy beef the cheapest – the housewife for her family, the steward for her club or hotel, or the commissary for the army?” Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller asked. Oil and steel businesses boomed. The transcontinental railroad was completed — as was the near-eradication of American Indians.

Goldfield shows how leading Union generals almost immediately became warriors on the frontier, bringing the zeal with which they decimated the backward South to the task of decimating backward “savages.” That new crusade had direct ramifications for Southern blacks. Even when President Ulysses S. Grant tried to use the military to beat back white Southern paramilitary groups literally massacring African-Americans trying to execute basic rights, he couldn’t, because soldiers were deployed out West in the new Civil War against Indians. One hero of the book, Mississippi Republican Gov. Adelbert Ames, tries to use his power to protect blacks from Southern Democratic violence, but there were no Federal soldiers left in his state to call upon, they were all on the anti-Indian front. As the state’s “White Line” paramilitary group tore through Mississippi to violently intimidate black voters, Ames was forced to give up his governor’s position and flee. Early in the book, Goldfield quotes a Northern newspaper editor proclaiming “We can have no peace in this country until the CATHOLICS ARE EXTERMINATED.” Near the end, he finds a Birmingham News headline that reads: “We intend to beat the negro in the battle of life, and defeat means one thing: EXTERMINATION.” That doesn’t feel heavy handed; it’s fact, and it’s tragic.

Meanwhile, attacks on Irish Catholics continued. Although the famed Civil War Irish brigades fought bravely, the Organization of Union Veterans wouldn’t include them – or black Union veterans, either. And if certain abolitionists hadn’t already shamed themselves with their anti-Irish Catholic bias, they would later, when they dropped their concern for African Americans – and in fact, joined slavery advocates in concluding that blacks were unfit for self-government. After the war, Henry Ward Beecher began hawking watches and preaching “The Gospel of Prosperity;” he also wrote a novel whose hero was an industrious white Southerner, and whose main black character was a stupid, drunken man-child incapable of self-support. Beecher remained viciously anti-Irish Catholic and opposed to the emerging labor movement (those two things were connected, by the way, for quite a few abolitionists), arguing that the era’s strikes showed that the working class was “unfit for the race of life.” During the Great Railway Strike of 1877, he denounced the strikers in his loathsome “bread and water” sermon, where he thundered: “Man cannot live by bread alone but the man who cannot live on bread and water is not fit to live.” A few days later he proclaimed: “If you are being reduced, go down boldly into poverty.” I wonder if Scott Walker is an admirer.

Harriet Beecher Stowe moved to former Confederate Florida, became an Episcopalian, wrote a best-selling book about home decorating for women, and never again troubled herself about the (former) slaves. Abolitionist Horace Greeley gave up on Reconstruction and black rights quickly. His New York Tribune, which once crusaded against slavery, began to feature “exposes” of Reconstruction, including tales of black “corruption” and political incompetence. Even the Nation magazine, which we remember as a journal of abolitionism, soured on the experiment with black suffrage. Editor E.L. Godkin proclaimed that the “blackest” legislators were the worst, particularly in South Carolina, where blacks possessed an “average of intelligence but slightly above the level of animals.”

Part of the problem was that at the same time, the North was experiencing its own political growing pains, which former egalitarians suddenly blamed on universal (male) suffrage. New York recoiled at the Boss Tweed corruption scandal of 1870. Tweed himself wasn’t Irish, but some of his on-the-take top lieutenants were, and he relied on the votes of Irish Catholic immigrants – who produced votes in excess of their already large, pro-Democratic numbers, thanks to the Tammany machine, as vote fraud was rampant. The New York Times used Tweed’s corruption as “an example of the Irish Catholic despotism that rules the City of New York.” At the same time, the once-abolitionist paper blamed “ignorant Negroes” for South Carolina’s corruption issues, which had of course predated black suffrage and would survive it.

Suddenly white Northern Republicans had a reason to sympathize with white Southern Democrats: Universal suffrage blighted both sides of the Civil War conflict. There’s no better symbol of the transformation of Northern abolitionist sentiment than the work of cartoonist Thomas Nast: The pro-Union Harper’s artist once graphically depicted the perfidy of Confederates and championed civil rights for slaves. But his most famous cartoon, from 1876, depicted Irish Catholics and African-Americans – two simian creatures labeled “Paddy” and “Sambo” — as “The Ignorant Vote.” Northerners had new appreciation for the South. It made the country whole: The North stood for reason, the South romance. Northern industrialists were happy to preserve the Old South in amber, a land of sweet magnolias and even sweeter women, who hadn’t been “masculinized” by either labor or freedom, as Northern women were. It became a shrine to our agrarian past as worshipped by the founders, permanently left behind.

……….

In this same period, even a couple of liberal heroes fell down too. Mark Twain and Walt Whitman both lamented the messiness of universal suffrage. Their worries, paradoxically, came out of a certain kind of populism. Whitman concluded that “the appalling dangers of universal suffrage” seemed to be empowering a rapacious post-war business class. Likewise, Twain railed against the greed of “The Gilded Age,” a searing term he coined to describe the cruel era of robber barons, but he believed poor uneducated voters were letting the rich run rampant. A dinner companion reported Twain railing against “this wicked ungodly suffrage, where the vote of a man who knew nothing was as good as the vote of a man of education and industry; this endeavor to equalize what God has made unequal was a wrong and a shame.” Both troubadours of democracy believed that universal suffrage was dooming democracy, as uninformed voters backed politicians who colluded with robber barons to destroy the country. Thus they concluded, Goldfield writes, “It might be prudent to restrict democracy in order to save it.”

For many reasons, Northern Republicans gave up on the early goals of Reconstruction: to grant free blacks civil and economic rights. Goldfield quotes a Northerner observing a general desire to forget the war, and particular “apathy about the Negro” – shades of the “compassion fatigue” that would be diagnosed by neoconservatives 100 years later, after the Great Society. The parallels between the backlash against Reconstruction, and the backlash against Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights reforms, are unmistakable and chilling. The Republican Party of the 1860s, just like the Democratic Party of the 1960s, paid dearly for championing the rights of African Americans. And both parties backed away from their commitment to addressing the economic barriers to black inclusion once they dealt with the era’s pressing moral problem: In Lincoln’s case, Southern slavery, in Johnson’s, violent Southern suppression of black civil and voting rights. After each morally overdue reckoning, the parties suffered, and then they changed sides. Republicans were trounced after Reconstruction, as Democrats became the party of the South; 100 years later, Democrats were trounced, and Republicans became the party of the South. The Civil War is still not over.

Here is where Goldfield’s scrupulously fair and heart-breaking story softens up even the most ardent civil rights advocate, to begin to sympathetically contemplate his notion that the Civil War could have been avoided, and slavery eradicated without it. As much as I love this book, and believe anyone concerned about race relations and the country’s current political stalemate should read it, I couldn’t quite get there. I understand Goldfield’s reasoning. In an interview with Leonard Lopate, he contended that the abolition of slavery was inevitable “in a world that was hurtling toward the Industrial Revolution.” I can imagine that, had a more politically creative group of politicians tried to compromise on a way out of slavery – perhaps offering to compensate slaveholders for their slaves, the way every other country that abolished slavery did – we maybe, maybe, might have avoided the Civil War.

But that’s such starry-eyed conjecture, it’s hard to go there. One of the most persuasive arguments for Goldfield’s theory is the fact that it took another hundred years to end Jim Crow. And almost 50 years after that, African Americans still aren’t completely free: the legacy of what we lamely call “structural racism,” in the criminal justice system, the health care system, the housing and job market, lives on. That makes it easy, in a way, to fantasize: Hell, yeah, there had to be a way to do this in less than 150 years!

I wish. While it’s possible, I just don’t see the evidence in Goldfield’s meticulously researched, passionately argued book. Yes, decent Southerners had doubts about slavery, and even some of those who didn’t tried desperately to save the union. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens of Georgia was an old Whig friend of Abraham Lincoln’s, and he didn’t want war. But he couldn’t compromise on slavery, not even when he met Lincoln for a secret peace summit early in 1865, as the Confederate Army lay bleeding after Sherman’s march and Grant’s late victories. And after the war, which perhaps made Southerners bitter in a way that foreclosed compromise, Goldfield depicts few if any ex-Confederates voicing contrition about their role in the war, as Lincoln did, let alone a desire for reconciliation – and certainly not support for equal rights for former slaves.

Still, with half a million Americans dead on Civil War battlefields, and 150 more years of bitter conflict, it’s worth pondering Goldfield’s challenge — if only because it might give some modern visionary a way to see beyond our current social, racial and economic stalemate. I have no doubt about Goldfield’s premise that we are still fighting the Civil War. We still need a way to end it. This book models the complicated, even contradictory, compassionate vision that might make that possible. Eventually.

  • Joan Walsh is Salon’s editor at large. More: Joan Walsh

From Poll Taxes to Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression March 29, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Socialism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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(Roger’s note: it is a simple phrase, but it says just about everything: “without economic democracy, political democracy is a sham.”  With a Supreme Court giving carte blanche to corporations to fund campaigns, with billionaire-funded “grass roots” organizations such as the Tea Party disenfranchising  masses of voters as discussed in the article below, with massive powerful lobbies such as Big Pharma and the private health insurance industry virtually writing legislation to protect their selfish interests – who can argue that political democracy in the United States, or anywhere in the world for that matter, is genuine democracy?  Democratic socialism is nothing more or less than economic democracy, and it can only come about through the destruction of the capitalist form of production, a mode of production that inherently exploits and alienates living human labour, a mode that is by its very nature undemocratic and which replicates itself in the world of social and political relations.)

Sunday 27 March 2011

by: Kevin Donohoe  |  Think Progress | Report

Thursday, ThinkProgress reported that the Ohio House had approved the most restrictive voter id law in the nation — a bill that would exclude 890,000 Ohioans from voting. Earlier this week Texas lawmakers passed a similar bill, and voter id legislation — which would make it significantly more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to vote — is now under consideration in more than 22 states across the country

Conservatives have said voter id laws are necessary to combat mass voter fraud. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud. And the Bush administration’s five-year national “war on voter fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions of illegal voting out of more than 196 million votes cast. Instead conservatives are employing an old tactic: using the specter of false voting to restrict the voting rights of minorities and the poor.

Below, ThinkProgress examines the history of conservatives anti-voter agenda:

Jim Crow South: In the Jim Crow South, historian Leon Litwack writes, “respectable” Southern whites justified their support for measures to disenfranchise African-Americans “as a way to reform and purify the electoral process, to root out fraud and bribery.” In North Carolina for example, conservatives insisted that literacy tests and poll taxes — which disenfranchised tens of thousands of African-Americans — were necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”

1981 RNC Voter Caging Scandal: According to Project Vote, in 1981 the Republican National Committee mailed non-forwardable postcards to majority Hispanic and African-American districts in New Jersey in an effort to accuse those voters of false voting. The 45,000 returned cards were rncthen used to create a list of voters whose residency the GOP could challenge at the polls. The Democratic National Committee sued, winning a consent decree in which the RNC agreed not to engage in practices “where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Similar initiatives were undertaken by the Arizona GOP in 1958, the RNC in 1962 and again, despite the decree, in Louisiana in 1986.

Recent Voter Caging Efforts: During the 2004 election GOP state parties, along with dozens of unidentified groups, launched similar “voter caging” efforts designed to challenge the eligibility of thousands of minority voters by accusing them of voter fraud. And in 2008, the Obama campaign sued the Michigan Republican Committee for collecting a list of foreclosures in an effort to challenge the residency, and eligibility, of voters who had lost their home in the housing crisis.

US Attorney David Iglesias Firing Scandal: In an unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department, in 2006 the Bush White House fired US Attorney David Iglesias for refusing to prosecute voting fraud cases where little evidence existed. The New Mexico political establishment asked for Iglesias’ dismissal after he refused to cooperate with the party’s efforts to make voter id laws “the single greatest wedge issue ever.”

US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger Dismissal: In Minnesota, US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger lost his position when he ran afoul of GOP activists for “expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.”

Wisconsin, The Kochs and the 2010 Election: Last fall ThinkProgress reported that a coalition of Wisconsin Tea Party and Koch-funded groups, in an effort to stop “voter fraud” and prevent “stolen elections,” was planning a sophisticated voter caging effort that would use GOP lawyers and Tea Party volunteers to challenge the eligibility of voters at polls in the state. Earlier that year, the same groups were instrumental in defeating a voter protection law that would have criminalized any attempt to use force or coercion to “compel any person to refrain from voting.” One prominent Tea Party member behind the voter caging effort that “since the voter law did not get passed this year… we can still do this.”

As statehouses across the country move forward on voter identification bills, ThinkProgress will continue to track conservatives latest efforts to advance their century-old anti-voter agenda.

The New Jim Crow December 10, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Race, Racism.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
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We’ve all heard the statistics, and most of us have simply become numb to hearing them. For many people, the over-incarceration of Black people is simply a fact of life. It shouldn’t be.

Thanks to legal scholar and professor Michelle Alexander1 we now have a new book that explains how we ended up with a criminal justice system that targets and endangers Black communities, as well as ideas on what we can do to free ourselves from that system’s clutches.

When we put the book — The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness — in the hands of 20 ColorOfChange members to review, the response was unanimous. In addition to giving the book glowing reviews, they all wanted the entire ColorOfChange community to know about it.

It’s why we’re now inviting you to get your own copy (and for your friends or family as well, in time for the holiday season), as well as participate in a conference call with Professor Alexander in the new year to discuss it.

You can get your copy here:

http://act.colorofchange.org/go/284?id=2420-698363&akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=4

Professor Alexander’s book outlines the evolution of drug laws and how their ongoing effects on Black America parallel the role that segregation played in the period following the Civil War and preceding the Civil Rights Movement.2 And it raises questions about what it will take to build a movement that can reform the broken drug laws that fuel high incarceration rates.

Criminal justice reform is key to our community — a third of Black men will spend part of their lives in prison,3 and Black children are more than six times more likely to have a parent incarcerated than White children.4 ColorOfChange members have demonstrated time and again that they want to change the status quo. More than 59,000 ColorOfChange members called on Congress to remove the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, and nearly 25,000 sent a statement to Senator James Webb of Virginia, thanking him for his attempts to overhaul our approach to incarceration.

We believe — and the ColorOfChange members who read and reviewed the book agreed — that the book will help us, as everyday people, stand with even more power to advocate for change. Ms. Alexander is herself a longtime member of ColorOfChange.org, and she’s agreed to speak with those of you who read the book, and answer any questions you have. We’ll contact you again early in the new year with more information about how to participate in that conference call, which is sure to be informative and powerful.

Here’s what ColorOfChange.org members are saying about The New Jim Crow:

“This book explains how this new Jim Crow came to be and how deeply ingrained it is now in the American psyche. Unless we really understand how this happened, we’ll never break this vicious cycle of African-American overincarceration… How many family members of prisoners lie about their relatives in the penal system in an effort to mitigate the stigma of criminality? This system penalizes entire families. [The book] was such an eye opener.”
— Irma, Washington, DC

“This book will give you a good understanding of the system, its historical roots, its origins in the War on Drugs, the complicity of the police and legal system leading to mass incarceration of people of color, and the tragic result of creating a permanent caste system based on color. It opened my eyes and stirred my soul.“
— Larry, Freeland, WA

“This isn’t a fight for the lawyers. This is a fight for regular people, the non-experts, the advocates, the sympathizers, the human beings who care and want to care more. Fertile ground for change is wherever we are, however we are, and accessible to those of us with less than sizable monetary wealth or a law degree.”
— Thuha, Fountain Valley, CA

 

For more on The New Jim Crow and to get your copy, click here:

http://act.colorofchange.org/go/284?id=2420-698363&akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=6

Thanks and Peace,

– James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Natasha and the rest of the ColorOfChange.org team
   December 9th, 2010

Help support our work. ColorOfChange.org is powered by YOU — your energy and dollars. We take no money from lobbyists or large corporations that don’t share our values, and our tiny staff ensures your contributions go a long way. You can contribute here:

https://secure.colorofchange.org/contribute/

References:

1. “The New Jim Crow,” article by Michelle Alexander in Mother Jones, 03-08-2010
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/279?akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=9

2. “Legal Scholar Michelle Alexander on ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’,” Democracy Now, 03-11-2010
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/283?akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=11

3. “Too Long Ignored,” The New York Times, 8-20-2010
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/598?akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=13

4. “Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility,” Pew Charitable Trusts, 9-2010
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/603?akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=15

Additional resources:

“More than 1 in 100 U.S. adults are in prison,” New York Times, 2-29-2008
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/281?akid=1770.1018544.YBcv9Z&t=17

Dubois’s Revenge: Reinterrogating American Democratic Theory … or Why We Need a Revolutionary Black Research Agenda in the 21st Century March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in History, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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William (Bill) Strickland

www.blackcommentator.com, March 26, 2009

I.  PROLOGUE

In 1899, one year after completing what many consider to be the first real Black Study, his magisterial sociological analysis, The Philadelphia Negro, W.E.B. Du Bois addressed the American Academy in Philadelphia and proposed what might also be considered the first real Black Research Agenda.

To the white scholars gathered in Philadelphia, Du Bois proposed a path-breaking study of the Negro people:

The American Negro deserves study for the great end of advancing the cause of science in general. No such opportunity to watch and measure the history and development of a great race of people ever presented itself to the scholars of a modern nation.  If they miss this opportunity—if they do the work in a slipshod, unsystematic manner—if they dally with the truth to humor the whims of the day, they do far more than hurt the good name of the American people; they hurt the cause of scientific truth the world over. . .” (emphasis mine) [1]

However, persuaded that they were already in possession of ‘the truth’ about race, and perhaps equally unpersuaded that Negroes belonged to ‘a great race of people,’ the Academy declined to participate in Du Bois’s project.

 

Characteristically then, and largely unaided, Du Bois, for the next twenty years—first from Atlanta and later from New York—pursued the racial research we now know as the famous Atlanta University Studies; constructing virtually single-handedly, to all intents and purposes, what was the first Black Studies program in America.  (By celebrating Du Bois in this way, there is no intent to slight George Washington Williams, who Vincent Harding calls “the first substantial scholarly historian of Blacks in America,” [2] and whose 1883 opus, History Of The Negro Race In America From 1619-1880 V2: Negroes As Slaves, As Soldiers, And As Citizens , still stands as the original foundational text of black history.  Nor can one overlook Carter G. Woodson, generally regarded as the Father of Negro History.  Rather one wishes simply to call attention to the fact that in regard to Black Studies, Du Bois was, as in so much else, there “at the creation.”)

But Du Bois’s work in pursuit of the truth about the race’s past and present increasingly led him into a collision with America’s self-definition as a “democratic land” which, despite its negligible “negro problem,” still saw and proclaimed itself, in the classical Panglossian sense, “the best of all possible worlds.”

Du Bois vs. the Historical Establishment

Du Bois’s confrontation with the American historiography that had not changed its opinion of the essential unworthiness of the Negro in the three plus decades since Philadelphia, came to a head in 1935 when he published his seminal reinterpretation of the Reconstruction era, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880.

 

Concluding the volume with a chapter entitled, “The Propaganda of History,” Du Bois charged that “the facts of American history have in the last half century been falsified because the nation was ashamed.  The South was ashamed because it fought to perpetuate human slavery, the North was ashamed because it had to call in the black men to save the Union, abolish slavery and establish democracy” (emphasis mine). [3]

This critique was both revolutionary and heretical since it not only attributed what we now routinely describe as “agency” to black people but it also struck a Joe Louis-like blow against white supremacy by asserting that black people had been the Salvationists of the Civil War Republic!  Therefore what Du Bois’s perspective represented and what it called for, implicitly, was a new history of America.

Du Bois made that implication explicit on the global level as well in a 1943 letter to Will Alexander, a special assistant in the office of the War Manpower Commission who had written Du Bois from Washington that “there is a small group of scholars here, men of wide experience in international matters, who feel that there is need of a universal history of racism as it has appeared in various places around the world.” [4]

Two weeks after receiving Alexander’s November letter, Du Bois responded from Atlanta “that a universal history of racism would be an excellent undertaking but . . . if you are going to take the wide definition of race including nationalism, minorities, status, slavery, etc., it would be attempting a new universal history on a vast scale” (emphasis mine). [5]

Du Bois’s view that applying a “wide” definition of race to world  history would, ipso facto, produce a new historical paradigm, a virtual reformulation of the way that one thought about the past and present world, is what I want to suggest is also both true and necessary for American political history and theory; that the need to reinterrogate the various ways that race and racism have impacted upon and, indeed, shaped the American nation state is also a history that must be reconceptualized “on a vast scale” if we wish to take up Du Bois’s crusade for “scientific truth.”

At bottom, the question that underlies such an enquiry is quite simple: Since public policy and constitutional law in America have sanctioned slavery, segregation, discrimination and institutional racism, how is it possible to reconcile the democratic theory of the state with the black civic experience?  For example, the state may be conceptualized as an autonomous actor, a neutral arbiter, a gendarme, or an instrument of race, class and gender oppression.  But whichever way the state is conceived, it unquestionably performs a certain role in allocating wealth, status, privilege and resources to some while withholding those perquisites from others.  Moreover, although a taboo subject in conventional American appraisals, the chief means employed by the state and society to maintain and perpetuate the racial social order has been the resort to violence. 

 

Slavery was violent and was only overthrown by violence.  Reconstruction was dismantled by violence.  The system of Jim Crow rested upon the theory and praxis of violence and the resistance to the freedom movement was, at its core, violent.  The challenge, therefore, is to look longitudinally at American political history to try and gain a more accurate understanding of how the Republic has related actually, rather than mythically, to the black presence in its midst.   Consider this example both of one problem unexamined and the kind of research needed to bring it to light.

The Southern Question

In 1944, Adam Clayton Powell was elected to Congress from Harlem and arrived in Washington in 1945, the last year of World War II’s fight against fascism. [6]

But what did Adam have to contend with once he had taken his seat?  He had to contend with the racist rantings of Southern Congressmen like John Rankin of Mississippi who were still freely indulging the epithet “nigger” on the House floor.  (Rankin was an equal opportunity bigot since he also assailed columnist Walter Winchell as “a little kike.”) [7]

To his credit, and despite the expectation that freshmen Congressmen were to be seen and not heard, Adam rose after another Rankin outburst to say that “the time has arrived to impeach Rankin, or at least expel him from the party.” [8]

So how do we theorize about this incident?  Were Rankin’s fulminations simply an individual expression of racist sentiment or symptomatic of something more organic to American political life?  What, for example, did the apparent tolerance of the behavior signify?  And how far back did this normative racism go?  All the way back to 1790?  Or was it only a twentieth century phenomenon?  That is, did racial insults abate in Congress during the thirty years, from 1871 to 1901, when black men sat in the Congress?  In fine, what is the historical record of racist discourse—and the advancement of racist interests–in the House and Senate of the United States?  Researching that question in the Congressional Record, the Congressional Globe, et al., would be a massive undertaking—and aside from William Lee Miller’s Arguing about Slavery: The Great Battle in the United States Congress (Knopf, 1995) which details the 1830’s Congressional fight over petitions against slavery–so far as I know no one has yet done it.  But questions such as these need to be answered if we are ever to truly fathom the nature of the American racial state.

Also one might raise many other questions about Dixiecrat power for one’s research agenda, like the political side of the reparations question.  For while the subject of reparations for unpaid slave labor has generated heated political discussion for decades, there has been no similar effort to systematically appraise the cost of federal programs and public policy which the South steered to itself on the backs of the expropriated political power of disenfranchised Blacks.

We know, for example, that the Freedmen’s Bank was burgled by government-affiliated speculators after the Civil War.  We know that many black veterans of World War I were never given their pensions.   We know that the Union army paid its black soldiers only half of what they paid white soldiers until black soldier protest and war exigencies forced the government to relent in the last year of the war.  And we know that the funds of the New Deal programs were discriminatorily disbursed during the Depression.  But we can’t put a dollar figure on these serial betrayals by the national government nor on the spin-off benefits which the South enjoyed because of its stolen political power.  How many public projects and military bases were sited in the former Confederacy, one wonders?  And government subsidies?  And tax breaks?

 

The questions are endless but the answers will help us illuminate the suppressed dimension of the American racial state.

So where might we begin?  At the beginning, of course, with the sacrosanct foundation myths of American exceptionalism.

II.   ON THE POLITICS OF MISREPRESENTATION

“The United States was the land of captivity, of slavery rather than liberty, and the discovery of the New World represented not the founding of a shining city on a hill but the start of the crime against Africans.” [9]   –Manisha Sinha

The problem of reinterpreting America’s history and politics is only partly a problem of new discovery since much of the actual history is known.  It exists in records, documents, oral history and in books, both old and new.

The problem is that non-mainstream history is an embarrassment to the national myths that make up America’s identity so it is banished from the national memory; hidden from national view; concealed behind what Du Bois called The Veil.  What we are left with is invented history, abetted by various “masking devices” such as historical patterns that go uncommented upon; euphemistic language such as “landed gentry” instead of slave-owners; “racial riots” instead of pogroms; “violence” instead of murder; “harassment and intimidation” instead of racial terror, ad infinitum. (emphasis mine)  Another ploy is the examination of the “thoughts” and “minds” of Great White Men while shying away from their deeds.

But the most persistent disguising tradition has been simply to ignore the messenger. . . the fate of most black critical voices over the ages.  Indeed, Manisha Sinha, in the January 2007 issue of the William and Mary Quarterly, points out that “Historians have yet to fully appreciate the alternative and radical nature of black abolitionist ideology. . . [that] not only pointed to the shortcomings of American revolutionary ideals but also exposed their complicity in upholding racial slavery.” [10]   And, if ignoring the messenger did not suffice, then the reaction was to professionally slay the renegade scholar.  That was the fate meted out to the late Fawn Brodie whose 1974 volume, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, dared to suggest an “intimate relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. . .”   Her reward was to be almost unanimously pilloried by the academic establishment.  So what, at bottom, are we dealing with?

Is America just another case of national vanity run amok since nearly all societies, like nearly all religions, tend to think of themselves as special and adhere to creation myths which attest to their uniqueness?   Or is something more at stake?  Something like America’s aspiration to world leadership based on its self-image of being specially favored and specially blessed?  It is to answer that question that one turns to the past because it is the past which best contextualizes today’s diabolical policies of preemptive war, international kidnappings, secret prisons, sanctioned torture, the gulag of Guantanamo, the excesses of the FBI and the administration’s scornful disregard of the Constitution, the Geneva Convention, and the right of habeas corpus.

 

The past conceptualizes these practices because, although chronologically new, they are remarkably akin to deeds which Du Bois deplored some fifty years ago:

There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible.  Today we are lying, stealing and killing.  We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense.  But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done.  No nation threatens us.  We threaten the world. [11] (emphasis mine.)

Seem familiar?

The significance of Du Bois’s critique is that he saw America not as most Americans see it but through his own racial lens; utilizing the second sight he had gained as a lifelong racial outsider in the land of his birth:

Had it not been for the race problem early thrust upon me and enveloping me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the established social order and of the economic development into which I was born. But just that part of this order which seemed to most of my fellows nearest perfection, seemed to me most inequitable and wrong; and starting from that critique I, gradually, as the years went by, found other things to question in my environment. [12]   (emphasis mine)

So Fawn Brodie questioned an icon while Du Bois questioned the “social order.”  Both interrogations suggest new interpretative spaces where the meaning of America can be remapped in order to investigate the line of historical continuity from the international slave trade to the multi-national corporation, from the Indian “wars” of yesterday to the Iraqi occupation of today, from America’s oft-invoked democratic claims to its oft-enacted undemocratic actions.

III. ON RACIAL (AND OTHER) CONTRADICTIONS
OF AMERICA’S FOUNDING HISTORY

To review American political history from top to bottom is obviously beyond the scope of this paper.  What it seeks to do is reanalyze America’s founding years by piggy-backing on some of the excellent works written both recently and in past years, which have significantly contributed to our understanding of non-mythical American history.

 

In that connection James Loewen’s pioneering, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, Revised and Updated Edition (New Press, NY, 1995) must be mentioned as well as THINKING AND RETHINKING U.S. HISTORY , edited by Gerald Horne and published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in 1988.  (In fact, Horne has been exemplary in resurrecting neglected history as in his Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920 (American History and Culture Series) (NYU Press, 2005). [13]   He has also provided us with a critically new perspective on the role of race in World War II in his Race War!: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire (NYU, 2004) which “delves into forgotten history to reveal how European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of color.” [14] )

The methodology of inquiry will be to carry on a dialogue with these books; outlining what new historical hypotheses they seem to represent and what new questions and issues arising from them might deservedly constitute a research agenda of the future.

IV.  THE FOUNDING UNROMATICIZED: COLONIALISM, CAPITALISM, AND CITIZENSHIP BEFORE THE MAYFLOWER

In 1964, Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner published their book Troublesome Presence: American Democracy and the Black-Americans (hereafter G&E) which painted quite a different picture of American settlers from the archetypical image of freedom-seeking Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620.   They wrote that. . . “of the several million persons who reached Great Britain’s North American colonies before 1776, it is conservatively estimated that close to 80 percent arrived under some form of servitude.” [15]   (emphasis mine)

Since we are accustomed to think of servitude and/or slavery as being the lot only of Africans and their descendants and also know that, as of the first official census in America in 1790, these persons comprised approximately 20 percent of the American population, we are left to wonder about the status of this majority of  unknown white settlers.  Who were they, these non-Pilgrims? 

A partial answer can be found in G&E and also in Gary Nash’s classic work of colonial history, Red, White, and Black: The Peoples of Early North America (5th Edition).   Both direct our attention to the Jamestown Landing of 1607 where the two constituent elements of American exceptionalism first came into being, i.e., the awarding of “free” land to the settlers and their gaining of the right to vote.  However, both of these bestowals by the architects of the Jamestown project, the Virginia Company of London, arose out of the financial imperatives of settlement not out of any sentiments of democratic idealism.  More importantly these concessions were made by the London businessmen whose desperate hope was to turn Jamestown into a successful profit-making enterprise as the Spaniards had done in Mexico and Peru. 

Witness Gary Nash:

The English founded their first permanent settlement in the Americas at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607.  But it was not a colony at all. . . Rather it was a business enterprise, the property of the Virginia Company of London, made up of stockholders and a governing board of directors who answered directly to James 1.” [16] (emphasis mine)

Thus America was birthed by capitalism, not by freedom.  Indeed the Jamestown Project’s partnership between the corporation and the state was to serve as a useful model later in the century when the Royal African Company was granted a monopoly of the English slave trade with West Africa in 1672 by King Charles II.

Not Colonists But Conquistadors

We have come to think of slavery and the slave trade as the prime incubators and instigators of American racism with the American South as its birthplace.  Except. . . the first racial slaves in America were not Africans but Indians and the first state to legally sanction slavery was not Virginia in 1661 but Massachusetts in 1641. [17]

 

Moreover Massachusetts’s involvement in the slave trade antedates even their first slave law, e.g., “The first definitely authenticated American-built vessel to carry slaves was the Desire built in Marblehead [Massachusetts] and sailing out of Salem in 1638 [carrying] a cargo, among other things, of seventeen Pequot Indians, whom she sold in the West Indies.” [18] (emphasis mine)   What this neglected history of Indian slavery suggests is that we must see the Indian as well as the African as the original racial “other,” the negation of whose humanity was the dialectical affirmation of white superiority in America; that slavery and the slave trade tie Massachusetts and Virginia together and demonstrate the North-South national pattern of racial exploitation that evolves so seamlessly into racism.

Any new research agenda thus needs to reconceptualize white–Indian along with white-African relations to gain a fuller understanding of the role of race in shaping both the racial and cultural identity of America and in making possible its political and economic development.  Volumes such as Almon Lauber’s Indian Slavery in Colonial Times (Amsterdam, NY, 1969 but originally published in 1913), Allan Gallay’s The Indian Slave Trade, 1670-1717 (Yale, New Haven, 2002), and others like Karen Ordahl Kupperman’s Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (Cornell, NY, 2000) and her most recent book, The Jamestown Project (Harvard, Cambridge, MA, 2007) tell the more inclusive story of how considerations of race dominate early American relations. . .  As we can see by returning to the saga of Virginia:

“In the autumn of 1607. . . when food supplies were running perilously low and all but a handful of Jamestown settlers had fallen too ill to work, the colony was saved by Powhatan, whose men brought sufficient food to keep the struggling settlement alive until the sick recovered and the relief ship arrived.” [19]   (emphasis mine)  So Powhatan, more famous in the white-washed history as the father of Pocahontas, saves the Jamestown settlers in 1607, years before the Pilgrims landing and years before the holiday we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.  But Powhatan’s life-saving graciousness has gone unlearned, unappreciated, unspoken of—even this year, the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s Founding.  Perhaps that is because, as Du Bois wrote about the black contribution to the Civil War, the settlers were ashamed of being indebted to those whom they considered their inferiors. Or maybe it’s the historians who should be held accountable. Whatever….  In the historical scheme of things, this oversight does not seem to have mattered because the new settlers soon re-righted their racial world at the behest of their superiors; to wit:

In 1609, the royal governor of Jamestown was ordered by the Virginia Company “to effect a military occupation of the region . . . to make all tribes tributary to him rather than to Powhatan, to extract corn, furs, dyes, and labor from each tribe and, if possible, to mold the natives into an agricultural labor force as the Spanish had done in their colonies.” [20]   (emphasis mine)

“As the Spanish had done in their colonies” meant, of course, that the settlers, told to emulate the Spanish conquistadors, were to subjugate the Indians to their will, establish racial rule over them, divide and conquer where possible, appropriate anything of value the Indians might possess—from food provisions to trade goods—and, first and foremost, enslave them . . . or as the company delicately put it—“mold them into an agricultural labor force.”

But the 30,000 Indians of the Chesapeake would not be “molded.”  They perished from the white man’s diseases.  They fought back.  So the Company had to try a new business plan of luring settlers to Virginia by promising them free land at the end of seven years labor.  But after five years the strategy of trying to turn a profit from these white indentured servants had also not succeeded so the company again raised the inducements for settlement:  “This time 100 acres of land was offered outright to anyone in England who would journey to the colony. . . [Thus] Instead of pledging limited servitude for the chance to become sole possessor of the land, an Englishman trapped at the lower rungs of society at home could now become an independent landowner in no more time than it took to reach the Chesapeake.” [21] (emphasis mine)

It is in this fashion that American exceptionalism is born via the gift of land which in Europe is owned by the monarchy, the church and the aristocracy.  But in America it is made available in a transaction of profit-making speculation.  Englishmen “trapped at the lower rungs of society” can then rise to become “independent landowners.”

But there was still one more “gift” to come: “In 1619 the resident governor was ordered to allow the election of a representative assembly, which would participate in governing the colony and thus bind the colonists emotionally to the land.” [22] (emphasis mine)

 

The pillar of democracy, the right to vote, was conferred upon the settlers not by the Goddess of Liberty but by the Goddess of Capitalism, as was the means of social and economic uplift, the land of the Indian.  And all of this occurred, we are reminded once again, by 1619—and before the fantasy-ennobling year of 1620.  Two other momentous things, whose significance, historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. reminds us, cannot be overstated, also took place in 1619.

Speaking of the first Africans to arrive in British America whom he calls the Jamestown Twenty, Lerone sums up the contradictions of Jamestown which were to become America’s own:

“In the months preceding the arrival [of the Africans], the colony had installed the new House of Burgesses [i.e., House of Citizens], formalized a new system of white servitude, shipped its first load of tobacco to England, inaugurated a new system of private property, and welcomed a shipload of brides, who were promptly purchased at the going rate of 120 pounds of tobacco eachThus, white servitude, black servitude, private property, ‘representative democracy,’ and bride purchase were inaugurated in America at roughly the same time.” [23] (emphasis mine)

Or to put it another way, the Jamestown Experiment codified the race, class, gender and political identity of America.  It also demolishes the myth of American exceptionalism because it establishes America as simply one of a number of white settler states like the former Rhodesia, South Africa and French Algeria, and those like New Zealand, Australia, et al. who have  morphed from those origins to the “civilizations” we see today.  Speaking of Australia, we can now answer the question that we posed pages ago about who these non-Pilgrim white colonists were.

 

Some were servants, and some were indentures and redemptioners as we have seen.  Others were  slaves like the white women sold at Jamestown, and many were the victims of kidnappings because:

Exporting white indentured servants became a big business… and closely resembled the African slave trade.  Drunkards were carried on shipboard.  Children were lured away with promises of candy and officials were bribed to turn over convicted criminals to the procurers. . . called ‘spirits’ because their victims were spirited away. . . [24]

But many of these “settlers” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were criminals .  Between 1718 and 1785 Britain banished 50,000 convicts to America, a fact rarely cited in American textbooks. [25]   In fact, it seems a matter of some historical discomfort to reveal the fact that America was Britain’s first penal colony.  Australia only assumed that role after the American Revolution when America’s shores were closed to that traffic.  Indeed the whole subject of white servitude and convict labor has received scant historical attention.  But the evidence is there.  It just is not permitted to confront or alter the tenets of mainstream history.

Again, Gary Nash:

“The colony had been initiated not by men seeking political or religious freedom but by profit-hungry investors in England and fortune-hunting adventurers and common riffraff from the back alleys and prisons.” [26]   The truth about Jamestown’s history, like the truth about American history itself, is gagged, shunted away in the closet to protect the myth of American perfection.  One re-engages with that history not simply to expose unflattering and suppressed truths but because so long as the myth of American perfection reigns, there will be no momentum for change in America.  And look at the world around us today.  Does it not suggest that change, more than likely, is the only hope that we have left?

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over.”  — W.E.B. Du Bois, 1935

his commentary also appears in Souls.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board Member William L. (Bill) Strickland Teaches political science in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is also the Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection. The Du Bois Papers are housed at the University of Massachusetts library, which is named in honor of this prominent African American intellectual and Massachusetts native. Professor Strickland is a founding member of the independent black think tank in Atlanta the Institute of the Black World (IBW), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Strickland was a consultant to both series of the prize-winning documentary on the civil rights movement, Eyes on the Prize (PBS Mini Series Boxed Set), and the senior consultant on the PBS documentary, The American Experience: Malcolm X: Make It Plain.  He also wrote the companion book Malcolm X: Make It Plain. Most recently, Professor Strickland was a consultant on the Louis Massiah film on W.E.B. Du Bois – W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices. Click here to contact Mr. Strickland.


[1] Du Bois, W.E.B., Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 200.

[2] Vincent Harding, “Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for New Land,” in Amistad I: Writings on Black History and Culture, ed. John A. Williams and Charles F. Harris (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), p. 271.

[3] Du Bois, W.E.B.  Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880. Athenaeum, NY, 1983, p. 711.

[4] Aptheker, Herbert. Correspondence of the W.E.B. Du Bois, 1934-1944, vol. 2, UMass Press, 1978, p. 369.

[5] Ibid., p. 370.

[6] The irony of Amerca’s fighting fascism abroad while segregating Blacks in the military and permitting lynching at home inspired the black community in those war years to launch “the double V” campaign: Victory over the enemies without and within.

[7] Haygood,  Wil. King of the Cats. Houghton Mifflin, NY. 1993, p. 118.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sinha, Manisha.  “To ‘cast just obloquy’ on oppressors: Black radicalism in the age of revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 64, #1, January 2007, p. 153.

[10] Ibid., p. 160.

[11] Du Bois, W.E.B. Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois, International Press, NY, 1988,

p. 415.

[12] Ibid., p. 155.

[14] Horne, Gerald, Race War: White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, New York University Press, 2004, book jacket.

[15] Eli Ginsberg and Alfred Eichner, Troublesome Presence: Democracy and Black Americans, New Jersey, p. 11.

[16] Nash, Gary.  Red White and Black: The People of Early North America, Prentice Hall, NJ, 1974, p. 46.

[17] G&E, p. 16.

[18] Mannix & Cowley, Black Cargoes, Viking, New York, 1962, p. 6.

[19] Nash, p. 56.

[20] Ibid., p. 59.

[21] Ibid., p. 52.

[22] Ibid., p.52.

[23] Johnson, The Shaping of Black America, Chicago, 1975, p. 8.

[24] Mannix & Cowley, p. 56.

[25] A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The transportation of British convicts to America, 1718-1785, (Clarendon, Oxford, 1990).

[26] Nash, ibid., p. 52.

Even More than Race, the South Is About Exploiting Workers March 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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By Joseph B. Atkins, Progressive Populist. Posted March 13, 2009.

The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Cheap labor. Even more than race, it’s the thread that connects all of Southern history—from the ante-bellum South of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis to Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and the other anti-union Southerners in today’s U.S. Senate.

It’s at the epicenter of a sad class divide between a desperate, poorly educated workforce and a demagogic oligarchy, and it has been a demarcation line stronger than the Mason-Dixon in separating the region from the rest of the nation.

The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry—with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind—made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.

Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the US House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called “card check” union elections nationwide.

“Dinosaurs,” Shelby of Alabama called General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as he maneuvered to bolster the nonunion Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and other foreign-owned plants in his home state by sabotaging as many as three million jobs nationwide.

Corker, a multi-millionaire who won his seat in a mud-slinging, race-tinged election in 2006, was fairly transparent in his goal to expunge what he considers the real evil in the Big Three and US industry in general: unions. When the concession-weary United Auto Workers balked at GOP demands for a near-immediate reduction in worker wages and benefits, Corker urged President Bush to force-feed wage cuts to UAW workers in any White House-sponsored bailout.

If Shelby, Corker, and McConnell figured they were helping the Japanese, German and Korean-owned plants in their home states, they were seriously misguided. The failure of the domestic auto industry would inflict a deep wound on the same supplier-dealer network that the foreign plants use. The already existing woes of the foreign-owned industry were clearly demonstrated in December when Toyota announced its decision to put on indefinite hold the opening of its $1.3 billion plant near Blue Springs in northeast Mississippi.

The Southern Republicans are full of contradictions. Downright hypocrisy might be a better description. Shelby staunchly opposes universal health care—a major factor in the Big Three’s financial troubles since they operate company plans—yet the foreign automakers he defends benefit greatly from the government-run health care programs in their countries.

These same senators gave their blessing to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the foreign automakers to open plants in their states, yet they were willing to let the US auto industry fall into bankruptcy.

In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation’s poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?

Why weren’t these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants.

The idea of working people joining together to have a united voice across the table from management scares most Southern politicians to death. After all, they go to the same country clubs as management. When Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker warned of Democratic opponent Ronnie Musgrove’s ties to the “Big Labor Bosses” in this year’s US Senate race, he was protecting the “Big Corporate Bosses” who are his benefactors.

The South today may be more racially enlightened than ever in its history. However, it is still a society in which the ruling class—the chambers of commerce that have taken over from yesterday’s plantation owners and textile barons—uses politics to maintain control over a vast, jobs-hungry workforce. After the oligarchy lost its war for slavery—the cheapest labor of all—it secured the next best thing in Jim Crow and the indentured servitude known as sharecropping and tenant farming. It still sees cheap, pliable, docile labor as the linchpin of the Southern economy.

In 1948, when the so-called “Dixiecrats” rebelled against the national Democratic Party, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina declared war on “the radicals, subversives, and the Reds” who want to upset the Southern way of life.

Seven years later, Mississippi’s political godfather, the late US Sen. James O. Eastland, told other prominent Southern pols during a meeting at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis that the South will “fight the CIO” (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and unionism with just as much vehemence and determination as it fights racial integration.

Eastland, Thurmond and their friends lost the integration battle. Their successors are still fighting the other enemy.

 

Joseph B. Atkins is a veteran journalist, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and author of Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), a book that details the Southern labor movement and its treatment in the press. A version of this column appeared in the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American and the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.

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