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“What And Why We Celebrate Today”: In Washington, D.C., Reminders Of America’s Dark History Of Segregation

We are in the waning hours of African American History month — the time set aside each year to reflect on black struggles and sacrifices to achieve America’s promise.

My recognition of African American contributions began in the 1940s with annual celebrations of Negro History Week at Stevens Elementary School in my West End/Foggy Bottom community. Our nation’s capital is also where I experienced first-hand America’s shame.

Liberty Baptist Sunday school taught me the Ten Commandments. Civil authority in the city taught me the others.

Among them: Thou shalt not attend Grant Elementary School on G Street NW, which was for white children only. Thou shalt not attempt to enter the Circle Theater at 21st and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where only whites were allowed. Thou shalt never think about dining downtown.

Thou can purchase sodas and sandwiches at the drugstore at the corner of 25th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. But thou shalt not sit and eat. Thou must stand at the end of the counter and wait patiently to be recognized.

Ah, Washington of my youth — a place and time when skin color determined where you lived, attended school, worshiped and worked, and how much you got paid.

I learned that lesson as a teenager looking for part-time work. Pick up the Jan. 3, 1960, edition of The Post and what do you see?:

“BOYS-WHITE Age 14 to 18. To assist Route manager full or part-time. Must be neat in appearance. Apply 1346 Conn. Ave. NW.”

“DRIVERS (TRUCK) Colored, for trash routes, over 25 years of age; paid vacation, year-around work; must have excellent driving record. Apply . . . 1601 W St., N.E.”

“STUDENTS Boys, white, 14 yrs. and over, jobs immediately available. Apply . . . 724 9th St., N.W.”

Simply stated: If you’re black, git back.

In our anger and humiliation we turned to Negro History Week to celebrate black achievers such as Mary McLeod Bethune, George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, Charles R. Drew, Matthew Henson, Ralph Bunche and Joe Louis.

Even as we annually paid homage to our black champions and their victories, we remained in the vise grip of segregation.

From a 1948 “Segregation in Washington” report: “Only 30 percent of the residents of the District of Columbia are Negroes,” the report said. “But Negroes have 70 per cent of the slum residents.”

It was no accident, said Wendell E. Pritchett of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, who explained in a 2005 paper how the system functioned.

“This system of segregation was imposed by powerful interests, particularly those in the real estate sector,” he wrote. “The 1948 Washington Real Estate Board Code of Ethics stated that ‘no property in a white section should ever be sold, rented, advertised or offered to colored people.’ ”

“Segregation was maintained by residents’ associations, which had organized into the powerful Federation of Citizens’ Associations that policed the city’s racial borders,” Pritchett noted, adding: “The result was that blacks were forced to pay higher rents in the limited areas to which they had access, and in these areas housing was significantly inferior.”

Pritchett continued: “The damage caused by segregation was exacerbated, the [1948] report concluded, by the on-going urban renewal program that was clearing many formerly poor black areas for middle-class housing restricted to whites. Of the 30,000 new units built during the 1940s, just 200 were available to blacks.”

Today’s millennials are not pioneers. Gentrification of the District got underway decades ago.

Why do some of us celebrate African American History Month with moist eyes?

Return in time to the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 3rd Street NW in the 1830s. See that brick federal building with its hipped roof, dormer windows and stone keystones? It’s called the St. Charles Hotel.

It has a special feature.

In the basement are six 30-foot-long arched cells, with heavy iron doors and iron rings embedded on the walls. It’s a slave pen.

Look down at the sidewalk. See the recessed grills to provide light and ventilation for the confined slaves.

St. Charles is where the Southern planters stayed when they came to Washington to sell their slave property.

A few blocks away, at the southwestern corner of 4th and G streets NW, stands the Washington jail. That’s where runaway slaves were confined. Until emancipation, all slaves were required to obey the curfew law. Getting found on the streets of Washington after sundown without written permission from the master was a one-way ticket to jail. The owner had to be notified to appear before the warden to identify their slaves and pay a fine to reclaim them.

From being chained in the basement to abolition, marches, legal assaults against injustice, the White House, the mayor’s suite, the halls of Congress, the faculty lounge, the judge’s chambers, the corporate boardroom, the pulpit, the Officers Club and the editor’s desk.

That’s what and why we celebrate today.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 26, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | Black History Month, Segregation, Slavery, Ten Commandments | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Flag Hijacked By Modern Segregationists”: Its 20th Century Symbolism Is Clear To Anyone Who Examines The Historical Record

A historian and Southerner says the Confederate flag was not the flag of the Confederacy.

I am a Southerner by both birth and heritage. I come from a long line of poor white cotton farmers on both sides of my family. Three of my four great-grandfathers fought in the Confederate Army. The fourth had been told by his parents that he could join the army when he turned 13; he was on his way from Texas to Virginia to do so when he met his brothers coming home on the road. They told him that Lee had surrendered and the war was over. My grandmother was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and I was enrolled at the age of 6 in the Children of the Confederacy. I mention these credentials because of what I am about to say about the Confederate battle flag.

The flag that is causing such a furor was not “the Confederate flag,” as so many news reports have described it. It was a military flag, originally square in form, designed by William Porcher Miles, an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard, after the first Battle of Manassas, because Beauregard thought that the Confederate national flag, which had a circle of white stars in a blue canton and three broad stripes, red, white, and red, was too easily confused with the Union flag in the smoke of battle. Miles’ battle flag was never approved by the Confederate Congress and never adopted as a national flag. It never flew over Confederate government offices, or over the Capitol at Richmond.

It was not even prominent among the symbols of the Lost Cause that helped create the myth of the noble suffering South during the years after the Civil War, nor was it celebrated during those years as a hallowed symbol of the Southern past, as apologists for it claim. According to University of Mississippi historian Allen Cabaniss, writing in The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, it was seldom displayed at Confederate reunions or used by any of the societies of descendants of Confederate veterans. My grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter used the first national flag, the one that Beauregard thought could be confused with the Union flag, at their meetings, and she made me a small one out of silk to hang in my bedroom.

Cabaniss describes how the Confederate battle flag emerged “out of limbo” as a symbol of white supremacy and segregation during the Dixiecrat political campaign of 1948, when Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for president on a platform of states’ rights and segregation. Newspaper accounts of the States’ Rights Democratic Party convention in Birmingham, Alabama, describe delegates marching into the auditorium under Confederate battle flags as bands played “Dixie.” This set the stage for the adoption of the battle flag by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils across the South as a symbol of their racist opposition to integration. The first time I can remember seeing a picture of the battle flag carried in public was during the Clinton, Tennessee, race riot in 1956, when hooded Klansmen descended on the town and paraded down the main street under the flag.

Next month the Klan will rally at the South Carolina statehouse grounds under the Confederate battle flag. When it was at its peak, in the 1920s, the Klan’s members paraded under the American flag.

The fact is that in the 1950s and 1960s, the Confederate battle flag was hijacked and dishonored by racists and white supremacists who were opposed to the federal government’s implementation of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending public school segregation. Two years after the decision, in 1956, the Georgia Legislature incorporated the battle flag into the state flag as a protest against integration. The battle flag was first raised over the South Carolina state Capitol on April 11, 1961, to mark the beginning of the Civil War Centennial; in March 1962 the Legislature voted to leave it there as a protest against the civil rights movement. Its 20th century symbolism is clear to anyone who examines the historical record, and it is not something to honor or revere.

In June 1865, two months after the Confederate surrender, a Catholic priest named Abram Joseph Ryan, a former Confederate Army chaplain, published a poem entitled “The Conquered Banner.” Its seven stanzas urged Southerners to accept defeat and furl their flags. The final stanza reads:

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently – it is holy –
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not – unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people’s hopes are dead.

The poem was once a standard recitation piece in Southern households, including my grandmother’s. The racists of the 1950s should have heeded Father Ryan’s advice. Now it is definitely time to furl that banner.

 

By: Lonn Taylor, Historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History from 1984 to 2002 and is the author of The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem: This originally appeared in The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, Segregation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Rand Corporation”: Old-School Southern Segregationist’s Who Still Believe Negroes Should Know Their Place

Hey, wait a minute–didn’t Rachel Maddow already disqualify Rand Paul as a serious presidential candidate five years ago?

It appears the Beltway has long since forgotten about Paul’s disgusting May 2010 interview with Maddow, during which he made clear his belief in separate and unequal treatment for people of color in the private sector. Back then, I was horrified to see Paul defend his 21-century segregationist views, and was convinced that the man would be a clear and present danger to American democracy if he were elected to the United States Senate.

At the time, I was also surprised that prominent figures on the right didn’t stand up to denounce Paul’s views in the name of being logically consistent. After all, the right’s thought leaders had long pushed the idea that Republicans were the real leaders on civil rights. Consider this 1997 letter to the New York Times from conservative Harvard professor Stephan Thernstrom:

”Political Right’s Point Man on Race” (news article, Nov. 16) describes Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice as typical of a generation of white Republicans who ”readily say their party was on the wrong side” in the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s. This equates the Republican Party with Barry Goldwater, its 1964 Presidential candidate, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But 80 percent of House Republicans voted for the 1964 legislation, as did 82 percent of Republican senators. In the House, three of four votes cast against the bill came from Democrats, as did four of five votes in the Senate. Likewise, 82 percent of House Republicans and 93 percent of Senate Republicans backed the Voting Rights Act the next year.

Now, you would figure that the “Republicans-were-the real-party-of-colorblindness!” crowd would rise up and denounce Paul for suggesting that the Republicans who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act voted for an unconstitutional piece of legislation. Of course, the right’s thought leaders—with rare exceptions—gave Paul a pass, and largely denounced the “liberal media” for making a big deal about Paul’s abhorrent remarks.

Nothing I’ve seen out of Rand Paul’s mouth in the past five years has changed my view that in his heart, he is an old-school Southern segregationist who believes Negroes should know their place, and that the white man should be in a place above them. In Rand Paul’s America, business owners could still have signs on their doors saying, “We Do Not Serve Coloreds.” In Rand Paul’s America, black people would have no rights that white people must respect.

Speaking of respect, Rachel Maddow deserves our continued respect for ripping the mask right off Paul’s face five years ago and exposing him as the bigot’s best buddy… and Paul deserves nothing but our continued contempt.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 18, 2015

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Rand Paul, Segregation | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Boldly Ahead Of His Time”: South Carolina Republicans Snub Desegregation Judge

Of all the names of American heroes you probably don’t know, Julius Waties Waring has to rank near the top of the list. Waring was a judge in South Carolina in the mid-20th century. He’s famous to those who know for many courageous stands, but he’s probably best known for writing in one opinion that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” That was in 1951, three years before Brown v. Board of Education. In Charleston, South Carolina. Now that’s a set of stones, no?

Charleston these days is a gorgeous and ever more cosmopolitan city where, if you pick your spots carefully—the art galleries, certain restaurants—you can run into more Democrats than Republicans, maybe. But Chucktown has been molasses-slow to acknowledge the brave legacy of Waring. Finally this month, he got his due. A statue was dedicated outside the same federal courthouse building where he heard his cases.

Everyone of course came. Oh, wait. Everyone didn’t come. Some Democrats showed up, led by Eric Holder. But no local Republican of any note came.

According to the Charleston Post and Courier, Sen. Lindsey Graham had another event he’d planned “months before.” Rep. Mark Sanford, the Appalachian trail-hopping ex-governor who now represents the city in Congress, spent the day in Washington. (It was a Friday.) And the best excuse of all goes to Tim Scott, the junior senator after Graham, who is African-American. Scott had some meetings, and then “some personal things that needed attending.” He at least did send an aide.

If this seems like a small, so-what kind of thing to you, I submit two thoughts. First, you’re maybe not familiar enough with Waring’s career. He made it to the federal bench in 1942. He made, for a few years, no unusual rulings, although being on the bench did bring him face to face with his city and state’s official segregation in a way that simply being a prosperous attorney had not. He began by ending segregation in his courtroom. Somewhere in there he divorced his first wife, a Charleston girl, and took up with and married a Connecticut woman, who may have influenced his views. He issued an opinion holding that the state had to pay black teachers the same as it paid whites, and another ordering that the University of South Carolina law school admit black students, or that the state open a truly equal law school for African-Americans.

In 1948, Waring ended the state Democratic Party’s “white primary” and ruled that Charleston’s “Negroes” were entitled to “full participation in [Democratic] Party affairs.” The party had to let them enroll and vote, which they did, 35,000 strong, in that year’s primary elections. (Yes, as conservatives will gleefully note as if they’re scoring a point by mentioning 80-year-old and no longer relevant history, the Democratic Party was the racist party at the time.)

Then in 1951 came his famous dissent in Briggs v. Elliott, in which he wrote the sentence I quote above. Waring’s famous sentence came from his dissent—that is to say, by 2-1, the three-judge federal panel upheld South Carolina’s segregation. But the Supreme Court agreed to hear Briggs, which it then combined into Brown. When the high court ruled in Brown, the Charleston circuit court, of course, reversed itself. So Waring was boldly ahead of his time, and he provided the jurisprudential basis for Brown by being the first-ever federal judge to say, plainly and straightforwardly, that segregated schools were wrong and that “separate but unequal” was a practical impossibility and a pernicious lie.

So he was a huge figure. Charleston had rejected him in part because he rejected it. He retired shortly after his Briggs ruling and moved with his wife to New York City, of all lamentable places, obviously wanting to have nothing to do with Charleston, the South, or any of it. But now the city has finally decided to honor its own, so let’s not pretend no one down there understands the importance of what he did.

The second thought I submit is that while politicians do indeed have scheduling commitments that arise months in advance, they also cancel them regularly to go do something else. I’ve been on the business end of some of those cancellations myself. So Graham, Scott, and Sanford could have found a way to make it to Charleston if it really mattered to them.

I am not saying that the fact that they didn’t go makes them racists. That would be unfair in Graham’s and Sanford’s case, and kind of preposterous in Scott’s case. I am saying, however, that it seems as if they didn’t go because, well, no one they knew and cared about wanted them to go. For Graham, certainly, locked in a primary fight against Tea Partiers, but really for any South Carolina Republican no good could possibly come of attending a celebration of one of the state’s most important liberals.

The presence of Holder, Mr. Fast and Furious himself, only made things worse. Why, imagine. What with everyone having cameras on them these days, someone might have snapped a picture of one of the Republicans shaking Holder’s hand! So it’s not a reflection on the men—although it is that—so much as it is on the modern GOP, Palmetto State Branch. And it’s shameful.

Meanwhile, across our United States, schools are resegregating at a record clip, thanks to the Republican appointees who constitute a Supreme Court majority that believes trying to desegregate schools by edict is nearly as malevolent as the old practice of segregating them. The resegregation is happening faster, surprise surprise, down South than anywhere else. What they seem to need are more tributes to figures like Waring, and Republicans in particular are the people who need to attend them.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 21, 2014

April 21, 2014 Posted by | Lindsey Graham, Segregation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Protected Class Isn’t A Privileged Class”: No, Employment Protections Aren’t Like Segregation

Since the 1960s, federal law has recognized various protected classes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color or religion; the 1990 Disabilities Act on the basis of disability. It should be screamingly obvious that a “protected” class isn’t a “privileged” class — but apparently it isn’t.

In recent years, progressives have been lobbying for an Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Opponents have advanced various arguments against it, including the notion that it will subject schoolchildren to discussions of homosexuality and that it’s a recipe for lawsuits.

Another bogus claim is that ENDA would create “special” rights for gays and lesbians.

On Tuesday The Las Vegas Sun ran a story on Republican State Assemblyman Crescent Hardy, who’s campaigning to represent Nevada’s 4th Congressional District in the House. It explained that Mr. Hardy opposes ENDA because: “When we create classes, we create that same separation that we’re trying to unfold somehow. By continuing to create these laws that are what I call segregation laws, it puts one class of a person over another. We are creating classes of people through these laws.”

Yes, he went there: He not only compared employment protection to segregation, he said such protections are a form of segregation.

It’s possible he got this idea from The Heritage Foundation. In November Ryan T. Anderson of Heritage argued that ENDA “does not protect equality before the law; instead it would create special privileges that are enforceable against private actors.”

Actually ENDA prohibits “preferential treatment or quotas” and merely makes it illegal for an employer to fire an employee just because he’s gay.

This idea that protections against discrimination put “one class of a person over another” has surfaced in other areas, too.

As I wrote not long ago, Fox’s Martha MacCallum deployed this type of reasoning when she called the Paycheck Fairness Act a “special handout” for women. So did Justice Antonin Scalia when he called the Voting Rights Act a “racial entitlement.”

 

By: Juliet Lapidos, The New York Times, February 20, 2014

February 23, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, Segregation | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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