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“What’s Old Is New Again In Ferguson”: The Tensions In Missouri Are Part Of A Too-Familiar American Story

Ferguson, Missouri, has opened our eyes to old and new unpleasant truths about the U.S. of A. First, a small Southern town burning over race – that’s a story we know by heart. American history and literature foretell it over and over: the South is the South is the South.

What’s new to our eyes is the extent to which police forces have become militarized against the citizenry. Why we should tolerate police officers on tanks, looking like warriors, wielding heavy artillery, is beyond me. It’s another outrageous gift from the presidency of George W. Bush, who founded the Department of “Homeland Security.” The word “homeland” was not even in American usage before 2001. Now with military surplus hardware going out to law enforcement, the face of policing at home has changed to become more hostile in a post-9/11 posture. Violence on civilians is thus more likely to happen.

Because of Ferguson, black anger and grief at white power and force is now in starker relief than the nation has witnessed in years. As our collective conscience registers the death of an unarmed youth by a police officer, this is a good time – a crisis – to look back as well as forward. Michael Brown was slain, shot several times, caught in the crossfire on a summer night, like many other young black men before him. Emmett Till, a Chicago youth of 14, died a brutal death in the oppressive heat of Mississippi in 1955. All they did to deserve dying was nothing.

Missouri has always been contested ground, a border state with Southern slavery and culture, much like Maryland. It’s the setting of the greatest American novel, all about the crucible of race. Mark Twain, a son of Missouri, wrote in “Huckleberry Finn” about runaway Huck and fugitive slave Jim seeking freedom, rafting on the Mississippi River, away from the slave state Missouri. How stark is that imagery in our shared memory? If you’ve ever seen Hannibal, the riverfront town that was Twain’s boyhood home, you can breathe that languorous Southern air that keeps people in their place. Missouri is far from the self-reliant Midwest in origins and character, contrary to reputation. It’s more Southern, not so much heartland.

One thing I will say in Missouri’s favor is that President Harry Truman, a native son, desegregated the armed forces soon after World War II. Good for Harry.

Missouri was a slave state in antebellum America and the focus of festering debate in Congress during the bitter divide between North and South. The “Missouri Compromise” of 1820 was just the first skirmish. In the 150 years since the Civil War, in the 50 years since the landmark civil rights acts, we are still prisoners of the past. Reconciliation is far from complete. Racial relations still smolder in the former slave states – known as “the Slave power,” among the abolitionists who resisted it. Philadelphia Quakers and Bostonian Unitarians shone as anti-slavery leaders from the 1830s to the 1850s. These decades were our darkest historical hours.

We still have an unspoken fault line, descended from the Mason-Dixon Line that separated freedom and slavery. Not all states were created equal, let’s be honest. The leading states standing against slavery were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York. That’s just the truth. But old Missouri still has the weight of slavery hanging over it, our own American “peculiar institution.” It remains somewhere under the sun, painfully re-enacted in variations to this day.

Just ask Michael Brown.


By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, Slavery | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Unexpected Turn”: Missouri Develops Strategy To Prevent A Repeat Ghastly Rush Limbaugh Bronze Bust Statue Debacle

Last year, both Steve and I wrote posts discussing the induction of Rush Limbaugh into Missouri’s Hall of Fame. At the time, there seemed little of redeeming value to this tale but now, it has taken an unexpected, and even encouraging, turn.

Just to recap: inside the grand rotunda of the state capitol in Jefferson City sits the Hall of Famous Missourians, a stately array of bronze busts celebrating such notables as Mark Twain, Harry Truman, and as of May 14, 2012, a broadcaster from Cape Girardeau named Rush Hudson Limbaugh III. Tellingly, the Hall’s latest inductee failed to meet with universal acclaim.  According to Politico:

News of the impending ceremony broke shortly after he called Georgetown Law School student Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut,” inspiring a “Flush Rush!” campaign against Republican House Speaker Steven Tilley, who selected Limbaugh for the honor. In the past couple of months, protesters reportedly have delivered hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Tilley’s office and presented him with approximately 35,000 petition signatures.

Republican leaders of the Missouri House kept the induction event secret until 25 minutes beforehand, hoping to keep protesters away from the unveiling of Limbaugh’s bronze bust. The Kansas City Star reported that the doors were locked and guarded by armed members of the Missouri Highway Patrol while the ceremony took place.  Behind those locked doors, the honoree took this solemn occasion to say, “Our so-called ‘friends’ on the other side of the aisle are deranged.”

So that went well.

But now Missouri has a new House Speaker, Tim Jones, who devised this inspired online strategy to avoid any repeat of the ghastly Limbaugh debacle:

Selection into the hall traditionally has been at the discretion of the Speaker of the House. However, current House Speaker Tim Jones has empowered the people of Missouri to decide the next outstanding Missourians to be honored by induction into the hall. Please use the forms below to provide your suggestion for the next inductee into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Also include your reasoning for why your selection makes the ideal candidate to join the likes of Walt Disney, Ginger Rogers and Stan Musial. Speaker Jones will accept nominations until September 13, 2013 and will formulate a “Top 10” list of candidates based on the results and other important criteria as recommended by nonpartisan staff of the Missouri House. Visitors will then have the opportunity to cast their votes for the final 10 nominees with the two candidates who receive the highest number of votes selected for induction into the Hall of Famous Missourians. Voting will conclude October 13, 2013.

So they’re going to let Missourians decide who gets to be in the Hall of Famous Missourians? Sounds suspiciously like democracy to me.

By: Kent Jones, The Maddow Blog, August 26, 2013

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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