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“How Emmett Till Changed The World”: The Brutal Lynching Of A Black Teen In Mississippi Helped Shape The Civil-Rights Movement

Before Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, there was Emmett Till.

Till, a 14-year-old Chicago native, was brutally beaten and lynched while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi, in the summer of 1955.

His crime? Allegedly whistling at a white woman.

This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the tragic murder of Emmett Till. There will be commemorative events honoring the life of the young teen in Chicago and Mississippi. And that’s because, according to Chris Benson, associate professor of African American studies and journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Till’s death still resonates today.

“The reason we are so captivated by the lynching of Emmett Till 60 years later is that it’s justice that has not been reached. It grates against our sense of justice in America that this horrible event has never been resolved,” says Benson, who co-authored the book, Death of Innocence with Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley. “We see so many similar cases coming up in the contemporary moment that remind us of the injustice in the Emmett Till case. When we see the case of Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown or Tamir Rice, where young Black males are shot down by authority figures and nobody’s punished, it reminds us of the most celebrated case where a Black teen was killed and nobody was brought to justice.”

History notes that Till was with a group of teenagers who had stopped at a local grocery store to buy snacks when he broke Mississippi’s racial code of conduct. Just a year earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had announced separate but equal schools were unconstitutional in the historic Brown v. Board of education case. But things were still done a little differently in Mississippi. The state fought against any interruption in its system of segregation and often resorted to violence.

So it was in this space that four days after his alleged “crime,” Till was kidnapped in the wee hours of the morning on August 28, 1955 by two white men, Roy Bryant, husband of Carolyn Bryant, the store clerk Till allegedly whistled at, and J.W. Milam.

Bryant and Milan tortured Till for hours. He was brutally beaten. Barbed wire tied around his neck. He was shot in the head. The young teen was weighted with a cotton gin fan and thrown in the Tallatchie River. Three days later, Till’s bloated body surfaced, his face severely disfigured. He was identified by a ring on his finger, one his mother had given him that had his father’s initials.

When Till’s body arrived in Chicago, Mamie Till Mobley couldn’t believe her eyes. She wanted to show the world what Mississippi had done to her son, her only child. Mobley demanded an open-casket at Till’s funeral. His mutilated body was on display for five days as more than 100,000 folks lined the streets of Chicago to get a glimpse of what hate could do. The graphic images were published in Jet magazine and Black newspapers. Her decision changed the course of history.

“Opening that casket and allowing Emmett Till’s body to lay in state allowed people to witness the horrible face of race hatred,” said Benson. “It horrified people to the extent that they had never seen anything like this and to imagine that our children could be subjected to such horrors really moved people. So opening the casket opened our eyes to the injustice in this country and the consequences of that continued injustice if we didn’t do something about it.”

But justice would never come.

It took just little more than an hour for an all-white male jury to acquit Bryant and Milam of the murder of Emmett Till. Months later, Look magazine paid Bryant and Milam $4,000 so they would reveal how they killed the Chicago teen.

The fact that two white men were not convicted of murdering a young Black boy was not surprising in 1955 Mississippi. But what was surprising was the bravery and courage of Till’s uncle Mose Wright, who stood up during the trial and pointed to Bryant and Milam as the men who had kidnapped Till. It was nearly unheard of for a Black man to oppose a white man in court. In doing so, Wright put his own life in danger and immediately left Mississippi soon after.

“Understanding the context in the South at that time, for him to do that was nothing short of courageous,” says Paula Johnson, law professor and co-director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative at Syracuse University. The initiative investigates racially-motivated murders that occurred during the civil rights era.

Two months after Milam and Bryant were acquitted for the murder of Emmett Till, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus, sparking the 381-day Montgomery bus boycott and the beginning of a Civil Rights Movement led by a young minister by the name of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The fight for civil rights, which had mostly been a legal strategy up until that time, had become a mass movement. Soon after there were Freedom Rides, sit-ins at lunch counters, boycotts, demonstrations, and marches. And all of this can be traced back to Emmett Till.

“As we talk about Black Lives Matter, this is what Mamie Till Mobley was saying to us—‘My son’s life matters,’” says Johnson. “Till was not the first lynching but it was a defining moment in so many ways. Emmett Till’s murder galvanized an activist movement of that which continues today.”

Indeed, during the Movement for Black Lives conference in Cleveland this summer, activists of the Black Lives Matter movement honored the families of civil rights martyrs. The first image was of Emmett Till.

Airickca Gordon-Taylor, cousin of Emmett Till and president of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation, spoke at the Movement for Black Lives conference. She says Till kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement and noted that he was “a sacrificial lamb.”

“There are so many parallels today to what happened in 1955 and if we’re not careful all of our rights will be stripped away again,” Gordon-Taylor told The Daily Beast. “We have to be very diligent and very mindful and we have to come together as a community to work towards putting people in positions and roles that have our best interests at heart to work toward changing these policies.”

The Justice Department re-opened Till’s case in 2004. His body was exhumed and an autopsy was conducted but it was closed three years later due to the statute of limitations and insufficient evidence. But though no one was ever convicted for the murder of Emmett Till, his name will be forever associated with the fight for justice and civil rights. His life will not be forgotten. In fact, there are several movies being made about Emmett Till. A film based on Benson’s book will begin production next year, and it was recently announced that Jay-Z and Will Smith will produce a movie about Till for HBO.

“In so many ways, the case of Emmett Till was the first Black Lives Matter case,” says Benson. “Emmett Till is certainly a story about racial injustice. It’s a story about white supremacy. But within those elements is a recognition that this is really a story about power. Emmett Till was killed as an expression of power—power over the black body. We have to ask: What might had he been if he had lived?”

 

By: Lottie L. Joiner, The Daily Beast, August 28, 2015

August 30, 2015 Posted by | Emmett Till, Racial Justice, Racism | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Time To Hit Reset”: Black People Should Stop Expecting White America To ‘Wake Up’ To Racism

After the race-related events of the past few weeks and months, it’s clear that the people who speak for black America Have a Dream, in the wake of the one Dr. King so resonantly expressed.

The idea is that the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s wasn’t enough, that a shoe still has yet to drop. Today’s Dream is that white America will somehow wake up and understand that racism makes black America’s problems insurmountable. Not in-your-face racism, of course, but structural racism—sometimes termed White Privilege or white supremacy. Racism of a kind that America must get down on its knees and “understand” before we can move forward.

The problem is that this Dream qualifies more as a fantasy. If we are really interested in helping poor black people in America, it’s time to hit Reset.

The Dream I refer to has been expressed with a certain frequency over the past few weeks, after a succession of events that neatly illustrated the chance element in social history. First, a white woman, Rachel Dolezal, bemused the nation with her assertion that she “identifies” as black. Everyone had a grand time objecting that one can’t be black without having grown up suffering the pain of racist discrimination, upon which Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church put a gruesome point on the issue. Dolezal was instantly and justifiably forgotten, after which the shootings motivated the banning of the Confederate flag from the American public sphere.

However, practically before the flags were halfway down their poles, the good-thinking take on things was that this, while welcome, was mere symbolism, and that what we really need to be thinking about is how to get America to finally wake up to—here comes the Dream—structural racism. A typical expression of the Dream is this one, from Maya Dukmasova at Slate: “There is little hope for a meaningful solution to the problem of concentrated poverty until the liberal establishment decides to focus on untangling a different set a pathologies—those inherent in concentrated power, concentrated whiteness, and concentrated wealth.”

Statements like this meet with nods and applause. But since the ’60s, the space between the statements and real life has become ever vaster. What are we really talking about when we speak of a “liberal establishment” making a “decision” to “untangle” notoriously impregnable things such as power, whiteness and wealth?

This is a Dream indeed, and the only reason it even begins to sound plausible is because of the model of the Civil Rights victories of fifty years ago, which teaches us that when it comes to black people, dreaming of an almost unimaginable political and psychological revolution qualifies as progressivism. After all, it worked then, right? So why be so pessimistic as to deny that it could happen again?

But there are times when pessimism is pragmatic. There will be no second Civil Rights revolution. Its victories grew not only from the heroic efforts of our ancestors, but also from a chance confluence of circumstances. Think about it: why didn’t the Civil Rights victories happen in the 19th century, or the 18th, even—or in the 1920s or 1940s? It’s often said that black people were “fed up” by the ’60s, but we can be quite sure that black people in the centuries before were plenty fed up too.

What tipped things in the 1960s were chance factors, in the same way as recent ones led to a breakthrough on the Confederate flag. Segregation was bad P.R. during the Cold War. Television made abuses against black people more vividly apparent than ever before. Between the 1920s and the late 1960s, immigration to the U.S. had been severely curtailed, so black concerns, while so often ignored, still did not compete with those of other large groups as they do today.

There is no such combination of socio-historical factors today. No, the fact that Hillary Clinton is referring to structural racism in her speeches does not qualify this as a portentous “moment” for black concerns. Her heart is surely in the right place, but talking about structural racism has never gotten us anywhere significant. Hurricane Katrina was 10 years ago; there was a great deal of talk then about how that event could herald some serious movement on structural racism. Well, here we are. There was similar talk after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict and, well, here we are.

The old-time Civil Rights leaders did things; too often these days we think talking about things is doing something. But what, really, are we talking about in terms of doing?

Who among us genuinely supposes that our Congress, amidst its clear and implacable polarization, is really going to arrive at any “decisions” aimed at overturning America’s basic power structure in favor of poor black people?

The notion of low-skill factory jobs returning to sites a bus ride away from all of America’s poor black neighborhoods is science fiction.

In a country where aspiring teachers can consider it racist to be expected to articulately write about a text they read on a certification exam, what are the chances that all, or even most, black kids will have access to education as sterling as suburban white kids get?

Many say that we need to move black people away from poor neighborhoods to middle-class ones. However, the results of this kind of relocation are spotty, and how long will it be before the new word on the street is that such policies are racist in diluting black “communities”? This is one of Dukmasova’s points, and I myself have always been dismayed at the idea that when poor black people live together, we must expect social mayhem.

And, in a country where our schools can barely teach students to read unless they come from book-lined homes, what is the point of pretending that America will somehow learn a plangent lesson about how black people suffer from a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and therefore merit special treatment that no other groups in America do? Calls for reparations for slavery, or housing discrimination, resonate indeed—and have for years now. However, they result in nothing, and here we are.

Note: I’m not saying it wouldn’t be great if these things happened. However, I argue that they cannot happen. It was one thing to convince America that legalized segregation and disfranchisement were wrong. However, convincing America that black people now need the dismantling of “white privilege” is too enlightened a lesson to expect a vast, heterogeneous and modestly educated populace to ever accept.

How do I know? Because I think 50 years is long enough to wait.

Today’s impasse is the result of mission creep. The story of the Civil Rights movement from 1965 to 2015 started as a quest to allow black people the same opportunities others enjoy but has shrunken into a project to show that black people can’t excel unless racism basically ceases to exist at all. This is understandable. The concrete victories tearing down Jim Crow allowed have already happened. Smoking out the racism that remains lends a sense of purpose. And let’s face it: there’s less of a sense of electricity, urgency, importance in teaching people how to get past racism.

But the result is that we insist “What we really need to be talking about” is, say, psychological tests showing that whites have racist biases they aren’t aware of such as tending to associate black people with negative words, or white people owning up to their “Privilege,” or a television chef having said the N-word in a heated moment decades ago (or posing for a picture where her son is dressed as Desi Arnaz wearing brown make-up).

So, drama stands in for action. Follow-through is a minor concern. Too many people are reluctant to even admit signs of progress, out of a sense that their very role is to be the Cassandra rather than the problem-solver.

So little gets done. In a history of black America, it is sadly difficult to imagine what the chapter would be about after the 1960s, other than the election of Barack Obama, which our intelligentsia is ever anxious to tell us wasn’t really important anyway. Maybe we’re getting somewhere on the police lately. But there’s a lot more to being black than the cops. There is much else to do.

This new Dream, seeking revolutionary change in how America works, is not only impossible, but based on the faulty assumption that black Americans are the world’s first group who can only excel under ideal conditions. We are perhaps the first people on earth taught to consider it insulting when someone suggests we try to cope with the system as it is—even when that person is black, or even the President.

But this “Yes, We Can’t!” assumption has never been demonstrated. No one has shown just why post-industrial conditions in the United States make achievement all but impossible for any black person not born middle-class or rich. What self-regarding group of people gives in to the idea that low-skill factory jobs moving to China spells the end of history for its own people but no one else’s?

To be sure, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights hero and intellectual, famously argued in 1965 that automation and factory relocation left poor blacks uniquely bereft of opportunity, such that he called for the Civil Rights movement’s next step to be a call for job creation to a revolutionary degree. However, 50 years is a long time ago. Immigrants moving into black communities and forging decent existences—many of them black themselves—have shown that Rustin’s pessimism did not translate perfectly into later conditions. Today, community colleges offer a wider range of options to poor black people than they did 50 years ago. Books depicting black inner city communities such as Alice Goffman’s On the Run and Katherine Newman’s No Shame in My Game tiptoe around the awkward fact that there are always people in such communities who acquire and keep solid jobs—something even black activists often bring up in objection to “pathologizing” such communities.

I am calling neither for stasis nor patience. However, the claim that America must “wake up” and eliminate structural racism has become more of a religious incantation than a true call to action. We must forge solutions to black America’s problems that are feasible within reality—that is, a nation in which racism continues to exist, compassion for black people from the outside will be limited and mainly formulaic (i.e. getting rid of flags), and by and large, business continues as usual. Here are some ideas for real solutions:

1.    The War on Drugs must be eliminated. It creates a black market economy that tempts underserved black men from finishing school or seeking legal employment and imprisons them for long periods, removing them from their children and all but assuring them of lowly existences afterward.

2.    We have known for decades how to teach poor black children to read: phonics-based approaches called Direct Instruction, solidly proven to work in the ’60s by Siegfried Engelmann’s Project Follow Through study. School districts claiming that poor black children be taught to read via the whole-word method, or a combination of this and phonics, should be considered perpetrators of a kind of child abuse. Children with shaky reading skills are incapable of engaging any other school subject meaningfully, with predictable life results.

3.    Long-Acting Reproductive Contraceptives should be given free to poor black women (and other poor ones too). It is well known that people who finish high school, hold a job, and do not have children until they are 21 and have a steady partner are almost never poor. We must make it so that more poor black women have the opportunity to follow that path. The data is in: studies in St. Louis and Colorado have shown that these devices sharply reduce unplanned pregnancies. Also, to reject this approach as “sterilizing” these women flies in the face of the fact that the women themselves rate these devices quite favorably.

4.    We must revise the notion that attending a four-year college is the mark of being a legitimate American, and return to truly valuing working-class jobs. Attending four years of college is a tough, expensive, and even unappealing proposition for many poor people (as well as middle class and rich ones). Yet poor people can, with up to two years’ training at a vocational institution, make solid livings as electricians, plumbers, hospital technicians, cable television installers, and many other jobs. Across America, we must instill a sense that vocational school—not “college” in the traditional sense—is a valued option for people who want to get beyond what they grew up in.

Note that none of these things involve white people “realizing” anything. These are the kinds of concrete policy goals that people genuinely interested in seeing change ought to espouse. If these things seem somehow less attractive than calling for revolutionary changes in how white people think and how the nation operates, then this is for emotional reasons, not political ones. A black identity founded on how other people think about us is a broken one indeed, and we will have more of a sense of victory in having won the game we’re in rather than insisting that for us and only us, the rules have to be rewritten.

 

By: John McWhorter, The Daily Beast, July 11, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Civil Rights Movement, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Why Does The Senate Honor A White Supremacist?”: It’s Time To Ditch Richard Russell For Bob Dole

As I write these words on Monday, the South Carolina State Senate is poised to remove the Confederate battle flag from its capitol grounds entirely. These developments in the Palmetto State and elsewhere are all positive, and of course it’s high time for them. But Confederate battle flags on capitol grounds do not constitute the most conspicuous symbolic tribute to white supremacy in our political-architectural landscape.

No, the symbol I have in mind isn’t to be found in Columbia or Montgomery or Baton Rouge or Jackson. It’s right here in Washington, 2.6 miles from where I sit typing these sentences.

Hey, United States Senate: What in the world are you still doing with a building named in honor of Richard Russell?

As I trust you know, Richard Brevard Russell was a senator from Georgia from 1933 until his death in 1971. In his day, he was respected and revered. When you read about him you often read sentences like “the Senate was Russell’s mistress, his true and only love”; and indeed he never married, bore no children, and seems to have spent his waking hours thinking almost exclusively of how to bring honor and dignity to what we’ve long since stopped calling the world’s greatest deliberative body.

And sometimes, he did bring honor upon that body. His chairmanship of a special joint committee into President Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur is considered a model of deliberative bipartisanship. It was a highly sensitive time that carried a Seven Days in May kind of whiff about it—MacArthur wanted to invade China and enjoyed a huge popular following. It was an easy situation to demagogue, and Russell did not. So yes, he did good.

But: He was a racist and a segregationist who, precisely because of the esteem in which he was held high even by Yankees for other reasons, may have done more to hold back civil rights and integration in this country than any other single individual, including Strom Thurmond and anyone else you care to name. Thurmond wrote the initial draft of the infamous 1956 Southern Manifesto, the resolution signed by Southern senators and House members stating their support for segregation and their refusal to obey Brown v. Board of Education. But Russell rewrote a lot of it and was a key or even the key figure in rounding up the votes against civil rights legislation.

He was a white supremacist—not a cross-burning white supremacist, but a white supremacist all the same. Does that sound harsh? Well, here (PDF) is something Russell said while campaigning in 1936, when his opponent was accusing him of supporting New Deal programs that would promote integration: “As one who was born and reared in the atmosphere of the Old South, with six generations of my forebears now resting beneath Southern soil, I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.”

He opposed every piece of civil rights legislation that came his way. In fact, he had participated in his first anti-civil-rights filibuster the year before that 1936 election, when he helped block an anti-lynching law. He helped block another anti-lynching law in 1938. After the war, according to political scientist Robert D. Loevy in his To End All Segregation, Russell was the leader of the Southern bloc. Want to understand how committed he was to that position? In 1952, he could have become part of the Democratic Party’s Senate leadership structure. But going national in that way meant, as he knew, that he would have to soften his views on race. He refused.

On and on and on like this we could go. But here’s all you really need to know. In 1964, after his party finally succeeded in leading the push for civil rights legislation, what did Russell do? Decide to change a little? Throw in the towel just a bit? Nope. He refused to attend the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. And his racial views never changed.

He died in 1971, and they named the building after him the next year. Such were the times that his racism could be contextualized as an understandable and forgivable flaw. Maybe it’s still understandable, given the time and place of his birth and rearing. But it’s no longer forgivable to such an extent that one of only three Senate office buildings has to bear his name,

The other two Senate buildings, incidentally, are named after completely honorable men whose escutcheons carry no such stains. Everett Dirksen was a tad conservative for my tastes, but as the Republican leader in 1964, he did go along with LBJ and Senate Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield in support of civil rights. And Democrat Phil Hart of Michigan was one of the great public servants of his time. Yes, his politics were my politics, but it was his sense of honor that most defined him. He once learned that an aide in his Detroit office was taking a little honest graft. Aghast, Hart called a Detroit newspaper reporter to give him the story; to bust himself. The reporter didn’t run with it, telling Hart that no one would believe a Phil Hart-corruption story in the first place. This is what made his colleagues decide immediately that the new office building that was going up in the mid-1970s should be named in honor of their cancer-stricken colleague.

Sorry, a racist who spent 30 years making sure black children went to inferior schools and black adults couldn’t vote doesn’t deserve to be in their company. The Senate must change the name. But…to what?

Sitting where I do on the ideological parking lot, I turn naturally toward a figure like Hubert Humphrey. He was a giant of the Senate, and I rather like the symbolism of erasing a racist’s name and replacing it with the Senate’s most forward-thinking and courageous integrationist.

But I’ll tell you what. Let’s not make this a partisan thing. So I say, give it to a Republican. How about the Robert Dole Senate Office Building? He’s not exactly my dish of Kansas corn on a number of issues, but by cracky, as a young member of the House of Representatives, he voted for the civil rights bill in 1964. And then of course there was his later work on civil rights for the disabled. That’s reversal enough of Russellism for me. And he’s still alive, and it would be a nice thing for him, and into the bargain the Senate could make up for that shameful slap it administered to Dole’s face three years ago over that UN disabilities treaty.

Mitch McConnell, get on it. You once worked for a great moderate Republican, John Sherman Cooper, one of the few Southerners who voted for the civil rights bill. Harry Reid, this ought to be a no-brainer for you. Senators Pat Leahy, Patty Murray, Kirsten Gillibrand—you feel proud giving out your Washington address to your constituents? Somebody make a play here. Try to keep pace with South Carolina, will you?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 7, 2015

July 8, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Confederate Flag, White Supremacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Very Real Work That Needs To Be Done”: Republicans, Take Down That Flag — And Stand Up For Voting Rights

The abandonment of the Confederate battle flag by conservative politicians and organizations that previously defended it as a noble symbol of “heritage, not hate” is welcome, if long overdue. And the subsequent move by large corporations to stop selling the flag suggests that we may be experiencing an important cultural shift, that we may be entering a time in which it is no longer deemed acceptable to celebrate nostalgia for an era defined first by slavery and then by racial segregation enforced by officially sanctioned terror.

That kind of cultural change is, of course, a good thing, and the Confederate battle flag’s dramatically declining fortunes feel like a significant moment. Still, doing away with official reverence for the flag is largely a symbolic move that doesn’t come close to addressing the problems surrounding race in America, including disparities in treatment by the criminal justice system and the resurgence of voter suppression laws and other schemes designed to rig the elections in favor of powerful conservative interests. In recent days, the burning of black churches in Southern states, including one that had previously been burned down by the KKK, is a chilling and tragic reminder that violence aimed at the African-American community, violence with a long history, is not confined to a single act in a single city.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to ask the legislature to take the Confederate battle flag from its position on the statehouse grounds came only after the murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. It is a sad fact of political life that it often takes a horrific act to galvanize sufficient political will to make necessary change, often after years of work have prepared the ground for what looks from the outside like a sudden shift. Civil rights activists, clergy, and Black lawmakers in South Carolina have been organizing against the official place of honor for the Confederate battle flag for decades, both before and after the flag was moved from the dome of the state capitol and raised over the Confederate memorial on the statehouse grounds in 2000. That activism continued as recently as two months before the Charleston shooting, when a group of African-American clergy taking part in a national gathering of People for the American Way Foundation’s African-American Ministers Leadership Council encircled the flag in protest.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley may be reaping praise for her rising political stock, or for outmaneuvering “the agitators,” in the words of one gloating tweet, but this is not really a story about courageous leadership on her part. It is, rather, a story about the GOP leadership finally coming to terms, at least symbolically, with the Republican Party’s increasingly untenable position, in an increasingly diverse country, of being in partnership with groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens that foster nostalgia for our white supremacist past and deep resentment about the nation’s growing diversity.

In fact, right-wing responses to the Charleston shootings have been a study in political calculation, reflected in the face of RNC chief Reince Priebus looking over Haley’s shoulder last week. The Haley press conference was in part an effort to save floundering GOP presidential candidates from dealing with questions about the Confederate flag without distancing themselves from right-wing base voters or GOP activists in South Carolina, an important early primary state.

Initial right-wing responses to the shootings were mind-boggling and important to look at. Some commentators on Fox News downplayed evidence that the murders were racially motivated. Some sought to blame drug use and anti-religious feelings. Some even blamed the murdered Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, based on his positions on reproductive choice and gun control.

National conservative leaders denounced the violence but were seemingly unwilling to engage with the violent racism that was at its root and bizarrely did all they could to find another explanation for the shooting. When asked if the shooting in Charleston was racially motivated, Jeb Bush said, “I don’t know.” Lindsey Graham tried to take the focus off race and advance the myth that the shootings were a hate crime targeting Christians.

Remarkably, even after the killer’s manifesto of racial hatred was released, some right-wing pundits continued to push the idea that the murders were an attack on Christianity, a “Satanic act” by someone with “socialist leanings.” That fits the right wing’s political narrative, which is grounded in dishonest claims that progressives are enemies of religious freedom. Republicans are counting on that narrative to help carry them into the White House in 2016, in part by reaching out to evangelical voters of color.

But taking down the flag is not going to change the Republican Party’s devotion to policies that harm people and undermine our democracy. As President Barack Obama said in his eulogy for the slain Rev. Pinckney, taking down the flag would be “one step in an honest accounting of America’s history,” but allowing ourselves to “slip into a comfortable silence” on difficult issues facing the country would be “a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for.”

Voting rights advocates from around the country gathered in Roanoke, Virginia, on the day before Rev. Pinckney’s funeral to rally for a renewal of the Voting Rights Act, a centerpiece achievement of the civil rights movement that was gutted by the Supreme Court’s conservative justices to the cheers of many Republican politicians. We must make sure that the continuing conversation around the Confederate battle flag does not become a distraction from the very real work that needs to be done to dismantle the legacy of racism and bigotry that that flag represents. It’s not enough to take down the flag; we have to take down the discriminatory policies and practices that constitute that legacy. If Republican politicians truly want to reject that legacy, let them start by embracing the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way; The Blog, The Huffington Post, July 2, 2015

July 3, 2015 Posted by | Confederate Flag, Republicans, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Radical Racist Socialism Of The Deep South”: Denials That The Civil War Was About Slavery Are Revisionist And False

With the American South so radically conservative and politically divergent from most of the rest of the country, it’s easy to forget that it was not always so. The American South used to be much more politically nuanced and politically complicated.

Obviously, the legacy of racism and slavery dominates everything. Southern denials that the Civil War was about slavery are revisionist and false, as Ta-Nehisi Coates conclusively demonstrated at The Atlantic.

But if we compartmentalize and set aside the grotesque and horrific injustice of race-based slavery, we can see that the 19th century South was also a hotbed of anti-capitalist economic egalitarian sentiment–with the caveat that only whites were allowed to receive its benefits. Consider these snippets excerpted by Coates: first, the Muscogee Herald in 1856:

Free Society! we sicken at the name. What is it but a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, filthy operatives, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists? All the Northern men and especially the New England States are devoid of society fitted for well-bred gentlemen. The prevailing class one meet with is that of mechanics struggling to be genteel, and small farmers who do their own drudgery, and yet are hardly fit for association with a Southern gentleman’s body servant. This is your free society which Northern hordes are trying to extend into Kansas.

Talk about a hatred of freedom and small business. Or consider this bit of socialism-for-whites-only from traitor-in-chief Jefferson Davis himself:

You too know, that among us, white men have an equality resulting from a presence of a lower caste, which cannot exist where white men fill the position here occupied by the servile race. The mechanic who comes among us, employing the less intellectual labor of the African, takes the position which only a master-workman occupies where all the mechanics are white, and therefore it is that our mechanics hold their position of absolute equality among us.

And finally, this remarkable indictment of Yankee capitalism from Hammond’s legendary “Cotton Is King” speech:

The difference between us is, that our slaves are hired for life and well compensated; there is no starvation, no begging, no want of employment among our people, and not too much employment either. Yours are hired by the day, not cared for, and scantily compensated, which may be proved in the most painful manner, at any hour in any street of your large towns. Why, you meet more beggars in one day, in any single street of the city of New York, than you would meet in a lifetime in the whole South…Your [slaves] are white, of your own race; you are brothers of one blood. They are your equals in natural endowment of intellect, and they feel galled by their degradation.

There are many more examples of this sort of thing in Coates’ piece as well.

It’s easy to focus on the abhorrent racism here. But it’s also instructive to see the anti-capitalist critique of the North, whose laissez-faire robber baronism was admittedly Dickensian in its brutality–not remotely comparable to the evils of slavery, obviously, but it’s easy to see how a twisted racist mind that didn’t see black people as human would see itself as comparatively morally superior to the North by virtue of its white egalitarianism.

This is why the Confederate South was ultimately such a strong base of support for FDR. As long as FDR didn’t prevent lynching and the other modes of de facto enslavement of African-Americans in the post-Reconstruction South–and he shamefully and deliberately avoided doing so–most Southern whites were more than happy to take the benefits of Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the New Deal in general. The benefits of these programs were generally not shared with blacks, so Southern whites found an easy continuation of their economic ideology in sticking it to the Northern capitalists with economic redistribution.

The transformation that occurred in the 1960s was much greater than a simple political realignment in which the vast majority of Southern whites switched from Democrats to Republicans after LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act. They also experienced a far more profound shift in their economic politics.

Forced to choose between their virulent racism and their embrace of progressive economic politics, most former Confederate whites chose to keep their racism. Redistributed benefits were all well and good when that egalitarianism extended only to themselves–but extend those same benefits to the hated underclass, and taxation becomes theft and tyranny. FDR socialists became Ayn Rand libertarians essentially overnight.

It’s important to remember that fact when we talk about the legacy of institutional racism in the United States. We’re talking about a hatred so profound that an entire demographic didn’t just switch political parties on a dime: it switched generations of populist economic ideology as well.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 27, 2015

June 28, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Conservatives, Deep South, Slavery | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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