Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

How ‘racial hierarchy’ started

News-Record&Sentinel, July 2020

I do not believe for a moment that [whites] will submit any longer [to Negro rule].  It is time for the oft-quoted shotgun to play an actual part in the election….Our historic [Cape Fear] river should be choked with the bodies of our enemies, white and black, by which this state shall be redeemed.  –Alfred Waddell, October 24, 1898, Wilmington N.C.

Negro rule in N.C.?  Really?  Yeah, really.

The old pro-slavery Democratic Party controlled N.C into the 1890s.  They favored big-money interests.  In 1894, poor white farmers, ignored by the Democrats, organized as the Populist Party, and they collaborated with Republicans (60-40 black).  They won, and then again in 1896, even electing the governor. 

“Fusion” kept their promises.  They limited interest on farm loans.  They reversed Democratic voter suppression.  They raised taxes for schools.  They were odds-on favorites again in 1898.

A Democratic adviser wrote: “There is but one hope for the railroads to capture the next legislature, and that is for the n**** to be made the issue.”

Wealthy businessmen worked secretly to organize.  The Raleigh News & Observer joined, with their cartoonist.  “Red Shirt” thugs appeared.  “White supremacy conventions” were held in Fayetteville and Goldsboro.  Horsemen rode through colored neighborhoods, firing into houses.  Democrats told gun stores not to sell to blacks; whites bought 400 rifles.

Election Eve in Wilmington, Waddell addressed a large crowd: “Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the Negro out voting, tell him to leave.  If he refuses, kill him….We will win tomorrow .”

Election day, white mobs slaughtered hundreds of blacks “like rabbits.”  Thousands fled into swamps.   

Democrats won, and their new majority moved immediately to disenfranchise blacks with an amendment that circumvented the U.S. Constitution.  Then they passed “racial hierarchy laws,” aimed at poor whites, to make them feel superior to blacks and be unlikely to ally with Republicans again. 

It worked.  Oh, did it work.  N.C. legislation became the model for other states’ Jim Crow laws.  And generations of white Southerners accepted, without conscious thought, that black citizens were inferior and so “racial hierarchy” was the natural order of things.  I was one of them.

Footnote:  Relevant to 2020, other men spoke along with Waddell.  One was Charles Aycock, whose statue is in the U.S. Capitol.  Another was Tom Jarvis, who has a residence hall named for him at East Carolina University – and a Methodist church!

Why is white supremacy?

News=Record & Sentinel, June 2020

Why is white supremacy? 

I’ve been there.  I know why.

I was taught early on: If a lady enters the room, and she’s white, stand up.  I was taught that Negroes “know their place.” 

That precisely answers my question.  Every generation taught the next generation, mostly by attitude and example, that blacks were “not like us,” maybe even dangerous. 

My family clucked at Hitler’s “master race,” but in fact, we had our own insane version of white supremacy, and it was as much a part of us as five fingers on a hand. 

And everybody bought in.  All my parents’ friends were characters plucked from the 1890s. They were conservative Christians, who confirmed their views with selected Bible passages. Some snorted hatred for blacks, for whatever reason, and I don’t recall my parents disagreeing.

Lately I’ve been thinking back to the origins of present-day white supremacy – and I find terrible decisions there   decisions to be cruel.

The root cause, of course, was African slavery.  Negroes were work animals to be bought and sold and bred.  They weren’t people. 

But after the Civil War, slavery as an economic system – the whole reason for owning slaves – was gone.  And that’s when white Southerners had to decide what kind of society they would build to replace it.  At that point in history, I maintain, whites could have corrected the humongous errors of the Confederacy.  They could have welcomed newly freed blacks into the American melting pot.  But they didn’t.  

In 1866, less than a year after Appomattox, the North Carolina legislature passed “Black Codes.”  First, the Codes established that a “person of color” as anyone with one-sixteenth or more Negro blood.  And they limited the rights of newly freed slaves to the rights of the 30,000 free blacks in N.C. before the War – no gun ownership, for example, public floggings for felonies and no buying slaves in order to free them.   

Fault did not lie with blacks.  They had shown themselves to be responsible people, finding their separated families, legalizing their marriages and seeking to live in peace.

The largest share of blame belongs with politicians.  My next letter on this page will be about the 1890s in N.C., especially the election of 1898. That’s when black suppression gained momentum.

Now our generation has to decide, going forward from here, what kind of society we want for our children

First World, third world

Asheville Daily Planet, July 1, 2020

Why was the White House paralyzed when Covid-19 hit and still now, isn’t responding?

Why has President Trump withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, Intermediate Range Nuclear Treaty, Trans-Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, Iran Nuclear Deal and snorted at NATO, WHO and the G-7?

Why?  Our answer begins in the Cold War.  Back then, we had a First World (us), a Second World (the Communists) and an unstructured Third World for everybody else.  Those Third-World countries were mostly poor.  And most of them were ruled by a dictator.    

The Cold War is over, but the Third World remains, now written as lower-case “third world.”  Some, like Brazil, have moved up and out, but most remain poor – and most have a strongman leader. 

An old friend of mine, now retired from the Foreign Service, has written on third-world dictatorships.  Turns out, around the world, third-world dictators have a lot in common.  Here is my friend’s six-point analysis:

“One, everything revolves around the leader.  Planning and systems and job titles and division of labor and separation of powers are meaningless. It’s whatever the leader wants at that moment, that is, whatever maximizes his personal interests. Nothing else matters. I mean nothing else.  And no endeavor is important if he did not originate it or can claim credit for it.

“Two, all state institutions exist to comfort and protect him and his family and close associates.  The flip-side is also true, that all state institutions exist to punish his enemies.

“Three, media exist to praise him and should never criticize.  He should be ‘respected’ at all times for everything he says and does. Most countries I have lived in literally featured pictures and/or selected quotes from the leader on the masthead or elsewhere on the front page of every newspaper every day. All TV and radio news programs began with a review of what the leader said or did that day. 

“Four, all decisions are deferred to him.  He can’t, of course, make all decisions, but he certainly will reverse decisions someone else made that he doesn’t like.  And that person will likely be fired.  The result is, people are afraid to make decisions.  Nobody takes the chance.

“Five, the leader will spend the budget and, probably, use government-controlled institutions to finance whatever he feels like doing. State-run banks lend to him and his cronies and don’t expect to be paid back. Banks won’t loan to people he doesn’t want to see funded.

“Six, there is no such thing as conflict of interest for him and those he cares about.  Many ministers of transportation around the world own bus companies, for example.”

Now back to President Trump.

I asked two questions about him above, two why questions.  My friend’s analysis of third-world dictators answers both.

Why the chaotic response to Covid-19?  See Point Four.  In the article, he also speaks of “drive-by tasking,” an informal State Department phrase for the third-world tendency to delegate jobs willy-nilly to just anybody, knowing they have no power to do anything.  Remember how Vice-President Pence was put in charge of virus response?  Then later, Deborah Brix was named “White House coronavirus response coordinator,” with no power, of course.

And the spectacle of Republican congresspeople around a table, each one lavishing praise on the Leader, several of them gushing about how their state had needed ventilators or masks and got them right away after calling the president or Jared.

And why Trump’s low opinion of treaties and international agreements?  See Point One.  This is also why he disparages anything Barack Obama did, or anytime he wants to say no other president has ever done something before him.  He’s the sun, and no planets are allowed that he didn’t create.     

Is he a wannabe third-world dictator?  In a sense, yes.  He certainly feels entitled to the same effusive gratitude that Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin receive.  But on the other hand, he’s just being himself.  And that self-centered self expects to be all and end all.  That self is also stunningly ignorant.  He knows nothing of our Constitution or of world dynamics.

America is a First-World country with a third-world president.  In November, we can get our worlds back in balance.  Vote, everybody, vote! 

No restraints? Bad idea.

News-Record & Sentinel, May 20, 2020

I think most of us, at one time or another, have wished we could live without any restraints.   No red lights of any kind. 

But we know it’s’ a bad idea, don’t we?  That kind of super-selfishness is not who we are. Our lives are oriented around other people, especially our families.  We’re compassionate people. 

That’s what’s so amazing about Republicans in our General Assembly.  They campaigned in 2010 as giants of the faith – but then they won.  And they tasted political power.  Yum, yum.

James Madison (abridged) wrote:

“When the majority has schemes of oppression, popular government enables it to ignore both the public good and the rights of other citizens. If this impulse and the opportunity be allowed to coincide, we well know that neither moral nor religious motives can be relied on as an adequate control.”

Republicans’ first act as the new majority was to set legislative and congressional district boundaries, and they drew their gerrymanders.  Election outcomes would be predetermined for at least 10 years.  No more worries about pesky voters.

The world’s authority on elections wrote in the Raleigh News & Observer in 2016: “North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.”

To be fair, rank-and-file Republican lawmakers didn’t come to Raleigh with “schemes of oppression,” looking for “opportunity,” ready to crush “the rights of other citizens.”

No, but their leader did.  And all Republicans went along.

That leader was a murky man named Thom Tillis, Speaker of the N.C. House, now a U.S. senator who is now asking us to reelect him.

With power, Tillis quickly showed his colors.  Speaking to the North Carolina Association of Educators: “The message from the Legislature is clear.  If you stand against cuts to public education, we will teach you a lesson.”

He regularly pulled tricks like in January 2012, when he called a special midnight session to override a veto and gave Democrats one hour’s notice.  When they protested, he smirked: “This should be a learning experience for you.”  He often mocked: “Didn’t you read the election results?”

Tillis isn’t surprising.  That all GOP lawmakers went along, that’s beyond surprising.

Hear Abraham Lincoln: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Decision then, decision now

Asheville Daily Planet, June 1, 2020

Decisions come to us in all sizes – from the life-changing big ones to the every-day small ones.  Some decisions can be postponed or even avoided altogether, but some are like crossroads: you take this way or that way. 

Some decisions are both – huge and unavoidable.  The American Revolution in North Carolina was of that kind.  Everybody had to take a side, Tory/Loyalist or Patriot.  The Revolutionary government required an oath of allegiance.  My five-greats-grandfather, Connor Dowd, made his decision.  Oh, did he! 

Dowd came from Ireland to Cumberland (now Moore) County, N.C., in 1760.  By 1775, he had accumulated thousands of acres of land on Deep River and a distillery, ferry, tannery, grist mill and 11 slaves.  He also had an enemy, his neighbor, Philip Alston. 

When the war broke out, Dowd followed his religious beliefs on pacifism and submission to established authority and did not support the Revolution.

You can understand his decision.  His denomination, “Separate Baptists,” disapproved, and besides, the status quo had been good to him.  But he didn’t stop at non-support of the war.  He gave massive in-kind support to the Loyalist militia before the Battle of Moore’s Creek in early 1776.  They lost badly.

Unfortunately for Dowd, the local leader of the Patriot militia was Philip Alston.  He arrested Dowd and held him without bail.

The irony is, Dowd was wavering on his Loyalist decision.  A letter from Revolutionary leader Robert Rowan to Governor Caswell protested Dowd’s arrest:  “I was much surprised on enquiry to hear of his being charged with treasonable practices, against the State, as from a conversation I had with him some time before, I was persuaded he intended taking the oath.”

Almost all his fellow Loyalists switched sides after the fiasco at Moore’s Creek, but Dowd could not.  His treatment by the Patriot militia drove him to a final, fateful decision.  He and his wife were now confirmed Tories.  When the war came to N.C. again, in 1781, Dowd equipped a Loyalist contingent, headed by his son, Oyen.  They were to join General Cornwallis on his drive north.  But they were ambushed by Patriot militia In the Battle of Lindley’s Mill on Cane Creek, and Oyen was killed.

After the war, Connor Dowd was deported to Ireland, and everything he owned was taken by his creditors to pay his debts from the ill-fated military expedition.  His wife and children went to live with relatives near Hillsborough.

He made his decisions, right or wrong, and he lived with the results.

Which brings us to us.

This November, a decision will come to every American voter that is just as momentous as that faced by the people of N.C. in the Revolutionary War.  No joke, no exaggeration.    

Do we want to give Donald Trump the power of the presidency for (at least) four more years?  We must choose yes or no.  It’s a crossroads decision.

Do we want a president who said:  “When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be”?  Do we?

Do we want a president who said to Vladimir Putin concerning journalists: that he’d like to “get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia but we do,”  Is that what we want?

Do we want a man as president who told his rich friends at Mar-a-Lago after the 2017 tax cut bill: “You just got a lot richer”?  Do we?

In short, do we want to continue the great American Experiment in democracy, or do we want to give ourselves over to a would-be third-world dictator? 

We decide individually, yes, but we contribute to the national decision – especially here in N.C.  If we here reject Trump, he will likely lose.  Our individual votes are that important.

I can’t help thinking that Connor Dowd spent the last seven years of his life in Ireland, living off a pension from Parliament for his Loyalist service, thinking and rethinking his decisions in the war.

We will, likewise, live with the results of November’s vote.  We must think very seriously how we, individually, decide.  We’re at a crossroads.

Reopen protest signs

News-Record & Sentinel, May 2020

My favoritesign from the “reopen” protests is one held by a boy with bangs down in his eyes: “Open the barbershop.”  Otherwise there isn’t much humor in the sign offerings. 

Unless, of course, you’re into irony: “Give me liberty or give me covid-19.”  Or word puzzles: “Rights aren’t a form of business.”

The overall mood at the protests isn’t jolly, either.  There’s the man in tactical vest, cradling his AR-15 and quoting Thomas Jefferson on his sign: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”  Hold your fire, dude.  I’ll give you dangerous freedom.     

There’s also the mother of three stair-step children under 10.  The youngest, maybe three years old, has a sign three-fourths her size that reads: “Live free or die.”  Brrr, cold.  The oldest, looking very solemn, holds up: “God makes the rules.”   

The protests are about ending lockdowns, of course, so many in the orchard of signs say exactly that.  But there’s more going on.  Protest gatherings are like Tea Party reunions.  Yellow flags with coiled rattlers are dusted off.  You almost expect to see “Stop Obama.”  

The participants are middle-aged.  One rare college-age group mocked the proceedings with: “God hates signs.”

Opinion page letters have been calling for a “Damn the torpedoes” attitude, and this same theme is in the protest signs.  It’s a point of view I can understand.  Many people feel that backing down from a fight shows intolerable weakness.  One sign read: “My rights don’t end where your fear begins.”  Another: “Fear is the real virus.” 

A related idea is also reasonable – that people should be allowed to choose their own fate, like the guy who held up: “Save my right to die.”    One lady’s sign, “My body, my choice,” interesting in this crowd, is another.

As understandable as these ideas may be, they’re terrible public policy in a contagion.

A familiar word bounces around among the signs:  freedom.   Ah yes, the old Tea Party watchword that’s become enshrined in the Freedom Caucus and in Freedomworks, the Tea Party-aligned outfit who backs these protests with organization and mailing lists.

I’m guessing that the iconic photo from this protest season will be the one of a woman leaning her full torso out the passenger-side window, waving her fist at a masked healthcare worker standing silently with arms crossed.  A door-size sign is below her: “Land of the Free.”

Reopen protests or…?

Asheville Daily Planet, May 15, 2020

When it comes to protests, the right is definitely second-rate compared to the left. 

Take the current wave of “reopen” protests in state capitals.  Lame.  The crowds aren’t crowds really. People mostly stand around in middle-aged clumps or line up holding signs for the media.

Think back to women’s marches over the years.  They actually marched.  The 2017 march in Washington filled streets for blocks.  And they were focused.  Their mood said they meant business.

Anti-lockdown protest scenes are ill-defined.  There are the guys with AR-15s wearing tactical vests.  And there’s the pre-teen girl with a sign: “God makes the rules.”  And yellow flags with coiled snakes waved about and a few Confederate flags.  Some protests have Trump merchandise tables.

One sign caught my eye: “Freedom is essential.”  I thought, Nice creativity, a takeoff mocking “essential businesses.”  But the sign has appeared from state to state.  I googled the sentence, and whataya know, there it is, prominently in Breitbart and plenty of elsewheres.

Yellow flags.  “Freedom is essential.”  AR-15s.  Trump tables.  Confederate flags.

Tell me again what this protest is supposed to be about.

I leaned back in my chair and recalled an old anecdote.  It seems an aide shared some rumors with JFK: “You know, Mr. President, where there’s smoke there’s fire.”  Kennedy replied, “No, I’ve found that where there’s smoke, there’s usually a smoke-making machine.”

Sniff, sniff.  The smoke smell coming from these protests brings back memories of a smoke machine from days gone by:  the Tea Party.

The New York Times dug deep and found: “Among those fighting the [shutdown] orders are FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, which played pivotal roles in the beginning of Tea Party protests starting more than a decade ago.” These outsiders help with organizing demonstrations, mailing lists, setting up websites and conducting polls.

FreedomWorks is closely aligned with the Tea Party movement – and from what I read, both groups have come on hard times in recent years.

Matt Kibbe, CEO at FreedomWorks for 10 years, wrote a magazine article titled, “The Tea Party Is Officially Dead.”  It’s a riveting first-person account of the Tea Party’s slide. 

“In hindsight,” he wrote, “we should have been more careful. Inertia pulled us toward partisanship, and over time there was growing pressure to support the [Republican] party, not our principles.  I watched local organizers rip each other and their Tea Party organizations apart, much like Trump tore apart the GOP.”

Those backing anti-lockdown protests are obviously this redirected Tea Party.  Kibbe described them like this: “Under Trump, the Tea Party original agenda of freedom and fiscal responsibility has been replaced with a populist nationalism…animated by different issues, such as immigration walls and trade restrictions.”

The Times wrote about this Tea Party comeback effort:  “Established national groups that generally align with the Republican Party have sought to fuel the [anti-lockdown] protests, harnessing their energy in a manner that can increase their profiles and build their membership base and donor rolls.”

And this:  “Those helping orchestrate the fight against restrictions predict the effort could energize the right in the same way the Tea Party movement did in 2009 and 2010, and potentially be helpful to President Trump as he campaigns for re-election.”

 Maybe one participant in 100 wears a mask.  One lady’s sign read: “Social distancing is communism.”  The promotional poster for one protest specifically said, “No masks required.”  They’re lined up behind the president in minimizing the pandemic.

Anti-lockdown protests are probably having an effect in Republican states – on politicians.  But their constituents aren’t with them.  A Yahoo News poll in early May found that ”a large majority (71 percent) still say the country should reopen only when public health officials are fully able to test and trace new cases….And support for the protests against stay-at-home orders (21 percent) has not grown.”  This would explain low turnouts.

I’ll end with a trivia question:  what slogan appears on signs at both women’s movement rallies and reopen protests? 

The answer: “My Body, My Choice.”  Women use it for the pro-choice position.  Anti-lockdowners use it to say they want the choice to go out and take their chances with the virus.

The right to blame states

News Record & Sentinel, April 2020

I believe in states’ rights….I believe we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment.

Ronald Reagan, Neshoba (Mississippi) County Fair, August 3, 1980

The federal government’s not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping, you know, we’re not a shipping clerk….The governors are supposed to be doing it. 

Donald Trump, March 20, 2020

Who says Donald Trump is not a Reagan Republican?

Who?  Everybody.  Reagan was speaking right out of the Old South, when “states’ rights” meant “Don’t touch my slaves.”  Reagan was promising the South in his presidential campaign that his government would leave them alone to be as “conservative” as they wished.  He was playing Dixiecrat.  (Dixiecrats, incidentally, were officially the States’ Rights Democratic Party.)

Trump is something entirely different.  He’s playing dodgeball.  He’s a cop-out.  The buck doesn’t even pause at his desk.

He’s totally incapable of doing what managers do — seeing situations realistically, gathering the best available advisers and making hard decisions.  He’s a bogus chief executive just like he was a bogus businessman.  He’s emptied his government of competent people and replaced them with embarrassing duds who mostly know how to pucker up.

That’s why Trump’s top doc, Anthony Faucci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has achieved hero status.  He’s competent.  He knows what he’s talking about, and he speaks plainly.

Faucci answered Anderson Cooper’s question about a nationwide lockdown this way:  “The tension between federal mandate and states’ rights is something I’m not going to get into, but when you look at what’s going on in this country, I don’t understand why it’s not being done.  It should be.”    

Trump isn’t acting out of any philosophy of states’ rights.  No, he’s just acting – strutting and fretting his daily hour of self-glorification, undisguised untruth and belligerence toward the unappreciative.

The states are his scapegoat.  “The complainers (that is, states needing equipment) should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit,” he said.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has formed an ad hoc team outside government to attempt a rescue.  He dropped this zinger: “The federal stockpile…is supposed to be our stockpile.  It’s not supposed to be the states’ stockpiles that they then use.”

Ad hoc must be Latin for, “Blame somebody else!”

My man, Tump Sherman

Asheville Daily Planet, May 2020

My grandfather was born in Stewart County, Georgia in 1867.  So I’m sure he would argue with me on the point I’m about to make here – that America, today, needs somebody with the core character of  William Tecumseh Sherman.

I’ve written before in this space how we should be looking forward to a “restoration” of the U.S. government, back from the chaos and corruption of the Trump era to the vision of our Founders and their Constitution.  But we need more than a return to good governance.  We need a good person as our national leader.

That’s why I’m drawn to Sherman.  Yes, he had personality quirks and he muffed a couple of battles, but he had the qualities we need.  Like these:

First, he was not a vindictive man.  He instinct was forgiveness and healing.    

For example, April 17, 1865.  Lee has surrendered, and Lincoln has been assassinated.  But Sherman’s army still faces Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’ formidable army in North Carolina.  Neither man wants to continue the fight, so they met, with Confederate Secretary of War, John Breckinridge, in Durham.  Sherman poured three glasses of bourbon, which the Confederates hadn’t tasted in months, and they discussed surrender.  Sherman retired to another table and wrote terms of surrender that he thought Lincoln would have wanted.  He and Grant had met with Lincoln three weeks previous and had heard the president’s post-war intentions.  (The terms he gave were too lenient for Grant and had to be redone a week later.)

He hated the song, “Marching through Georgia,” because it gloated over a fallen enemy.  

Second, Sherman understood reality.  He planned and executed according to facts, not fantasy.  At times, he was prophetic. 

In December 1860, after South Carolina seceded, he said: “You people of the South mistake the people of the North. They are…not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it….You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth….At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail…your cause will begin to wane.”

Third, he understood situations and their solutions.  The war could, in fact, have gone on indefinitely as a series of battles, but Sherman saw that the war could be ended if the civilian population “realized the truth,” that the South could not win and stopped “being deceived by their lying newspapers.”  So he marched across Georgia.  And the Georgia governor immediately asked for peace with the Union.

Fourth, he cared about the pain of ordinary people.  In his March to the Sea, he ordered that the cavalry and artillery could seize what they needed, “discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly.”  And foraging parties “will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.”

He showed his compassion even more after he completed the March.  After a meeting with 20 black leaders in Savannah, he issued an order, which Lincoln approved, that expropriated 400,00 acres on sea islands from Charleston south into Florida, to be set apart “for the settlement of the negroes now made free.”  (Andrew Johnson reversed the order after Lincoln’s assassination.)

When he and Grant met with Lincoln in March, it was Sherman who introduced the subject of reconstruction of the South.  More battles possibly lay ahead for him in North Carolina, but he thought ahead to healing.

My man, “Tump” Sherman.

As we review Sherman’s character traits, we’re struck immediately how our current president lacks them all.

Sherman won’t be on the ballot in November, in absentia, as it were.  Our choice is between Trump and Biden.  But I see Sherman there in spirit, hovering over the polling places, whispering, “Biden, Biden, Biden.” 

Joe Biden will be the wise man of healing America needs.  He’s more compassion and cooperation than competition, more kindness than confrontation.

The right kind of strong.

Reparations for slavery

Asheville Daily Planet, April 2020

Reparations for slavery and segregation — an issue swept under everybody’s rug so long there’s barely a bulge.

I don’t like the word “reparations,” and I don’t like what some proponents are saying, but then I like less what Senator Mitch McConnell said: “No one currently alive was responsible for [slavery].  And I don’t think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it.” 

The Pew Research Center estimates that today, white households are worth about 20 times more than black households. 

Is this some kind of huge coincidence?   

Slavery ended with the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, but black people weren’t given the rights of free people for another 100 years.  They weren’t even regarded as people.

The Brooklyn Dodgers assigned Jackie Robinson to minor-league Montreal for the 1946 season.  The Montreal manager was a Mississippian.  He begged Dodger general manager Branch Rickey not to make him manage an African American.  “Mr. Rickey,” he asked, “do you think n***s are human beings?”  That was in my lifetime.

I grew up in Georgia until 1954, and no exaggeration, every thread of our lives was white supremacy.  I remember a time my parents visited us and saw my children playing with their black neighbors.  My father reprimanded me: “They’re not like us.”

I never heard one person ever criticize Jim Crow segregation.  Never.  Not only were the races separated; the system made certain that, in every way, the other race was always less.  Why did the gentleman who helped with our yard work have to drink water from a Coke bottle instead of a glass from our kitchen?  I never wondered.  I sort of understood that he had “his place.”

And that inferiority carried over to education, jobs, justice — and life itself.  When a polio epidemic hit Wytheville, Virginia, in the summer of 1950, black patients weren’t accepted at Memorial and Crippled Children’s Hospital in Roanoke (80 miles away).  They had to be taken 260 miles over pre-Interstate highways to Richmond for treatment. 

There were legal remedies after the Civil War — on paper.  The Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments gave ex-slaves legal standing.  And when General Sherman completed his March to the Sea, he and Secretary of War Stanton met with 20 black leaders in Savannah to find out what they wanted.  As a result, Sherman issued a special order — which was approved by President Lincoln:  “The islands from Charleston, south, the abandoned rice fields along the rivers for thirty miles back from the sea, and the country bordering the St. Johns River, Florida, are reserved and set apart for the settlement of the negroes now made free.”   They were to govern themselves, with no whites allowed to reside there.  Tens of thousands of ex-slaves rushed to make claims.

But Lincoln was assassinated, and his successor, Andrew Johnson, a Southerner, nullified Sherman’s order — and did nothing to stop the violent subjugation of blacks.  The paper remedies were crumpled. 

White society, top to bottom, enforced white supremacy from then for a century.  They did.  No, we did, well into my lifetime — and Senator McConnell’s. 

I read about monetary reparations, even detailed studies of slave wages computed over centuries with interest, amounting to trillions, to be divided among slave descendants.  It’s totally unworkable and short-term.  Better, a plan over decades, mostly around education.   

I’d like to see a program that challenges the millions of successful blacks to be highly visible role models and a massive federal investment in scholarships for serious black young people.  Call it yeast in the dough.

The U.S. military wastes enough money in one day to fund hundreds of students in state universities.

A resolution in the House of Representatives to study options, H.R. 40, will likely pass next year.  Studying’s a start.

Georgetown University owned slaves to work their vast tobacco fields, and in 1838, the Jesuits there sold 242 of them to plantations in Louisiana.  The university is looking for remedies.  Their current president went to Louisiana in 2016 to meet with descendants of those slaves.  And last year, G.U. students voted to add money to their tuition for scholarships for these descendants. 

They recognize a debt is owed.

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