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