“A crisis is something people must live with
       until change has occurred and stability is
       restored.” — Dan Nimmo, TV Network News
       Coverage of Three Mile Island:  Reporting
       Disasters as Technological Fables
In the pre-dawn hours of March 28, 1979, a pressure valve failure in the Three Mile Island nuclear facility’s Unit 2 reactor precipitated the worst accident of its kind in US history. The reactor had been dedicated just a year earlier (an expansion of the Pennsylvania site’s capacity) and lauded as a superlative achievement in nuclear power. In the waning years of the Cold War, when the economics of the energy industry left the nation badly bruised, the atomic threat we had so feared promised a cleaner, cheaper electricity source — and the plant’s champions intended it as an example of the wonder of harnessing nuclear power. Yet, that spring, the cutting edge facility seemed just a source of an uncontrollable radiation hazard.
Naturally, the public was greatly alarmed when word of a core meltdown broke, and press coverage helped stir up excitement.  Just a couple of weeks before, The China Syndrome, a fictional movie about an accident at a nuclear power plant, had premiered. The tense drama then seemed true to life, and public anxiety about nuclear power mushroomed accordingly.
When Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornburgh called for the evacuation of pregnant women and small children from the area near the plant two days later, concerns escalated even more. A number of local residents emptied their bank accounts and fled, while the media reported that there was chance of a giant explosion from a hydrogen bubble in the reactor threatening. A public raised in the shadow of the atomic bombings of World War II and the threats of the Cold War nearly panicked.
As chance would have it, though, then-President Jimmy Carter was a trained nuclear engineer with field experience from a similar incident in Canada. In the weeks after the accident, he personally received twice-daily briefings about conditions at Three Mile Island from Harold Denton of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, complete with technical updates on the situation. Carter had confidence, based on his expertise and the information received, that there was no substantial threat to the public, and he didn’t bother to address the subject to the media beyond some cursory initial comments. He proceeded with his regular political appearances even as news agencies focused on the “nuclear nightmare.”
By the 4th day, Carter’s staff suggested that a calming act would be highly beneficial (treating it implicitly as if it were no threat had not assuaged fears), so on April 1st, Carter — with his wife, Rosalynn, beside him — flew to the plant and toured it with reporters in tow. Afterwards, the President spoke for a few minutes to a crowd at a nearby school gym and shook hands with some locals.  The message was clear: there was no real danger if the President himself (and the First Lady) would go there to visit.
That same day, experts declared the threat over, as the size of the hydrogen bubble inside the reactor shrank and danger of an explosion was dismissed.  The immediate crisis had ended, but there would be long-term fallout from the accidental stoking of public anxiety. New practices and requirements were introduced in order to appease anxious citizens — from upgrading and expanding protective equipment and monitoring devices at sites to additional training for staff and resident regulators assigned to nuclear facilities with a 24-hour central operations center to which they reported.  At Three Mile Island, Unit 2 was decommissioned, and it never operated again.
These attempts to reassure the public had limited results. Opposition to expanding nuclear power facilities in the US remained high afterwards — lasting almost two generations and effectively curtailing many new construction projects until recently — though stockpiling nuclear weapons continued routinely. This year, regulators have okayed operation of a new plant (which tellingly is a government project through the TVA). If successful, it joins about sixty other operational plants around the country, indicating that though we fear the source, we — perhaps reluctantly even — continue to coexist with it anyway.
From the moment the mushroom cloud erupted at Hiroshima, leaving rubble and disfigured bodies in its wake, humans came to fear a peril of their own making. Then after the Cold War was decreed, fears of an atomic attack escalated. Citizens who could hardly understand the lethal power of the weapon were forced to live with the daily threat of a nuclear event. In 1950, President Harry Truman authorized the Federal Civil Defense Administration, which undertook a campaign to help Americans feel safer living with that risk.
The agency put out educational literature and most famously, the Duck and Cover video that millions of school children watched as part of their “survival training.” Youngsters drilled to assure they would be ready for the looming attack that they were warned could come at any moment. In the movie, children were depicted seeking shelter riding a bike or walking down a street, when on a playground, and in their classroom. The message for the young audience was that they were never free from a threat — even at their most playful moments.
Ostensibly, the purpose of this material was to make people — and especially kids — feel safer. The government intended to give the public confidence that they could survive a bomb blast, even if it was a false hope. The information and drill instruction offered action to combat the fear that the new reality of nuclear war engendered.  But, the effort became less of a balm than an accelerant.
A generation of schoolchildren were regularly subjected to reminders that a horrible attack could be imminent. That awareness served as a constant anxiety absorbed into the background of everyday life, along with the other marvels of technology that shaped post-war culture. The Bomb was a looming peril belying the security of suburbia, and the regular school preparedness drills hammered that reality into impressionable young minds.
The fear of their fear and the need to remedy that fear created its own hysteria — a new Red Scare and atomic anxiety. A generation raised on bomb warnings and drills naturally responded to the angst about a nuclear attack that never came. That fear helped define them and shape their choices. They were markedly different than the generation that followed the War to End All Wars — no less hedonistic, perhaps, but more expectant that they would be protected.
Preparedness drills and civil defense materials probably fed the illusion that they could be kept safe, even as it made them afraid. The government stepped in to reassure them — but not to act to de-escalate the Cold War and reduce the likelihood of a nuclear war. In essence, the political leadership was more concerned about pacifying the public than averting the threat.  Fear of the people’s fear motivated them rather than the reality of their enemies’ power, and it took some time to acknowledge the insanity of that position.
Bizarrely, then, the nuclear age spawned government-as-protector even as it was the cause, also, of the dread.  That the state would develop and employ these weapons is not surprising, but its efforts to serve as public comforter while doing so certainly is. Thus, even as it fueled anti-communistic hysteria, it tried to assuage (poorly and with the opposite effect) the fears of citizens about the nuclear menace. Which, then, was the political leadership’s real fear and what did they do to us?
A mild-looking white man with thin hair, Eugene Debs addressed the crowd in Canton, OH on June 16, 1918 with conviction.  Working men, he said, were the ones fighting wars, but they never had the say in making them or in settling the peace.  “You have your lives to lose,” he told them, “you certainly ought to have the right to declare war if you consider a war necessary.”
Pointedly, he then went on to praise activists who had been jailed for opposing war, an undertaking Debs said the rich and powerful had committed the country to in their interests, while the working class did the fighting for them.  Afterwards, Debs was arrested too for running afoul of the Sedition Act of 1918.  The law made it illegal to attempt to obstruct recruiting and enlistment efforts for World War I (equating it to disloyalty, abuse of a military uniform, and flying another country’s flag). Not for the first time, Debs’ case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which held that his speeches did incite opposition to serving in the armed forces.
The Supreme Court’s ruling confirmed the legislative and executive branches’ established limit on citizens’ rights to speak out.  Words became seditious threats in and of themselves.  Accordingly, it was permissible to repress speech and the sharing of ideas that was contrary to government aims. It’s ironic that the fear of words and hostility to exposing others to political thought established here came under the administration of Woodrow Wilson, a scholar and proponent of education.  Obviously, the justification was the threat posed to the Republic.
In the previous century, the US almost broke apart on two occasions over government policy.  Both issues had significant economic effects on the opposition — the tariff and slavery.  In response, Andrew Jackson threatened to hang any treasonous actor who took up arms against the Union, and a compromise to resolve the tariff and nullification dispute without violence was reached by Congressional leadership instead.  When rebellion rose again later, Abraham Lincoln reluctantly accepted that military force was necessary to end it — and, eventually, slavery.
In the 20th century, Wilson faced a different dilemma, which was no less about economic impact. Controlling the working class was essential to the economy and the government’s ability to wage war. However, this time, there was no rebellion.  Debs and other activists were not trying to secede or overthrow the government.  What they wanted was to shift policy and to create a democracy more responsive to workers and their needs.  Theirs was a policy battle — not a physical one.
But, the federal government — the whole of US society even — was in a different place then.  Police departments that did not exist under Jackson now patrolled city streets.  Bureaucratic agencies designed to control where and how citizens lived, worked, and raised their children that Lincoln did not know were available to Wilson, giving him the ability to shape cultural ideology in a way that many previous presidents did not.  Washington did not and could not control access to medical information, citizenship entitlements, and employer-employee relations in the way Wilson could (thanks to the post office, treasury department, Bureau of Labor, etc).  The world had changed — the country and its government.
Part of this change resulted from a fear of immigrants and differing ideas and values that developed along with industrialization.  As the populace became less homogenized in kind and more stratified economically, ideological differences multiplied and traditional appeals would not suffice. Administrative enforcement mechanisms became the favored tool for social control, rather than persuasion (think the post office and sending lottery tickets or birth control information through the mail).
Justification for these bureaucratic means then became contestable too. Done ostensibly for a societal benefit, these acts opened doors for other arguments in favor of the public good (trumping individual rights).  They encouraged popular democracy and social activism. Accordingly, words — speech that could incite coordination of the ballot and effective resistance to cooperate with policies that favored the established elite became threats to 20th century leadership.  The voting public had changed, as had the means to control the citizenry (including oaths of allegiance).
John Adams signed his Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, and it cost his party the next elections.  Congressional support dissipated thereafter and the tide turned to favor anti-Federalist positions.  When Thomas Jefferson replaced Adams as President, he pardoned those who’d been jailed by the Adams administration. The opposition freed, the backlash against oppression of speech changed political policy and discourse thereafter.
A similar political shift could threaten Wilson and other proponents of policies opposed by the more numerous working class voters. This did not deter the political leadership of that time from undertaking political repression anyway. If the approach was a repeat, the tone was significantly different. Stifling vocal opposition became a tactic that while not new, expanded with darker effect: excluding participants from political conversations as the face of democracy in the US shifted.
No longer was the conflict between white men of property with differing philosophies.  Now, it was traditional WASP culture versus those whose resistance to wealth and power had erupted in protests, riots and armed conflicts in cities across the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (for example, the mine field wars in West Virginia and Colorado).  It would take far more (and hardly justifiable) police effort to keep these new democrats down, and thus, it was far more important to control the political dialogue in order to forestall opposition before conflicts required intervention of federal troops. What’s more, avoiding a military response is especially preferable when engaging those with the democratic high ground.  No one could understand that better than a president who suffered the PR nightmare of force feeding suffragists arrested because they wanted to vote.
In previous times, political leaders coopted the support of the poorer elements through the ideology of white supremacy.  It divided workers with common economic interests through social status — and even some economic benefit. The ideology of the socialists and unions and their like threatened the coalition of whiteness. As such, it threatened the whole social and cultural order — not just political programs.  Wilson, a champion of segregation as well, pressed tactics to stop the threats to the status quo.
For awhile, government witch hunts did stifle political opposition, as the country was enveloped in the hysteria of the Red Scare. In time, though, the frenzy ebbed and later the Supreme Court would reset the boundaries on free speech.  Still, the labels and hostility to particular ideologies pressed by Wilson et al linger even today.  The government may not lock up Socialists like it used to, but it doesn’t have to thanks to the pervasive anti-left bias it seeded so many years ago.

In the daylight on September 3, 1885, the survivors crept down from their hiding places in the hills. Their homes burned by a white mob the night before, the surviving Chinese mine workers had no safe retreat. They scattered along the Wyoming countryside, sobbing behind brush and rocks for what they’d seen and praying for help. Their employer — the Union Pacific Railroad, for whom they dug coal to run trains — wired local stations for engineers to stop and pick up survivors along the tracks. Deposited one hundred miles away in Evanston, the scores of rescued Rock Springs miners took refuge with the community of Chinese workers there.

Back home, their houses had been looted by white citizens — including the marm who taught them English — before they were burned. In surveying the damage afterwards, company representatives found half-charred bodies of victims trapped in the burned-out company housing and mutilated corpses in the streets. A few they buried; the rest they left for dogs and other animals to pick over. Twenty-eight was the official death count. Another fifteen were wounded, and property damage ran well over a hundred thousand dollars. The survivors lost everything they’d worked, crammed eight and nine to a house to save on rent, to build — made all the more bitter that they had just purchased their monthly supplies at the company store the day before the riot. Their full provisions were lost to looters and arsonists. They had no food or supplies left to rescue from the ashes.

Afraid for their lives, they did not want to return for the remnants anyway. Instead, they appealed to the railroad for tickets to leave the territory and the two months back wages they were owed to start someplace new. The company declined. It had brought them in as cheap labor to undercut unionized white miners and was determined to retain its workforce. So, the survivors lingered in Evanston, where they acquired weapons to protect themselves in case of more attacks from the armed white mobs building elsewhere in the area. Federal troops finally arrived to preserve a tense peace, though everyone feared another massacre would erupt. Finally, the railroad relented: the 600 Chinese men were loaded into boxcars to convey them safely to San Francisco, far from the hostility of Wyoming mines. After just a short ride in the dark cars, however, the train stopped and the doors opened onto the ruins of Rock Springs.

The boxcars were the survivors’ immobile homes for the next days. Stranded against their will, the workers resisted their boss’ demanded they return to work at the mines. In the meantime, the company provided them emergency provisions and clothing, and the army provided them protection. Afraid of suffering further violence and angered at being tricked, the men held out against their employer’s wish, however. During the days, they loitered nervously; at night, they reported, they were troubled by “frightful dreams” and slept poorly. In desperation, sixty of them took off into the wilderness to make their own way. After a few days, in order to force the remaining survivors back to work, the company cut off supplies to the men. Desperate need forced them again into the mines, anxiety over potential additional violence from white residents compounding the stressful condition of their laboring. In addition to the usual fears about accidents and work hazards, they dreaded another attack from their coworkers daily.

This is how they rebuilt the “Chinatown” at Rock Springs. With a troubling cloud of fear overshadowing them, they worked the mines and restored their community. Specialty stores and services slowly re-established after new company housing provided miners stable residences and some grounding. Federal troops stayed for thirteen years to prevent more violence; their outpost situated between the segregated racial communities in town. White miners returned to work too, and no one was ever prosecuted for the murders, looting, and arson that had occurred. The Chinese workers went into the dark mines every day with whites they knew had brutally murdered their friends and neighbors. Tense productivity that served the railroad constituted the town norm, and the Asian immigrants who could neither leave nor gain legal equality as citizens thus involuntarily sacrificed to facilitate the economic boom that lured so many to the Land of Opportunity.


“They pulled the pillow-slip over my head and told me if I took it off they would shoot me. They carried me out and whipped me powerful.”

Rep. Job Stevenson asked the victim, Mervin Givens (40), if he knew his assailants. Yes, Givens swore, the men who tore the shirt off of his back and whipped him, naked, in the dark of the rainy night because he’d voted Republican were boys he’d grown up with. Rep. Philadelph Van Trump asked Givens if he’d tried to have charges brought against the men afterwards, and the witness said he did not because he was afraid for his life.

This was July of 1871. The Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States had traveled to Spartanburg, SC to take testimony from victims of the rampant terrorism in parts of the South after the Civil War. Informally known as the “Klan Hearings,” the Congressional committee took testimony from those who were victims or had knowledge of the violence taking place and of local groups known as the Ku Klux Klan.

In Atlanta, GA, Maria Carter (28) described men coming in the night to terrorize her family. They whipped her husband and held a gun to her head, threatening her while her almost three-week-old baby lay crying nearby. Afterwards, she heard them at the next house where they lashed another man and woman. The neighbors’ screams mingled with curses from their assailants, and in the morning, Carter said, the place looked like they’d been slaughtering hogs from the blood.

In six states, Congressmen and their staff members took testimony like this. The stories were harrowing and demonstrated a pervasive effort to repress black voting and intimidate former slaves to keep them from pursuing the freedoms that should come with their citizenship. Scarred emotionally and physically, the victims knew local law enforcement would not protect them; they were abandoned by the law to these terrible horrors.

The terrorists won — they drove black voters from the polls, into second class citizenship, and to a constant state of anxiety about their safety and that of their children, families, and communities. The violence did not stop with its success, however; it continued for another hundred years. Sometimes, it came at the hands of the KKK, and other times, it was various “concerned citizens” and individuals participating in lynchings or race riots or isolated acts of brutality.

Over this violent century, a legacy of fear passed from generation to generation, incorporated into the thinking and culture of black citizens. This drove them to practice behaviors that would assist their survival. Here was the opposite of rash hysteria and emotional outbursts. They practiced deference and taught their children the same. They built their own commercial and communication networks for mutual support and hid their anger and bitterness, lest it prompt more wrath. They sought solace in their churches and kept a studied, genial mask turned to the white community. They were careful, measured in response, and acutely aware of the mammoth injustice that was their daily burden — extensions, really, of their response to the horror of slavery.

The violent repression of black Americans — particularly in the south — was clandestine but not secret. From these first days of freedom, there was testimony and evidence of the cruel intimidation — and of the terror with which black Americans lived. No one could be ignorant of it. White America intentionally turned a blind eye to it, leaving their black neighbors to shoulder all the pain and misery that fear and powerlessness forced on them — and to find ways to make life fulfilling and circumvent their situations the best they could to bring some value to their menaced lives.


Just sixteen years after doubling in size through the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France, the United States threatened to splinter apart when residents of Missouri, a section along the eastern edge of the newly purchased lands, applied for statehood.  Many of these settlers had migrated from slave states, bringing the practice with them, and accordingly, accepting their application to become the 23rd member of the union would upset the political balance, shifting Congressional power to favor the then-more numerous pro-slavery states.  A compromise held the union together, but it was a choleric peace that could not survive as ongoing westward expansion fused migrants from slave and free states together in new lands, precipitating new clashes.
Here, of all places, God revealed to Joseph Smith, leader of a new sect known colloquially as “Mormons,” was His chosen site for the holy city of Zion. In Jackson County on the western frontier, the Lord intended them to build a temple with a central public square surrounded by residential lots for the faithful to serve as their mecca.  It would be a refuge (amidst slavery) — a place for the downtrodden to worship and find peace, and in 1831, the saints, remarkably, began to come.  From free states farther east, they left lives and familiar homes to bravely make the journey to a place already scarred by divisiveness and a people distrustful of abolitionism.  It was a great flood of hundreds that swelled to thousands in a few short years.
The Mormon migrants’ numbers gave them immediate political standing; in a republic, a sudden majority overwhelms.  United in philosophy and purpose, they voted in blocs and restricted their trade for the benefit of their members.  They could affect the political landscape in their communities courtesy of their numerous ballots, and they thrived economically through their exclusive commercial network. Their pilgrimage appeared blessed.
However, their power naturally alienated and dismayed the “old settlers” already established there, who found their status upended in short time. Those who had pushed for statehood and pioneered the territory feared they would lose their political voice — and most especially, the reality that they might be powerless to defend slavery against this overwhelming influx of free-staters presented a looming threat.
So, non-Mormons took to harassing sect members and vandalizing their property, in an effort to scare them out, and fear prompted the saints to do other than turn the other cheek.  Shortly, the hostilities escalated to armed clashes.  Local law enforcement and the state militia provided no security, so the Mormons organized their own paramilitary groups to patrol and protect.  Still, they were driven from one county to another — none of which stemmed the intimidating growth of their population.
For seven years, their resisted migration to the Promised Land continued, despite the violence and terrorism, but in August, 1838, anti-democratic forces finally had their way.  In Daviess County, a group of non-Mormons forcibly prevented members of the sect from voting, and this time, when fighting broke out, the state militia did respond — only it was to have tragic consequences for the Mormons.
A riotous “war” erupted — engagement by raid, arson, theft and violence.  Both sides did harm in turn (though the majority of the fatalities were Mormon), but the negative reports that reached Gov. Lilburn Boggs decried the Mormons particularly.  Boggs issued an order to the militia: run them out of state or “exterminate” them.  The intervention of Brigadier General Alexander Doniphan prevented any mass killing, but the Mormons (numbering some 8,000 then by estimates) were driven to Illinois — uncompensated for the property, livelihoods, and lost loved ones they left behind.
After the failure of their first Zion, the Mormons would again attempt to build a religious oasis, but they would be no more welcomed by the established citizenry in the free state than they had by their old pro-slavery neighbors.  Yet, the saints persisted — as did their paramilitary tradition.  Whatever their fears, they were not to be intimidated or dissuaded from their convictions, and because of theirs, the non-Mormon members of these communities would betray democratic principles and resort to violence to resist the influx.  For both, the gun was a greater comfort than the law; for neither was it a healing, reassuring balm.
Students prepping for the AP US History exam can study up on terms with flashcards that remind them we refer to “natives in the way of westward expansion and [who] were working with [the B]ritish” as “the Indian Menace.” While this handy phrase neatly packages three hundred years of conquest into shorthand that is sure to please the Oklahoma legislature and Texas textbook approvers, it fails completely at recognizing the violence and cruelty that white settlers and leaders embraced to eradicate the presence of Native Americans in the pursuit of land.  What’s more, it obfuscates the ways that white Americans exacerbated tensions with the original inhabitants and the illogicality of making war out of fear, when diplomacy and cooperation were available options.
In 1808, brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwatwa founded Prophetstown (IN), soon to become the capital of a far-flung Indian confederacy.  Tenskwatwa preached a return to traditional ways and rejection of white culture, while Tecumseh built military alliances between various nations in hope of creating a united defense that could effect what individual tribes could not.  The new league was a kind of large-scale successor to the Iroquois Confederacy, which, after serving as pre-eminent military power on the continent for a good century, split when the members took opposing sides in the American Revolution.  By that time, the Indian nations had nearly two hundred years of experience with fighting colonists.
When English settlers began moving into western Pennsylvania and what would later become Ohio and the Old Northwest, they ran into French forts built to serve as commercial stations as well as military outposts, in order to facilitate trade with their Indian partners.  Dueling land claims would lead to the French and Indian War, pitting the English and their Native American allies against the residents and friends of New France.  When the French abandoned their claim after the war, Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, continued the fight with a modest coalition mostly comprised of former French allies.  The British bested them, but the Crown issued the Proclamation of 1763 to ease hostilities and lessen the need for armed conflict (and commitment of resources) in the future.  Under this order, English colonists were prohibited from moving further west into Indian-held lands.
Of course, this restriction helped fuel the coming revolution.  Settlers continued to move west, perpetuating clashes with Indian inhabitants. The “Indian Menace” (really, Native Americans’ armed resistance to settlers overtaking their homelands) then became a primary concern in western communities — as did British refusal to take up for the colonial drive to expand into the continent.  Although the subsequent revolution broke the Iroquois Confederacy apart, in addition to ties with Great Britain, that didn’t mean peace, especially with other Native American tribes.  Ongoing conflict was part of frontier life, and the Indian nations often got the upper hand — as when the Shawnee won the Battle of Fallen Timber in 1794.  Land concessions and migration further west to avoid further engagements made Native Americans bitter but still no safer from Anglo encroachment.
By the early years of the 19th century, then, Tecumseh and Tenskwatwa found willing listeners when they urged the Indian nations to cooperate in order to present a united military front against the new American republic.  Indeed, they were so successful that white settlers feared the nation’s survival (at least the western portion), if the pan-Indian alliance was fully realized.  Acting preemptively, Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory led an attack on the brothers’ base in 1811.  Harrison and his men destroyed it in Tecumseh’s absence, but rather than break the confederacy in its youth, the attack only led to increasing violence and bloodshed thereafter.
During this time, many Indian groups remained trading partners with the British, who supplied them guns and ammunition.  Sentiment in the US laid much of the blame for the ongoing fighting with the British then.  A Congress slow to respond to public feeling witnessed a purge, as voters replaced a number of incumbents with representatives more willing to escalate the governmental response.  Shortly, the country was at war with the Indians and their British allies again with the War of 1812, the resolution of which brought a final end to hostilities with the old country but did nothing to stop Indian resistance to the never-ending Staters’ encroachment.
Rather than focus on mutually-beneficial trade alliances and forgo further expansion of settlements as a way of avoiding more bloodshed and building cooperative commercial networks as the French and then British did with the various Native American nations, the US opted to pursue another century of war instead.  By the 1830’s, the US controlled the lands east of the Mississippi, removing the Indian nations to less desirable and foreign places west.  The costs — in money, lives, and betrayal of the principles enshrined in the Constitution — were great.  As the country continued to sprawl west and removal was no longer physically possible, extermination, eradication, and then assimilation became official policy.  Staters’ fear of the threat to their presence and sense of entitlement to the lands of the continent by an Indian “menace” became an unrelentingly cruel, violent peril to the Native Americans’ lives and culture.  Of course, we still describe this in terms of white fear instead of aggression, even today.
Even before the uprising in Stono, whites in South Carolina feared a slave revolt.  They considered their vulnerability, and in light of that, the legislature passed the Security Act in August of 1739.  The law required white men to carry weapons even on their Sunday religious outings, contrary to the practice of the time.  Before the penalties of the law went into effect, however, slaves made their Lord’s Day revolt — only to be suppressed violently through extralegal means.  In the aftermath, the legislature dealt harshly in punishing the innocent slave population, but — interestingly — it also took steps then to curtail the sovereignty of slave owners too with the passage of the Negro Act of 1740.
And for the better keeping slaves in due order and subjection, Be it further enacted…That no person whatsoever shall permit or suffer any slave under his or their care or management, and who lives or is employed in Charlestown, or any other town in this Province, to go out of the limits of the said town, or any such slave who lives in the country, to go out of the plantation to which such slave belongs, or in which plantation such slave is usually employed, without a letter…”
Controlling the local slave population likewise required controlling their white owners.  Whether slave-owners wished to or not — and whether they were literate or not — the State forced them to track and restrict the freedom of movement of their slaves and provide written passes authorizing their travel.  Were owners inclined to be lax about minding their slaves or willing to allow them to wander freely (perhaps to pay Sunday visits to neighboring sites on their day of rest) or simply averse to bothering to make a record of their desire for their slave representatives to run errands on their behalf, they would no longer have the freedom of their prerogative on that.  In other words, fear of revolt from black slaves drove whites to also regulate each other and curtail the rights of free citizens to use their “property” as they saw fit.  Oppression of the slaves required coercion of the oppressing class as well.
And whereas, the having of slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it therefore enacted…That all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereinafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught, to write…shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds current money.
After the uprising, fear of a recurrence led to greater restrictions on white owners, but it also forced them into additional injustices towards their slaves.  Prohibiting whites from educating their slaves certainly denied owners full use of their resources and the opportunity to develop their industries to their utmost. Worse, it compelled them to further dehumanize their black captives.  The price of preventing written communication between slaves and opportunities for them to pursue their freedom in coordination with one another was denying them also the wonder of knowledge and intellectual growth.  The natural consequence of that was to further degrade slaves and set a pattern for education in black communities that lingers still today.  Thus, this law, under penalty of £100, promoted white collusion to bring even greater injustice upon innocent black Americans.
“And whatsoever master, owner or overseer shall permit or suffer his or their Negro or other slave or slaves…to beat drums, blow horns, or use any other loud instruments or whosoever shall suffer and countenance any public meeting or feastings of strange Negroes or slaves in their plantations, shall forfeit ten pounds, current money, for every such offence…”

Slave-owners were not only bound to deny their slaves opportunity for intellectual growth; they were also obliged to silence their sounds of joy, creativity, and communication.  By law, masters could not permit either their association with other blacks. Hospitality and sociability became illegal acts for slaves; public celebrations and pulsing, blaring, sounding vociferance, more humanity denied them by the rule of law — and not just the whim or inclination of an individual cruel owner.  The law bound whites together to a code of oppression, and it became, then, systemic.
…and for every scalp of a grown Negro slave with the two ears, taken on the south side of St. John’s river, the sum of fifty pounds.”
Lastly, after forcing the cooperation of whites to further denigrate the humanity they might be willing to grant their slaves by denying them movement, sound, reading and opportunities to assemble and to curtail the rights of  owners themselves, the law made citizens mercenaries as well.  It granted license to any white person to capture, kill and scalp blacks running for their freedom and offered a bounty to entice them to do it.  It was not the duty of the State alone — or even the chore of the slave-owner himself — to control slaves then.  White colonists were enlisted to police the slave population (even if they were not slave-owners themselves), making all complicit in the subjugation of another race and enforcers of the systemic oppression.  That they may not have used this license did not remove them from the conspiracy.  Desired or not, they were coerced into the bond of white privilege by the law, and their trepidation drove the alliance, forever tying peace and order to group oppression of an intentionally dehumanized and handicapped class of people for the benefit of free labor.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth…
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
And sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread…
– Kindness, Naomi Shihab Nye

When the reinforced concrete presence of the supreme authority in your world literally explodes, and the streets are littered with the life work of civil servants made bureaucratic ash and coated in the blood of children, and the chaos and confusion of not understanding the incomprehensible outcome of violence and rage leaves a whole people in stunned immobility — staring unceasingly at live feeds of the heart-breaking mundanity of combing through rubble — you meet an evil you did not know existed before.  Worse, you come to share a sorrow so big that it engulfs your family, your neighbors, your communities, and all within your state.  There is a mass mourning; for 30 days, everywhere you go you are part of a funeral procession — but it’s a wandering cavalcade with no destination.  There is a ground zero but no terminus.  Grief radiates; it dissipates rather than ends.

In the aftermath, we performed public and private rites to express our grief and kept vigils in honor of those we grieved.  We still meet together and speak the names of the victims, light candles, and share comfort.  Every year, on this date, we relive a little and mark the event.  We examine our scars.  The tears come easily and it’s been now twenty years.

We participate in these rituals, which do the very thing the terrorist hoped to destroy: they bind us together and inspire us to do good for one another.  In a rush, we gave of our money, our time, and our tears.  Later, we left tributes and tokens in the fence that became the first, makeshift memorial.  After two decades, we have a space dedicated to encouraging peace and reflection that brings beauty to the ugly, horrible act.  We go there to walk among the chairs, large and small, and to inhabit a horrific minute suspended serenely in a still pool.

Most importantly, we commit to doing acts of service, kindness, or remembrance in honor of those lost and the sacrifices made in that dark time.  Keeping alive what the Memorial calls the “tenderness of the response” to the bombing is our way of honoring, sanctifying, and amending the tragedy.  To do these solemn good acts is to give no place to terrorism.  The antidote to fear and hate is generosity of spirit.  This, too, radiates into the world; like grief, its effect also has no end.

The bomb blast killed many, but the aftermath inspired so many more.  We consciously choose to do good in the world because it’s our way of responding to the bad.  You cannot undo cruel acts, but we can make sure they do not undo us.  With kindness and generosity, we can turn tragedy into a motivation that unites and inspires us to be better.  In our confusion and grief, it was the thing we just knew to do.

“And be it enacted…That all Negroes and Indians…mulattoes or mustizoes who now are, or shall hereafter be, in this Province, and all their issue and offspring, born or to be born, shall be…and remain forever hereafter, absolute slaves..and it shall be always presumed that every Negro, Indian, mulatto, and mustizo, is a slave…”
On the Lord’s Day, September 9, 1739, as their white owners observed their regular Sabbath routines, twenty slaves met down at the Stono River outside Charleston, South Carolina — the beginning of a failed American Revolution.  It wasn’t the first slave rebellion in the English colonies, and it wouldn’t be the last (there were some 250 that we know of) — but it was bloody and, in a place where black slaves outnumbered white citizens, fear of a recurrence drove English citizens, steeped in their Bill of Rights and republicanism, to solidify control over their involuntary “workforce” through the mechanism of law afterwards.
By the time of the law’s passage, the approximately sixty rebels involved in the Stono uprising had been hunted down and killed — the right to trial (for the deaths of about twenty whites during the revolt) and access to the judiciary denied them.  In May of 1740, however, the state legislature moved to punish too those slaves who had not participated, preemptively, and cruelly.  It declared them “absolute” in their enslavement — a legal status that would extend beyond their lifetimes to include those of every one of their line after them.
“And be it further enacted…That it shall not be lawful for any slave, unless in the presence of some white person, to carry or make use of fire arms, or any offensive weapons whatsoever, unless such Negro or slave shall have a ticket or license, in writing, from his master, mistress or overseer, to hunt and kill game, cattle, or mischievous birds, or beasts of prey…”

That the Negro Act of 1740 also prohibited slaves from independently possessing guns and other weapons does not surprise.  It seems a rational response — necessary to the forced suppression of unwilling people. The Act did not stop there, however.  It went much further, assuring systemic impediments would prevent black Americans from obtaining a measure of material opportunity (if not legal parity) and dignity within the bounds of enslavement as well.  The most fundamental example of this was the requirement that slaves carry passes — to move about, to indicate the legality of their presence and actions (as in carrying a weapon), and to tie them always to the permission of white prerogatives. Making them dependent on the will of their masters and governmental agents was not solely a security measure, however.  It served also to deny them the humanity that comes with having free will.

“And whereas, several owners of slaves have permitted them to keep canoes, and to breed and raise horses, neat cattle and hogs, and to traffic and barter in several parts of this Province…Be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall not be lawful for any slave so to buy, sell, trade, traffic, deal, or barter for any goods or commodities…”

In the same vein, the Act’s prohibition against self-employment for slaves both economically handicapped them — assuring they could enjoy no higher standard of living than that for which they were dependent on their white masters’ largesse — and denied them the opportunity to interact with other slaves through commercial networks.  It divided and impoverished them, intentionally, and it also eliminated the possibility of negotiating their personal economic opportunities with local whites, who might consider them individually and on their merits.  The law dictated a uniform dependent economic station for all slaves instead — a restriction designed to depress them, not simply minimize the threat of rebellion.
“And whereas, many of the slaves in this Province wear clothes much above the condition of slaves..For the prevention, therefore, of such practices for the future, Be it enacted…That no owner or proprietor of any Negro slave, or other slave, (except livery men and boys,) shall permit or suffer such Negro or other slave, to have or wear any sort of apparel whatsoever, finer, other, or greater value than Negro cloth, duffels, kerseys, osnabrigs, blue linen, check linen or coarse garlix, or calicoes, checked cottons, or Scotch plaids…”

Made defenseless and impoverished, the South Carolina Legislature also acted to further demean the surviving slaves — and those for generations forward — in denying them even a choice of clothing.  In an age when deference guided social conventions, slaves were bound to wear the clothes of a lower caste, even over the skin that legally already condemned them.  It was insult added to injury to restrict their dress after decreeing their color a presumption of their slave status. Always, within the boundaries of South Carolina, they would be judged on sight — by the color of their skin and by the fabric of their clothing.  The law here again denied them the chance to be individual — to express themselves freely through fashion or to give an appearance that suggested pride or identification other than that determined for them by white citizens.

“And whereas, many disobedient and evil minded Negroes and other slaves, being the property of his Majesty’s subjects of this Province, have lately deserted the service of their owners, and have fled to St. Augustine and other places in Florida, in hopes of being there received and protected; and whereas, many other slaves have attempted to follow the same evil and pernicious example…”

Finally, lest the slaves attempt to free themselves non-violently from their impoverished and humiliated condition — to reject the social contract of their State — the law established means for preventing escape and punishing runaways for fleeing. Though the Spanish (with whom the English were then at war) hardly offered true equality to those who sought freedom, it was natural that — hearing promises enticing them to abandon their masters for Florida — slaves would desperately seize on a hope for liberty, and life, and to perhaps pursue entrepreneurship, fashion, society — that is, happiness — in some place beyond the reach of their masters’ new law.  How else to escape the cruelty and meanness of their masters’ vengeance and the obsessive rule of their fear?