Nov 282017

Jun 112017

Conservatives — and by this I mean those interested in preserving the status quo in our society — have lit upon a new-fashioned fig leaf to cover their racism; their disguise isn’t half as clever as they think it to be, however. Their pretext is to claim that they are defending history from those who want to obfuscate through monumenticide. Posing as preservationists, they oppose removing the monuments, site names, and other honors given to Confederate and racist figures from our past. Conveniently, this sudden dedication to public history blocks efforts to denude southern cities of honorific remnants of our slaver past.

In the New York Times, Gary Shapiro blames the dilemma on “deferred maintenance of history” — whatever that nonsensical jargon means — but what he is trying to get at is that racists and their sympathizers object to removing Confederate emblems because it targets the legacy of white supremacy in our society. Part of disavowing racism is dishonoring it. Conservatives reject that repudiation, which is really just a first step in pursuing true equality in our country. They don’t want change (Indeed, they want to make our country “great” again.), which means white supremacy remains.

Now, while conservatives imagine their position smacks of historicism, intellectualism, and post-racialism — and perhaps it does to those who are historically ignorant (like its proponents), for those with any experience in practicing history, the bias is obvious. Sure, on its face, the traditionalists’ position claims to oppose historical denialism, sweeping the ugly parts of our history under the rug. Staters of this day — and in the future — should know that our ancestors celebrated and promoted racists — and it was certainly, in part, because of their racism. Richmond’s Monument Row lacks the instructive qualities that teach the past while condemning it, however, and it’s this indistinguishability between honor and historical recognition where the conservative approach fails.

Assuming good faith on the part of some traditionalists, it seems obvious that their defensiveness lies in their naivete. They believe, like so many, that history is canon and that mastering it means learning facts about the past. This is not, however, what history actually is. It is a practice — of collecting evidence and putting it together in interesting stories that tell us things about ourselves. A row of statues itself is not a history. It is just a collection of evidence. An exhibit or public history display does more than present pieces for people to observe. They are selected, arranged, and contextualized (with accompanying commentary or through careful presentation) so as to make a statement and encourage learning. Monuments are not historical exhibits. They are honorary displays, and fail as cautionary lessons.

In his essay, Shapiro suggested that adding instructive text and, perhaps, statues of slaves to Monument Row, as a way of rehabbing the display so that it reflects contemporary values. Merely cluttering the space is not the answer, however. More importantly, it makes for bad history. Overwhelming the site with too many statues creates a historical junkyard — not a cohesive, instructive narrative. Further, it does nothing to rectify the moral problem that the Confederate figures would still be recognized, while symbolic Anyman slave figures would perpetuate the dehumanization of black Americans. Presented namelessly and generalized — once more denied specific identities and singular significance like that of the white figures beside them — they would be again denied privilege of individuality, dignity of personhood, and historical actuality thus demonstrated. It’s likely that this kind of historiographical dilemma is unfamiliar to Shapiro and his like, precisely because they have no experience constructing histories. Unfortunately, such ignorance perpetuates discriminatory treatment.

Ours is not the first society to confront a repugnant past. The conservative element in our country does not see in removing Confederate monuments the populist toppling of statues of Vladimir Lenin or Saddam Hussein, however. The traditionalists still respect Lee and Davis; those men are not ignoble monsters to be rejected like the Communist dictator and Iraqi strongman, to them. In part, this is because conservatives are victims of the apologetic historiography they were raised in, which honored Confederate figures. However, those who want to reject racism must choose to repudiate those figures, and willfully failing to do so is a contemporary act of racial prejudice. Fundamentally, disavowing racism requires the dishonoring of these Confederate figures, specifically through their removal. Monument Row cannot be reconstructed. It must be dismantled. And, any deferral of that — especially in the name of history — is a great misfeasance.


Feb 292016
In just over sixty years from first contact with European and white adventurers — less than life expectancy in the US on average today — the native population in Hawai’i declined by more than 75%. Much of this death was the result of the introduction of diseases to which Hawai’ians had no immunity. Sailors and well-meaning missionaries brought with them germs that decimated the established communities there, rapidly and mercilessly.
Once established, white settlers introduced political and cultural changes as well. They convinced even the king to embrace western ways, including individual land-ownership. In 1848, King Kamehameha III issued the Mahele — a decree that permitted Hawai’ians to own land, which was previously solely a royal prerogative.  Two years later, the Kuleana Act allowed foreigners to purchase real estate from native sellers. For the children of missionaries, this offered the secular option of pursuing agricultural endeavors rather than the Lord’s work, and those who were not called chose commercial farming instead.
Sugar was the premiere cash crop, and two of the Big Five — as the biggest sugar producers became known — were started by these sons of evangelists (the others by various enterprising white men).  The growers’ dominance of the economy led to equally significant political power, and they effectively served as a de facto oligarchy controlling the Hawai’ian economy and society. Several were instrumental in the 1893 bloodless coup that overthrew the monarchy and created the Republic of Hawai’i. They were again involved in annexation of the territory by the US.
By 1920, only 24,000 native Hawai’ians remained on the island, with only 10% of island real estate still owned by these survivors. Today, just a quarter of the state population claims any native ancestry. The social, political, and economic order there has been completely upended and remade — in great part through the effort of the powerful sugar companies.
Recently, Alexander & Baldwin announced that it is shutting down it’s last sugar plantation. After 145 years, the corporation — one of the Big Five,  founded by missionaries’ sons Samuel Thomas Alexander & Henry Perrine Baldwin is abandoning it’s once fertile agricultural pursuit. With the end of this year’s sugar harvest, the 675 employees of the once powerful company will join a workforce that has long since left field work behind — their skills as relevant in the 21st century as the intentions of their employer’s founders.

Alexander & Baldwin’s parents hoped to save and civilize the Hawai’ian people, while their sons hoped for the American dream — transplanted to an island paradise. The cost for it all was thousands of native lives and the end of many traditional ways and practices. What a stiff price for a mere 150 years of commercial success. It seems an utter waste that such sacrifice shouldn’t lead to more permanent structures and noble accomplishments.
A bitter aspect of this “White Man’s Burden” is the cruel brevity that demeans the Hawai’ians’ horrible loss. For a few generations of wealth, the better part of a society was lost. The blow seems too great for the reward. The white men’s success was too dearly bought. Now that we can measure its duration and close the history, the brutality of its temporality becomes woefully apparent.
 Posted by at 11:27 pm
Dec 182015
The initial announcements were inconceivable — multiple planes had been hijacked and crashed deliberately into financial and military meccas on the east coast of the US — and for a people unused to military attacks on their home country, terrifying. It was happening here, and our defense was caught unawares. The reality stunned and the plan’s effect perfect in all regards.
In the panic that came afterwards, it was clear that we do not understand ourselves and our own history. This was true on a micro level: New Yorkers earnestly and ignorantly repeated the promises and beliefs that survivors of the Murrah bombing had made before. Outside of Oklahoma, people didn’t really understand what was in store for them over the next six months or year. Their unfamiliarity was rooted in historical ignorance of the aftermath in OKC. Determination was all it seemed to require to rebuild, unless you knew what had happened after the bombing — in which case, you just grieved.
Ignorance fueled responses on a larger level too. On the one hand, it tinged the tragedy with irony that a nation born when terrorists funded and encouraged by enemy nations overthrew a world superpower was now the superpower undone by sponsored idealistic warriors. Staters seemed oblivious to that. At the same time, so many questioned our poor defense and wondered why there was no centralized control over the agencies to whom these responsibilities were assigned. When it was clear that those in positions to protect the country failed to coordinate responses and even intelligence that might have prevented the attacks, the demands for change were potent.
So, fear of more terrorism drove people ignorant of their history to make sweeping changes that defied American principles and practices to that point. Until then, the dispersion of power and political decentralization was intentional. Our predecessors feared government by standing army and a military threat to civilian authority; they would not create a Napoleon from our republic. The national guard was divided accordingly, and means taken to keep any single governmental agency or leader from having the opportunity to seize control through centralized power. Similarly, as federal authority over security matters expanded, their powers were again divided, and the agencies responsible were more often rivals than collaborators. Accordingly, even as the federal government swelled in size and importance, there were checks and balances, but the same conscious choices that prevented potential coups in this way left us vulnerable to guerilla tactics.
Those who knew this history largely forgot it in the post-9/11 hysteria.  Or, they were willing to trade productive political constraints for emotional and psychological cover. But most Staters simply didn’t know better and, therefore, made no opposition as hundreds of years of precedent were suddenly undone. No one wondered if the protective shield promised by the new umbrella agency — the Department of Homeland Security — was also a restrictive cage. Sinclair Lewis predicted (It Can’t Happen Here, 1935) that dictatorship would come from welfare, but it seems more likely now that people would welcome it simply because they were afraid of outsiders.
The antidote is, of course, education. Americans fear Islamists particularly because they don’t understand them; they do not fear homegrown killers the same way. Racism is certainly a component of this fear as well, but, again, the way to overcome that is education. The best protection is informed understanding and educated responses.
And, of course, better historical education might have given us pause to consider whether it was American to centralize domestic defense in the aftermath and if we really wanted to reimagine what was “American,” if not. But, we were afraid, and when we fear, we don’t think historically. This is how frightful events spur unconscious social and political breaks, from angst and ignorance.
 Posted by at 10:16 am
Nov 242015
      “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.
 Posted by at 11:49 am
Oct 302015
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?
 Posted by at 10:03 am
Sep 302015
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.
 Posted by at 3:01 pm
Sep 022015

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.


 Posted by at 2:15 am
Jul 222015

“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.


 Posted by at 8:55 pm
Jun 272015
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.
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