Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Case Against Cynthia McKinney

Former Georgia Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney has become a darling of the far left for vigorously opposing the Iraq invasion, harshly criticizing Israeli policies toward Palestinians, and condemning the Democratic Party as the last refuge of political scoundrels, a band of opportunistic, corporate owned hacks indistinguishable from their Republican rivals. The Green Party consummated their dangerous liaison with McKinney by nominating her as the Green Party's spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for president in 2008.

It's time for the Greens and others on that end of the political spectrum to wake up. Ms McKinney is an intolerant, thoughtless left-wing mirror image of Glenn Beck.

What's wrong with McKinney from the standpoint of progressive politics? Let's start with a recent statement she made in an interview with Christopher Hedges. At one point McKinney says, "Janet Napolitano tells me I need to be afraid of people who are labeled white supremacists but I was raised around white supremacists. I am not afraid of white supremacists. I am concerned about my own government. The Patriot Act did not come from the white supremacists, it came from the White House and Congress. Citizens United did not come from white supremacists, it came from the Supreme Court. Our problem is a problem of governance. I am willing to reach across traditional barriers that have been skillfully constructed by people who benefit from the way the system is organized.”

McKinney sets up a false, dangerous and, I think, idiotic choice. Yes, the Patriot Act represented a serious threat to civil liberties and yes the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision, which opened up elections to unlimited corporate campaign donations, poses a serious threat to democracy. But McKinney implies that because parts of the government perform odious deeds, we need not worry about the racist right wing.

I have noticed this growing trope on the far left: that Teabggers, militia members, and border patrol thugs and others on the Far Right are too small in numbers to warrant concern., Such leftists view the increasingly violent right wing as made up of deluded working class stiffs with legitimate grievances. The left reasons that if we just work to understand teabaggers and the weekend warrior militias maybe we can somehow make common cause with them. Democrats, the argument from the far left goes, are more dangerous than white supremacists.

Sorry, but I don't buy this nonsense. I lived in California in the early 1990s and was there when Proposition 189 was passed. Among other fascist provisions, Prop 189 would have required public school teachers to turn over to immigration authorities students they suspected of being the children of the undocumented. The law would have forced ER personnel to deny medical care to suspected "illegals." White supremacism was part and parcel of Proposition 189, which received overwhelming support from California voters.

The white supremacists supporting this effort were not all marginal people bound for appearances on "The Jerry Springer Show." Don Rogers, the Republican state senator who represented California's High Desert, where I lived, was making speeches to Neo-Nazi and Holocaust Denier gatherings featuring men like Louis Beam, the former Texas Klansman who in the 1980s harassed Vietnamese fishermen off the coast of Galveston. Prop 189 drew the support of Chamber of Commerce members in the High Desert and was supported by not some kooks on the fringe but many in the region's business elite.

Nothing to fear from white supremacists, Ms. McKinney? Tell that to the family of James Byrd, the man tied to a car bumper and dragged to death near Jasper, Texas. Tell that to the African Americans who tried to flee New Orleans after Katrina and were turned back at gunpoint by white suburbanites. Tell that to the family members of the 168 murdered by militia enthusiast Tim McVeigh who told an interviewer that he liked to tell "nigger jokes." Tell that to family of David Ritcheson, the Mexican American sodomized with a patio umbrella pole by thugs yelling "white power" who had mistakenly identified Ritcheson as an illegal immigrant. (The young man committed suicide, jumping off a cruise ship, 15 months later.)

When I criticized McKinney, several people on the far left told me that the issue of right-wing violence is concocted by liberals to distract from Obama's betrayal of his more left-leaning campaign promises. Sorry, television pundit and bestselling author Pat Buchanan is a white supremacist and he is not a red herring. Former Congressman and anti-immigrant zealot Tom Tancredo is a white supremacist and he is not a red herring. Radio and TV race baiters Glenn Beck, Mike Savage and Rush Limbaugh are white supremacists and they are not red herrings. These are people of power and influence.

As McKinney should know too well, the white supremacists are still very much in charge in places like rural Louisiana and Mississippi, and East Texas, We have much to fear from racists in America, just as we have much to fear from government assaults on fair elections and civil liberties. To suggest otherwise is irresponsible and foolhardy.

McKinney is also utterly careless with who she claims as allies and this irresponsibility harms a progressive movement that already faces enormous challenges. As noted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, McKinney recently described as one of her heroes Mahathir Mohamad, the former Malaysian prime minster who has a career of crude anti-Semitism. and who wrote in a 1970 book that, "Jewish stinginess and financial wizardry gained them financial control of Europe" In a 2003 speech Mr. Mohamad ranted that "Today, the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy to avoid persecution and gain … control of the most powerful countries." That's some hero, Ms. McKinney.

In her blog McKinney has also gushed over David Pidcock, the author of a 1992 book, "Satanic Voices Ancient and Modern" in which Pidcock blames most of the world's problems on a conspiracy that includes the usual paranoid's litany of super-villains such as the Illuminati, the Rockefellers, Freemasons, and what he calls "Luciferian Zionists."

Pidcock also has posted portions of the infamous anti-Semitic forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," supposedly the minutes of a secret meeting of world Jewry in which leading rabbis in the 19th century plotted the takeover of the world. The text was plagiarized by the czarist secret police a century ago from a French satirical novel about Napoleon III. The Okhrana, the pre-communist precursor of the KGB, substituted the French villains in the novel with Jews in order to stir anti-Semitic outrage and thus distract the public from the many failings of Czar Nicholas II's rule. Pidcock happily publicizes this vile, long-discredited propagandistic screed. This is the man McKinney describes as "my London friend."

McKinney has also maintained a close relationship with one of the top British Holocaust deniers, Michele Renouf, McKinney additionally quotes extensively from the writings of another Holocaust denier, Matthias Chang.

Like McKinney, I support Palestinian statehood, believe that the construction of settlements on the West Bank is malicious, and am outraged that the Israeli Army has frequently violated human rights. I think the Israeli bombings in Gaza and Lebanon were morally appalling. That doesn't, however, mean I have to whitewash terrorist attacks against unarmed Israeli civilians by pro-Palestinian groups, and it certainly doesn't require me, as the price of my progressive credentials, to swallow malicious myths about Jewish conspiracies to control the world or to play footsie with Holocaust denying morons. As August Babel wrote in the 19th century, "Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools."

Sadly, McKinney has also done all she can to promote the 9/11 Truther movement, arguing that Bush and company knew in advance of the terrorist attacks on 9-11 and allowed it to happen so they could profit from the subsequent war.

If McKinney had argued that the Bush crowd showed criminal negligence in ignoring warnings of an impending terrorist act by bin Ladin, or if she had said that the neo-cons in the Bush administration faked and manipulated evidence of WMDs in Iraq in order to justify an imperialist invasion, or if she had said that one reason the Bush administration concocted the Iraq invasion was because oil companies and defense contractors supportive of the president would financially gain from it, she would have been on solid ground. Instead, she makes cause with the 9/11 Truthers, the left-wing equivalent of the right wing "Birthers" and the old John Birch crowd that thought fluoridation of water was a communist plot.

McKinney is poison to progressive causes. She is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist. And she is an embarrassment to the American left wing. If progressives want any influence in American politics, they would be well-advised to consign McKinney to the lunatic fringe where she belongs.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Letter of Protest To President Obama Concerning Confederate Memorials in Arlington Memorial Park

I have signed the petition below. Please consider lending your support.


May 1, 2010

Edward H. Sebesta



President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

I am a researcher of the neo-Confederate movement and one of the editors of “Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction” (Univ. of Texas Press, 2008). Neo-Confederacy is a movement that has a broad spectrum of prejudices against African Americans, Unitarians, Muslims, Hispanics, Gays & Lesbians and others. It opposes civil rights. It supports the subordination of women. Beyond that it is against the very ideas that are the foundation of a democratic society; is hostile to egalitarianism; and, advocates a hierarchical society which they call “ordered liberty” which is largely the liberty to order others around.

Included in this letter are several examples of how the federal government itself, and through its associated agencies, continues to support and enable neo-Confederacy. The Office of the President has the opportunity to end federal government support for, and enablement of, neo-Confederacy.

Unfortunately, to date the Office of the Presidency has actively enabled neo-Confederacy. Besides sending a wreath to a monument of neo-Confederate ideology in Arlington Memorial Park, presidents have attended parties celebrating the birthday of Robert E. Lee, thus normalizing the Confederacy, and former president Bill Clinton wrote three letters of congratulations to the United Daughters of the Confederacy undermining former Illinois U.S. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun’s historic 1993 victory over the UDC and Lost Cause nostalgia.

I ask you to end the federal government’s support and enablement of neo-Confederacy starting by not sending a wreath to the Arlington Confederate monument on Memorial Day or any other day this year or years to come.

Rather than celebrating the Confederacy, the United States of America needs instead a national conversation on the Confederacy, the Civil War, the overthrow of Reconstruction and Neo-Confederacy. With the approach of the Sesquicentennial of the start of The Civil War, 2010 would be an ideal time to begin such a discussion to acknowledge the historical truth about these issues. With a false understanding of the historical past we poison the future. Or as the great W.E.B. Du Bois explained angrily in regards to the upcoming Civil War Centennial celebrations in 1960:

Thus we train generations of men who do not know the past, or believe a false picture of the past, to have no trustworthy guide for living and to stumble doggedly on, through mistake after mistake, to fatal ends. Our history becomes “lies agreed upon” and stark ignorance guides our future.

The neo-Confederate organization the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is enabled by the federal government in the following ways:

∗ They are allowed participation in the Combined Federal Campaign as a recognized charity.

∗ The SCV is permitted to host events for the United States Army.

∗ The SCV is allowed to get involved with the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in the high schools.

One of the more notable means whereby the neo-Confederate movement is supported is the designation of the SCV as an eligible charity for the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) since 2003. As you know the CFC is the rough equivalent of the United Way for federal government employees. Through the CFC the SCV is enabled to raise funds from federal employees.

Involvement in the activities of the United States Army is shown in a 2006 issue of the Confederate Veteran, an official publication of the SCV, which has the following photo caption referring to an activity of a local SCV camp:

The Colonel James J. Searcy Camp 1923, Columbia, MO, hosted a visit by the US. Army Staff Ride Class to the Centralia, MO, Battlefield and massacre site in connection with their class instruction. More than 40 active NCO members participated. They were all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Above the caption you can see the officers, many of them African American, standing around a Confederate monument with the Confederate battle flag marked on it. Hence, an American that enlists in the U.S. Army might end up attending a neo-Confederate event organized by the SCV. The SCV’s prestige is enhanced by its status as a host of the US Army, the SCV gets to be involved in the class instruction of Army officers, and the SCV is thereby legitimatized with US Army officers.

The SCV seeks to be involved in the Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC). In the Nov./Dec. 2009 issue of Confederate Veterans the SCV announces in an article that it is going to expand the awarding of the South Carolina Division SCV’s H.L. Hunley JROTC award nation wide so as to reach, as Program Chairman Trip Wilson explains, “…500,000 cadets serving in 3,500 JROTC units…” The purpose of this award is to advance the goals of the SCV as Chairman Wilson explains:

If each year we are able to recognize 500 to 1,000 cadets nationwide and get Sons of Confederate Veterans’ compatriots into high schools presenting the awards, then there is unlimited potential the good it can do in educating our young people and changing the perception of them and their parents have of our organization.

The SCV does have an educational foundation, the Foundation for the Preservation of American Culture, which published a magazine, Southern Mercury, from 2003 to 2008, which ceased publication due to the lack of funds. From this magazine we can assess what type of “educating” and “instruction” the SCV might attempt and see what CFC contributions would help fund.

In an article in a 2003 issue of the Southern Mercury, SCV member Frank Conner argued that the modern Civil Rights movement was an attack on the South. He also asserted that African Americans have lower IQs than whites and that this fact was covered up by a conspiracy of liberals. In a section of the article titled, “The Liberals Create a False Public Image of the Blacks,” Conner wrote:

Early in the 20th century, the liberals took control of the humanities departments in the colleges and universities of America. Previously, anthropologists had routinely recorded the notable differences in IQ among the races; but at Columbia, a liberal cultural anthropologist named Franz Boas now changed all of that. He decreed that there were no differences in IQ among the races, and the only biological differences between the blacks and whites were of superficial nature. The liberals swiftly made it academically suicidal to challenge Boas’ flat assertion. … The liberals were creating a false image of the blacks in America as a highly competent people who were being held back by the prejudiced white Southerners.

In another section of this same article titled, “The Liberals Destroy the Old South in the Name of Black Civil Rights,” Conner asserts that the white South was unfairly vilified by the media during the Civil Rights Era resulting in “the patently unconstitutional Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965” being passed by which he asserts, “The Old South was destroyed, and its belief system and way of life were discredited outside the South.”

Conner’s article is a summary of a section from his book, The South Under Siege (2002). In this section in the book, however, Conner focuses his attacks on Jews, pointing out that Boas was Jewish, and tells his readers that the Civil Rights movement was a Jewish plot against the South. He concludes that “Northern Jewish intellectuals/activists” are the “deadliest” enemies of the South. The book is reviewed in the same issue as Conner’s article with reviewer Ann Rives Zappa recommending it, writing, “The South Under Siege is a masterful volume of work painstakingly researched by author Frank Conner.”

This article by Frank Conner isn’t one outlandish essay that accidentally got published in the Southern Mercury. Rather, it is broadly representative of the contents of the issues of this magazine. Conner’s four other articles in the magazine, including the cover article for the first issue, along with the contributions of other authors, the issues of Southern Mercury form a collection of similar hysterical and extremist articles.

Another example of the SCV’s extremism is an article in a 2008 issue titled, “Republican Party: Red From the Start,” by Alan Stang. This essay argues that the Republican Party was a Marxist conspiracy from its inception. Stang writes:

In retrospect, it appears because nothing so atrocious had ever happened here, Lee and Jackson did not fully comprehend what they were fighting. Had this really been a “Civil War,” rather than a secession, they would and could have easily seized Washington after Manassas and hanged our first Communist President and the other war criminals.

Another activity of the Southern Mercury, Confederate Veteran and the SCV online store is the promotion and sale of books that defend or whitewash slavery. The very first issue of Southern Mercury in 2003 has a review praising the John C. Perry’s book, Myths & Realities of American Slavery: The True History of Slavery in America (2002) in which the enormity of the whipping of slaves is trivialized by book author John C. Perry, who writes:

Even in my youth, in the middle of the twentieth century, I was whipped, by a switching from my mother and a belt from my father. The old adage, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” was taken seriously in my home as I was growing up.

The reviewer, Ann Rives Zappa, writes “In this masterful treatment of the subject, the author uses historical data, personal accounts, and statistics to establish facts and debunk myths.”

A 2003 issue of Southern Mercury had a short story titled, “Choosing Slavery in Mississippi Over Freedom in Pennsylvania,” about a slave who preferred to be a slave. Later in the same issue a book reviewer recommends yet another pro-slavery book, The Myths of American Slavery by Walter D. Kennedy (2003). The book has a whole chapter titled “Abolitionism Versus Christianity,” in which the abolitionists are held to be anti-Christian heretics and in which Kennedy condemns the Southern Baptist apology for supporting slavery, the Racial Reconciliation Resolution, at their 1995 annual convention, saying “The resolution is nothing more than liberal double-speak for an act of cultural genocide against the South.”

The SCV also sells these two defenses of slavery in its Confederate Veteran magazine, as well as reprints of 19th century defenses of slavery as “Confederate Gifts” and “Classic Southern Gifts.” The SCV also sells these books in their annual merchandise catalogues, and in their online bookstore (https://scv.secure-sites.us/store.php).

This includes one book titled, “Antebellum Slavery: An Orthodox Christian View,” (2008) by Gary Lee Roper which claims an orthodox Christian defense of slavery. The foreword of the book explains that Antebellum slavery was God’s providential plan to uplift Africans. This book was also promoted by the SCV’s Chaplain Corps in their publication, Chaplain’s Corps Chronicles of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, in which reviewer Michael Andrew Grissom tells the reader “THIS IS A MUST READ!” and “The book makes the point it is ludicrous to apologize (as several states have done recently) to a black population for legal slavery that occurred years ago when presently illegal slavery exists in at least 20 countries of the world including the USA.” Further documentation of SCV extremism can be found on the internet site: http://arlingtonconfederatemonument.blogspot.com/.

In summary, the SCV promotes a neo-Confederate perspective that challenges American democratic practices, praises and sells extremist and racist books, and offers defenses of slavery. Consequently, in addition to ending the practice of sending a Presidential wreath to the Confederate memorial in Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day, I ask you to revoke the SCV’s participation as a recognized charity in the Combined Federal Campaign, deny the SCV permission to host events for the United States Army, and prevent the SCV’s future involvement Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in America’s high schools.



Sincerely Yours,





Edward H. Sebesta


Signatories

Jacquelyn Bacon, Author
John Barr, Lone Star College, Kingwood
Kevin Barloy,University of California - Berkeley
David W. Blight, Harvard University
Edward J. Blum, San Diego State University
Max Blumenthal, Nation Magazine
Christine Clark, University of Nevada - Las Vegas
Robert J. Cook, Jr., University of Sussex
Catherine Combleth, University of Buffalo, SUNY
Rev. Louis DeCaro, Nayack College and Alliance Theological Seminary
Rebecca DeSchwinitz, Brigham Young University
Erika Doss, University of Notre Dame
Susan Eaton, Harvard Law School
Euan Hague, DePaul University
David Harris, Harvard Law School
Wallace Hettle, University of Northern Iowa
Nancy MacLean, Northeastern University
Maurice Jackson, Georgetown University
Richard Kahn, University of North Dakota
Peter Knapp, Villanova University
Alexander Leslie, Ohio State University
Jonathan Lieb, Old Dominion University
Leon Litwack, University of California - Berkeley
Robert Lubetsky, Forham University
Matthew Mason, Brigham Young University
Kirke Mechem, Composer
Paula L. Meyer, Sweetwater UHSD, Chula Vista, Ca.
Michael Parenti, Author
Michael Phillips, Collin College
David Roediger, University of Illinois
Florence Wagman Roisman, Indiana University School of Law
Edward H. Sebesta, Author
Manisha Sinha, University of Massachuseetts, Amherst
Christine Sleeter, California State University, Monterey Bay
Alonzo N. Smith, Montgomery College
Kyev Tatum, President, Fort Worth Southern Christian Leadership Council
Gerald Raymond Webster, University of Wyoming
George White, Jr. York College, SUNY
Frances Ramos, University of South Florida
Andrew Paxman, Millsaps College.



Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Murder of Emmett Till and the Montgomery Bus Boycott

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below I describe the impact of Emmett Till's murder and the Montgomery Bus boycott.

The savage beating death of a 14-year-old African American boy named Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi August, 28, 1955, horrified much of the world and did much to mobilize the Civil Rights Movement in the second half of the 1950s. A Chicago native, Till traveled south to visit his extended family in the Mississippi Delta when, one week into his trip, he and several friends were standing outside a white-owned grocery in the tiny town of Money. Till told his unbelieving friends that he had several white friends in the North, including friendships with white girls. The friends dared him to go inside the store and flirt with Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who worked at the cash register. Accounts conflict on what happened next, with some claiming he whistled at Bryant, others that he reached for her hand and asked her out, while according to a third version he said, “Bye, baby,” as he left the store. The cashier’s husband, Roy Bryant, returned from a road trip three days later and vowed that he would “teach the boy a lesson.”

Just after midnight August 28, 1955, Bryant and his step-brother J.W. Milam arrived at the house of Moses Wright, where Till was staying. They threw him in the back of a pickup truck and drove him to nearby Sunflower County, where they beat him until his face was unrecognizable and shot him. Tying a seventy-pound weight to his body, Bryant and Milam threw Till’s body into the Tallahatchie River. After three days, authorities discovered Till’s bloated body and later arrested Bryant and Milam.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, had her son’s body brought to Chicago for the funeral. After seeing her son’s mutilated face, she insisted on an open-casket funeral. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby,” she said. Photographs of Till in his casket, with his face visible, appeared in "Jet," an African American-owned magazine, and soon shocked viewers around the world. In spite of the fact that Moses Wright bravely identified one of the killers in the courtroom, an all-white jury took little more than an hour to acquit Bryant and Milam. Bryant later admitted to the killing in a Look Magazine interview.


ROSA PARKS AND THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT

As a girl attending the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls, an institution founded in the Alabama city in 1886 by two New England missionary women, Rosa Parks learned a principle that would guide her entire life. “What I learned best,” she recalled, “was that I was a person with dignity and self-respect, and I should not set my sights lower than anybody else just because I was black.” Joining the NAACP at the age of 30, Parks became secretary of the Montgomery, Alabama branch. Parks earned a reputation as a quiet but hard worker guided by strong beliefs.

African Americans in Montgomery had planned for some time to challenge segregated seating on the city’s buses. Black riders were made to sit in the back. If the white section filled up, blacks were expected to move farther back and, if necessary, surrender seats to just-boarding white passengers. On December 1, 1955, Parks left her job as a seamstress at the Montgomery Fair department store and entered the bus that took her home each afternoon. Soon the 36 seats on the bus filled, with 22 black passengers in the back and 14 whites in the front. A white man stood at the front of the bus and driver J.P. Blake demanded that four black passengers sitting just behind the back of the white section move to seats farther down. The African American passengers did not budge. After a threat from Blake, three of the riders relented. The fourth, Parks, told Blake that she was not in the black section and would remain in her seat.

Blake replied that he had the authority to determine where the white section ended and the black section began and that he had the authority to arrest Parks if she refused to move. She did. Blake told her she was under arrest. She remained seated until Blake returned with Montgomery police officers, who fingerprinted her and placed her in jail. The police charged her with violating Alabama’s bus segregation laws.

The African American community in Montgomery, who all shared humiliating experiences coping with the city’s Jim Crow ordinances, quickly mobilized as word spread of Parks’ arrest. The Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) formed to lead a boycott of the city’s bus system with a 26-year-od Baptist minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., selected as its president. The MIA at first made mild demands: that black passengers be seated from back to front and whites from front to back on a first-come, first-serve basis. Originally the MIA made no demand for integration, but city officials still refused to budge.

The MIA arranged transportation for the African American domestic servants, sanitation workers, and janitors participating in the bus boycott to travel the often long distances to their jobs. Montgomery police began arresting drivers participating in the MIA carpools. Police arrested Dr. King for allegedly speeding, and four days later someone ignited dynamite at the homes of King and of E.D. Nixon, another boycott leader. Montgomery’s white leadership hoped to break the spirit of the boycotters, but the King arrest and the terrorist attacks had the opposite effect. One maid vowed she would crawl before she got back on the city buses.

Responding to the demands of rank-and-file protestors, the MIA then vowed to continue the boycott until the city desegregated the buses. In spite of the poverty of its supporters, the MIA raised $2,000 a week to carry on its carpools, pay legal expenses, and carry on the boycott. A white grand jury indicted 115 African Americans participating in the movement, including more than 20 African American ministers, which only strengthened the resolve of the boycotters. By February of 1956, the story made headlines around the world and donations to the cause poured in from other countries.

The boycott lasted 381 days and began to adversely affect white businesses in downtown Montgomery. A federal court in June 1956 ruled that Alabama’s and Montgomery’s bus segregation laws violated the Constitution, a decision affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s "Browder v. Gayle" decision. Even though segregated public transportation remained the rule in the South for years to come, the Montgomery Bus Boycott made King a national civil rights leader and set the precedent for sit-ins and other mass protests that would mark the Civil Rights Movement for years to come


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

The Brown Decision and "Massive Resistance"

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below I describe white Southern reactions to the Supreme Court's 1954 "Brown v. The Board of Education Decision."

During a 1950 NAACP legal strategy session, lawyers decided to challenge public school segregation head-on. Civil rights attorneys, concerned that the pronounced white Southern paranoia about sexual contact between black male and white female teenagers might provoke violence, reasoned they must pursue desegregation of high schools with particular care and instead chose to work their lawsuits up grade-by-grade. The NAACP represented African American parents who filed lawsuits against segregated school districts in Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. These suits reached the United States Supreme Court in 1952, the court consolidating the cases under the title Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, (KS), et. al. The court announced its decision on May 17, 1954. In overturning the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren spoke for a unanimous court in declaring that “In the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court delayed its implementation of Brown for a year. The May 31, 1955, implementation order, known as Brown II, set no firm deadline for school districts to achieve integration, only urging local authorities to proceed with “all deliberate speed.” The court failed to define the threshold at which a school district achieved desegregation, leaving that matter to the federal district courts. Finally, the court provided a list of reasons school districts could use to delay implementation, such as administrative difficulties.

As a result of all of this temporizing, the integration process dragged on for years, and more than a decade after Brown many Southern schools remained substantially segregated. As historian Richard Kruger notes in his book Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, “Throughout the balance of the Fifties, the South interpreted ‘all deliberate speed’ to mean ‘any conceivable delay’ and desegregation was far more a figment in the mind of the Supreme Court than a prominent new feature on the American social landscape.”

The Court also unintentionally gave opponents of integration a chance to organize what came to be known as “massive resistance” to the Brown decision. Initially, white Southern segregationists reacted with surprising calm to Brown. “No citizen, fitted by character and intelligence to sit as a justice on the Supreme Court . . . could have decided this question other than the way it was decided,” an editorial in the Knoxville Journal proclaimed, while the New Orleans States-Item called for “calmness and moderation.” The delays created by Brown II, however, allowed integration opponents to whip up fear and resentment.

“MASSIVE RESISTANCE”

In July 1954, plantation manager Robert P. Patterson organized the first “White Citizens Council” in Sunflower County, Mississippi. "Integration represents darkness, regimentation, totalitarianism, communism and destruction," wrote Patterson. "Segregation represents the freedom to choose one's associates." Labeled by NAACP attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as the “uptown Klan,” these organizations drew segregationist lawyers, doctors, bankers, merchants and other influential citizens, and used legal and illegal methods to prevent enforcement of Brown. Byron De La Beckwith, who assassinated civil rights campaigner Medgar Evers in 1963, belonged to a chapter of the White Citizens Council. However, these groups used their financial and political influence primarily to minimize integration.

African Americans who filed integration lawsuits lost jobs and could find no further employment in the white community because of boycotts organized by the councils. Furthermore, these groups raised millions of dollars to establish private “white academies” where parents wishing their children to attend segregated campuses could send their children. At the movement’s peak, about 1 million belonged to Citizens Councils across the South.

Under pressure from groups like the White Citizens Councils to take a more defiant stand against Brown, Southern legislatures tried various ruses to avoid integration. Faced with integration orders, school officials in Little Rock, Ark., and Norfolk, Va., completely shut down their public schools. Prince Edwards County, Va., closed its public schools for eight years to avoid admitting African American students. Some Southern states provided white parents vouchers to pay for tuition at private, non-integrated schools. Other states, like Alabama, passed “pupil placement” laws that complied with the letter of Brown but dodged the decision’s mandate for integration.

These statutes ostensibly allowed students to transfer from campuses where school administrators had racially assigned them. Theoretically, black students could transfer to white schools and white students to black schools. In practice, no white students requested transfer to underfunded and overcrowded black campuses, and school administrators concocted various reasons to reject African American students’ applications to attend white majority campuses.

Attorneys general in several Southern states began a coordinated legal assault on the NAACP, hoping to harass the organization into bankruptcy and to frighten its members into silence. African American teachers made up a large percentage of the group’s membership rolls, so states like South Carolina passed laws prohibiting educators from publicly advocating integration, forcing 24 teachers at Elloree Training School in Orangeburg County who belonged to the NAACP to step down. Needing income, however, most teachers chose to quit the civil rights organization rather than leave their jobs, a drain that decimated many local chapters.

Southern states also forced state and local NAACP chapters to file membership lists and lists of contributors with the state government, lists that were made public. In states like Louisiana, the White Citizens Councils then used these lists to target civil rights activists for harassment, firings, and business boycotts.

In Texas, state Attorney General John Ben Shepperd pressured the state NAACP by forcing the group to cough up unpaid franchise taxes. He also insisted that the NAACP publicly file its membership list. Settling out of court, the NAACP agreed to pay the franchise taxes in return for the state agreeing not to challenge the civil rights organization’s nonprofit status. Resentment over the Texas NAACP’s decision to settle and the publication of membership lists prompted resignations across the state, with the number of branches plummeting from 76 to 46 and overall membership declining from almost 17,000 in 1956 to under 8,000 the following year.

This followed the pattern across the South. In Louisiana during the legal war against the NAACP, branches declined from sixty-five to seven and membership from just over 13,000 to under 1,700 in the year after membership lists were made public in 1955. In Alabama, the NAACP refused to hand over its membership lists and state Judge Walter B. Jones issued an injunction prohibiting the group from operating anywhere in the state, an order that stood for eight years.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"The Lesser of Two Evils": My Unrequited Romance with the Democratic Party

If Richard Nixon was a Shakespearean villain, Lyndon Johnson was a Greek tragic hero. Both men had overlapping flaws: deep emotional insecurity, an uncomfortable relationship with the truth, and complicity in a wrong-headed war in Vietnam. Both men as presidents let their concern over not becoming the “first” American president to lose a war overpower the moral imperative to not send soldiers to die in unwinnable, delusional causes.

There’s an important difference between LBJ and Nixon, however, and this difference illustrates my feelings about the Democratic and Republican parties and about the liberal Democrats of Johnson’s era and the party today. Nixon never took an action without his political self-interest in mind. Not so LBJ. If Johnson’s Vietnam policies represent the man at his most cowardly, his push to win passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 represent Johnson’s great moment of self sacrifice for the greater good.

Prior to the passage of this law, African Americans in the South had been stripped of their rights as citizens. Blacks were murdered in Mississippi, Alabama and other states of the Old Confederacy for attempting to register as voters or encouraging other African Americans to do the same. By 1964, African Americans made up 42 percent of Mississippi’s population, but only 6.7 percent of the registered voters.

The Voting Rights Act prohibited devices employed by Southern legislatures to keep African Americans from voting, such as literacy tests, which were supposedly equally enforced for black and white voters but were manipulated to systematically deny African Americans the ballot. The law also empowered the U.S. Justice Department to monitor elections in order to prevent intimidation and harassment of black voters in districts with a history of such behavior.

Implementation of the law sometimes required rough methods not sanctioned by political science textbooks. Arch segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party because of “liberal” civil rights legislation, tried to prevent enforcement of the law by boycotting a key subcommittee meeting, provoking Texas’ last liberal Senator, Ralph Yarborough, to literally drag Thurmond into the hearing room. The two wrestled each other to the ground. The incident was not pretty, but voting rights in the South was literally a life and death matter. States like Mississippi were unwilling to prosecute white men guilty of murdering African Americans who tried to assert their 14th and 15th Amendment rights and federal monitoring of elections would end this election day terrorism.

Johnson knew the political dangers of pushing for such revolutionary change. “I have signed away the South for a generation,” he is said to have commented after he signed the bill into law. Johnson had no way of knowing if African Americans would vote in significant numbers after the bill’s enactment. He could count, however, on an angry Southern white backlash and he would live long enough to see his sad prophecy come true as former segregationist Democrats essentially became segregationist Republicans across Dixie.

Johnson was completely a political animal but at least in this case, he put justice and fairness ahead of wining points. Flash forward now to 2010. Democrats are struggling to pass a health care reform bill that will lower costs for patients and expand coverage for the millions who have jobs but have no insurance. Obama and company, led by Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, have bent over backwards to accommodate conservative Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and former Democrats like Joe Leiberman. The Obama team gave up on the public option, which is supported by a majority of Americans according to almost all opinion polls. The White House has sold out to major pharmaceutical firms and declined to include provisions in any reform bill that would empower the federal government through Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate for lower prices on prescription medicines. The White House has focused on passing a bill, any bill, even a bad bill, so the effort doesn’t become a political liability. There seems to be no bottom line that has been drawn, no line in the sand that the White House refuses to cross. For Emanuel in particular, the health care debate is about not losing position in the polls rather than fighting for a worthy cause.

Emanuel showed his total contempt for loyal Democratic voters by calling liberals who vowed to field candidates against party conservatives “fucking retarded.” Politicians like Emanuel are too clever by half. With all their dithering and capitulation, they might be signing away not just the South, but the whole country.

The Democratic Party has betrayed its history. This is not our grandparent’s Democratic Party, the party of Franklin Roosevelt. For all its flaws, the liberal New Deal reforms dramatically improved the lives of poor, working class and middle class Americans.

The average manufacturing wage tripled from 1933 to 1949. Wages for “Rosie the Riveter,” the women who filled in for men at factories, rose 50 percent just between 1943 and 1945. More families than ever could make a living on one wage. More children finished high school, more young adults attended college, and more young couples owned houses than any previous period in American history. Americans were healthier, better fed and had more job security than any previous generation. And the voting public awarded the Democratic Party for its successful liberal programs by giving the party the White House 28 of 36 years between 1933 to 1969 and control of Congress for all but four of those years.

The New Deal coalition collapsed in the late 1960s because of the disastrous war in Vietnam, white backlash over Civil Rights legislation, urban riots, and middle class squeamishness over the excesses of the decade’s counterculture. Party leaders would wrongly assume that the party splintered from an excess of liberalism while, in fact, it declined because the Johnson administration diverted money better spent fighting poverty, improving health care, and expanding research at universities in order to support imperialism in Vietnam.

The Democrats nominated a true liberal, George McGovern, in 1972, and the candidate got buried in a Nixon landslide. Again, leading Democrats concluded that McGovern was too far left to win, ignoring how incumbency during wartime, rising urban crime, the ruthlessly corrupt Nixon political machine, and the president’s surprise agreement to end the Vietnam War killed McGovern’s chances of victory. Jimmy Carter became the first party nominee to present himself as a “new Democrat,” a moderate conservative committed to reduced federal spending and increase privitization of government services. The Iranian hostage crisis destroyed Carter’s presidency.

After Carter’s departure from Washington and former Vice President Walter Mondale’s humiliating defeat by Ronald Reagan, Democrats increasingly portrayed themselves as Republican Light – rejecting the harsh anti-abortion politics of the GOP and tepidly supporting civil rights for African Americans, Mexican Americans, gays and women while pushing conservative priorities like government efficiency, balanced budgets, harder treatment of criminals, continued expansion of the military, and engagement in the so-called “culture wars.”

Hence, instead of big ideas like Social Security, the GI Bill, and federally backed student loans, we got Al and Tipper Gore’s campaign against smutty rock records in the late 1980s and Bill Clinton’s support of mandatory school uniforms, the death penalty, and his smacking of the rap performer Sista Soldjah. There was no Democratic Party constituency—African Americans, the poor, gays, and the union movement – that Bill Clinton didn’t enthusiastically throw under the bus so he could position himself as the moderate center opposed to Newt Gingrich’s right-wing congressional leadership and the supposedly leftist Democrats in the House and Senate. Misinterpreting the past, Clinton led the Democrats rightward, and in the process Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress for the first time in four decades, as well as most governorships and state legislatures. Conservative Democrats like Clinton and other members of the “centrist” Democratic Leadership Counsel became the party’s ebola virus, killing everything it touched.

Since Clinton, Democrats love running against the Democratic Party. And party leaders undermined their most important base of support – the working class. The North American Free Trade Agreement, so loved by Clinton and Republicans, has resulted in a sharp decline in income and benefits for American families, and turned Mexico into a narco state, without creating those foreign markets eager for American-made goods as was promised by Washington insiders. Wages rose when union membership increased in the first half of the twentieth century and have declined sharply as unions have declined. Those unions were the glue that held the New Deal coalition together for so long. With union households amounting to only 9 percent of the population, the now more conservative Democrats achieve success only as a result of Republican incompetence and corruption.

By appointing Emanuel as his chief of staff, embracing Bush policies regarding Guantanamo Bay, by refusing to investigate Bush-era war crimes, and by continuing our endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has sadly signaled he shares the “me too” attitude of the Clintonistas. I’ve voted mostly for the Democratic Party since I first cast a ballot in 1978, but they are losing me. I loved the idealism of so many Democrats of the Civil Rights and Vietnam War era. But the Democrats today clearly no longer love “retarded” people like me.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Black Freedom Struggle, 1945-1954

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below I describe the battle to desegregate Jim Crow schools prior to the Supreme Court's "Brown v. Board of Education" decision.

Whether or not they had the support of the Washington political establishment, the African American community fought most of the struggle for civil rights themselves. In October 1946, four hundred African American children in Lumberton, N.C., staged a walkout from classes to protest the shoddy, unsafe conditions at segregated black campuses. The students held signs sadly asking, “How Can I Learn When I’m Cold?” and noting “It Rains On Me.”

Such grassroots protests enjoyed surprising, if still limited, success. Spending on black education increased in the South in the immediate post-war years, but that improvement was relative since allocations for African American schools in the former Confederacy before the war had been minuscule. Nevertheless, the increased industrialization of the South as a result of the world war and the post-war economic boom gave the poorest states in Dixie more money to spend on black students. The per capita spending in Louisiana on African American pupils rose from an almost non-existent $16 in 1940 to a still meager $116 in 1955. South Carolina passed a $75 million bond issue funded by a 3 percent sales tax increase to improve and expand black schools.

White-run Southern legislatures did this because, against all odds, African Americans applied pressure to the Southern power structure. The NAACP’s anti-lynching campaigns had substantially reduced the number of black men, women and children murdered for racial reasons each year. White mobs murdered almost 60 African Americans annually in the five years starting with the end of World War I, from 1918 through 1922. As a result of NAACP lobbying, the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department in the late 1930s increased federal prosecutions for police brutality and began investigating lynchings. Between 1937 and 1946, lynch mobs murdered 42 African Americans, but as a result of federal pressure, law enforcement rescued 226 potential victims. Whites lynched six African Americans in 1946, but local authorities prevented 22 murders.

Black political power increased as the number of registered black voters inched up across the South. Although most Southern African Americans still lacked access to the ballot, the total number of registered blacks in the former Confederacy had increased from a few thousand to approximately one million by 1952. In close elections, African Americans could determine the outcome. Relative moderates like Gov. Jim Folsom of Alabama and Mayor William B. Hartsfield in Atlanta actively sought the support of black voters and even promoted black voter registration. Southern legislatures also increased funding for black schools because they feared losing cases filed by the NAACP challenging segregated schools and realized they could not forever maintain the fiction that white and black campuses were “separate but equal.”

Nevertheless, by the early 1950s the economic, political and academic inequalities faced by African Americans in the South remained glaring and tragic. During an NAACP inspection of white and black schools in Clarendon County, S.C., for instance, Howard University associate professor Mathew J. Whitehead found that white schools had water fountains but black students had to use a dipper to scoop water from open buckets. The school system provided white students with buses but black students living far from campuses had no access to transportation. Each white campus employed a janitorial staff, but black teachers and students had to serve as uncompensated custodians at Jim Crow schools. White schools providing seating for every student while one black school in the county did not possess a single desk.


SCHOOL DESEGREGATION

Beginning in the 1940s, the NAACP launched a legal offensive aimed at step-by-step desegregation of American education. Marion Sweatt forced open the doors of the University of Texas law school to African Americans in 1950. An NAACP activist in Houston since the early 1940s and a columnist for the local black-owned newspaper the Informer, Sweatt plunged into fundraising drives for the NAACP’s lawsuit against the so-called “white primary.” Democratic Party rules in Texas barred blacks from voting in primaries which, given the party’s almost complete monopoly on elective office in the first half of the twentieth century, left African Americans with no voice in partisan political races.

The NAACP successfully persuaded the United States Supreme Court to declare the white primary unconstitutional in the 1944 Smith v. Allwright case. A postal carrier, Sweatt fought against discriminatory policies that blocked African Americans in Texas from higher-paying positions as clerks. His work on that issue sparked his growing personal interest in a law career. Sweatt considered attending law school in Michigan, but changed his mind when his father suffered a heart attack. At the urging of Dallas NAACP attorney W.J. Durham, Sweatt applied to the UT Law School, aware that the school was legally vulnerable to litigation since the state of Texas had failed to provide a law school for African American students. Sweatt applied, was turned down, and on May 16, 1946 filed the Sweatt v. Painter case.

The state of Texas scrambled to provide sham law schools for blacks to avoid a federal desegregation order. The Texas A&M regents created a “law school” for blacks by hiring two Houston lawyers to hold classes in their offices. No one enrolled. The Texas Legislature, meanwhile, moved to convert Houston College for Negroes into Texas State University for Negroes, which would provide law classes for African Americans. (TSUN would open in 1947 and eventually be rechristened Texas Southern University.) At the University of Texas, regents set aside a basement in a building south of the campus on Thirteenth Street where black students could receive law instruction from the most junior members of the faculty, although African Americans would not have direct access to the law library or other resources. Only one black student, Henry Doyle, attended the Jim Crow classes. Sweatt and the NAACP refused to accept this sham.

After years of financial hardship while waiting for the case to wind through the courts, Sweatt and the NAACP prevailed in its lawsuit against UT in 1950. The same day as its Sweatt v. Painter decision, the Supreme Court ruled in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents that Oklahoma State University had erred when it admitted a black student to a graduate program but then required him to sit apart from white students. That momentous day in judicial history also saw the release of the Supreme Court’s decision in Henderson v. the United States, in which the court ruled that Jim Crow seating in railroad dining cars violated the Constitution.

Change came slowly even after the NAACP’s triple victory. After the Sweatt decision, the University of Texas admitted 22 African Americans out of a total enrollment of 12,000, with six of the black students enrolled in law classes. According to Texas NAACP historian Michael Gillette, the reactions of whites to Sweatt and the five other African Americans in the program were mixed. Most were agreeable, Sweatt said, and he and the other integration pioneers encountered few problems as they sought access to water fountains, restrooms, school dining facilities, lounges and football games. The Friday of his first week at UT, however, Sweatt discovered, after studying late at the law library, that a large white crowd had gathered across the street and was burning a cross. Accompanied by a white friend, Sweatt made it safely to his car, only to discover that the tires had been slashed. Although a few campus liberals offered condolence, UT officials largely ignored the incident and Austin police never made an arrest in the case.

The intense scrutiny of the press, the racism of faculty and students, and financial pressure destroyed Sweatt’s marriage during his two years at UT and undermined his academic performance. Poor health added to Sweatt’s difficulties as he battled a painful ulcer and missed seven weeks of classes after suffering appendicitis. He failed courses in his first year, audited the classes he failed in the fall of 1951, and re-enrolled in the spring semester of 1952, but he subsequently dropped out. Nevertheless, the Painter case laid the groundwork for the more famous Brown v. the Board of Education school desegregation decision in 1954.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Race and the Cold War

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." Below I describe how the Cold War induced some white politicians to grudgingly support civil rights in the late 1940s and the 1950s.

The commencement of the Cold War, a protracted global political struggle with the Soviet Union, proved as important as any event in changing how white American elites thought about race. The political leadership perceived the Soviets, armed with nuclear weapons shortly after World War II, as set on world conquest. As the colonial empires of Britain and France fell apart, several presidential administrations eagerly pursued alliances with and sought to establish bases in newly born countries across Africa and Asia.

Locked in a bitter ideological war with the Soviets for hearts and minds in new independent states, the Truman and Eisenhower administrations both realized that Southern lynchings of black men and women, segregation and the disenfranchisement of African American voters gave the United States a bad image in countries governed by people of color. With the Soviet Union presenting an image of both anti-imperialism and anti-racism, according to historian Joel Williamson, the United States found itself in a public relations bind.

"The United States, offering itself as both the modern exemplar and the champion of democracy, was faced with the problem of wooing the non-white people of the Third World into the anti-Communist camp while racism ran riot at home," Williamson wrote. This pushed both Democratic and Republican administrations from 1945 to 1960 to be friendlier toward African American civil rights than they might have otherwise.

The paradox of America presenting itself as the land of the free while African Americans faced segregation and violence, particularly in the South, did not escape the attention of even conservative publications like Time magazine, which observed that “in Washington, the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln broods over the capital of the U.S. where Jim Crow is the rule.” Cases of racial discrimination received wide attention not only in the Soviet press, but also in newspapers and radio broadcasts in newly independent nations like India and Ceylon, and in sub-Saharan Africa.

In one incident, Alabama police arrested U.S. Sen. Glen Taylor, running in 1948 for vice president on the Progressive Party ticket headed by Henry Wallace, when he entered the “colored entrance” to a Birmingham church to make a speech. The Shanghai, China newspaper Ta Kung Pao sharply criticized American hypocrisy. “If the United States merely wants to ‘dominate’ the world, the atomic bomb and the U.S. dollar will be sufficient to achieve this purpose,” an editorial said. “However, the world cannot be ‘dominated’ for a long period of time. If the United States wants to ‘lead’ the world, it must have a kind of moral superiority in addition to military superiority.” The fact that this criticism of American race relations appeared in a newspaper in China, a country engaged in a civil war between a conservative dictatorial regime and communists, particularly alarmed the American State Department.

PRESIDENT TRUMAN AND RACIAL POLITICS

President Harry S Truman came from a regional border state (Missouri) and occasionally used anti-black slurs in private conversation. Writing to his daughter Margaret Truman when he was a senator from Missouri, the future president once complained about black waiters at a Washington, D.C. restaurant whom he described as “an army of coons” who thought they were “evidently the top of the black social set in Washington.” Once in a 1939 letter to his wife, Bess, Truman derided an African American social occasion as “nigger picnic day.” As president, however, Truman worried about the impact of racial injustice in the United States on the Cold War.

Pragmatic electoral concerns also shaped his newly found interest in civil rights. From the 1920s through World War II, millions of African Americans had moved north of the Mason-Dixon line and into the West to escape the harassment of Southern whites and to find better-paying jobs. Since Roosevelt’s second term, African American voters in the North and West largely supported Democrats, and in states like California and Michigan the black electorate could swing close elections. Black resentment over the influence of Southern white segregationists on Democratic Party, however, caused a drop-off in black support for the Democrats in the 1946 congressional races. Truman wanted to win these voters back.

Post-war racial violence, however, also moved the president. Black activists told Truman of an incident in Monroe, Georgia, in which whites fatally shot two African American men. The wife of one of the victims recognized one of the white shooters, so the killers assassinated both of the men’s spouses, as well. Violence against African American servicemen in particular shocked the president. More than 1 million African Americans served in the military during the war. Black soldiers entering the war hoped to win what civil rights leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois called the “Double V” – victory against the Axis Powers and against racism at home. Just as many African American soldiers returning from World War I suffered persecution and lynching upon returning to the United States, several shocking attacks on black veterans made headlines across the nation just after World War II. Black veterans would be outraged by poor treatment they received upon their return to the United States, prompting many to become active in the Civil Rights Movement.

In one incident, the police chief in Aiken, S.C., severely beat Sgt. Issac Woodard, an African American, with a nightstick and gouged an eye out. Woodard had received his separation papers from the United States Army a mere three hours earlier. Hearing of this attack, Truman reportedly said, “My God. I had no idea it was as terrible as that. We’ve got to do something!” Truman later said incidents such as the assault on Sgt. Woodward moved him to push for civil rights. Pressed by Southern members of Congress to abandon this stand, Truman said, “My forebears were Confederates.… Every factor and influence in my background—and in my wife’s for that matter—would foster the personal belief that you are right. But my very stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten. Whatever my inclinations as a native of Missouri might have been, as President I know this is bad.”

On December 5, 1946, Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, to which he predominantly appointed racial liberals. The committee issued its report, “To Secure These Rights,” the following October. According to the report, the contrast between the nation’s stated ideas of human equality and the widespread practice of racial discrimination served as “a kind of moral dry rot which eats away at the emotional and rational bases of democratic beliefs.” With its eyes on America’s global competition with the Soviet Union, the report warned that “we cannot ignore what the world thinks of us or our record.”

The committee recommended a broad range of reforms including enacting a federal anti-lynching statute (designed to get around Southern courts which refused to prosecute violent crimes committed by whites against blacks); a ban on the poll tax (which reduced black voting); prohibiting by federal statute discrimination in private employment; establishing a permanent Commission on Civil Rights; increasing the size of the Justice Department’s civil rights division; and strictly enforcing voting rights laws. The Commission also urged the Justice Department to file lawsuits against housing developments and neighborhood associations that used secret covenants to deny housing to racial and religious minorities; said that federal money should be denied to any public or private agency that practiced segregation; and called for the Congress to integrate all facilities in Washington, D.C., including the public school system. President Truman embraced most of these recommendations in a civil rights message to Congress on February 2, 1948.

At the Democratic National Convention that summer, Southern delegates walked out when a far-reaching pro-Civil Rights plank was for the first time added to the Democratic Party platform. Nevertheless, Truman issued two executive orders on July 26, 1948: one that desegregated the armed forces and another that prohibited discrimination in the federal civil service. During the late 1940s, Truman used his executive powers to empanel a Commission on Higher Education that recommended an end to religious and racial quotas used at universities to limit admission of Jews and blacks. After his presidency, Truman continued to use words like “nigger” in private conversation, dismissed Martin Luther King, Jr., as a “troublemaker” and considered the civil rights movement at least partly inspired by communism, but his presidency nevertheless committed the national Democratic Party to greater support for black voting rights and opposition to segregation.

Michael Phillips is the author of "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001" published in 2006, and "The House Will Come To Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics," co-written with Patrick Cox and published in 2010 by The University of Texas Press. His essay “Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” appears in "Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations,” edited by Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León and published by Texas A&M Press in February 2011.