Monday, June 27, 2011

The Strange Career of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield

In 2006, the University of Texas Press published my first book, "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001." To celebrate that book's fifth anniversary, I am serializing "White Metropolis." In this passage, I describe the importance of Cyrus Scofield, an evangelical doomsday preacher who rose to prominence in Dallas in the early 20th century and changed how many Gentiles perceive Jews in the United States.

As a man born north of the Mason-Dixon line who fought in the Confederate Army and then served as pastor at a church associated with a mostly Northern membership, no prominent Dallas figure better embodies elite efforts to forge political unity between Dallas residents of Northern and Southern origin in the post-Civil War period than Cyrus Ingerson Scofield.

A man of shaky theological credentials, Scofield nevertheless emerged as the city's most important cultural innovator. Scofield not only paved the way to regional reconciliation in Dallas. With his multi-million selling Scofield Reference Bible, he transformed relations between fundamentalist Christians and Jews throughout the United States while providing a reactionary counter-balance to the Populist and Progressive movements dominating political debates in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Born about 50 miles southwest of Detroit, Michigan on August 19, 1843, Scofield moved to live near two older sisters and a brother-in-law in Lebanon, Tennessee, 30 miles east of Nashville, in early 1861. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the 17-year-old joined the 7th Tennessee Infantry Regiment for a one-year hitch, entering and leaving the Confederate Army as a private. After the war, Scofield married Leontine Cerre, the youngest daughter of a prominent French Catholic family in St. Louis.

Earning a law license, his new family connections helped him land employment in a Kansas firm headed by John J. Ingalls, later elected United States Senator. Riding Ingalls' coattails, Scofield won two one-year terms to the Kansas State legislature and, through Ingalls' patronage, earned appointment as a United States District Attorney in 1873. Scandal plagued Scofield and he resigned as district attorney in December 1873 after only six months on the job. Kansas newspapers charged that Scofield accepted bribes from railroads, stole political contributions meant for Ingalls, and secured bank promissory notes by forging signatures.

His wife Leontine filed for divorce. Scofield said he soon thereafter converted to Christianity under the influence of James Brooks, a believer in a dispensationalist theology that emphasized the prophetic nature of the Bible and taught that a literal Second Coming of Christ loomed in the immediate future. Scofield won a post as acting YMCA secretary in St. Louis before being invited to serve as pastor of the struggling First Congregational Church in Dallas in October 1882. Though Scofield received only spotty theological training, he became one of the most influential preachers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Congregationalist Church was a tiny flock that rode into Dallas with the post-railroad 1870s immigration wave. Eleven of the 17 original members claimed Northern origin. The Dallas Congregationalists first organized in 1876, but suffered from a serious public relations problem as their denomination was associated with the famous Northern, pre-war abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher.

Even though Scofield was not yet ordained, the Congregationalists enthusiastically gave the Confederate veteran a chance at the pulpit. As word of his wartime record spread, Scofield acquired social standing. He pled for North-South reconciliation and on one Memorial Day in Dallas, a Confederate veterans group and the Grand Army of the Republic separately invited him to speak. Scofield addressed both groups simultaneously and received an enthusiastic response.

His Confederate credentials established, Scofield built a growing church, winning followers through door-to door evangelism. Always conscious of image, Scofield further enhanced his status by claiming the title "Dr. Scofield, D.D. [doctor of divinity]" in the early 1890s, although there no record of an advanced degree from any college of university at his church's archives. Scofield drew one of the most powerful families in Dallas, the Dealeys, to his congregation.

In 1885, the A.H. Belo Corporation, owners of the Galveston News, opened the Dallas Morning News. The Morning News quickly bought the Dallas Herald and became the dominant newspaper in the city. The News' business manager, George Bannerman Dealey, identified himself as a Presbyterian most of his life, but other Dealeys, including his father (also named George), Carrie, and Samuel Dealey, filled the pews of the First Congregational Church, serving as officers and fundraisers. Scofield's persuasiveness, plus his friendship with wealthy members, spurred the church's growth. Membership grew from 16 resident members his first year as pastor to 465 12 years later.

Scofield grounded his theology in "pre-millennial dispensationalism," the core of which is that "the course of history, and the sequence of events that will herald the end of the world, are foretold in the Bible." The Scriptures, Scofield said, divide time into seven "dispensations," marked by some change in God's method of dealing with mankind. For instance, under the "Man Innocent" dispensation during which Adam and Eve lived in Edenic bliss, they failed to follow the commandment to "abstain from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil," and were expelled from paradise. "Each of the Dispensations may be regarded as a new test of the natural man, and each ends in judgment — marking his utter failure," Scofield wrote.

The modern period, Scofield argued, represents the "Church Age," the sixth and penultimate stage of history. The Christian church, evangelizing since Jesus' return to heaven nearly 2,000 years earlier, has failed to save the human race from sin. End-time events would begin when Jesus "raptures" his church, whisking the saved into the clouds so they might escape the horrors of the coming "Tribulation."

Jews would return to Palestine to establish a modern state of Israel, Scofield predicted. The Gentile nations of the Earth would unite under an Antichrist, a world dictator determined to defeat God's plan for salvation by destroying the Jews. Under the reign of the Antichrist, Scofield promised, millions will die and the Earth will suffer vast ecological devastation. The Antichrist's armies will gather in the Middle East to complete annihilation of the Jewish nation, but before this happens, 144,000 surviving Jews will convert to Christianity. Jesus and his raptured followers will miraculously return to save these converts and destroy the "princes of the Earth" in a final battle of Armageddon. Christ will then begin an earthly reign of 1,000 years, followed by a final Judgement Day and the creation of a new Heaven and Earth.

In Dallas, anxieties generated by social dislocation made Scofieldism particularly attractive. Dispensationalism neatly divided the world into those aligned with Christ and those in thrall to the anti-Christ. This Manichean viewpoint heightened a sense of identity for Scofield's flock just at a time when the chronic fears wrought by industrialism — unemployment, inflation and recession — aggravated anxieties and alienation.

In spite of Scofield's theological conservatism, his sermons reflected the terrors of the industrial age. "Business is organized on a vast scale; the unit counts for nothing — the mass for everything," he observed in one sermon. "The hours of the day are not enough for toil, business burns up the nights as well. God's rest day is ruthlessly appropriated; men are worn out, burnt out rather, and left behind without thought or mercy." Scofieldism spread as it offered both empathy for the working class and support for elite values.

Scofield built largely on the work of predecessors such as early 19th century theologian John Darby, but he was dispensationalism's most successful popularizer. His influence extended far beyond Dallas and the South, reshaping Protestant fundamentalism, its relationship to progressive political reform, and its attitude toward Jews.

His dispensationalist reading of prophecy reached a broad audience through his masterwork, the Scofield Reference Bible. Published in 1909, the Scofield Bible supplemented the King James translation with explanatory footnotes and suggested cross-references for related verses. Although annotated English-language Bibles date back to the seventeenth century, no version of the Bible so completely entwined the editor's doctrinal interpretations with the Biblical text, a technique which made Scofield's theological pronouncements appear as part and parcel of Holy Writ. Scofield's Bible, which replaced archaic phrases with more modern English, became one of the twentieth century’s most popular versions and saved its publisher, Oxford University Press, from bankruptcy during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The Scofield Bible may have exceeded 10 million copies sold before the release of a revision in 1967. The revision sold another 2.5 million copies by 1990. A religion scholar characterized the Scofield Bible as "perhaps the most important single document in all fundamentalist literature." Middle class Baptist and Presbyterian congregations became, as historian Paul Boyer puts it, "bastions of pre-millennialism."

In many fundamentalist Protestant congregations, ministers found themselves measured by a Scofield yardstick and found their careers threatened if they ventured too far from this new orthodoxy. The Dallas Theological Seminary became a center of dispensationalist teaching, with graduate Hal Lindsey writing the non-fiction best-seller of the 1970s, the Scofield-inspired The Late Great Planet Earth which registered 28 million in sales by 1990.

Scofield saw the march of history not as a tale of progress but as a long slide into faithlessness and degeneration. History would end, "not as some would have us believe, by the gradual process of evolution, lifting the race higher and higher . . . but in sudden and awful ruin . . ." Preaching in an age of middle class Progressivism, Scofield urged his followers to place no faith in politics. "The true mission of the church is not the reformation of society," he declared. "What Christ did not do, the Apostles did not do. Not one of them was a reformer."

To put faith in political activism was to lack faith in God. "When Christ was on earth all the social problems — slavery, intemperance, prostitution, unequal distribution of wealth, oppression of the weak by the strong — were at their worst," Scofield argued. "To cure them He put into the world one message — the gospel, one means — regeneration, one agency — the Holy Spirit in the church." Genuine, permanent reform could come only with the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. All else was satanic delusion. Scofield compared human civilization to the Titanic, the famed vessel that sank in the North Atlantic in 1912. " . . . [W]e're all on a doomed ship; but that God and his mercy had brought a life boat alongside that would hold us all," Scofield said.

Scofieldism served the political and racial status quo admirably. As an industrial order rose in Dallas, Scofieldism blunted class conflict, urging the poor to wait for justice in the sweet bye-and-bye. At a time when Dallasites feared the political mobilization of dissenters, working class whites and blacks, Scofield offered a theology that was implicitly anti-democratic.

The Antichrist, Scofield argued, would achieve power through his persuasive guile, deceiving the masses into supporting his rule. Democracy and a free, but morally corrupt press, would become vehicles through which the Antichrist would reign. In contrast, dispensationalists celebrate Christ's millennium rule as "absolute in its authority and power . ." In his Scofield Reference Bible, the Dallas minister referred sarcastically to "popular will, fickle and easily moulded." Constitutional liberties, in any case, could not free anyone from the slavery of sin.

Scofieldism's rejection of political activism also signaled a rejection of the social experimentation of the Reconstruction Era. In terms of racial ideology, Scofield largely reflected conventional white attitudes. Men, he said, were born into an "invisible net" created, in part, by "race predisposition [and] . . . race habit . . ." The Scofield Reference Bible implied that blacks were the descendents of Noah's son Ham, cursed after the flood for disrespecting his father. From Ham, Scofield wrote, descended an "inferior and servile posterity."

Black subordination was a fulfillment of Ham's curse, an interpretation Scofield echoed. Scofield laughed at the efforts of whites like Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, a pre-war abolitionist, who made an "annual attempt to enact a law to abolish the distinction made by God Almighty between black and white." Black social inferiority was the will of God, Scofield apparently believed.

If Scofield reinforced white attitudes towards African Americans, his biggest innovation came with his views on Jews. Here, the conservative Scofield was truly revolutionary. Scofield worked to replace traditional Christian anti-Semitism with an aggressive philo-Semitism. Scofield's worldview gave modern Jews a pivotal role in God's plan of salvation and even conceded Jews a path to salvation outside of Christianity. In so doing, Scofield paved a way for Jews to be seen as white in a city where whiteness was the necessary political prerequisite for economic success and political influence

This innovation came when immigration made Jews more visible within Dallas' population, with many leaders such as the Sangers and the Marcus family playing integral roles as part of the city's rising merchant class. These Jewish "Merchant Princes," as one author described them, brought to Dallas a global view of trade that would further expand the city's economy. Dallas' new Jewish merchant class soon became too valuable to keep on the fringes. Dallas leaders wrestled with longstanding Gentile fears of Jews to find a way to enfold them in the banner of whiteness.

By the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Jewish whiteness emerged as one of the central racial controversies in the North. The relatively small number of African Americans north of the Mason-Dixon line and the Northern political surrender on Reconstruction meant that, for a time, black-white relations receded in importance to Northern white elites. Jews, however, represented part of a mass wave of Southern and Eastern European immigrants whose language, religion and culture represented a challenge to Anglo Protestant hegemony. Ivy League professors, New England political patricians like Henry Cabot Lodge and much of the Northern press declared that Jews, accused carriers of the socialist virus also ironically blamed for lowering Gentile wages, were intellectually inferior, had congenitally untrustworthy characters and were inherently incapable of upholding democratic institutions.

Though the verdict among Northern Anglo elites was by no means unanimous, many declared Jews members of a distinct "Oriental" race incapable of assimilation. Jews received much less focus in the South, not only because fewer Jews lived there, but also because the implementation of Jim Crow laws seemingly divided the region into two clearly-marked black and white categories. Unlike the North, until later in the twentieth century there seemed to be no population deemed in-between the white/black polarities.

Many Southern Jews decided that, given the onerous liabilities of blackness, no sane alternative to claiming a white identity existed. Many Jews achieved probationary whiteness by serving in the Confederate Army or by practicing or defending segregation. Most Southern Jews who disapproved of anti-black racism kept quiet. Not all Southern Jews played this game, with some vocally supporting African American civil rights. In any case, whether they were collaborators with or opponents to their Southern Gentile peers on racial issues, Jews eventually would face questions about their whiteness in the South as growing Jewish immigration became entwined with the controversy over Southern industrialization.

By the time European Jews first encountered Anglo Gentiles in Texas, Christians there had constructed a split image of the Jewish community. The "good Jews" of the Old Testament who brought the Ten Commandments to the world vied for prominence in Christian imagination with the "bad Jews" who crucified Jesus and grubbed for money. In an 1853 edition, the Austin State Gazette reprinted an editorial from the Congressional Journal that asked how Jews survived in a hostile world.

Amid their sufferings, the editorial warned, Jews became an invincible force. "In money power the Jews hold in their hands the destiny of kingdoms and empires, whose governments become bankrupt and their sovereigns turn beggars at a Hebrew's nod," the writer commented. Texas anti-Semites mixing the fear of alleged Jewish power with awe at what appeared to be the divine favor Jews enjoyed. Jews, the editorial concluded, were a "race so indomitable, so imperishable" that they "must have been raised up and preserved for some grand purpose."

Dallas Jews stood on a precipice, not sure if their Gentile neighbors saw them as the monotheistic Old Testament heroes slaying Philistines or the mythical Christ-killers. From the time the first Jewish resident settled in Dallas, dry goods warehouse owner Alexander Simon in the 1850s, the city's Jewish community presented themselves as the "Good Jews" of the Bible. Jewish immigrants freely used the term "Hebrew," to evoke memories of heroic Old Testament patriarchs, in naming their civic organizations such as the Dallas Hebrew Benevolent Association, founded in 1872, or the Young Men's Hebrew Association, an answer to the Young Men's Christian Organization, formed in 1879.

Dallas Jews embraced cultural assimilation to win acceptance. German Jews like the Sangers adopted the more Westernized Reform Movement of Judaism, which bridged considerable distance between the two cultures. Classical Reform Judaism defines Jews as members of a common religion, not of a race or nationality, thus mitigating separatism. At Dallas' Congregation Emanu-El, Reform Jews followed Southern Protestant patterns of religious practice. The temple resembled a church, services incorporated English and the term "minister" was used interchangeably with "rabbi." Such religious assimilation characterized American Judaism from the time of the American Revolution. American Jews rarely spoke Hebrew and, as a result, across North America services often strikingly resembled Protestant gatherings. Dallas only represents an extreme.

However assimilated, Dallas Jews did not seek invisibility but made their mark as joiners. At the start of the 1870s, all 17 of the city's Jewish males enrolled as volunteer firefighters. When yellow fever struck Texas in 1873, the city's growing Jewish community raised $1,000 to help the epidemic's victims in Shreveport. "They open their purses and give to the extent of their means, never inquiring whether their contributions are destined for the relief of Jew or Gentile . . ." the Dallas Herald marveled. Dallas Jews were rewarded for their civic-mindedness by winning a broad level of acceptance. Although Jews constituted less than five percent of the city's population, five Jews, all from the merchant class, were elected aldermen between 1873 and 1905.

Jewish weddings in Dallas became front-page news, Gentile writers bubbling with adjectives to capture the elegant flavor. The Dallas Daily Herald described a reception for Dallas merchant E.M. Kahn and his new bride as "one of the grandest and most brilliant" society events with "nothing undone to make it a magnificent success," the hall "brilliantly lighted" and "the whole scene conspiring to render an effect as beautiful and charming as fairy land."

Wealthy nineteenth century Jewish society mirrored the fantasy cosmopolitan future desired for Dallas by Gentile elites. The "good Jew" of Dallas — always loyal, generous, and supportive of the local leadership's policies and priorities — would be welcome as long as he conformed to narrow, stereotyped expectations. Jews were accepted, not as part of the Anglo-Saxon ruling bloc, but only as closely related cousins of the Master Race.

Jews assimilated not only culturally but also politically. It didn't hurt the Sanger family that brothers Issac, Lehman and Philip had served in the Confederate Army. Yet, even while supporting the South in its defense of slavery, Jews remained oddities to the Christian community, a comic people separated by anachronistic custom.

T.R. Burnett, in his poem "Story of a Ham," distributed at the 1888 State Fair in Dallas, depicted a fictional "single lonely Jew," Jacob Joses, as "true to Dixie and to Moses." In spite of being "full of zeal" and "always true" to the Confederate colors, "Jewy Jake" remains an outsider who "maintains his Jewish fashions/And will not eat all kinds of rations." After getting lost, a hungry Jake happens upon a smokehouse. "And through a handy crack e-spying,/A luscious ham he saw there lying," Burnett, fascinated by Jewish difference, continues in his clumsy verse. Jake the Jew nearly succumbs to unfaithfulness, almost violating his dietary code. "He tried to think of Moses' law/But had a cramping in his craw: O ham, thou almost (mouth a twisten')/ Persuadest me to be a Christian!" Jake's observance of Old Testament edict marks him as impractical and superstitious, an outsider not quite white in spite of his wearing the Confederate gray.

Many Christians thought that only those who accepted Jesus as the son of God would reach heaven. Jewish rejection of Christ's messianic role left these ancient promoters of monotheism as heathen outsiders. Here, Cyrus Scofield played his most important role in helping Jews acquire higher racial status. Scofield, like other Christians, saw Jews as separate from the white community, but felt this made them a "little nation which has ever had the strongest marks of race distinction and race peculiarity."

This segregation, he argued, resulted from a divinely inspired unique Jewish role in history. "Their history alone is told in Old Testament narrative and prophecy — other peoples being mentioned only as they touch the Jew," Scofield wrote. Jews acted as "a trouble to the Gentile, yet witnessing to them; cast out by them, but miraculously preserved . . . " Anti-Semitism, to Scofield, was a sin and the prelude to divine retribution. "When [God] . . . comes back, it is first of all for their [Jews'] deliverance; then, for the judgment of the Gentiles according to their treatment of Israel," Scofield said. "I tell you, dear friends, it is a very serious thing to mistreat a Jew . . . Wherever a Jew goes he is a blessing or a curse, just according to the way he is received."

Scofield directly challenged conservative Christianity's claim to represent the only path to salvation. Scofield claimed that Jews held a unique compact with God and could reach heaven without acceptance of Jesus as savior, a revolutionary doctrine for a Christian fundamentalist. He also suggested Jews would play a pivotal role in the End Times. The conversion of 144,000 Jews before the Battle of Armageddon would be a miraculous sign of God's power, a necessary precursor to the Second Coming. Ultimately, the fate of Heaven and Earth depended on Jews.

Yet, for all his philo-Semitism, Scofield dehumanized Jews as completely as did anti-Semites. Individual Jews — whether of mixed-heritage, secular, atheist, non-observing, Reform, Orthodox, or converted to Christianity — all collapse into a single identity and shared fate. The world's future depends on their "national conversion," meaning that there is no place for the Jewish religion in the indefinite future. As historian Paul Boyer notes, "at the heart of dispensationalism lies the assumption that Jews are essentially and eternally different. The view of 'the Jew' is not necessarily hostile, but he is always separate . . ."

In Scofield's prophetic scenario, the segregation between Christians and Jews remains through eternity. After the creation of a new Heaven and Earth, Christians go to Heaven to be with Jesus, Scofield said. Jews rule the New Earth for eternity. God's promise to Abraham in the Book of Genesis that his descendants, as numerous as the stars, would inherit Palestine, was interpreted by Scofield to be a literal, eternal divine pledge. "Israel's distinction, glory and destiny, will always be earthly," Scofield wrote. ". . . [After this dispensation}, there will of necessity be a division." Scofield attributed to Jews the central role in the human drama, but that assignment meant that Jews ultimately could not be part of the larger human family.

Scofield had departed from the First Congregational Church by the time of his death in Douglaston, Long Island July 24, 1921. In spite of his relocation to the North, three memorial services were held for Scofield in Dallas on November 27, 1921. "[T]he thought comes to me that he was greater than we realized," George Dealey said at one service. The day after the memorial services, the Sanger Brothers Department Store, owned by one of Dallas' most established and successful Jewish families, ran a full-page advertisement promoting sales of twelve models and styles of the Scofield Bible. On May 16, 1923, the elders of the First Congregational Church in Dallas voted to change the congregation's name to Scofield Memorial Church, a name that remains to this day.

Scofield changed the way many Protestants read the Bible, yet his transformation of Dallas race relations remained uncommented upon at his memorial services. Scofield burst upon post-Civil War Dallas at a time of explosive changes in the city's racial ideology. The post-war period opened with John Reagan's suggestion of partial white disenfranchisement as a means of both avoiding universal black suffrage and of limiting the political power of unreliable poor whites. Poor whites reacted to this perceived loss of status with a bloody campaign aimed at returning blacks to the lowest rung of Texas society and frightening their white, Northern-born allies into silence or self-imposed exile.

This attempt became less viable with the railroad's arrival in 1870s Dallas. With the railroad came an unprecedented flood of white immigrants who could not fit easily inside the majority Southern-born Protestant ruling bloc. Catholic, Jewish and Northern immigrants played a crucial role in the city's dramatic economic expansion in the 1870s and 1880s. City leaders desired to make Dallas more attractive to these immigrants and pursued regional reconciliation. Elites no longer divided Christian whites into "Northern" and "Southern" camps, but declared that all shared an Anglo-Saxon heritage, marked by battlefield valor. Meanwhile, Dallas elites like Scofield turned anti-Semitic stereotypes upside down, portraying Jews as favored spokesmen for God on Earth.

Jews achieved whiteness to a degree impossible for later groups on the racial margins. The uncertainty of whiteness, however, would prove to be a dilemma. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jewish "merchant princes" played major roles in erecting the city's emerging capitalist order. In so doing, they entered into conflict with other Jews who helped lead the city's nascent labor movement, often promoting an anti-capitalist, socialist ideology. Even as Jews gained partial whiteness, the pressures of capitalism meant that working class Gentiles would increasingly lose theirs, a reversal of fortune that by the 1920s would help fuel the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

At the same time, working class Gentile whites and Jews would both soon learn that whiteness gained can become whiteness lost. To some Dallas Gentile elites, Jewish workers would remain Semitic aliens, carrying the non-Anglo Saxon toxin of socialism. Jewish elites would find themselves suspected as disloyal by the Gentiles and attacked by leftists within their community. Scofield had argued for the separateness of Jews after the millennium, but the city's Jewish community would remain outsiders in this world. For Dallas Jews, separate would not mean equal.


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, June 26, 2011

True to Dixie and Moses: Yankees, White Trash, Jews and the Lost Cause, Part II

In 2006, the University of Texas Press published my first book, 'White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001." To celebrate the fifth anniversary of that book, I am serializing "White Metropolis." Here, I discuss how regional reconciliation and the Neo-Confederate myth of the "Lost Cause" victimized African Americans in Dallas and elsewhere after Reconstruction.

With Benjamin Harrison's ascension to the presidency in 1877, the North surrendered any active role in protecting black civil rights in the South. Across the former Confederacy, elites attempted to cool regional hostilities to attract Northern investment. Atlanta regional propagandists preceded Texas elites in this regard. Atlanta served as the birthplace of the "New South," a public relations concoction of Southern businessmen, journalists and politicians eager to whitewash the region's tortured past and to convince the rest of the world that the former Confederacy was a safe place to invest.

Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution, served as chief mouthpiece for the new order. A former correspondent for Northern newspapers, the Southern-born Grady tirelessly promoted industrialization and agricultural diversity as a means of breaking the region's economic dependency on the North. He also supported what he considered racial cooperation, ending racial violence and encouraging black economic advancement as long as it occurred within the context of segregation. Praising Northern Civil War heroes like Abraham Lincoln and William Sherman before Northern audiences,

Grady insisted that the South had nothing to apologize for regarding its past, but still thanked God for ending slavery. Because of this divine intervention, Grady argued, ". . . the American Union was saved from the wreck of war." Such an approach, historian Edward L. Ayers argued, allowed Grady to "have it both ways, to be proudly Southern and yet partake of the new [Northern-funded] industrial bounty." Men like Grady made possible the explosive growth of cities like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston in the late nineteenth century.

In recalling the troubled past, Southern elites focused on the common experience of Civil War battlefield valor and shared "Anglo-Saxonism." They settled on a plastic racial formulation that partially ignored regional or religious identity. Whiteness would be defined as, first, the absence of blackness, and, second, the absence of a specific culture and identity. Jews, lighter-skinned Mexicans and others could win at least partial white status by surrendering their specific languages and cultures in return for an amorphous "Americanism."

The shapelessness of white identity made its possession more uncertain while the consequence of losing it remained terrible. As historian David Roediger wrote, "Whiteness describes . . . the absence of culture. It is the empty and therefore the terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn't and on whom one can hold back." If whiteness meant the absence of culture, however, it couldn't be tied specifically to a Southern regional identity. To construct whiteness, regional elites at first had to redefine Southerness.

In post-Civil War Dallas, the city developed an elaborate Lost Cause mythology, abundantly commemorating the city's noble Confederate past. Such memorials and observances suggested that white Southerners were a uniquely virtuous people in a sinful world marked, like the Old Testament Hebrews, for testing by God. Dallas hosted a Confederate veterans reunion in 1892 that drew between 20,000 and 30,000 people. In 1897, the Daughters of the Confederacy unveiled a massive Confederate monument at City Park in a solemn ceremony attended by the widow of wartime hero Stonewall Jackson and the daughter of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The presence of so many Northerners in the city, however, uniquely shaped the Lost Cause mythology in Dallas. A local chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Northern Civil War veterans' organization, formed in 1885 with 250 members and grew, in seven years to 2,000 members statewide, most of whom lived in the East and North Central sections of the state. These old Union soldiers made their large presence felt at the city's war commemorations.

Paradoxically, the Lost Cause civil religion promoted regional reconciliation across the South. Lost Cause observances, Dallas elites carefully pointed out, were made "in no spirit of sectionalism . . . " A "good and fraternal feeling" existed between the "old soldiers of the late war," one observer claimed. Confederate veterans invited their Union peers to participate in the 1897 unveiling of the Confederate Memorial, a ceremony in which "Texas flags and tattered, worn Confederate flags, and the flag of 'Old Glory,' waived together in patriotic harmony," as Phil Lindsley noted.

Union and Confederate veterans shared a heritage of bravery, Union veteran Col. W.D. Wylie, told the assembled crowd at the city's 1887 Memorial Day observance. "To-day we have no North, no South, no East, no West, but one common country, one common object, i.e. the paying tribute to our heroic dead," Wylie said. In Dallas, Civil War commemorations honored not only Southern icons like Robert E. Lee, but Northern heroes as well. "I rejoice that a reunited people speak of [Northern Civil War President Abraham] Lincoln in words of blessing," Col. W.L. Crawford, a Confederate veteran, said at an 1890 Memorial Day gathering. " . . . As we look to Lincoln let us remember every kind and generous act he did — that greatest of great men . . ."

Echoing the sentiments of Henry Grady, men like Crawford argued that the North had acted as an instrument of divine will and saved the South from the onus of slavery. Although Southern slavery had been benign and uplifting for blacks, the mythology insisted, it had been a terrible financial and emotional burden on Southern whites. By abolishing slavery, the North allowed for the development of a Southern white working class and a more perfect and complete racial separation.

"Slavery abolished, I rejoice with you in these things," Crawford, a former soldier from Texas, said at the 1890 rally. " . . . [W]e are thankful that [from the war] . . . came . . . a higher salvation — a better promise than the man who participated in it ever dreamed of." The tragedy of the Civil War, the Lost Cause cult maintained, was that Anglo-Saxons had butchered each other over the slavery issue, a slaughter instigated by abolitionist fanatics portrayed as cynical, alien outsiders exploiting the kindness some whites felt towards slaves. Northerners and Southerners now knew they could live in harmony if only Northerners conceded the wisdom of Southern policies regarding the "Negro problem."

Events in Dallas reflected a larger trend across the new urban South. The explosive economic growth of some Southern cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century seemed to confirm the wisdom of the Lost Cause priesthood. Easing regional tensions opened the way for the federal government to dig a ship channel through Galveston Bay and Buffalo Bayou, a project that culminated in the 1914 opening of the Houston Ship Channel. Houston became one of the top three deep-water ports in the United States, which tied the city fast to the world economy, especially as Texas rose as a major oil supplier.

By the early twentieth century Houston was on its way to becoming one of the world’s wealthiest cities. As would happen in Dallas, even as its economy became more complex, Houston and the Texas coast became a magnet for both Northern capital and immigrants from the deep South and Europe. Poles, Sicilians, Jews and “white trash” added complexity to Houston’s hierarchy. As the economy expanded, class conflict intensified and Anglo workers asserted racial privilege over their off-white competitors.

In their enthusiasm to remake Atlanta as the capital of the New South, residents there leveled the 400 antebellum homes and buildings left behind by General William Tecumseh Sherman’s torch-bearing troops at the end of the Civil War. The city would eventually strike some as so unlike Dixie that one Southern writer, John Shelton Reed commented, "Every time I look at Atlanta, I see what a quarter million Confederate soldiers died to prevent.”

Already a key railway junction before the war, Atlantans ruthlessly plowed over the Confederate past as the city transformed into a Southern metropolis. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Atlanta was the intersection of eleven key railroads, a distribution center between the Tennessee Valley and the East Coast, a regional banking center, and home to at least one soon-to-be international business, the Coca-Cola company. As in Dallas, the new architecture in Atlanta seemed completely cut from its geographic moorings. Atlanta elites, like their Dallas peers, tirelessly erased evidence of past racial conflict, promoting their overgrown town as a city “too busy to hate.”

This urban makeover drew both Northern immigrants and Northern money to the “Gateway City." Industrialization and population growth narrowed the poverty gap between North and South. In 1900, per capita income in the South was half of the national average. At the start of World War II four decades later, Southern per capita income had climbed to two-thirds the national average.

African Americans found themselves the chief victims of this North-South reconciliation. Both Northern and Southern whites shared a racial identity and the common interest of keeping blacks in their place, the Lost Cause priesthood proclaimed. Speaking in Texas to a mixed crowd of Northern and Southern war veterans, W.L. Crawford declared, "We are no longer Federals and Confederates. We are the mightiest race of people into whose hands the God of the inevitable ever gave control of the destinies of nation or men, wrung from the Anglo-Saxon, Norman and Celts — a people born to rule wherever they may be domiciled . . . We are to-day the superior of the earth."


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.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"True to Dixie and Moses: Yankees, White Trash, Jews and the Lost Cause, Part I

In 2006, the University of Texas Press published my first book, "White Metropolis:: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001." To celebrate the fifth anniversary of that work, I am serializing "White Metropolis." Here, I describe how terrorism by ex-Confederates during Reconstruction in Dallas thwarted attempts to create a more genuinely democratic city.

The 1861 Texas secession convention adopted a resolution explaining its reasons for joining the Confederacy. The convention proclaimed that the state's government had been established "exclusively for the white race . . . " Blacks, the convention said, "were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race . . . " and could be tolerated in Texas only if they remained slaves. All whites, meanwhile, were "entitled to equal civil and political rights." After four years of Civil War, some state leaders no longer held so certainly to that proposition. Some elites preferred a small number of politically reliable, educated blacks over "inferior" whites.

Before the Civil War, John H. Reagan won election as United States congressman from Eastern Texas. At best an ambivalent Confederate, Reagan seemed to come down firmly on both sides of the secession issue. In 1859, Reagan backed a pro-secession gubernatorial candidate against Unionist Sam Houston while simultaneously campaigning for re-election to Congress as a pro-Union moderate. Reagan served as the Confederate postmaster during the war. After the Confederacy's defeat, he urged other Texans to accept limited reforms demanded by the federal government if that was necessary to keep the pre-war power structure mostly intact.

In August 1865, while in a Union military prison at Fort Warren near Boston Harbor, Reagan predicted that Congress would not allow former Confederate state governments to be re-established unless some former slaves were granted suffrage. In an open letter to the people of Texas, Reagan called for "fixing an intellectual and moral, and, if thought advisable, a property test, for the admission of all persons to the exercise of the elective franchise, without reference to race or color . . ." He insisted that requirements such as a literacy test would block most freedmen from voting. The tiny number of blacks earning the franchise, he argued, would pose no threat to white supremacy. He assured his audience that no whites would be disenfranchised.

Failure to grant freedmen minimum voting rights would result not only in continued military occupation but even a "war between the races . . ." Granting the freedmen "their reasonable and necessary rights," however, would "prevent them from becoming an element of political agitation, and strife, and danger." Returning to Palestine, 106 miles southeast of Dallas, after a 22-month prison stay, Reagan found himself disowned by the state's political community. Perhaps many doubted his assurances that no whites would lose the vote due to new "intellectual and moral" tests.

Reagan seemed to believe that some whites were inferior intellectually to certain blacks, an ideological break from the entirely race-based biologic republic Texans sought during the Civil War. Dallas' antebellum black-white color spectrum was adding a new shade — the gray mass of conditional whites not thought competent or loyal enough to gain full admittance into the master race.

This chapter examines how discourse concerning inferior whites started in Dallas just after the Civil War and how elites used violence, laws and even theology to crush lower class mobilization. In antebellum Texas, black skin marked an individual for lifelong servitude and even the most humble whites occupied a higher rung on the social ladder. In return for poor whites' support of slavery, elites paid lip service to white equality. Elites warned that without black slavery, poor whites might be required to perform the hardest, lowest-status physical labor. This threat, elites hoped, would guarantee lower class white assent to both slavery and the political dominance of slaveowners.

After the Civil War, elites could no longer unite whites around the defense of slavery. Starting during Reconstruction, a new ruling bloc formed which included wealthy white Southerners, their Northern counterparts and a growing Dallas middle class that disliked the social disorder characterizing the city's politics since the 1850s. This clique maintained power through the early 1900s, assaulting the idea of democracy and suggesting that the white masses were as ill-equipped for citizenship as politically empowered black men.

Immediately after the war, men like Reagan fantasized about the eventual disappearance of African Americans and their replacement by a permanent white underclass. "The negroes will, it is hoped, gradually diffuse themselves . . . many of them will probably go to Mexico, and other countries, in search of social equality, and few or none of their race will be added to their numbers by accessions from other countries," Reagan wrote. Those migrating blacks, Reagan suggested, would be replaced by "the steady and rapid influx of great numbers of the white races, from other countries . . ."

The new white immigrants replacing black slaves were often seen as drudges filling a labor void. The Dallas Herald protested against a proposal by some political leaders to replace emancipated slaves with Chinese laborers. "We want neither niggers nor Mongolians — we want white men," the Herald declared. The new immigrants, city leaders conceded, would include inferior whites.

"The social caldron keeps boiling, however," the Dallas Herald said, "and the refuse in the way of the floating population is skimmed off by time, and the congenial elements naturally begin to assimilate." Even as the Herald predicted the disappearance of inferior whites, it still conceded an inevitable division in the ruling racial community. " . . . [I]t will not be long before the lines are drawn here, as they are elsewhere, between the educated, refined, well-bred people, and the course, vulgar, illiterate, [and] under-bred, whether either be rich or poor." Just a decade after the Civil War, elites divided the white population into the well-bred and the under-bred, a demarcation with increasingly racial overtones.

The racial desirability of some whites became a central issue in post-Civil War Texas politics. Whatever Reagan told his audience, the former congressman would have been happy if his plans disenfranchised some whites. Reagan complained that "our system of popular government" had been carried to "a vicious extreme" and that "the frequency . . . of popular elections" and "the great number of offices filled by the popular vote" had stirred "an unnatural and injurious public excitement . . . [with] no compensating benefit."

Reagan wanted to limit the political influence of lesser white voters. In fact, some former slaves might be worthier of the franchise he suggested in a letter to Texas Governor J.W. Throckmorton in October 1866. Any intelligence test required of potential voters that "would only affect the negroes, and would allow whites of a less degree of intelligence . . . to vote, would do no good towards securing the great ends we desire to attain."

Reagan's post-war views won few adherents. Following his release from Fort Warren, he received "abuse and ridicule" across Texas. Under President Andrew Johnson's lenient 1865 plan of Reconstruction, former Confederate states could, after ratification of new state constitutions that abolished slavery, elect new governors and legislatures. Once the new governments approved the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting slavery, those states could re-enter the union. Texas' 1866 constitutional convention met the president's minimum requirements, but ignored Reagan’s advice and refused to grant freedmen even limited suffrage.

Even without Reagan's threatening ideas, the white working class sensed their social standing had declined because of emancipation. The race war Reagan feared became a reality, instigated by white status anxiety rather than black empowerment. After the Civil War, gangs of ex-Confederate soldiers and "other economically dispossessed elements" roamed North Central and East Texas, terrorizing just-freed slaves, Yankees and their Southern allies. The death rate for blacks during the years between 1865-1868 was 3.5 percent higher than modern-day Dallas, Houston and New York City. Whites between 1865-68 murdered about 1 percent of black males between the ages of 15-49, according to historian Barry Crouch.

Union General Joseph B. Kiddoo, in August 1866, observed that a "class of men who never owned slaves who have been their competitors in labor to some extent and consequently been their lifelong enemies" had been outraged by emancipation and committed the bulk of anti-black violence. J.W. Swindells, editor of the Dallas Herald, happily fanned the flames of racial tension. In 1868, the Herald warned that a race-based revolution was brewing, one in which white men, "the lovers of their race, the natural men of America," would raise a "loud roar of Democracy" that would reestablish prosperity and absolute power for the white majority.

Violence against Texas freedmen would be just one factor provoking the United States Congress to take over Reconstruction policy from President Johnson. Just as John H. Reagan predicted, Radical Republicans in Washington reacted unhappily to Texas' failure to grant black suffrage. The state's rejection of the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to African American men, pushed the Republican majority in Congress over the edge. Congress refused to seat the Texas delegation and passed its First Reconstruction Act in March 1867. The law placed Texas under army command, and declared that governments elected under Johnson's Reconstruction terms were provisional and subject to removal.

The Congress required Texas to hold another constitutional convention before it could rejoin the Union, with the delegates elected by all male citizens age 21 and over, regardless of race, color or "condition of previous servitude." The state of Texas, the Dallas Herald warned, was to be "Africanized." Swindells declared, "It has been a few brief months since the struggle first began in this State for black supremacy. Since then it has made fearful progress." To protest what they saw as an illegitimate electoral process, a large number of Confederate-sympathizing whites still on the voter rolls participated in a boycott, demanded by conservative newspapers like the Dallas Herald, of an election to determine whether Texas should write a new state constitution.

This strategy unintentionally gave African Americans and dissident, pro-Union whites a magnified voice at the ballot box. Dallas County approved holding a convention to write a new state charter by a margin of 521- 243. Texas approved a new state constitution granting black male suffrage in December 1869, with Dallas approving the new constitution by an 826-47 vote. Unrepentant Confederates then organized to "defeat the negro supremacy sought to be imposed upon them by the new constitution."

The federal government sent military agents to Texas in part to protect the new civil liberties of freedmen and their dissident white allies. Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands in March 1865. The agency's duties eventually included administering justice in criminal cases involving recently emancipated slaves, regulating freedmen's work contracts, and providing for the former slaves' education. Bureau agents often became the thin blue line shielding freedmen from violent death.

One agent, a Chicago native and Union Army veteran, William H. Horton, found the cruelty of some Dallas residents beyond comprehension. On May 10, 1867, Horton arrived to assume his new post as Sub-Assistant Commissioner for the Dallas Bureau. Horton discovered that the town's best and the brightest embraced common hooligans in order to reassert white supremacy.

On August 14, 1867, Corporal Williams, executing an arrest warrant, shot W.R.A. Vivion, an English immigrant who "tho only 22 years of age & quite intelligent had become a fearful terror to the people living near him." Before the shooting, Vivion acquired a reputation for extraordinary brutality in a town already famed for its violence. "One day feeling especially bloodthirsty he swore he would kill a nigger," Horton wrote his superior, Lt. J.T. Kirkman. "The first man or person he met was a Freedman. He shot him through the top of the head . . . He made a white boy 12 years of age dance until exhaustion brought him to the ground. Meeting three Freedwomen one day he made them pray get down on their knees & pull grass and eat it." Vivion obviously bullied whites as well as blacks. His harassment of former slaves, however, plus his arrest warrant from the Freedmen's Bureau, made him a hero to unrepentant Confederates.

Dallas residents hid Vivion and warned Army officers that they would "resist them to the death" if the bluecoats attempted an arrest. The bloody end to Vivion's short, ugly life failed to stop white harassment and intimidation. That Sunday, "the freedpeople were fired into several times while holding [church] services. No one [was] injured . . . [but] all [were] badly frightened and scattered in many directions," Horton wrote. In 1868, Horton predicted that if army occupation of Dallas ended, freed slaves "would be slaughtered like dogs & robbed when the troops withdraw."

Unreconstructed Confederates such as John J. Good campaigned to remove Horton from the Freedmen's Bureau in Dallas, alleging that Horton demanded a bribe from Daniel Murry, the heir of a former slaveholding family accused of murdering freedwoman Ann Bell. Horton, fearing assassination, had already requested a transfer from Dallas and was re-assigned to Bastrop, near Austin, in central Texas. The army may have been eager to placate hostile locals. After receiving numerous affidavits charging Horton with corruption, the Freedmen's Bureau dispatched Lt. Charles A Vernon to Dallas to investigate the allegations. Following the inquiry, Texas army commander General Joseph J. Reynolds, removed Horton from his duties for accepting bribes. Horton responded with outrage and despair, threatening to "blow my brains out . . . The humiliation is too great to bear."

Horton's departure marked the effective end of the Freedmen's Bureau in Dallas and a low point for white dissidents. Later city historians tried to these dissidents as recently arrived "carpetbaggers," outsiders who exploited political and economic chaos to win public office and make a quick buck. Carpetbagger Unionists, according to the myth, won office either by buying votes outright from easily corrupted blacks or by promising land in compensation for former slaves’ unpaid years of labor. In truth, Reconstruction Dallas was dominated by men who had immigrated to the city before the Civil War and therefore could not have anticipated the post-war chaos or expected black enfranchisement.

Unlike mythical carpetbaggers, these Reconstruction leaders had established deep roots in the city. A. Bledsoe, an immigrant from Kentucky, had been an outspoken Unionist in Dallas County before the Civil War. The Reconstruction-era mayor, Ben Long, arrived in 1855 as a Swiss immigrant, part of the anti-slavery, utopian socialist La Reunion colony near Dallas. Appointed as mayor by Horton during Reconstruction, Long would win the office once again, after the withdrawal of federal troops, in an 1872 popular election. A.J. Gouffe, a French immigrant, arrived in Dallas in the 1850s, and held stock in the Dallas Iron Bridge Company. Rather than exploitative drifters with little long-term interest in the city's success, these prosperous middle class men remained entwined in the city's power structure after Reconstruction ended, though perhaps as a contrary minority.

Many Unionists, however, found themselves in danger at the end of Reconstruction. Thirty-one signed a petition in June 1867 begging the federal government to post a full Army company in Dallas for their protection. "There is still a disposition to oppress and intimidate & many a good Union man is afraid to come out openly even at this late date publicly to avow his opinions," the petition said. Horton's successor, George F. Eben, was murdered April 8, 1868, in nearby Kaufman County before he reached the Dallas town limits. A suspect was arrested, but more than three years later he still had not been tried. The army appointed William A. Bledsoe, son of A. Bledsoe, as the chief agent for the Bureau, but he was so frightened that he rarely visited Dallas. Lt. Henry Norton followed Bledsoe's brief tenure, serving from July until late October. Afterward, freedmen and Unionists lacked any protection.

Dallas elites happily tolerated violence as long as the post-war economy expanded. Before the war, elites predicted that abolition and black suffrage would destroy civilization. Instead, the period after the South's defeat marked the village's most dramatic economic growth to date, with taxable property increasing in value 324 percent between 1865 and 1876. Reconstruction proved less than revolutionary. Of the wealthiest 5 percent of Dallasites at the end of the Civil War in 1865, half remained in that class 15 years later, with one-quarter having moved from the area. Southern-born families wealthy before the war, such as the Caruths, the Cockrells, and the W.B. Miller clan, remained economic elites.

The Reconstruction era marked not an expansion of black civil rights but the wildest fulfillment of white capitalist dreams. As pointed out in the Prologue, the Dallas leadership class in the late nineteenth century consisted of unstable coalitions of small business owners, bankers, industrial leaders and newspaper publishers. Before the war, these ruling elites' fondest hope had been the construction of a railroad line connecting Dallas to major trade centers. In 1870, Houston and Texas Central Railroad surveyors proposed a transcontinental line terminating in California that would miss Dallas by eight miles.

A five-member committee secured a route through Dallas by promising the H&TC board 115 acres of county land, a free right-of-way through the city, and $5,000 in cash. With the railroad came the construction of telegraph lines that connected Dallas to the rest of the world. The railroad, the telegraphs, and a new iron Trinity River Toll Bridge dramatically altered the Dallas landscape. In fewer than two years after the railroad's arrival, more than 1,600 new structures were erected in Dallas, including 33 boarding houses for itinerant single men eager to find work in a boomtown.

The railroad brought more than prosperity to Dallas elites. The 1870s economic boom forever changed the town's racial, ethnic and political landscape. Population expansion accounted for much of the economic growth of the 1860s and 1870s, most of the new population arriving with the new rail lines in 1872-73. By 1870, 13,314 called Dallas County home, a jump of 54 percent from the previous decade. By 1880, the county's population exploded to 33,448. At the end of the nineteenth century, the town had transformed from a trading outpost to the second largest city in the state. Demographic growth generated enough economic activity to offset the effects of an 1873 depression that devastated much of the country.

Immediately after the war, immigrants fled the economic havoc of other defeated Southern states. The percentage of white adult Dallas County residents born in states remaining in the Union during the Civil War dropped from 52 percent before the war to 42 percent in the immediate postbellum period. The population arriving after the railroad’s construction, however, had a decidedly more Northern identity. Phil Lindsley, in his 1909 history of Dallas County, noted that of the more than 1.2 million people
immigrating to Texas from 1872 to 1876, "[f]ully one-half of these came from what is generally termed 'the North’ . . . "

Demographics changed so dramatically, Lindsley observed, that by 1880 five of the Dallas' eight aldermen were Northerners.
These immigrants added an unprecedented ethnic and religious diversity to Dallas. Shortly after the Civil War, a visitor noted that "[i]n Dallas all along Main Street, the shops are closed for Rosh Hashanah. A stranger going by and seeing the shop door closed, remarked that if the Jews ever left the city, nothing would any longer deserve the observer's notice."

Jewish merchants like E.M. Kahn and Alexander and Philip Sanger joined the immigrant rush of the 1870s. The Sangers were part of a much larger German colony in Dallas that appeared with the railroad and dotted the city with beer halls, breweries and bakeries. The Germans published their own newspapers, held "Saengerfests," or musical festivals and established separate Lutheran and Methodist Episcopal churches. By the 1890s, a once almost entirely Protestant village now counted more than 5,000 Catholics in its total population of 38,0000, and the city's first synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, claimed 125 members.

Increased immigration became a key component of elite plans for Dallas' future, a dream threatened by a continued atmosphere of violence. The perception of Dallas as dangerous threatened the spectacular economic growth. The Herald, which once applauded "Southern lawlessness" (meaning lynching) as an effective tool of racial control, in an 1878 editorial called for harsh penalties against mob action. Texas had become, the Herald said, "the refuge of a horde of escaped villains from the older states . . ." Continued anarchy would end economic and cultural progress, the Herald warned. Specifically, the Herald demanded an end to "[l]awlessness under the cloak of conservation of the peace" such as "’vigilance committees’ and lynch law . . ." The Herald, once almost completely silent during the racial violence of the 1860s and 1870s, now described lynch law as "one of the most despicable of crimes" and condemned politicians who embraced it.

The Herald celebrated the intensified pace of court-sanctioned capital punishment in the late 1870s and hoped it would be applied to those guilty of mob violence. Writing of upcoming hangings in Gonzales and Denton, Texas, the paper cheered. "This looks as if we are to have law and order again. The next important step is to hang the lynchers as fast as possible." A newspaper long devoted to rabid sectionalism became a mouthpiece for regional reconciliation, recoiling at attempts by some state politicians to inject North-South antagonism into the 1878 gubernatorial race. The paper insisted there was a deep harmony between residents of "northern, southern [and] . . . foreign origin" that politics could not tear asunder. "The people of northern Texas are too thoroughly united, know and respect each other too well to be set together by the ears by any such campaign trick as this," a Herald editorial said.

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. He is currently coauthor of a new edition of "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story."

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Music of Cracking Necks: Dallas Civilization and Its Discontents, Part III

In 2006, the University of Texas Press published my first book, "White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, 1841-2001". In honor of its fifth anniversary, I am serializing this work. Below I describe the aftermath of a fire that devastated downtown Dallas in 1860 and was blamed on a slave rebellion. I explain why I don't think the fire was started by slaves and how slaveowners manipulated the subsequent statewide panic to inspire support for secession.

By late September, much of the fear and passion stirred over the summer had burned out, and even some ardent fire-eaters began to doubt whether a plot ever existed. The New Orleans Daily Picayune held as dim a view of "Black Republicans" as the Dallas Herald, yet on September 8 its editor concluded, "[n]ot half of what has been confessed seems to have been born out by later facts . . . wells thought to have been poisoned . . . [were] untainted by any deleterious substance."

The fact that many of the slave suspects possessed guns, a violation of Texas law, was neither unusual nor sinister but reflected common frontier practice. There is reason to suspect that the "Texas Troubles" were a series of accidents exploited by pro-secessionists to intimidate their opposition. Many fires reported in the press never took place. For instance, the burning of trash behind the Brenham courthouse sparked a panic there, while a newspaper editor in Weatherford expressed his surprise at reading in another city's newspaper a false report that Weatherford had been set ablaze. Many of the fires that did occur happened in a time of drought that would facilitate the spread of accidental fires.

One might question the authenticity of the Bailey Letter, suddenly produced by a newspaper editor who was one of the fiercest fire-eater voices. Why one plotter wrote a letter not to convey new information but to review details of capital crimes already underway to a co-conspirator is hard to fathom. If the 1860 rebellion was authentic, it must rank as the strangest in history. One would have to believe that slaves and abolitionists feverishly worked to set fires simultaneously across the state and then passively waited to be arrested. During the chaos of the 1860 fires, no slaves attempted to seize forts or ammunition stores. No slaves killed or injured whites. No slaves took hostages. No slaves poisoned wells or fired shots in anger. If there was a second phase to this rebellion beyond setting fires, no participant seems to have reached that page in the playbook.

Rather than uncover a conspiracy, the Committee of Vigilance in Dallas most likely ruthlessly exploited a tragedy to pursue a political agenda. The statements of an unnamed member of the committee in a Dallas Morning News retrospective on the blaze in July 1892, cast doubt on the proceedings. Requesting anonymity and telling the reporter that he voted against the convictions of the three slaves, he claimed that the Dallas fire was a simple accident. "When the town was burned it was a hot day — so hot that matches ignited from the heat of the sun," the committee member said. "Wallace Peak had just finished a new two-story frame building and in the upper story that day a number of men were lounging and smoking." Near the Peak Drug Store, he said, were "a lot of boxes filled with shavings, and I think a cigar stump or a match was thrown into one of the boxes, and from that the fire started . . . [S]omebody had to hang; and the three negroes went."

White leaders probably reasoned that mass whippings and hangings would discourage treasonous thoughts should Texas secede from the Union and a Northern army of emancipation march towards the Red River. The suppression of abolitionists also imposed a degree of political conformity during the secession crisis. A virtual civil war ravaged Texas months before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, a war won this time by the South. Dallas leaders clearly hoped the sense of danger created by the summer fires would bridge the village's deep social chasms. Elites scheduled a unity barbecue October 3 which would "successfully rally every patriot, regardless of being . . . an Oppositionist, or a Democrat . . ." Hope that oppression could force harmony on the community, however, proved to be in vain. In spite of a summer of intimidation and violence, Dallas fire-eaters such as Pryor never completely silenced dissent.

Following Abraham Lincoln's victory in the November presidential race, Texas scheduled a secession referendum on February 23, 1861. Historians usually interpret Dallas County's 75 percent "yes" vote for secession as a solid endorsement of the Confederate cause. However, Texas laws allowed anti-secession voters to be easily intimidated, which makes the number of "no" votes remarkable. Under the 1860 state code, election clerks recorded the name and an assigned number for each voter when he showed up at the ballot box. When the voter turned in his completed ballot, an election manager wrote the voter's assigned number on the back of the ticket. It would be easy to check the number on the voter list against the number on the back of the ballot to determine how a person voted. The law prohibited the election manager or clerk from opening the ballot, but in a county obsessed with treason, it is hard to believe that some secession opponents would not have been frightened into staying at home election day or into voting "yes."

Considering the lack of ballot security and the fact that the election came just seven months after the fire and the ensuing violence against dissenters, the 25 percent anti-secession vote in Dallas county suggests a deep reserve of white resentment against elite policies on the eve of the Civil War. Neighboring Collin County voted against secession, as did most counties north of Dallas. At least 40 percent of the voters in nearby Wise, Denton, Hunt and Van Zandt counties also voted no. Far North Central Texas represented the most anti-secession region of the state outside the "German Belt" in Central Texas.

Even though most Texans supported the Confederate cause, East and North Central Texas became centers of the anti-secession opposition, with nearly 3,000 deserters making the woods and brush of Northern Texas home. One historian lists Dallas, along with neighboring Wood, Van Zandt, Henderson, Denton, Cooke, Grayson and Jefferson counties as the South's "Deserter Country." Union sympathizers, so-called "Jayhawkers," roamed the nearby Big Thicket country of East Texas during the Civil War and fought pitched battles against various home guards.

Determined to crush wartime opposition, a Confederate militia swept through Cooke County and neighboring communities and arrested more than two hundred people on the morning of October 1, 1862. After trials by a kangaroo court, at least 40 suspects were executed in Gainesville. Confederate sympathizers there shot two others as they tried to escape. Dallas Confederates joined the bloodletting. A pro-Confederate gang hanged a "Mr. Record" in 1862 "for being a Union man a deliberate cold blooded murder without a mitigating excuse," according to a later United States Army report. "Not satisfied with hanging till dead they shot him all to pieces."

The fire and subsequent violence against dissenters suggests how insecure Dallas elites had become about their grip on power as the Civil War began. Traditional elites would again be in charge of the city by the end of the 1860s. Worried that the 1860 fire represented dangerous revolutionary precedent, Dallas leaders tried to dampen its memory. Decades after the Civil War, Dallas leaders filled the city with memorials commemorating the Confederacy's "Lost Cause." Yet, no memorials mark the prolonged civil war that raged between secessionists and suspected Unionists from before the fires of 1860 until Confederate General Robert E. Lee's 1865 surrender. Remembering that past could only raise disturbing questions about Dallas' founders.

Late twentieth century Dallas proved the power of forgetfulness. Commerce Street forms a bridge between a downtown dominated by white-owned businesses and, as it crossed Stemmons Freeway, a poorer and mostly African American South Dallas. The city formerly designated a triangle of grassy land between Stemmons and the Southern Pacific railroad tracks as Dealey Annex, named after the family of the powerful publisher of the Dallas Morning News, George B. Dealey.

In 1991, under pressure from a citizens' group, the city park board renamed the grassy patch of freeway easement "Martyr’s Park" in reluctant tribute not only to the assassinated President John Kennedy but also to Samuel Smith, Patrick Jennings and Cato. Yet, even eight years after the park board approved a new name for Dealey Annex, no marker proclaimed the rare undeveloped Dallas turf as Martyr’s Park and no sign explained the significance of the location or the site’s ambiguous name. To reach Martyr’s Park, one had to pass underneath a bridge, following a pathway smelling of urine. Rather than explanatory plaques, a visitor confronted the empty liquor bottles, abandoned shopping carts and unoccupied bedding that marked the spot as a homeless village.

Dr. William Farmer, a longtime theology professor who once taught a continuing education course on the 1860 fire at Southern Methodist University before moving on to the University of Dallas by 2000, found it predictable that the leadership of the city could not face the past squarely. "Dallas is unlike Chicago — it doesn’t know about its fire," Farmer said. " . . . It’s like a family going through a trauma, but suppressing the memory. The past is forgotten, but essential to coming to health is recalling."

The city landscape, littered with statues honoring the Confederate dead, suggested that Dallas had been the southwestern heart of Dixie. A fog surrounds a past marked by clashes between rich and poor and between secessionists and unionists so that in the twentieth century it seemed as if Dallas had been a nest of Johnny Rebs who cheerfully and unquestioningly followed their leaders to the battlefield. After the Civil War, few recalled the dissenters, black or white, who challenged the Dallas establishment, making sustained resistance in the future more difficult to imagine. Dallas elites failed to suffocate opposition through violence before the Civil War, but by the postbellum period, they had learned an important lesson. The long, difficult project of manufacturing consent had begun.

To maintain its legitimacy, Dallas' ruling bloc could not acknowledge past political division. A combination of economic, political, ethnic and regional tensions heightened by sensationalist journalism and fear over outside events like the John Brown raid formed the combustible elements when a match or cigar butt was thrown atop dry kindling one hot summer day in Dallas.

The violence unleashed by the Texas Troubles eventually proved so embarrassing to one radical pro-secessionist that he devoted only one sentence to the incident when he published his "History of Dallas County, Texas from 1837 to 1887" almost three decades after the 1860 fire. As editor of the Belton Democrat, John Henry Brown had published the infamous "Bailey Letter" a likely forgery that supposedly outlined the details of a planned slave insurrection in Texas. He moved to Dallas in the early 1870s and became mayor in 1885. An amateur historian, Brown published his chronicle of Dallas County in 1887. He barely mentioned the Texas Troubles, preferring more comfortable topics.

"To recount the more recent events preceding the war, the destructive fire of July, 1860 . . . would be to open a question, the discussion of which should be left to a later day — farther removed from the acrimonies of the war and of the actors in those scenes," he wrote. In the next paragraph, after barely alluding to the divisions in 1860s Dallas, Brown painted a picture of sweet consensus in the following years. "When the sectional controversy assumed the character of war, there were probably not twenty bona fide citizens of Dallas County who were not truly and sincerely Southern in feeling and sentiment," he said. This myth of unity rested on a foundation of terror instigated by men such as Brown. The "Southerness" of Dallas could be measured by the length of a hangman's rope.


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, June 23, 2011

Blood from turnips

A very brief comment on Texas governor and Republican presidential aspirant Rick Perry. Contrary to what you claim, Mr. Perry, you don't get more with less. You only get less. Also, slashing education funding is not "re-examining" budget priorities. It's abandoning the future for selfish. short-term political gain. You, sir, are a hack.


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.