Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Refresher Course on Racism's Horrors for Haley Barbour

Warning: this article contains descriptions of extremely graphic violence.

By MARC McDONALD

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour recently created a stir with his comments about the Civil Rights era. "I just don't remember it as being that bad," the Republican said.

Well, if you were a white, middle-class male living in the Deep South in the 1960s, it probably wasn't all that bad.

Barbour, you're entitled to your opinion. However, the millions of African-Americans who lived in the Deep South in that era might wish to disagree with you. But then, the gulf that separated their daily lives from your own pampered, sheltered life was trillions of light years.

It probably was pretty nice, living as a white middle-class male in Mississippi in the 1960s. You had the right to vote, for example. You were free to do whatever you wanted, and to go wherever you wanted. You could live your own life, without fear of being killed by terrorist groups like the KKK.

But someone needs to tell Barbour that life was hell on earth for a lot of people in the Deep South for many decades, simply for no other reason than they were born with the wrong skin color.

We all know about slavery. Well, actually, we don't: white America has never really come to grips with what was one of the great crimes of human history. Since slavery was abolished, White America for the most part hasn't lost a second's worth of sleep over the whole matter. The victims of this horror never received a penny in reparations.

In fact, most of White America remains pretty much ignorant of what went on during slavery. We watch bizarre spectacles like the Hollywood film, Gone With the Wind and we think that's what slavery was like. Black people singing songs in the cotton fields, living a colorful agrarian life. Gee, it doesn't sound so bad, after all!

I never cease to be amazed, though, at all the white people I talk to who say things like, "Slavery happened a long time ago. Black people should get over it and move on with their lives." It's easy, of course, for them to say that.

But here's a truth that I rarely hear mentioned anywhere. You could take a surgeon's scalpel to the history of the United States and cut out the entire sordid tale of slavery and you would STILL have a horrific tale of violence and oppression against black people that could rank with the great crimes of world history.

A lot of white Americans (particularly Republicans like Barbour) seem to think that no mistreatment of any black person ever occurred after 1865. They completely downplay or ignore the horrors visited upon African-Americans for an entire century after the Civil War: the Jim Crow laws, KKK terrorism, the exploitative sharecropper system, the lynching era, etc. etc.

And Ground Zero for a lot of this horror was right in Barbour's own state of Mississippi, whether he realizes it or not.

After all, in the same era that Barbour doesn't recall being "that bad," three civil rights workers were brutally lynched in cold blood in 1964, in Mississippi.

In fact, thousands of black people were lynched in the Deep South in the century following the Civil War. And in the period from 1882 to 1968, Mississippi led the nation with at least 581 lynchings.

Not only did Mississippi lead the nation in lynchings of black people, but the lynchings there were among the most vicious and gruesome.

Take, for example, the lynching of Luther Holbert and his wife.

In 1904, Holbert, an African-American sharecropper, and his wife were lynched in Doddsville, Mississippi. The couple were tied to trees and tortured for hours by a bloodthirsty mob.

As the Vicksburg Evening Post reported, the couple were forced to hold out their hands, while their fingers and ears were chopped off, one by one and then distributed to the crowd as souvenirs. Holbert was beaten badly, and one of his eyeballs was knocked out.

The newspaper article continues: "Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their arms, legs, and body, then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn."

Then, Holbert and his wife were soaked with oil and burned alive.

Such was life in the brutal Jim Crow era of Mississippi, which continued a century after the Civil War, until the 1964 Civil Rights Act sought to bring it to an end.

But as far as Barbour is concerned, things just weren't "that bad" in that turbulent era.

Of course, the sad thing is that, with his idiotic comments, Barbour likely hasn't damaged his reputation at all---at least among his fellow Republicans.

Recall how during the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush made it a point to stop by Bob Jones University, where he praised the officials at that school (which incredibly still had a ban on interracial dating). This, no doubt, played real well to the "I don't want my white daughter dating a Negro" racist crowd---the same people who are defending Barbour's comments today.

16 comments:

Jack Jodell said...

Excellent response to Barbour's utterly ridiculous statement, Marc! He is indeed a typical Republican who can't see beyond the end of his own nose. This needed to be said, and I thank you for it!

Anonymous said...

You are comparing the US to an ideal, not to any real world country. Mistreatment of minorities is found wherever humans are found. "Progressives" should stop yammering on about slavery and lynchings and all of the things that are in the PAST and celebrate the progress we have made. Most blacks today are middle class. Many of America's wealthiest cities have had black mayors and we have had a black secretary of state.

Manifesto Joe said...

My grandfather saw a black man lynched, and then his body burned, in Waco, Texas, in 1916. The black man was accused of raping a white woman. Yeah, right -- he gets no trial, is just dragged out of the jail by a mob for KKK vigilante justice.

There's a picture of this horrific incident in a book called "American Violence: A Documentary History." I think the author was Richard Hoffstader. It shows a black man who has been burned to a crisp.

My grandfather said that he realized that this was a grave injustice. But he also realized that he was just one more rube farmer standing in the middle of a mob that was lusting for this black man's blood. What could he do?

I guess not much. He was 26 years old and didn't want to die himself.

But when I look back, there was plenty of guilt to go around. My grandfather was a decent sort, but very, very much a product of his time. He was all right with black people as long as they called him "Mister John." I remember very well that in my youth, when I would argue that MLK and others like him were just fighting for equal rights, he would reply, "They want more. They want to be better than us." He DRANK THE KOOLAID!

We must not drink it again!

Peerless Cynic said...

This is a great reminder for people to remember the past in order to make sense of the here and now. In fact, if you look at incarceration rates and prison demographics throughout the 20th century it’s clear that African Americans have been the focus of those in authority. It’s as if the process of the Civil War is still unofficially being played out.

Anonymous said...

Keep saying it and keep it out there because the republicans plan on this clown running for the office - it is the way they counter the election of what will be known as one of the greatest presidents - the republicans want to take us back with the tea party leading the way to when there were no civil rights laws
By the way they just played into the hands of the democrats with the lame duck session.
roger

Sharon said...

Thanks for some truth-telling.

The mere idea that someone like Boss Hawg holds high office in the US is proof that the days of black oppression are far from over.

Green Eagle said...

I want to disagree with the notion that Barbour's statement was ridiculous. It was a deliberate message to the kind of people who are Republicans today, that if they elect leaders like Barbour, it is perfectly fine to be racist, greedy jerks. Sad to say, that's enough to get most of them to vote for him. And as for the rest of us, we aren't going to support him, so he doesn't give a damn how we feel.

Talk like this works, whether we like it or not, and that makes it anything but ridiculous.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Jack, thanks for your comment and your kind words. I hope you and a great holiday season.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Anon,
re:
>>"Progressives" should stop
>>yammering on about slavery and
>>lynchings and all of the things
>>that are in the PAST

You missed the point of my article, which was: Republicans are trying to RE-WRITE the past.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Manifesto Joe, thanks for your comment.

re:
>>My grandfather saw a black man
>>lynched, and then his body
>>burned, in Waco, Texas, in 1916.

This is the Jesse Washington lynching correct?. I have a book about it, "The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP," by Patricia Bernstein. Washington was a 17-year-old mentally retarded youth. He was seized by a mob while he was still in the courtroom. He was dragged to the town square and tortured with shovels and castrated. He was hoisted on a chain and a fire was built underneath him. His fingers were cut off, to prevent him from climbing the chain. He was raised and lowered into the flames repeatedly until he died, while a crowd of over 15,000 cheered. Among the spectators was the mayor and other city officials.
An infamous day for a city that pompously calls itself, "The Buckle of the Bible Belt."

Marc McDonald said...

Hi, Peerless Cynic, Sharon and Green Eagle, thanks for stopping by. Great points!

Marc McDonald said...

re:
>>There's a picture of this
>>horrific incident in a book
>>called "American Violence

BTW, that photo can be seen at the Wikipedia article about this atrocity. You can read about it here.

Cletis L. Stump said...

It all begins with words. This allows prejudice which then moves to persecution. It festers for centuries. Take the writings of Martin Luther. His hate-filled, anti-semitic book which called for the burning out and expulsion of Jews from the Germanic region of his time led eventually to the Nazis who cited Luther's work on a regular basis. Read up on Luther. His writings are illustrative of this whole issue Marc so elegantly details. Warning, you'll lose all respect for Luther and then some. I'm working on a post regarding this and hope to have it up soon. thebookofcletis.blogspot.com/

Cletis

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Cletis, thanks for your comment and kind words. I've read about Luther's antisemitism. However, the Bible itself has a lot of very disturbing, frankly creepy positions. As the "Jobs Anger" blog points out: the Bible condemns homosexuality, the eating of shellfish,and the mixing of fibers in a fabric while condoning hebephilia, genocide, and slavery.

Cletis L. Stump said...

Marc, I'm sure all you guys need is another book recommendation, but here you are. "The Gifts of the Jews" by Thomas Cahill is the finest non-fiction book I've ever read. Cahill also wrote, "How the Irish Saved Civilization" which is also brilliant. thebookofcletis.blogspot.com/ has a fairly recent post regarding the prophet Amos as seen through Cahill's eyes. I am now a major fan of Amos. Regards, Cletis

Marc McDonald said...

Hi Cletis, thanks for the comment and your tip.

Would you like to do a link trade between our blogs? One thing I suggest you do is either get a new template or adjust the one you have to make it to where you can have a list of blog links along the side of your blog (like I have on BeggarsCanBeChoosers.com).

Then, I recommend you start blog link trades. It's the best way to increase traffic on one's blog. I've been doing this a long time (since 1995!) and I've found that nothing beats link trades for building traffic.