Charlottesville Virginia’s recent events have played out so strong I felt it necessary to republish an old blog that I wrote years ago. With “White Nationalist” of the south making the news rounds it seems to me that no one can connect the dots as to where the hatred is coming from. What’s the history in the South that is keeping this fire so HOT? If you thought all those marches and sit-ins back in the 1960’s fixed everything with the implementation of the Civil Rights Act… then you know nothing. Well, you know the “nothing” they want you to know. Living in South Carolina has placed me in the heart of this conflict so I felt several years ago that I had the right to educate others on this matter. And now that it’s regurgitated it’s ugly face again this year, I feel even more strongly that I have to get this message out. I originally wrote this a Sociology paper, but felt it deserved to be a blog post. I hope it becomes more than that to you all. I hope this gives you some insight on the real history down here. The real fight. The real struggle…
It was recently brought to my attention that Quentin Tarantino was under much scrutiny over his excessive use of the “N” word in his new movie Django. (Don’t pronounce the D) The subject was all the rage amongst my white political activist friends (all parties) on Facebook. I’m not sure what the appeal of my opinion was, but I was called out several times to share my thoughts. To me it was simple. How can we authenticate a movie about slavery without the use of the “N” word or worse yet, limit the use of it as if such a common place name for a race of people was almost blasphemy back then. It’s like making a movie about Christmas and never mentioning Santa Claus. African American’s have come a long way in terms of equality in the last 200 years, yet as a race we continue to seek recognition for the past as if it’s all we have left to fight for. And in that sense I find that we are just as disillusioned as those offended by the truth of the past in a film created for entertainment purposes. As a race I find that although slavery has ended, I often question if we are still trapped in the shackles of the past in our ways of thinking. We have survived segregation, discrimination, and domination, yet we still can’t heal from our scars. Even I find myself angry after watching certain documentaries, or being reminded of past heinous crimes; causing me to question if Martin was right. Shall we overcome?
Throughout my school years every February in my house started in pride, and ended in animosity. We proudly celebrate MLK related holidays and religiously watched every Black History Month Television special that aired. Being proud of accomplishments of Dr. King placed hope in the eyes of my elders, and the new and accurate historical documentaries and movies brought out the anger and resentment held by my parents, uncles, and aunts who were on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement. A few of which found themselves outside of Woolworths in Greensboro North Carolina on that historic day of the diner protest; only 45 minutes from my hometown in Winston-Salem. My family tree branches from the Mountains of Asheville North Carolina to the Geechie Gullah roots in the Low Country of Charleston South Carolina. My mother was transported to school many mornings by Angela Davis, and the 2 acres given to my great, great, great, Grandmother by the plantation owner who owned her mother is still in my family today in St. Matthews S.C. The issue of race has always been a constant in my life. Many may not know this, but the state of South Carolina flew the confederate flag on top of its Capitol until being forced by boycott and protest to remove it a little over ten years ago. There were many “First Black” opportunities for me when I graduated high school. I was the first black female EMT in Lexington County, S.C. Not that I was trying to outdo my Aunt Earline Parmon – First Black NC State Senator out of Forsyth County. These firsts have been achieved in only the last ten years, nearly 147 years after the end of slavery, and over 50 years after the Civil Rights movement. It’s those statistics that keep me on the fence of letting go and becoming complacent or holding fast and beating the odds.
“Slavery was ended in 1856 with the emancipation proclamation.” That statement along with a few civil rights highlights was really all the South Carolina education system taught about black history when I was in school. Of course we learned that Carver first cultivated the peanut in U.S soil, Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light, and Madame C.J. Walker put an end to nappy hair. But never once did I have a professor or teacher tell me that the Republican Party was supported by the majority of African Americans in the state and had even elected black representatives. In 1865 the Democrats were accusing Lincoln’s Republican party of playing into minority issues for the colored vote. Minority love for the party was short lived so perhaps that’s why S.C. History Books never made such a big deal about it. Shortly after high school I was spending some free time in an old historic grave yard in Columbia, S.C. Some of the graves dated back to the civil war and I found it fascinating to walk through and read some of tomb stones from time to time. After a few visits I discovered a familiar segregation in the graves. There was the “White” graveyard and there was the “Black” graveyard, even the difference in the upkeep of the grounds was obvious. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I stopped for spontaneous visit that I found this memorial that had been resurrected:
Before the discovery of the historical marker, I had no clue that there were black politicians before Jim Clyburn. After taking a closer look into the history I also noticed the trend that the Republican Party had started by manipulating the black vote to control reconstruction. The times and Democrat of Orangeburg S.C. wrote that, “All of Orangeburg’s first blacks in government and politics were Republicans, the party of Lincoln. It must be noted that Orangeburg sent the second highest number of blacks to the General Assembly between 1868 and 1902 with a total of 21 black men.” (REID, 2012). After a little research it seems that between 1868 and 1897 the doors of politics opened for blacks in the south, but remained closed to them in the North. It was could almost be viewed as public political punishment to the South for starting the Civil War.
Educated free blacks were suddenly supported by a rich Republican party and told it was their duty to stand and represent their people by supporting party of the President that set them free making it possible to create a place for their people in this country. “This was most evident in South Carolina, where blacks attained half of the eight executive offices; three congressional appointments; and a member on the Supreme Court, Jonathan J. Wright—the only black to hold this position in the South during the Reconstruction years. In the South Carolina state legislature, blacks comprised a majority of the House of Representatives and also held a majority of the Senate by 1874. (Bowles, 2011)”. In my personal opinion South Carolina had the majority because South Carolina fired the first shot in the war. This slap in the face is more obvious when we pan out and see that the bold black politicians were faded out in the Jim Crow era when “order” had been restored and the stability of “voting” Americans was once again secure. Now, if you don’t understand the motivation of White Nationalist, this should explain it here. “The southern Democrats grew in power and began adopting, once again, the racist rhetoric that marked the Black Codes of early Reconstruction. Not only did black political power wane toward 1877, but specific policies enacted by the southern Democrats denied black participation from the voting process itself (although the Fifteenth Amendment stated that no one could be denied the right to vote because of their race).” (Wasniewski, 2007) Thus the last politician to grace the legislative process in South Carolina before the turn of the century was George Washington Murray. A true freedom fighter, his political career was brought to a brief halt in 1886 when, “The primarily white, Democratic convention created new requirements for proving residency, instituted poll taxes, established property requirements, and created literacy tests—all aimed at disenfranchising black voters.” (Wasniewski, 2007)
After a vicious fight at the “back door of the country club”, Murray threatened to flatten the tires of the Good ‘Ol Boy bus when he used his electoral college vote as leverage demanding a Federal investigation of the new voter legislation in South Carolina. I’m not sure what made him cave, (perhaps burning crosses in his front yard) but his stance didn’t last long and upon his return home he found himself in legal trouble with a guilty verdict for owning property (Yes, Jim Crow made it illegal for black people in the South to own property) and a 3 year hard labor sentence. South Carolina would not see another African American politician until Jim Clyburn in 1993, who ironically is a distant relative of George Murray.
So now that we’ve had a brief history of African Americans in politics, let’s take a closer look at the progression of the black race as a whole. In the early 1900’s Jim Crowe laws or Democratic color codes had taken almost all of the wind out the sails of the ex-slave population to seek out high political achievements. Many became complacent and just happy to have a piece of land to tend or the freedom to make an actual wage. Northern states were easier to live in with dark skin. Many made the transition into the industrial age by way of relocating their families from the cotton fields of the south to machine driven cities of the north. My great grandmother Mary was one of them. She left the fields of South Carolina to marry a man who work in a tobacco factory in Winston-Salem North Carolina, known to most today as R.J. Reynolds. She was called all sorts of names for moving away and was always shunned when she brought her family back home to learn their roots. The other local women and family felt that my great grandmother was just another “uppity negro” who had moved to the city and now thought she was better than everyone else. The hatred of the African American race within itself is quite fascinating. I see no other race classify themselves as we do with our skin color classification. Light skin versus dark skin was not only a huge debate in the south, but apparently everywhere you went between 1900 and 1970. The preference of the lighter skinned Negro by whites caused great division in the African American race. So many female slaves had been impregnated by their masters and this resulted in change in the skin tone of their offspring for generations. For those who were biracial, the hardest task in life was being accepted by society. Whites didn’t like them because they were black, and their own race had ousted them for “passing”. (A term that meant “pretending to be white” in an attempt to blend in.)
So for years not only were blacks fighting an oppressive race for equality, they too were guilty of hating each other for the very thing they were hated for, the color of their skin. It would take some serious reaching to put out the accusation that the internal divide was put there on purpose, but I’m almost certain that we can connected the dots to prove that it was capitalized upon. It is my personal opinion that the African American race has been slow to evolve due to its inability to unite on more than just a single issue. A report in 2010 showed that “a majority of blacks (52%) now say that blacks who cannot get ahead in this country are mainly responsible for their own situation, whereas only about a third (34%) say that racial discrimination is the main reason. Fifteen years ago, most blacks held the opposite view.” (Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends, 2010) It’s crazy the difference a President can make. For some just the election of a black President is enough to quiet the anger of centuries of oppression according to the Pew Research Center. It’s a good thing their numbers are based on a small telephone survey conducted on less than 2500 people. Although the Washington Post has been questioned on issues of accuracy in the past they couldn’t have been more on target with an article published in 2012 about incarcerated African Americans. Just when you thought it was time to let it go and move on, out comes another dirty little secret of oppression in America. “In 2008, when 19 percent of young black men did not finish high school, black male dropouts were more likely to be in prison or jail than to be employed.” (Pettit, 2012) Well, the First Black President brought hope of change, but not much change itself. “There has, in fact, been no improvement in the gap in high school graduation rates between white and black male students since the early 1990s. On the contrary, the gap in high school completion has hovered close to its current level of 11 percentage points for most of the past 20 years….But if you include prison inmates, the estimate of the nationwide high school dropout rate among young black men is actually 19 percent — 40 percent higher than conventional estimates suggest.” (Pettit, 2012)
Some would argue that slave shackles have just become invisible, and can only be seen again when a slave breaks the Masters rules. If this becomes an actual belief of the majority out there it has the potential of become devastatingly discouraging. Because if it’s true, then the shackles are not reserved for just the African American race, but for all races that don’t have the ability to rise above the class system. If we look at facts and figures one might be able to argue very little if any progress for blacks as a whole. But if we take into account all of the freedoms that we share as Americans we have no choice but to admit that this life is what you make of it. The only true enemy we have is ourselves. Perhaps 100 more years will have to pass before mankind can realize that peace can be achieved as long as we aren’t trying to achieve it by breaking the will of others. I know in the 1960’s hippies preached the whole peace and love campaign, but they may have been on to something. Just too high to know how put a plan into effect. I can only hope that race can dwindle as factor in society but my hopes are most likely in vain as it human nature to form groups to dominate other groups. A vicious cycle that carries more momentum than one person can stop alone.
Black History In America. (2012). Jim Clyburn. Retrieved Jan 20, 2013, from Black History In America: http://www.myblackhistory.net/Jim_Clyburn.htmREID, R. (2012, Feb 4). Orangeburg County’s first black politicians. Retrieved Jan 20, 2013, from The Times and Democrat: http://thetandd.com/blackhistory/orangeburg-county-s-first-black-politicians/article_95759168-4f00-11e1-9e18-001871e3ce6c.html Wasniewski, M. (2007). George Washington Murray. Retrieved Jan 20, 2013, from Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007: http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=21