From Piety to Pride to Pity, America's Racial Divide
As a boy growing up in northern Iowa in the early 60’s, I truly
sympathized with the plight of Negro people in the United States.
As an altar boy, I knew from Catholic teachings that all men are
The violence of white racism in other parts of the nation was plain for
Americans to see on their home television screens.
The injustice of Jim Crow laws was disturbing and outrageous.
The brave nonviolent marches of the time seeking racial justice
were inspiring to me. I was
appalled and angered by the murder of three civil rights workers in
Mississippi and then by the assassination of Martin Luther King.
I was a detached observer however, living in Iowa.
I had only seen a few Negroes in my hometown, never speaking to
I was to learn only after my family left Iowa that the small town where
I grew up indeed had had about two thousand Negro citizens all along.
The news was tied to a civil liberties suit that sought to end
the open, pervasive practice of housing discrimination there, even in
Whites in my hometown in the 1960’s would have little contact with
Negroes. The latter were relegated to living in the “Flats” near the Des
Moines River, a decrepit place where whites seldom ventured.
Deeds with racial prohibitions had somehow made it into the Iowa
real estate records, not just in the South.
Could all of those fine people from my hometown also be white racists
like Mississippi Sheriff Bull Connor?
Was I complicit in racism as well simply by prospering in a
segregated society while knowing of the injustice to so many?
Finally anyway, justice for Negroes was arriving with the passage of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act passed the following
Through a strict set of nationwide legal prohibitions on racial and
other forms of discrimination, prohibitions even imposed on large
swathes the private sector, the civil rights revolution became the law
everywhere in the United States.
The 1960’s appeared to largely win the crusade for the colorblind
society that MLK hoped for so eloquently.
American Negroes even had a new name now, Black Americans.
The justice reached though on the question of race in America in the
60’s and 70’s would perversely lead to a unique form of racial
repression, one created internally in the minds of its victims pushed
for by one’s social training and the personal conception it leads to.
So, let’s take a look at the racial divide in the United States starting
at the beginning. The
journey will dispense with political correctness, even on this explosive
subject. The clumsy phrase
“African-American” will not be used since it has little substantive
meaning, is not historically accurate in important ways and is not a
phrase of science.
A Time of Servitude and Piety
The first people to be used as forced labor in North America were
white “indentured servants” from Great Britain working on tobacco farms.
The typical period of servitude at forced labor was seven years.
Throughout the period of slavery in New England it was the Irish
who suffered the most abusive fate by far while in bondage.
When Negro slaves first arrived in New England they were also accorded
the rights of indentured servants and categorized as a citizen, though
the custom did not last.
By far most Negro slaves brought to colonial America were born in the
Caribbean, not Africa. That
remained true until the time slave importation to the United States was
banned in 1807. So, few
slaves that came to the United States had experienced the transatlantic
The first Negro slave congregation in colonial America was at
the San Miguel settlement, circa 1526, on an island thought to be off
the coast of present-day South Carolina.
San Miguel collapsed into chaos though, thereby setting the stage
for a successful slave revolt.
The freed slaves joined indigenous tribes never to be enslaved
again, at least as a group.
But few slave revolts succeeded in the United States through to the time
of the Antebellum South of 1860.
The Nat Turner rebellion of 1831 was the fourth major slave uprising to
be suppressed in Virginia.
In the aftermath of the Turner rebellion, 56 slaves were executed for
taking part, along with 200 people killed by rioting militias.
Northern abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 Raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia,
which sought to spark a slave uprising, failed spectacularly with 15 of
Brown’s 22 attackers killed, some of them later by hanging for the crime
of treason. John Wilkes
Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, attended the hanging of John Brown in
The slaves taken to the American Colonies from the Caribbean brought
their own religion with them, typically a mixture of a predominant
Christianity with African religions and practices.
It was Christianity practiced typically by a group song and
dance, which was central to the African religious tradition.
The religions of West Africa where most slaves were abducted generally
believed in a single Divinity with spirits and magic prevalent
throughout the world. The
role of humanity is seen as a bridge between the physical world and the
supernatural world which exist together.
The impassioned singing and dancing is seen as reaching a state
of excitation so to allow a direct communication with the spirit world.
The few studies over many decades that have been done in connection with
the religious beliefs and practices of Antebellum slaves have had their
own problems with racial bias.
most knowledgeable commentators
on this subject, concluded:
“… the truth about the role of religion in helping slaves cope with
their hardships is evident: religion gave slaves a sense of personhood,
dignity and power that they were otherwise denied in their lives, a way
of showing the world their humanity and a way of resisting the gruesome
experience of slavery.”
A Passage to Freedom
The history lesson taught in school concerning the Old South, even
taught during the 1960’s, cited the successful “Underground Railroad” as
the first serious blow to the institution of slavery in the United
Seemingly led by famed activist Harriet Tubman, a former slave herself,
the railroad was a secret system of Northern abolitionists and free
Negroes who facilitated the escape of many slaves from their fearsome
masters. Railroad spies
infiltrated plantations throughout the South.
In legend, the Underground Railroad ferried 50,000 Southern slaves to
freedom in the North and Canada.
A study though of the use of the federal Fugitive Slaves Act of
1850 showed fewer than 5000 slaves were reported to have escaped their
imprisonment in the South between 1851 and 1861.
Under that federal Fugitive Slave Act, when escaped slaves were
identified by any local, state or federal authority figure, the person
or persons discovered were to be promptly returned to their lawful
master and to the awful justice imposed: an abduction made with no right
to present evidence or to refute the evidence against them, often based
solely on the affidavit of the slave owner and the identifying details
he provided. The law imposed criminal penalties to Northerners hiding or
feeding an escaped slave or in failing as an official to enforce the
Though the Fugitive Slave Act found early constitutional opposition in
Vermont and Wisconsin, jury nullification at many trials in the North
and outright defiance by many abolitionists and by certain towns, this
most atrocious of federal laws ever enacted was never formally repealed
Union forces during the Civil War seized Southern slaves as war
contraband ignoring the Act’s commands. Lincoln’s Emancipation
Proclamation of 1863, an act of martial law in effect, overruled the
older law by freeing all slaves held in the South.
So, the 19th Century US abolitionists, so benighted now in
the tales of history, were the radical revolutionaries of their time
often resorting to acts of defiance of law and even to violence in order
to meet their ends.
It did not take a secret railroad though for acts of heroism born of
desperation to become legend in the defiance of slavery.
In 1838, 20-year old Frederick Douglas, disguised in a sailor’s uniform
and with an identification card that did not match his description at
all, managed to maneuver by ferry and railroad and footpath all of the
way to his freedom in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
He dodged a former work supervisor and others who had known him
as a slave along the way to his freedom.
After his wife and children had been sold to a new owner in 1848, Henry
Brown decided to mail himself from Richmond to the home of an
abolitionist in Philadelphia while crammed into a 3’ by 2’ wooden crate
marked “Dry Goods”. At one
point in his journey with his crate left upside down, Brown only escaped
death when two people on the ferry deck happened to turn his crate over
in order to take a seat.
Brown was forced to flee the country entirely with the implementation of
the Fugitive Slave Act.
Harriet Jacobs, imprisoned as a slave at a North Carolina plantation
under a brutal master, escaped to her mother’s home not far away to live
secretly in a tiny attic.
Her new form of imprisonment lasted for 7 years until 1842 when she
managed to slip onto a ship headed for Philadelphia.
The most renowned escape from slavery was accomplished by Robert Smalls
and several conspirators aboard the Confederate steamer CSS Planter in
Charleston, South Carolina in the midst of the Civil War.
When the ship’s Confederate crew left the ship for a time, Smalls
and his men seized the ship and navigated through the Charleston harbor.
Smalls wore a Confederate Captain’s uniform, even picking up their
families along the way. The
ship made it to the Union blockade offshore and to their permanent mark
and his fellow escapees were hailed as heroes in the North, and their
courage and cunning were held up as evidence that blacks could make good
soldiers. Smalls later helped recruit as many as 5000 blacks for the
Union war effort, and served as the pilot and then later the captain of
the Planter after it was refitted as a U.S. Navy vessel. After the war,
he returned to South Carolina, bought his former master’s house and went
on to serve several terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
As recorded in one journal many years later, Smalls was an enduring
success in life.
At the outset of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln did not
provide for the recruitment of Negroes into military service.
Lincoln had feared the secession of Border States in the midst of
the war if the Northern cause was seen to be primarily the abolition of
On January 1, 1863 that policy was reversed as a part of the
Once in uniform, Union soldiers who had escaped slavery proved to be
fierce warriors of the bravest sort.
In 1863, at the Charleston port one year after Robert Smalls led
his band’s daring escape by sea, the 54th Infantry of
Massachusetts, a unit made of free Negroes and liberated slaves, charged
the fortified walls of Fort Wagner, suffering 250 casualties out of 600
men. The unit went on to
successful siege operations in Florida and the Carolinas before
returning to Massachusetts.
Altogether, Thirteen Negro soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for
service during the Civil War.
From Bondage to Chaos to Renewed
The Era of Reconstruction in the American South (1863-1877) began
with the Emancipation Proclamation and ended with the final withdrawal
of federal troops from the former Confederate States.
The effort aimed at ending slavery root and branch.
Negro Freedmen were to be registered to vote and to become the
legal equals of whites in most ways.
The words of the 14th Amendment were to be imposed on
the South by the Congress and the President with the backing of the US
In the end of things, Reconstruction failed miserably in bringing legal
equality or enfranchisement to the Freedmen, except for a time.
The Republican Radical Reconstructionists did have their way early on
during Reconstruction. The
Republican Party took control of most Southern legislatures and
Carpetbaggers from the North became the dominant political class in the
South. Their compatriots in
power were the Scalawags, largely white Southerners who joined the
Republican Party. The legal
codes in the South were transformed.
More than 1500 Freedmen were elected to office in the South during
were elected to the US House of Representatives, including Robert
Smalls, the Captain of the CSS Planter.
Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce became US Senators from
Pinchback, briefly held the governorship of Louisiana.
Though the Ku Klux Klan was founded in the aftermath of the Civil War by
Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, this first incarnation of
the KKK was unsuccessful, aside from spreading terror.
The Congressional backlash to the hate inspired violent chaos led
to the Enforcements Act of 1870 that allowed for federal intervention if
the rights of Freedmen were violated.
Largely through the work of the Freedmen’s Bureau in executing
this series of federal laws, the KKK was effectively suppressed and all
but exterminated by 1877.
The Presidential election of 1876 was a wild affair.
Democrat Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote over Republican
Rutherford Hayes by a margin of 51% - 48%.
The Electoral College vote though fell short for Tilden, and for
that matter Hayes as well, because of a challenge to the credentials of
The Compromise of 1877 between the two candidates and their political
parties swung all 20 challenged Electors to Hayes thereby winning the
office of the Presidency.
The compromise part of the agreement was the essential abandonment of
Reconstruction in the South.
The former Confederate states were empowered to run their own
affairs with few federal limits now applying.
So began the Era of Jim Crow Laws and the demolition of the 14th
Amendment in the South until 1954 when it rose anew.
The Verdict of the Civil War
Slavery was an institution in many parts of the world until the 19th
Century and remains in practice even today in parts of the Middle East
and Asia. In North America
slavery preceded the formation of colonies and of any notion of America
as a polity of its own.
Most slave-traders in the 16th and 17th Century
were European, including among them the English.
The reinstitution of slave-like repression of Negroes in the American
South after the period of Reconstruction was a home-grown evil though,
one that defied the verdict of the Civil War on the question of human
equality. The Era of Jim
Crow laws in the South all but abolished the mandate of the 14th
Amendment so bloodily won on the fields of battle 1861-1864.
Maybe the greatest injustice to the 14th Amendment came from
the United States Supreme Court.
In the case of
Plessy v. Ferguson
the high court ruled on the constitutionality of post-Reconstruction
Southern laws that mandated racial segregation in almost every way;
schools, transportation, housing, public facilities.
In a shameful decision reminiscent of
Scott v. Sanford
that so contributed to the beginning of the Civil War, the
Plessy court found in a 7-1
decision that thoroughgoing racial segregation by law was not a “denial
of the equal protection of the law” to any person under the 14th
Amendment. The case doctrine
came to be known as “Separate But Equal”, a plain fiction from the start
when it came to citizen equality.
With the 14th Amendment now largely set aside, more Southern
states promptly enacted viciously racist laws of all forms.
Racist legislation even started filling the statute books of
Northern states, including places like Massachusetts and Minnesota that
were the heart of the slavery abolition movement fifty years earlier.
Even though the 14th Amendment expressly forbids voter
disenfranchisement in a detailed way, Negroes and all other nonwhites in
the South were disenfranchised by poll taxes, literacy tests
administered by whites, property ownership requirements and even “whites
only” election primaries.
These practices also crept into laws in the North.
During this time of racist repression maybe the single greatest
injustice to human liberty was the legal prohibition to nonwhites of the
right to keep and bear arms.
Among the most avid proponents of gun rights as a Second
Amendment civil liberty were the Freedman of the Reconstruction Era.
This legal battle was also lost in the courts where even many
Republican jurists upheld laws prohibiting weapons to Negroes and
This particular injustice was so great because if anyone needed family
and personal protection from random violence it was the freed slaves of
the American South after the surrender of Reconstruction.
A Terror in the Heart that
Binds: America’s Great Shame
The horror of slavery is a brutality that seeks to drain the human
spirit of any hope of self-determination.
Slavery sought to impose a docile acceptance of their chains by
the oppressed. Those that
submitted to their servitude could expect not to become a prime target
for their master’s whip.
There is an even a more thorough attack on the human spirit though.
That is the prospect of deadly violence or torture that could
come at any time, even for little to no reason at all.
The violence is directed mostly at the fact you are quite
different from your attackers.
It is another method though, like slavery, of ensuring servitude
to the whims of the attackers.
Deadly terror became sadly the key method of racial repression used by
the post-Reconstruction South.
A study by the Tuskegee Institute documents that
3,959 Negroes were lynched between 1887 and 1950
in the South with the peak years being between 1890 and 1900.
Lynching was common in the Western states also with Mexicans and
Chinese joining Negroes and some whites as victims.
A “charge” that Southern criminal mobs often sought to punish was
the “rape” of white women.
The word was used so loosely as to extend to holding hands or
even to a hug. White women
were firmly presumed to be revolted by the idea of physical contact with
Negroes. So, the charge of
“rape” was largely self-proving just by close contact.
A hug may only result in a torture session at the hands of the
mob, unless the victim effectively resisted his fate.
Possibly the first lynching that became a public celebration in the
United States was the murder of Henry Smith in Paris, Texas in 1893.
Smith, a black man known to be mentally challenged, was accused of
killing a 3-year old girl during the midst of Smith’s own beating by her
father, a local sheriff’s deputy.
Smith had escaped the scene of the crimes, but was forcibly
returned by train.
An estimated 10,000 people packed the area of the train station as Smith
arrived. Smith was shackled
to a “throne” and carried through the streets of Paris.
All of his clothes were torn away in pieces.
Men then burned Smith’s flesh with hot irons over and over again to the
absolute delight of the huge crowd.
Smith’s eyes were gouged out with the hot iron.
The iron was forced down his throat.
Then the mob surrounded the torture platform with combustibles
and lit a massive fire underneath and around Smith.
When Smith somehow managed to escape the fire shrieking at his
immolation, he was tossed back into the flames by the crowd to a roar of
The torture and murder of Henry Smith resulted in no official
investigation of the events nor the prosecution of the murderers and
In Coatesville, Pennsylvania in 1911 Zachariah Walker, a black man from
Virginia, had killed a local deputy in what was an apparent case of
At the plain invitation of the town sheriff, a lynching mob infiltrated
the hospital where Walker was being held, dragging Walker into the
streets along with the bedpost he was chained to.
Walker was also immolated by the lynch mob.
He escaped the flames three times only to be forced back onto the
coals. His roasting flesh
was falling away as he moved. His
screams of pain and desperation could be heard a mile away.
The next day, the Coatesville Record described the mob: "Five thousand
men, women, and children stood by and watched the proceedings as though
it were a ball game or another variety of spectator sport."
Many of the mob returned to the execution scene to gather bits of bone
and flesh as a personal reminder of the lynching.
In June, 1920 in Duluth, Minnesota the John Robinson Circus came to
town. After the performance
two local teenagers alleged they had been assaulted by six black circus
workers with the female “victim” alleging rape as well.
Her physician that day though was unable to find any evidence of
assault or of rape.
With minimal resistance offered by town deputies, three black circus
workers were kidnapped from the Duluth jail.
A sham trial was quickly held where death sentences were
pronounced. The three
accused were taken to a downtown light post and hanged side by side,
pushing aside a priest in the process who had been calming the murderous
crowd of thousands. After
the murders the crowd parted to allow for photography of their evil
The Minnesota National Guard occupied Duluth the next day.
Newspapers in Minnesota and throughout the world condemned the
Ultimately, a number of the lynch mob was convicted of rioting, but no
one was convicted of the murder of the three young men that night.
As these murders show, horribly violent racism had migrated across the
breadth of the nation after the failure of Reconstruction, reaching its
peak in the United States 100 years ago.
During this renewed era of racial hatred, the KKK enjoyed a massive
revival that did not even need to openly support lynching and violent
segregation. On the surface, the
organization in this second coming was much more like the Chamber of
Commerce than a lynch mob. As
many as 5,000,000 Americans were members of the KKK at its peak in 1925
vilifying Catholics, Jews and immigrants along with blacks and Mexicans.
But the second generation KKK was destined for a quick demise.
The Slow March to Equality
thoroughly racist segregationist Woodrow Wilson
left office in 1920, the office of President was occupied by men far
friendlier to the cause of blacks.
President Warren Harding supported federal anti-lynching legislation,
but did not do much to pass the law.
Harding hired a few blacks to work in his administration.
President Calvin Coolidge was a strong supporter of civil liberties for
blacks and other minorities.
In his first Inaugural address Coolidge declared the rights of
blacks to be "just as sacred as those of any other citizen".
Coolidge’s several efforts to pass a federal anti-lynching law were
stymied by filibusters from southern Senators.
Coolidge refused to hire any KKK
member in any capacity. By
the end of his administration in 1929, the KKK had largely been
discredited in a surprisingly quick descent from prominence.
President Herbert Hoover favored the assimilation of blacks into white
society in general. He
offered no plan to do so though.
He favored anti-lynching legislation, but seldom mentioned it.
Prior to his election in 1928, Hoover promised black leaders
unprecedented access to the White House if only the news about the
mistreatment of black workers in certain States was kept out the press
until the election. Hoover
never fulfilled his promise though.
It was Franklin Roosevelt who is credited with beginning the massive
shift of the black vote from the Republican Party to the Democratic
Party: to the party of slavery and segregation from the party of
FDR favored a federal anti-lynching law publicly, however he shrank from
raising the legislation in the Senate where he feared southerners may
also desert Roosevelt on his New Deal program if he pressed the bill.
FDR did include blacks as participants in his New Deal social
engineering. He hired a
number of black advisors also.
In his ninth year in office FDR issued a presidential executive
order outlawing discrimination of any form in federal hiring.
The true force behind the shift to the Democratic Party by black voters
in the 1930s was the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who stridently
championed civil liberties for blacks throughout her long public career.
Eleanor broke the color barrier completely in her beliefs, long
before it was imagined possible for elected officials to do so.
With the election of Illinois’ Arthur Mitchell in New Deal 1935, the US
House of Representatives had it first ever black Democrat elected to
that body. All of the 21
black congressman previously had been Republicans.
Since 1935 every one of the 110 black House members elected has
served as a Democrat.
After the conclusion of WWII, President Harry Truman desegregated the
armed forces and the federal workforce.
These Executive Orders were a recommendation of the federal Civil
Rights Commission which Truman had established.
The Commission went on to recommend Congressional action to
prosecute lynching and ban poll taxes.
The Commission also recommended the establishment of Civil Rights
Division within the Department of Justice.
All of these recommendations were destined to become law, but not for
Dwight Eisenhower was no great advocate of civil rights for Negroes. He
a go-slow supporter
of racial change. A good
example were the two federal laws he did pass through the Congress to
assist voting rights in the South.
Both measures had fatal weaknesses that rendered them of little
However, two years into Dwight Eisenhower’s first term he was placed
right in the middle of the largest struggle of the Civil Rights Era,
though not of his own choosing.
In 1954, a unanimous US Supreme Court overruled
Plessy v. Ferguson tossing
out of constitutional law the Separate But Equal doctrine that had
fueled segregation. In one
of the most powerful strokes of fundamental change ever issued by a
court, the high court ordered the desegregation of all public facilities
across the nation.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Though Eisenhower sympathized with the Southern horror at this sudden,
massive cultural change, he felt compelled to enforce the Brown decision
and did so. He sent federal
troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school desegregation, the
first federal intervention on civil rights grounds in the South since
the surrender of Reconstruction.
The civil rights revolution for minorities in the United States would be
won only ten or so years after the Brown decision.
Most of the credit for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965
Voting Rights Act is given to the brave nonviolent protests that finally
destroyed the moral pinning of segregation.
Yet, the founders of the Civil Rights Era were the lawyers and political
activists who brought and won the wave of court cases that finally
culminated in the unanimous Brown decision.
Much credit for the revolution in equality must be given to the
NAACP of the 1940s and 1950s and to lawyers like Thurgood Marshall who
argued the Brown case before the High Court.
Marshall won his first US Supreme Court in 1940 at the age of 32.
The coming victories for black
civil rights would not have been possible without the foundation in the
14th Amendment that came into being in 1954.
A Young Thurgood
The cold war over the desegregation of public institutions would last
for a generation in the United States.
Possibly the two hottest spots for the battle was in Boston and
in Chicago over the subject of balancing the racial mix in schools.
Even official racism in the North was being abolished.
Century Political Marriage
Pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1955 at the age of 25 organized his
first protest against legal discrimination with a strike of the
Montgomery, Alabama bus system in the wake of the Rosa Parks
controversy. Parks had
refused to give up her bus seat to a white man who wanted the seat.
The Montgomery bus strike lasted for more than a year.
Parks would eventually win her case before the US Supreme Court
which ordered the prompt desegregation of the Montgomery public bus
As MLK’s national prominence began, he developed a dialogue with
Vice-President Richard Nixon that bloomed into a certain friendship.
In the fall of 1960 MLK was known to support the Nixon campaign
for the Presidency, the leader of the Party of Lincoln and
During the Presidential campaign Democrat John F. Kennedy, Jr. had tried
and failed to obtain several endorsements from black celebrities,
including baseball player Jackie Robinson who declined a photograph with
This may have had something to do with Kennedy’s Senate vote against the
watered down civil rights act that had been offered by Eisenhower and
championed by Vice-President Nixon.
More likely, these celebrities wished to not pick sides in
JFK sought advice from singer and actor Harry Belafonte on this subject.
The advice given was to forget trying to get celebrity
cultivate a relationship with Martin Luther King.
That fall MLK was arrested in Atlanta on a traffic probation charge with
authorities planning to send King to a state prison.
King’s organization reached out to both Presidential campaigns to
intervene in the situation fearing his lynching in a Georgia prison.
The Republican Nixon demurred on doing anything for King beyond expressing
solidarity with his cause.
Kennedy decided instead to take action for King.
Employing younger brother Robert F. Kennedy too, pressure was
applied to Georgia officials for the outrage against King.
King was released from jail not long thereafter with the charges
dropped, mission accomplished.
This event appears to be the 20th Century turning point for the
committed loyalty of the Civil Rights Movement and almost all black
voters to the Democratic Party.
Days before the 1960 election MLK issued a statement on the contest that
remained neutral since he was the head of the Southern Christian
nonetheless lauded praise on JFK.
King had made his Presidential preference clear in 1960 in a number of
ways and venues, all to the consternation of his old friend Dick Nixon.
Kennedy won 67% of the black and Hispanic vote, thought to be a surprising
successor in office, Lyndon Baines Johnson, would receive 94% of the
black vote in 1964.
The Party of Lincoln would also be transformed from this day forward in
the old South and beyond.
The control of by far most of the House and Senate seats in the Old
South would switch from Democrat to Republican over a generation.
Once Kennedy was in office though, his moral stand on civil rights did not
match well with his timid ways when it came to presenting racial issues.
Kennedy failed to present a civil rights bill near the beginning of his
administration. He always
navigated between the demands for racial equality and the contrary
wishes of white Southern Senators.
Worst of all, Kennedy secretly ordered the FBI wiretap on MLK and
his organization seeking to prove King to be a Communist.
Some things never seem to change.
But political inertia on civil rights was about to explode.
Kennedy’s Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was considered by MLK to be in a
position where he could rise at least a bit above partisan politics in
favor of the civil rights cause.
Little did King know just how far LBJ would go over a few
LBJ, elected as a Texas Senator in 1948, had voted against every civil
rights law until 1957. Oddly
though, Johnson then did a 180’ spin on the issue by leading to passage
as Senate Majority Leader the rather weak civil rights laws offered by
Eisenhower and Nixon.
It was not solely raising morality above politics that motivated LBJ in
his turnabout that went to warp speed in the first year of his sudden
Presidency. It was electoral
politics as well that moved LBJ. At a time when the Solid South
conservative whites were steadily leaving the Democratic Party,
LBJ was alleged to observe that his crusade for civil
liberties would win the block vote of blacks for another 200 years.
It was mostly Johnson’s true dedication to helping poor people though,
especially blacks, that moved him to greatness for a time.
His moral instinct
arose from his own dirt-poor east Texas childhood.
The harsh racial speech employed by LBJ often was no more than a
cover for political communication with the dark but powerful forces of
Not only LBJ, but also John Kennedy would suddenly get real courage when
it came to imposing human equality as the law of the United States now,
not sometime later. The
transformation would begin with the torch raised by the oppressed that
illuminated racial injustice in the United States for the world to
The Tests of
The first major engagement in the symbolic, non-violent war against Jim
Crow began in 1961 with the Freedom Riders.
In 1955 the Interstate Commerce Commission had ruled that racial
segregation in public buses was unlawful when affecting interstate
commerce. The ruling became
constitutional law with the 1960 United States Supreme Court decision in
Boynton v. Virginia
Nonetheless, nothing changed on the public buses of the South.
Freedom Riders were the quite brave men and women, mostly black, who
decided to openly defy Jim Crow by boarding a bus outside of the South
and then traveling throughout the old confederacy seated wherever they
The Freedom Riders were pummeled, jailed by the hundreds, and attacked by
a resurgent KKK with the open connivance of authorities in the South.
One Freedom Rider bus was lit ablaze with crazed racists trying
to block the exit doors. Though
federal marshals did break up a lynch mob in Birmingham, Alabama, there
was no investigation or prosecution of anyone involved in the violence.
Little had changed in the Old South since the immolation of Henry Smith
and the revenge on the Nat Turner rebellion.
Once one group of Freedom Riders was jailed or hospitalized another
equally large group would be on another bus headed along the same route.
The struggle evolved to a strategy of overfilling the jails of
Mississippi and Alabama with nonviolent protestors for the world to see.
MLK took a dangerous ride along with the Freedom Riders.
When 1,500 Freedom Rider supporters were trapped in a church surrounded by
the KKK in Montgomery, Alabama, a heavily armed band of blacks had
decided to rescue their compatriots.
The fuse for war was lit.
In a confirmation of his formula for success, MLK and several brave
supporters went out into the racist crowd to meet the approaching black
combatants. Magically, the
KKK seemed to melt away offering no harm as King moved through the
crowd. MLK turned back the
violent rescue mission.
The next morning the Alabama National Guard freed the trapped people at
the insistence of President Kennedy expressed to the Alabama governor.
At least on the ground, the 14th Amendment lost this dual
with Jim Crow. Violent
rioting went unchallenged.
The legal prosecution of political protesters went forward.
President Kennedy said the Freedom Riders were harming the image
of the United States overseas.
It was a stark series of images indeed that created its own harm to the
country’s reputation in a very grand way.
Unusual in the Cold War climate of the time, the United States
was pilloried throughout the Western press for its violent racism.
Television now began its magic in transforming public opinion on race
non-violent people fighting for principle were being beaten and jailed
by the dozens solely due to the color of their skin.
For the first time, politicians across the board were under
pressure to do the right thing somehow.
The Freedom Riders kept riding throughout the South until the issuance
by the ICC six months later of an order to finally enforce its earlier
desegregation order. The
bus riders in the South finally became equal as citizens with no
particular thanks to anyone then in public office, aside from the
members of the Supreme Court.
Yet, Attorney General Robert Kennedy would remark that it was the
Freedom Riders who finally solidified his support for the Civil Rights
Movement. “Not Right Now”
was no longer an acceptable reply for him.
But, in September, 1962 JFK was still determined to handle desegregation
in the South by consensus.
The President made a confidential agreement with the Governor of
Mississippi to allow for the enrollment of James Meredith as the first
black to ever matriculate to the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss”.
Only 500 US Marshals were employed for the mission, mostly to be
kept out of sight.
The Alabama governor’s end of the arraignment fell through on the
ground. University students
rioted once the state highway patrol was ordered to withdraw from the
campus due to the expanding tensions.
The federal marshals were then deployed on campus with
reinforcements ordered by Kennedy.
As many of several thousand rioters attempted to break into the
university building where Meredith had retreated, the rioters torched
the command vehicle of the federal Marshall in charge with him inside.
The General was forced to crawl 200 yards with aids to find cover
from ongoing weapons fire.
As federal and state reinforcements arrived, the violent crowd was
finally suppressed, though the violence would continue for two days.
The Ole Miss riot was apparently the end of moderation for JFK, too, at
least when it came to racist violence.
The next nonviolent attack on Southern racism would forever tip the
balance of justice to the protesters.
Birmingham, Alabama, domain of Sheriff Bull Connor, was considered the
centerpiece city of Jim Crow, the most segregated city in the nation.
Often the focal point of civil rights protests and violence
throughout the 1960’s, Birmingham sealed the downfall of Jim Crow in
September, 1963 when Sheriff Connor tried to crush the Children’s
Birmingham crusaders were students, typically teenagers, who banded
together to march on the Mayor’s office to discuss the end of Jim Crow.
On the first day the young protesters were arrested, but later released
from jail without charges.
On the second day the children’s march was attacked with batons,
threatened with police dogs and, yes, arrested.
The children kept coming though.
By the fourth day, with Birmingham racist cruelty to children now a
television spectacle across the globe, local authorities relented.
Within a week the city pledged to end Jim Crow in Birmingham.
A few weeks later, the young crusaders were all expelled from public
school. A few months later
three teenage girls died in a KKK demolition blast in Birmingham. Jim
Crow’s fall in Birmingham would prove episodic, often drenched in
MLK had given his “I have a Dream Speech” on the Washington, D.C. Mall
just a couple of weeks before the Children’s Crusade.
Nonviolent protests racked the nation in dozens of places in 1963
and 1964, including the Northern states.
The dispatch of federal marshals to the old South was becoming
The moral argument had been won.
And a young boy in Iowa had joined the protesters in heart and mind.
In June, 1963 President Kennedy introduced a civil rights bill like
never seen before. The
proposed law ended legal discrimination based on race, gender, religious
belief or ancestry. The
broad scope of the law desegregated transportation, hotels and
restaurants by employing an expansive view of the Commerce Clause.
Both criminal and civil liability were created under the bill for
proven acts of racial or similar discrimination.
There was an effort to water down the bill in both the House and the
Senate. Kennedy resisted
those efforts. The bill as
first written passed the House Judiciary Committee.
But the audacious bill was headed now to the House Rules Committee where
the chairman of the committee, a Virginia segregationist, vowed to table
the bill indefinitely.
This was the same fate met by the legislative efforts of Roosevelt,
Truman and Eisenhower earlier.
Then, JFK was assassinated in Dallas in November, 1963 with
Vice-President Johnson then assuming the Presidency.
If there was anything LBJ had mastered completely it was the way to
force legislation through Congress using every inducement or threat
under the sun. Few
politicians could resist a determined personal lobby session from LBJ,
including hot, spittle breath passing face-to-face, or an inescapable
shoulder embrace or simply grabbing the reluctant congressman’s collar
and tugging as needed to reach LBJs consensus.
Using his sometimes bulldog approach, LBJ orchestrated a discharge
petition to force the civil rights bill out of the House Rules
Committee. Somehow, LBJ put
together the two-thirds vote in the House needed for the discharge
petition to succeed, though the Rules Committee ultimately relented to
avoid the vote. The bill
then passed the full House easily, with 60% support from Democrats and
80% support from Republicans.
But the best legislative tricks were fabricated by LBJ’s genius in
parliamentary procedure, like the “Second Bill Reading” trick that
magically steered the civil rights bill away from the Senate Judiciary
Committee whose chairman had also vowed to table the bill forever.
When the bill came to the Senate floor for final passage, naturally Old
South Senators engaged in a filibuster.
It consumed 60-days of Senate business.
Finally, LBJ put together the two-thirds vote in the Senate to
effect cloture of the filibuster, one of a handful of successful cloture
efforts ever in the Senate.
The cloture vote was 71-29.
The Senate vote enacting the civil rights bill was 73-27, again with
roughly the same party support as in the House vote.
The 1965 Voter’s Rights Act would follow in the LBJ legislative blitz in
his first two years in office after his own election as President in
1964 in a landslide.
Human equality was now quite plainly the law of the entire United States
for the first time and forever.
Strong penalties and other disincentives sought to eradicate, or
at least silence, racial prejudice forever.
The 14th Amendment had been revived from its sad
demise after Reconstruction times.
The 14th Amendment was now exalted by the vast
majority of Americans and now protecting all Americans.
A Brave New
Now, of course, 1965, was the time to begin the final push to a
colorblind society as envisioned by MLK and so, so many others, now for
so long. This is the only
possible final solution to the issue of race and the law.
Nothing of the sort has happened though in the near fifty years since
the assassinations of MLK and then RFK in 1968.
Thereafter, instead of a nonviolent tidal wave of equality and
social unity gripping the nation, groups like the Black Panthers and the
Weather Underground bombers came to characterize the racial and cultural
divisions of the late 1960s.
Sadly, so quickly, the idea of becoming a colorblind nation was largely
dropped in favor of a racial tug of war that could have no end by its
very design. Today’s Black
Lives Matters movement has taken the racial divide to even a higher,
very sad level.
It seems Americans are united now in the idea that racial thinking and
hatred can never be largely set aside in favor of something much better.
The shining light of Brown vs. Board of Education has even been largely
eroded in practice. Most of
the neighborhoods and public schools in the nation in 2016 are largely
as racially and socially segregated as they were in 1965.
This phenomenon is no longer something being dictated by anyone.
This is not to say that the 20th Century did not experience a
full desegregation of society in a more general sense.
There is hardly a business or cultural venue any longer that does
not accommodate racial diversity by rule and practice.
A rather large black middle class in America live their lives in the
mostly white world of suburbia and office towers and posh lifestyles.
Many, many black Americans enjoy untold fame and success across all
aspects of the economy and the national consciousness.
The “N word” is now the most vilified phrase in the English language,
the remaining racists now being the worst of scoundrels, even for, by
far, most whites. The KKK
movement is the most discredited part of US history.
A half black man, Barack Obama, was rather easily elected to the
Presidency for two terms (during which no attempt was made to achieve a
President Obama had to run for office within a climate that effectively
forced him to choose between being black and being white.
Yet, this widespread success for blacks never possible before that can
be found everywhere is also a hindrance to most blacks, the people who
still live in the inner cities and the rural South.
The success stories from their neighborhoods and towns leave
quickly to seldom return in an important way.
Day-to-day good role models, especially for boys, are few in the
ongoing cycle of despair for most blacks.
In the days of segregation at least the great black leaders
stayed closely with the people.
The inner city despair is deep indeed.
Under the measurement of employment employed by FDR, today’s
unemployment rate for blacks exceeds 30%.
That figure is near twice as high for young blacks.
The primary and secondary education provided by the public education
monopoly has failed to effectively educate its students in general for
fifty years or more. The
present inner city schools have test scores in math, science and writing
that truly echo the third world.
High school graduates often are unable to read and write
Maybe the most resilient class of families in American history,
surviving together across generations of harsh tyranny, black families
now are typically missing an essential element, an everyday father.
A shocking illegitimacy rate of 71% has afflicted what used to be
the closest of families.
How could this collapse develop in the very wake of the national
outbreak of opportunity for blacks in the United States?
The reasons for the abysmal state of black America are varied, of
Many view LBJ’s social welfare state, that coincided in its birth with
the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, as a curse of a form for the
poor, encouraging dependency on government and actually instigating the
longtime flight of black men from the responsibilities of fatherhood.
The failure of the US education monopoly for two generations to teach
students for a meaningful role in life has been a central cause for
black unemployment and despair.
Only in recent years have many black parents finally come to
realize that a fully statist approach to education is always the most
certain road to serfdom.
The senseless US Drug War across two generations has taken more black
casualties by far than whites have suffered.
The Drug War has been the primary incubator for an American
police state rife with medieval thinking of all forms.
Ironically, it was Bill Clinton, the man many called the first black
President, who converted $18b in public housing subsidies for $18b in
prison housing largely for incarcerating the victims of his enhanced
version of the Drug War, mostly blacks and hispanics.
Some criticize insular, crony capitalist “civil rights leaders” who, in
fact, are promoters of sharp racial division.
Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are personal opportunists of the
first degree, not worthy of association with the true, brave, proud
struggle for civil rights in our nation.
When it comes to black violence, certainly the American system of
wide-open access to firearms has been a contributing circumstance,
especially when connected to the inner city drug gangs that drug
prohibition purposely fosters.
All of this is true to a large degree.
Yet, there is an even more fundamental reason that MLK’s dream became
stuck in neutral and has now seemingly gone into reverse.
The Path to
When a person has a full complement of civil liberties, it truly does
not matter that much whether a certain set of people dislike you for
crazy reasons. It is
individual study, work and achievement that counts in a free society.
Anyone who seeks to seriously harm another in the United States
is subject to criminal and civil penalties, now even the mere act of
acting upon racial prejudice.
So, why are race relations still so important in the US 50 years after
everyone’s civil rights were fully secured at law?
Why are there race relations anymore at all?
In many other nations the concept of racism and even of race is,
at best, a secondary matter to almost everyone.
It is the treasured concept of heroic revolution that is the biggest
problem in the end of things. The concept shapes a narrative that is
actually grounded in the same kind of destructive force that slavery is
It is the notion of a grand collective racial struggle forever across US
history that is most to blame for the present racial divide.
This perceived to be unavoidable struggle, one fully defined by
race, has actually undermined the benefits of liberty for many ever
since freedom finally arrived for American blacks.
This overarching idea is grounded in the belief that humanity, or at
least white people, are inherently, unalterably racist in belief and
action. Therefore, the law
must always tame the racist beast in society.
This has been a central meme of the Democratic Party of the late 20th
Century and now beyond, one that has become destructive, much like the
dominant beliefs during the eras of slavery and segregation, beliefs
that were also fostered by a false collectivist vision of the Democratic
The core belief in “identity politics” is the largest obstruction
that blocks a colorblind society in the United States.
This division of society into warring camps governs our lives in
important ways well beyond race.
Democratic dogma believes that people are judged by society
largely based on of their natural qualities; race, gender, sexual
orientation, cultural heritage, relative beauty, age.
All people tied together by these categories face a possible
terrible destiny at the hands of bigotry from those who are different,
unless the group acts together in self-defense in a democratic nation.
Placed in the center of the whirling passion is the government as
the arbiter who decides who wins, and therefore who loses, in society
among the competing “special interests”.
The warring camps in society are to pick their leaders to go to
Washington, D.C. or the state capital in order to force the law to
brutalize their opponents instead of the other way around.
May the best campaign win!
Democracy, even those with no limits to power, are always, always
grand. The will of the
people seldom, seldom is ever wrong on any subject.
Identity politics in encouraged and practiced by every branch or
organ of government. The
legislature sells itself with each vote for the best social war
policies. The executive
directs special interest legislation and regulation while enriching
donors with government contracting dollars.
The courts stand directly between the warring parties assuming to
always separate what is right from what is wrong.
Bureaucracies and their strict rules strangle the nation in favor
of its higher good, today’s winners with the law.
Today, by far most black Americans have been led to believe throughout
their life that white America is irredeemably racist.
This is true even of the people who have enjoyed tremendous
personal success as black Americans.
Even their own success fails to puncture this collectivist
So, black Americans see themselves as members in heart with the
Massachusetts 54th Infantry attacking the fortress of Fort
Wagner, as Freedom Riders on a permanent destination to justice,
But, both of those needed wars have already been won.
The time for peace and prosperity has long since arrived.
are, at their core, individuals, not group member.
As Henry Smith and Harriet Jacobs from the Antebellum South would
tell you, the individual is born with the fervent desire to be free of
the boundaries and dangers presented by others.
All human beings wish to be free.
Free people enjoying free markets has proven to be the best sort
of society by far. That is
very form of society that could climb the mountain all of the way to a
The century long movement in the United States away from personal
responsibility and achievement in favor of collective political action
has undermined the poor in general by far the most.
Not only are the poor unable to compete in the political money
game that turns
the wheels of the system, a more fundamental barrier is created.
People become convinced that life is rigged against them, that their
best hopes by far lie with the government deciding to finally do the
right thing for them. It is
the oppressive soft bigotry of collectivism that suffocates the mind and
the will to achieve in largely the same way legal subjection does.
To bring the only end possible to the unfinished civil rights revolution
in the United
States is for the newly freed
to take the kind of action taken by Harriet
Booker T. Washington
These leaders relied on their own deeds and goals to change their
lives and the world, not just pushing politicians for changes in the law
that seldom come.
The way has been opened in the United States for all to change their
lives for the better while reliant solely on one’s talents and
determination. Success in
this way is by far the best antidote to the lure of racism.
examples exist today already.
The truth of the thesis made here is best defined among the proud pages
of the civil rights struggle in the United States, as expressed through
the words of its leaders.
"What shall we do with the Negro?
had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing
with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!
If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they
are…. disposed to fall, let them fall!, ….. And if the Negro cannot
stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a
chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!” —
race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this
country proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is
an equal chance in the battle of life." —
“We do not want the men of another color for our brothers-in-law, but we
do want them for our brothers.” —
“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of
what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create
their own program, and when the people create a program, you get
action.” — Malcolm X
“Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving
government the power to control men's minds.”
— Thurgood Marshall