“Racism springs from the lie that certain human beings are less than fully human. It’s a self-centered falsehood that corrupts our minds into believing we are right to treat others as we would not want to be treated.” [emphasis added] Alveda King
“As I often say, we have come a long way from the days of slavery, but in 2014, discrimination and inequality still saturate our society in modern ways. Though racism may be less blatant now in many cases, its existence is undeniable.” [emphasis added] Al Sharpton
In America, there is institutional racism that we all inherit and participate in, like breathing the air in this room – and we have to become sensitive to it. [emphasis added] Henry Louis Gates
As I often say, we have come a long way from the days of slavery, but in 2014, discrimination and inequality still saturate our society in modern ways. Though racism may be less blatant now in many cases, its existence is undeniable.
In the second decade of the twentieth century Forsythe County, Georgia, perpetrated a vicious “racial cleansing” that drove more than 1,000 American citizens of African ancestry out of the county and prevented their return. This grievous injustice was committed in the Fall of 1912 and sustained for decades. In 1915, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce organized an event called: Seeing Georgia. Georgian mayors, various business leaders, and society hostesses were attracted to this excursion. The mayor of Cummings, Georgia, the Forsythe County Seat made a successful pitch for Seeing Georgia to travel to and through Forsythe County.
Because the prosperous and powerful people taking the tour rode in cars driven by Black chauffeurs, Seeing Georgia unwittingly brought Georgia’s elite with the raging racism rampant among the citizenry of Forsythe County. On Monday, 4 October 1915, “the negro chauffer in the car of W. A, McCullough” was nearly struck by a “stick of stove wood” thrown by a member of a mob that shouted – “Look yonder, boys, get him, get him.” It is important to understand that this hostility and aggression stemmed directly from the sight of a Black American citizen driving through Forsythe County which much of the populace had considered “whites only” since night riders had chased law abiding Black citizens from the county and stolen the property of the terrorized Americans.
Things went from bad to worse rapidly. When a crowd of Forsythe citizens spotted a group of Black chauffeurs waiting outside the county courthouse while their employers and passengers listened to school children singing to them in way of welcome, the mob spirit took over. Some tried to pull a chauffeur from the car until a white passenger pulled his pistol and scared the rioters off. Thus, the common people of Forsythe County needed only a few hours to chase the sort of prosperous and powerful people their leading political figure had worked for months from the county seat.
When the Seeing Georgia, tourists stopped in Tate, Georgia, for supper after fleeing Forsythe County, Wright Willingham, a lawyer and former Superior Court Judge, told reports:
“A sense of duty will not permit me to remain silent over a liability which thrust itself upon us in the beautiful county of Forsythe … where we were confronted with a spirit on the part of many citizens of that county” that caused “every negro man, woman, and child to be exiled from their homes” and “an effort on the part of Forsythe County citizens to take one of the negro drivers from the car ….”
“Conditions like this can no longer be regarded with calm satisfaction but must commend themselves to the patriotic men of our state. The Governor of Georgia, the men who represents this state in the legislature, the judges of the superior court cannot pass in silence over this state of anarchy which is being bred in this commonwealth… Ultimately unless checked, [it] will bury its fangs in the body politic.”
Whatever else, Wright Willingham saw and spoke out on the nefarious and pernicious attitudes blooming and actions recurring among much of the populace of Forsythe County and the danger it presented to the larger “body politic.”
This poisonous, unpatriotic, predatory ideology was not born in Forsythe County, Georgia, in 1912. It had infected the American body politic almost from the origins of the American polity. It had grown like a social cancer to the point where the radical surgery of war was necessary to cut out especially virulent tumors that had grown in the states of the 19th-century Confederacy. Even almost 1,500 days of war and nearly 38,000 days of ‘Reconstruction” could not eradicate this vicious fanaticism from the hearts and minds of the Confederate citizenry
This is the infamous decision in Scott v Sanford, commonly called “the Dred Scott decision.”
Taney imputes his vicious perspective to the Founders, though they are all long dead and Taney is merely projecting his views onto them to disguise the venomous nature of his opinion. No matter if he had some divinatory powers or not, Taney did give voice to a view that resonated with enslavers in what would become the Confederacy. He also virtually ensured the necessity of Civil War to resolve this momentous moral issue. The 19th Century had one feature that was lost in the last half of the 20th Century and still missing from the beginning of the 21st Century complete candor regarding racist ideology. The bigots and brutes of the 19th Century boasted of their bigotry and brutality; they did not attempt to hide it although they relentlessly lied about it being a benefit to the enslaved rather than an atrocity against them.
The foul history of Forsythe County must be placed in context and Scott v Sanford in all its infamy provides that context. The night riders, lynch mobs, and show trials of 1912 honored and implemented the premise “the negro had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Fifty-five years after the Supreme Court ruling that made the Civil War inevitable, its core precept was ferociously implemented during the Fall of 1912 and rigorously enforced for nearly eighty years thereafter.
In 1987, Hosea Williams, a veteran civil rights leader, organized and led the “First Brotherhood March” on 17 January. Only a few minutes and a few yards into this effort, furious Forsythe County whites lined the route and yelled: “Go home, Niggers” and “Keep Forsythe White!” Not long afterwards, the mob began hurling sticks, dirt clods, bricks, broken beer bottles, rocks, and everything and anything they could get their hands on. Consider that this is 130 after Scott v Sanford and almost a century and a quarter after the end of the Civil War.
Forsythe County leaders tried, as those complicit in bigoted oppression always do, to deny that the crisis did not arise due to a history or expulsion and racial violence, but the media’s unfair portrayal of a peaceful community. Hosea Williams responded:
“I have never seen such hatred…. I am telling you we’ve got a South Africa in the backyard of Atlanta…. There were youngsters 10 and 12 screaming their lungs out “Kill the niggers.” I think I have to go back.”
Another veteran of the civil rights movement, Reverend R. B. Cotton Reader said, “I’ve been in many such situations, but never one that was any worse. [emphasis added]
The Second Brotherhood March took place on 24 January 1987. On that date, the jeering counter-demonstrators were held in check by 185 Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents, 350 State Troopers, and 2,000 members of the Georgia National Guard. The marchers were heckled but not harmed or intimidated. Speeches were made on the steps of the County Courthouse. Reverend Joseph Lowry told Forsythe County citizens: “We did not come here to scare you to death. We came to challenge you… to live a life of decency.” Typical Forsythe County Whites responded to the challenge by asserting that “We need to drop the subject because if we don’t there’s just going to be trouble.”
Oprah Winfrey, in her sixth month as a television as a television talk-show host, came to Forsythe County and interviewed residents [all white]. She asked why they believed people of other races did not have the right to live in Forsythe County. A middle-aged woman answered: “They have the right to live wherever they want to, but we have the right choose if we want a white community.” [emphasis added]
On 30 January 1987, encouraged by the success of the Second Brotherhood March, Hosea Williams wrote a letter to County and civic leaders. He began with a conciliatory comment: “We agree that the majority of the citizens Forsythe County are loyal, patriotic American citizens…” Then, he stipulated a sizable crowd has been “possessed with a KKK mentality” and listed the steps Forsythe County’s leaders need to take:
- All persons whose land was unlawfully taken must be fully and completely compensated.
- Violations of federal law regarding equal employment opportunity must be investigated.
- Violations of the 1968 Fair Housing Act must be investigated.
- Blacks must be employed in local law enforcement in significant numbers.
- Educational exchange programs for teachers, students, ministers, and law enforcement officers be developed and implemented between Forsythe and Fulton [Atlanta] Counties.
In 2016, Hosea William’s letter seems like a master plan for confronting and surmounting the deeply ingrained bigotry and systemic racism that infests and despoils so much of 21st – century America whether in Missouri, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, or any other of the 50 states. This reality alone is convincing evidence that Systemic Racism is a real and pernicious thing in the here and now.
The Bloody Shirt of unrepentant racism waves again more than once a day when the most repugnant demagogue ever nominated by a major American political party, Donald J. Drumpf, tells his rallies: “I want to make a major announcement today,” he told supporters at a rally in Delaware, Ohio. “I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election if I win.” In so doing and by repeatedly lying about voter fraud and media bias, Drumpf threatens a result not seen since the election of 1860. Those who support him do so based on the most racist and misogynistic campaign ever waged since the Civil War.
Drumpf’s charges of rigged elections in this campaign are absurdly inaccurate and fabricated from whole cloth. They are highly damaging for trust and confidence in U.S. elections and corrosive of democracy in the World’s longest established representative polity. “Even worse, his claim that he may or may not accept the legitimacy of the outcome if he loses is simply un-American and doubtless welcome by dictators around the world who express similar sentiments when they lose.” Many paid Drumpf surrogates, campaign functionaries, sympathetic pundits, and low-information voters excuse and obscure the enormity of this outrage because they traffic in a fallacious sense of grievance or are consumed by it. Once all the euphemisms and weasel wording is stripped away, Drumpf and his hordes are adherents of the core precept of Scott v Sandford and beneficiaries and supporters of the Systemic Racism of contemporary American culture and politics.
To echo the sentiment of Wright Willingham 101 years ago: “Conditions like this can no longer be regarded with calm satisfaction but must commend themselves” to all Americans of goodwill, honor, and principled patriotism. The poison of systemic racism did not come from fangs, but from the Supreme Court in 1857. Scott v Sanford removed all ambiguity from the law of the land. Even though this heinous decision seemed to be invalidated by the unconditional surrender of the CSA in 1865. Attitudes and ideas cannot be defeated in battle or horrors of war. As exemplified in the actions of 10 and 12-year-old children in 1987 and County and civic leaders in 1987, people persist in believing “Negros have no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” and that whites “have the right choose if we want a white community.” Until and unless, Americans from all walks and stations of life, particularly white Americans, step up and speak out clearly and continually that “every American has all the rights of any American.” This venomous canard will persist and either overtly or covertly true believers will act upon it.
My Blanco brothers and sisters come on now! Are we as good as the words that make pride in being America reasonable; can we hear the better angels of our nature; will we pledge to all our compatriots our efforts, our resources, and our personal honor to help this nation “rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed?” If we are who we have always sought and hoped to be, the only possible answer is a resounding- Yes, we can and yes, we will!
We must hear and heed the words of Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, “Nothing undermines social justice more than our collective ignorance about the racial terrorism that haunts too many places in America. Blood at the Root is a must-read, thorough, detailed, and powerful. It’s a story we need to know and never forget.” If we don’t act. then who will. If we don’t act now, then when will we ever do so?