Any honest dialogue reveals not only a seedy history of American social and political racial reactionary behavior, but also an uneasy present that should give thinking people pause. From the beginning, this land’s racial landscape has been marked by brave, humane steps forward as well as hellish regression. Neither should be ignored.
For example, many abolitionists believed slavery would die a natural death once the international slave trade became illegal at the end of 1807. They were wrong. Breeding and the internal slave trade elevated in America, illegal international traders persisted, and the abolitionist movement had to retool and fight on until the institution finally ended in 1865.
Once slavery was abolished, blacks embarked upon a notable period of progress. During Reconstruction (1865-1877), blacks owned land, were allowed to attend school, saw numerous black colleges established (including my beloved Morehouse), and held elected office. In fact, after black men were given the right to vote in 1870 (the franchise was not extended to women until 1920) — blacks helped elect 633 state legislators, 15 congressmen and two U.S. senators throughout the South through 1875 (only four black senators have served since).
Progress during Reconstruction did not last. America responded with Black Codes, literacy tests, grandfathers’ clauses, sharecropping, the Ku Klux Klan, outright violence, and eventually the end of Reconstruction in the South with the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877. The period following was not pretty. It was one marked by racial backlash, including a radical escalation in lynching and boundless political repression.
Many mark the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (42 years ago this month) as the end of America’s second Reconstruction. Careful study is not required to reveal we are witnessing more American racial, social and political recoil since King’s death in some quarters — especially since the supposed “great leap forward” with President Obama’s election in 2008.
Whether we choose to look far or near, we can find disturbing evidence of America reaching back to its nasty racial past for comfort. After Obama’s victory, many analysts theorized that America had crossed the racial post-modern frontier and rendered the Republican Party’s longstanding “southern strategy” useless. They were wrong. Not only is the Republican Party picking up speed in the South (by the way, it never lost momentum in Kentucky outside of Louisville), it also is re-stretching its tentacles into the Midwest and beyond — and actually winning elections!
Make no mistake, we are facing another dangerous time of American reactionary radicalism, and people should start paying attention. In our backyard, New Albany police officer and City Councilman Jack Messer is under investigation for allegedly saying at a police roll call that one of the worst things that ever happened in this country was blacks being given civil rights.
Hate-group membership has skyrocketed since Obama’s election. The “Birther Movement” persists with its otherworldly argument that the president is not a legitimate American citizen. Tea Partiers continue to march, cajole, sport slightly veiled racist signs and even spit on black elected officials. At present, they are even serving as de facto vetters who determine whether candidates are sufficiently “conservative” as they attempt to “take (their) country back” (John McCain doesn’t pass muster, by the way). Their hero? Sarah Palin.
Conservative talk show hosts like Rusty Humphries, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage spew vitriol that regularly crosses many lines … and many Americans are eating it up. Palin continues to live in an alternate reality but has netted more than $12 million in income over the last year. Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared April “Confederate History Month” and failed to mention slavery in his original proclamation. What does all this say about America? Is this 2010 or 1880?
Some are amused by these people. I don’t think the lessons of history allow for that type of dismissal. Let’s be real, there are enough Americans who currently agree with these fanatics to make them dangerous. The threat they pose should be taken seriously.
Until next time, have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.
Visit Ricky L. Jones at www.rickyjones.com, and see him Monday at 10 a.m. on The CW’s “Louisville Live This Morning.”