Exploring our past to sort out myth from reality
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These are the voyages of the TimeShip Anachron.
Our Mission: To boldly explore the past, dispelling
mythinformation and mythconceptions
of American History along the way.
These are the voyages of the TimeShip Anachron.
Our Mission: To boldly explore the past, dispelling
mythinformation and mythconceptions
of American History along the way.
Exploring our past to sort out myth from reality
Share this Page on
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Meet MythAmerica Series
After the Tulsa Race Riot Commission was finished with its work of preparing a meticulously detailed report of the events of 1921, it discussed suggestions for what might be “done about” their findings. The final report recommended a number of acts, including establishing a relatively small fund to pay token reparations to the few remaining very elderly riot victims or their immediate (aging) survivors.
While discussions were beginning about how the government would respond to these recommendations, Commission founder, State Representative Don Ross (D) of the Oklahoma House of Representatives joined a fellow state congressman on an interview show in 2001 to debate this possibility. Representative Bill Graves (R) took the “against” position. A tiny excerpt from that discussion:
REP. DON ROSS: Well, I agree in theory with the findings [of the Commission]. We have to understand that a deputized white mob destroyed the black community. In doing so, it institutionalized hate in parts of the soul of the city, an evil of which neither race has fully recovered. And I think reparations of some kind repairs that inhumanity and brings some closure to this sordid, hard affair of some eighty years ago.
REP. BILL GRAVES: Well, I — you know, what Representative Ross has described is an outrage and a disgrace to the city of Tulsa, and I sure could never ever condone any kind of action like that. I think it’s terrible, a terrible injustice on the black community up there.
And one thing that makes it even worse, in my mind, is that these people were working hard to pull themselves up and become productive citizens and working hard. And as they called it, Black Wall Street there, they were following the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, who was one of my heroes.
[I’ve recently read enough about Booker T to understand why he is very popular among southern white conservatives such as Graves…in the late 1890s and early 1900s he advocated that “negroes” be very, very careful not to demand anything of whites in the way of racial equality. They should humbly submit to segregation and all that implies, and settle for just being allowed to do “skilled labor” as part of the US industrial base, to make themselves so valuable that the whites would be willing to support their—segregated—efforts at improvement of the race’s future prospects.]
And then they had an outlaw element up there that came in and destroyed what they were doing. I think it’s a terrible injustice.
At the same time, I think it would be an injustice on people now, eighty years later, to ask them to pay reparations for something they were not responsible for, which is what would be happening here. And that’s why I would — I oppose reparations being paid now. And, you know, it was a wrong occurred in 1921, but two wrongs don’t make a right.
And so I would oppose reparations only we — you know, if we pay them now based on a sense of guilt, which I think is a sense of false guilt, since the people now alive are not responsible for what occurred in 1921, and that’s kind of my position on it.
REP. DON ROSS: The state had nothing to do with the Oklahoma City bombing, nothing. However, the state took full knowledge the summer its citizens were unjustly killed in that notorious and horrific event. I voted and the legislature voted to put $5 million dollars in that memorial.
We have disasters here, particularly tornados, had one a couple of years ago. All the resources available from the state goes into repair that damage from tornados or hurricane or flood.
So it seems to me if we do it for a national disaster routinely, why can’t we do it for a human disaster, a disaster provoked by hate, whenever it happened? Bill well knows that the spirit of racism at that time and now, and that a full cover-
REP. BILL GRAVES: Well, let me — if I can say, I agree with Don, it was a spirit of hate back then. Fortunately, that’s an age that’s dead and gone, and we Americans and Oklahomans moved forward and granted a great deal of equality to blacks.
By the way, in this same interview, Rep. Graves commented that he was against the US legislation…actually approved by the US Congress in 1988 and signed into law by President Reagan…that gave reparations to the American citizens of Japanese descent who were unjustly interned during World War 2.
Something like 120,000 had been removed from their homes practically over night in 1942, only allowed to take the possessions they could actually carry, and beyond that many lost everything…their jobs, homes, cherished family mementos, everything.
It was VERY much like the situation that led to the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee (described in the TSI Special Report “Walk a 1000 Miles in My Moccasins). Notice the same kind of “soldiers with bayonets” who drove out the Cherokee, in this description of the situation from a former “internee”…George Takei, “Sulu” from the Star Trek franchise.
Seventy years ago, US soldiers bearing bayoneted rifles came marching up to the front door of our family’s home in Los Angeles, ordering us out. Our crime was looking like the people who had bombed Pearl Harbor a few months before. I’ll never forget that day, nor the tears streaming down my mother’s face as we were forcibly removed, herded off like animals, to a nearby race track. There, for weeks, we would live in a filthy horse stable while our “permanent” relocation camp was being constructed thousands of miles away in Arkansas, in a place called Rohwer. [Source]
George at four:
I recently revisited Rohwer. Gone were the sentry towers, armed guards, barbed wire and crudely constructed barracks that defined our lives for many years. The swamp had been drained, the trees chopped down. Only miles and miles of cotton fields. The only thing remaining was the cemetery with two tall monuments.
It was never shown that any of these people hastily shoved in concentration camps were an actual threat to the US, and many of the young men sent there subsequently fought valiantly on the US side on the European front of the war.
20,000 Japanese American men and many Japanese American women served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was composed primarily of Japanese Americans, served with uncommon distinction in the European Theatre of World War II. Many of the U.S. soldiers serving in the unit had their families interned at home while they fought abroad.
The famed 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in Europe, was formed from those Japanese Americans who did agree to serve. This unit was the most highly decorated U.S. military unit of its size and duration. Most notably, the 442nd was known for saving the141st (or the “lost battalion”) from the Germans. The 1951 film Go For Broke! was a fairly accurate portrayal of the 442nd, and starred several of the RCT’s veterans.
In January 1945, with no fanfare:
The freed internees were given $25 and a train ticket to their former homes. [Source]
If their homes still existed. If you and your family were suddenly snatched from your home next week and sent away for three years, with no one to look out for your interests “back home,” no one to care for a house if you owned it, no one to personally store your possessions that were left in your apartment or house…how much do you think you’d “come home to”? And what would be the chances that your “old job” was still there waiting for you?
But Rep. Graves thought that it was foolish to think that “the country” should do anything about this grave injustice. After all, that was long ago, and Japanese Americans now have rights. The US congress and some presidents who signed reparations bills, offered official apologies, and so on (including Gerald Ford and George HW Bush) disagreed with him. (But being honest, I am quite sure that a significant proportion of the “white population” of the US have agreed all along with Graves, and resented any attempts at somehow “making right” what was so wrong.)
When pressed about the Japanese situation, Graves added, “In the matter of the Japanese Americans that were relocated, or interned, as some people say, that was the federal government that did the relocation or internment. In Tulsa, it was the private citizens that instigated the riot.” This, of course, ignores totally the reality that the “private citizens” didn’t just “instigate” a simple “riot.” They systematically burned down over a thousand homes and hundreds of businesses without any evident interference from the duly constituted civil authorities of Tulsa. In fact, in numerous instances, they were aided and abetted by those very authorities. In other words, instead of protecting the lives and property of the black citizens, the authorities were complicit in the destruction.
I think Representative Graves could use a good vocabulary lesson. There are two “legal” terms he seems to be mixing up in his mind: De Jure and De Facto.
At the time of the Tulsa riots, the truth is that black citizens had all sorts of “rights” that were de jure—a term that means “concerning the law.” They really DID have the right to safety of their persons and property according to both US law and Oklahoma law. But out in the real world, rather than in theory, they were subject to the de facto—a term that means “concerning fact”—reality that these rights were ignored.
Yes, in many parts of the US at that time in 1921, there were de jure situations that left blacks with unequal rights. Including segregated schools and public facilities such as buses and water fountains. State governments had the right under the US governmental system of the time to establish such “laws” that made blacks second-
But the Tulsa Holocaust wasn’t ever a matter of the blacks needing “equality” in terms of the later issues of Civil Rights. It was a matter of protecting the de jure rights they did have at the time. It was a matter of thousands upon thousands of white men flouting the law and indulging in totally illegal terrorist acts—without interference from the police at the time, and without ever having to face trial for any of them later. They were “outside the law.”
For the reality—the de facto situation—in Tulsa in 1921 was that the law didn’t apply “in fact” to whites who wanted to “Run the Negro out of Tulsa.”
Rep. Graves seemed to think that the Civil Rights acts passed in the US at the national level in the 1950s and later somehow “changed” the de facto reality in the hearts of men. It did not. Not in Tulsa, not in anywhere else. There is no question at all that racial prejudice is a wide-
The thousands upon thousands of men who perpetrated the Tulsa holocaust never offered an apology, never offered to pay reparations for the losses suffered by thousands upon thousands of blacks. The government of the city never offered an apology for the failure of its police department to protect the innocent. Nor did it pay any reparations either, or get around to prosecuting the thousands of those involved in the terrorism—even though there were even photos of many of the men in action.
Decades went by, and there had not been the slightest PUBLIC evidence of any change of heart at all. Indeed, there were no doubt at the time of the holocaust and in the ensuing decades many white Tulsans who did not harbor hatred in their hearts for blacks. There were no doubt many who felt embarrassment and shame at what “the City” had done to its black citizens. At the time of the immediate aftermath of the riot, many did try to help out homeless blacks. But these people of good will never affected the de facto reality of a public cover up on a large scale.
“An age that’s dead and gone,” Rep. Graves termed it. I beg to differ with him.
As evidence I offer the current phenomenon of the Sundown Town.
What, you’ve never heard the term? I hadn’t either until recently. But after studying into it, I realized that actually I had heard of the reality behind the term over two decades ago.
I used to live in the capital of Michigan, Lansing. The small town of Charlotte, Michigan, was nearby. In 1989 my family became involved with a small Christian outreach program in Charlotte. A congregation there had established sort of a “Christian Coffee House” setting for Friday and Saturday nights in their informal church building. They built a stage and a sound booth, set up seating at banquet tables for up to 200 people or so, provided free refreshments, and invited Christian musical performers from around the state to come and perform on a “donation” basis.
“Abba’s, the Alternative Entertainment Center” had been in operation for a couple of years by the time we discovered it, and had developed quite a reputation around the state as an uplifting and wholesome place for families to come. A wide variety of groups performed. There were people who played old-
I was chatting with the pastor of the congregation one day several months after we began attending these gatherings when he said something that really startled me. He admitted that the congregation was taking a risk inviting the black group to play at Abba’s…because it was “common knowledge” around the area that blacks were not welcome “after dark” in Charlotte. And that it would be dangerous for them to flout this custom. And dangerous for anyone to encourage them to do so.
The church pushed back against the custom, and the band bravely came on various Friday and Saturday nights. And while I was involved there, no one was ever directly threatened. I’m not sure now, but I think the pastor may actually have “escorted” the group out of town when the performances were over late at night, when they first started coming to town.
“HEY,” I thought … “this isn’t the 1960s in the Deep South. This is pushing up close to the beginning of the New Millennium, and in the far north state of Michigan. Often a destination of the Underground Railroad back in ante-
I was later to discover that Michigan had long been a hot spot for the KKK in its heyday, and that the Charlotte area was a notable Klan center…Klan meetings were even openly held in the basement of the local county courthouse in earlier decades, perhaps up into the 1970s. We moved to Charlotte in 1992, and I was soon to discover that the Klan was still a force in the area. We lived in a home just a block away from that county courthouse—and I became very nervous in 1994 when the national Klan leadership announced a planned “rally” for the Courthouse lawn in Charlotte, Michigan!
For some reason, before it came to pass, the plans were changed to have the rally at the Capitol lawn in Lansing instead. I looked it up just now. Online records show that the Lansing Public Works department paid $200,000 that year to build a fence around the demonstration and provide security. And ended up using tear gas to subdue the nearby counter-
Only recently did I discover that the situation “after dark” in Charlotte was a common phenomenon throughout both South and North in the US, so common it had a name. Such communities are dubbed “Sundown Towns.”
Yes, a Sundown Town is one where blacks know not to be caught inside the city limits after sundown. Although this is an “unspoken custom” these days, back before the current national Civil Rights laws were put in place, such policies were even openly advertised on signs at the edge of some towns.
Hawthorne, California, was even more blunt on its city limit sign: “Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Set on You in Hawthorne.”
The local racial reality was often openly advertised in real estate offerings for towns, such as this public service ad of the 1920s issued by the town of Mena, Arkansas.
One of the most notorious current Sundown Towns is Anna, Illinois.
Anna, Illinois, is a chicken-
And not much has changed in Anna for the past sixty years. For instance, here’s a little 2001 vignette:
“Is it true that ’Anna’ stands for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed’?” I asked at the convenience store in Anna, Illinois, where I stopped to buy coffee.
“Yes,” the store clerk replied. “That’s sad, isn’t it?” she added, distancing herself from the policy. And she went on to assure me, “That all happened a long time ago.”
“I understand racial exclusion is still going on?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Another blatantly obvious current Sundown Town (or County, in this case) is in Kentucky.
McLean County, Kentucky, is one such Sundown County. It has been blissfully (to it) white for longer than anyone can remember. There are two African-
Yet, without having a sign that clearly says “Whites Only”, McLean County (and more onerously its county seat of Calhoun) is a Sundown community. The word “nigger” can be heard off-
Not one of the “good” Christians who live in the county would openly admit they discriminate or are racists. In 2010, the local Catholic Church (the only one in Calhoun) was sent its new priest after the older one retired. He happened to be African (from Kenya). The priest moved into the church rectory – after settling into his new digs, he made the mistake of going out to walk around his new town. Police response was immediate, and he was detained on the street unnecessarily while he tried to explain (in his heavily accented English) who he was and why he was walking around Calhoun. He lives there and conducts his Church services. But, unfortunately, the community does not embrace him, and they quietly resent his presence as both a black man and as a “foreigner” (of whom they are all suspicious).
As proof of Calhoun’s (and McLean County’s) Sundown status a look at the most recent 2010 US Census data bears out the claim. In 2010, McLean County’s roughly 60 black Americans accounted for 0.6% of the county’s total population. Unlike the counties in northern Idaho [mentioned earlier in this article as having few blacks just because of historical settlement patterns that didn’t include black migration], however, this is no accident of demography – the counties surrounding McLean County had black populations ranging from 4.5% up to 6.6% of their populace. The Commonwealth of Kentucky in the 2010 US Census reported over 9% of its population as African-
McLean County’s paltry 0.6% black population (when compared to its neighbors and the Commonwealth at large) is proof of its racist Sundown status. [Source]
The author of another blog post on Sundown Towns eloquently addressed the history and present reality of Sundown Towns this way:
There is no need to utter the word nigger, post signs, or blow a whistle as the Sun sets, when the borg mentality of a sundown community shows in word and deed the hatred and contempt it has for its fellow Black American citizens. When that hatred is condoned, accepted, and not challenged. Some say that only a few bad apples live in sundown communities, but, if there were “good people” who lived in these communities, they would rise up and challenge the wrongs perpetuated by sundown societies—therefore, these “good people” do not exist. Their silence is acceptance of the cruelty and venom of sundown communities.
In contemporary Germany, Hitler’s rise brought anti-
Hitler’s order is in direct contrast to Southern California’s response during the 1932 Olympics. Apparently, it was okay to not welcome blacks in California towns, because the City of Los Angeles, the County of Los Angeles, the State of California, and the United States Government did not require any of the communities surrounding the Olympic Games venue to remove their Sundown billboards and signs. It is amazing that even Hitler recognized the importance of downplaying such racism under global scrutiny when Los Angeles (and America) could not.
Yes, all these US towns finally took down the signs, under pressure from newly-
No, Rep. Graves, “that age” is NOT “dead and gone.” The Spirit of the Age has just gone under cover. Yes, we no longer have public lynchings where children receive token toes from the burned bodies for souvenirs like they did in my parents’ lifetime. Yes, we no longer have any towns with blatant billboards advertising their rabid racism. Nor do we have city paper editors writing headlines glorying in the violent routing of negroes from the community. There are strong legal sanctions about such things now, particularly on the national level.
So most of the time racists and bigots of all sorts are forced to “sublimate” their disdain for those who don’t look like themselves. And they are forced to restrain their natural tendencies to want to engage in violent acts to protect their environment from encroachment by racially inferior folks.
But sometimes it surely bubbles VERY shallowly below the surface of our “civilized” communities. For most of my life I have admired pictures of the period of the early 20th century. Everyone looks soooo civilized.
Think of the impression given by this scene below in the Music Man movie, which is set in 1912… just seven years before the “Red Summer” that saw the US wracked with at least 25 major white-
Who’d ever think huge crowds of people who looked pretty much like this could be capable of such heathen barbarism?
Below are some pics from catalogs of 1927. Who would think that some people who could have ordered from these very catalogs, full of the “best that civilization has to offer,” could have just six years earlier taken part in acts of barbaric civic terrorism in Tulsa (and elsewhere)? In fact, I’ll bet that some of the hats, suits, and ladies’ frocks that showed up in even later postcards of lynchings came from these very catalogs or later versions of them.
No, thinking that the vast majority of folks in the US are deep down inside now so much “more civilized” than those who lived in the era depicted above, are all far less “prejudiced” than their parents or grandparents or great grandparents were, do not harbor any racism or bigotry in their hearts…is extremely naïve. The evidence of such factors as the perpetuation of Sundown Towns belies this extreme optimism.
Getting to the Bottom of the Story
So what are we left to conclude about this whole matter? This series, and the companions series on lynching titled “United States of Lyncherdom,” have chronicled an amazing litany of hellishly vicious acts perpetrated by US citizens, against US citizens in their midst, merely because of the genetic makeup of those being victimized. This hasn’t been a description of one or two isolated freak circumstances. It has been details of a few examples of a pattern of evil that was widespread through every part of the country, and lasted over many decades—and which has had repercussions clear down to the present.
No matter what your perspective on religion, all of this is profoundly disturbing. But for those of my readers who specifically consider themselves to have a “Biblical world view,” I have some final thoughts for special consideration.
What does the Bible have to say about a “civilization,” a “nation,” a “people” who have a historical record riddled with injustice, bloodshed, and oppression of the innocent?
At the beginning of the history of the “Nation of Israel,” when God was about to take them to their “Promised Land” where they had a “manifest destiny” to be a light to the world and eventually even bring the truths of God to the nations of the world, God told them the following in no uncertain terms, recorded in the Book of Leviticus:
“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, don’t take advantage of him. Treat the foreigner the same as a native. Love him like one of your own. Remember that you were once foreigners in Egypt. I am God, your God.
By the time we reach the book of Jeremiah, it becomes pretty obvious that, as a nation, they failed in obeying this command throughout their history. The portion of the “people of Israel” known as the House of Israel—the northern tribes—had already gone into captivity as a result of ignoring this and many other biblical commands. So God gives the remaining tribes, the House of Judah, one more chance to have a change of heart and “get it right this time.”
Jeremiah 22: 1-
This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: ‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the Lord says:
Do what is just and right.
Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed.
Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people.
But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’”
That “palace” did become a ruin, though, because there was never any heartfelt, permanent national repentance by the people and their leaders.
The New Testament tells us why all these details of the Old Testament are relevant to us today. The Message paraphrased version of the Bible really drives home the point…
1 Corinthians 10:11
These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were.
There are many 21st century Christians who are absolutely adamant that the USA was literally founded as a “Christian nation.” They are convinced it was established by God Himself as a direct parallel to the ancient nation of Israel. They feel that through most of its history it was marching forward with a manifest destiny to be a “shining city on a hill” to light the way of the world. They feel that the evidence of astonishing military might and an ever-
And they are now chagrined that we as a nation seem to be slipping from that high pinnacle. This they blame on current and recent social trends, in particular gay marriage and acceptance of abortion. “If only” we can somehow vote in the right leaders, we can push back those trends and “get back to” the level of “righteousness” we had in 1900, and 1920, and 1940 … and once again recapture our role as that beautiful City on a Hill.
I would submit that this “closed narrative” of US national history is deeply in error. I offer as evidence the tip of the iceberg I’ve shared of the incredible level of institutionalized, totally unreasoning hatred toward and violence done to … our version of the Bible’s mention of “the foreigner among you.”
We allowed, from the very beginning of the US with its Constitution in 1789 (in spite of our claims that “All men are created equal…), for “our” citizens to acquire other human beings as slaves and bring them into permanent residence in our nation. Most folks are willing to admit that those who were slave owners at the time did NOT treat these foreigners “the same as the native,” nor did they “love him like one of their own.” We like to excuse those back in ante-
But most will not admit … or perhaps do not even know…that once we eliminated de jure slavery as an option in the country, we NEVER, “as a people,” replaced it with the biblically-
Far from it. Many just grudgingly “put up with” the laws related to Civil Rights. And in many places, they navigate around them with all sorts of subterfuges…and revel in their Sundown Towns.
So let’s look at just two more admonitions by the ancient prophets, line up our record as a nation, and see what we might be in for…
And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
The word of the Lord came to me:
“Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols…See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow…
To those Christians who are convinced that “who” needs to repent
to “turn back the anger of God” from our nation
is solely “people unlike themselves” who support gay marriage and abortion,
I say that they may find some day that
God has a much bigger laundry list than they do
of what in our national historical record cries out for
recognition, admission, introspection, and repentance.