In 1919, in the wake of World War I, African American sharecroppers unionized in Arkansas, unleashing a wave of white vigilantism and mass murder that left 237 people dead.
The visits began in the fall of 1918, just as World War I ended. At his office in Little Rock, Arkansas, attorney Ulysses S. Bratton listened as African American sharecroppers from the Delta told stories of theft, exploitation, and endless debt. A man named Carter had tended 90 acres of cotton, only to have his landlord seize the entire crop and his possessions. From the town of Ratio, in Phillips County, Arkansas, a black farmer reported that a plantation manager refused to give sharecroppers an itemized account for their crop. Another sharecropper told of a landlord trying “to starve the people into selling the cotton at his own price. They ain’t allowing us down there room to move our feet except to go to the field.”
No one could know it at the time, but within a year these inauspicious meetings would lead to one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. Initiated by whites, the violence—by any measure, a massacre—claimed the lives of 237 African Americans, according to a just released report from the Equal Justice Initiative. The death toll was unusually high, but the use of racial violence to subjugate blacks during this time was not uncommon. As the Equal Justice Initiative observes, “Racial terror lynching was a tool used to enforce Jim Crow laws and racial segregation—a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime.” This was certainly true of the massacre in Phillips County, Arkansas.
Bratton agreed to represent the cheated sharecroppers, who also joined a new union, the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. Its founder, a black Delta native named Robert Hill, had no prior organizing experience but plenty of ambition. “The union wants to know why it is that the laborers cannot control their just earnings which they work for,” Hill announced as he urged black sharecroppers to each recruit 25 prospective members to form a lodge. Hill was especially successful in Phillips County, where seven lodges were established in 1919.
It took a lot of courage to defy the Arkansas Delta’s white elite. Men such as E.M. “Mort” Allen controlled the local economy, government, law enforcement, and courts. Allen was a latter-day carpetbagger, a Northerner who had come to Arkansas in 1906 to make his fortune. He married well and formed a partnership with a wealthy businessman. Together they developed the town of Elaine, a hub for the thriving lumber industry. Allen and the county’s white landowners understood that their continued prosperity depended on the exploitation of black sharecroppers and laborers. In a county where more than 75 percent of the population was African American, this wasn’t a task to be taken lightly. In February 1919, the planters agreed to reduce the acreage of cotton in cultivation in anticipation of a postwar drop in demand. If they gave their tenants a fair settlement, their profits would shrink further. Allen spoke for the planters when he declared that “the old Southern methods are much the best,” and that the “Southern men can handle the negroes all right and peaceably.”
There was nothing “peaceable” about the methods used to demolish the sharecroppers’ union. Late on the night of September 30, 1919, the planters dispatched three men to break up a union meeting in a rough hewn black church at Hoop Spur, a crossroads three miles north of Elaine. Prepared for trouble, the sharecroppers had assigned six men to patrol outside the church. A verbal confrontation led to gunfire that fatally wounded one of the attackers. The union men dispersed, but not for long. Bracing for reprisals from their landlords, they rousted fellow sharecroppers from bed and formed self-defense forces.
The planters also mobilized. Sheriff Frank Kitchens deputized a massive white posse, even setting up a headquarters at the courthouse in the county seat of Helena to organize his recruits. Hundreds of white veterans, recently returned from military service in France, flocked to the courthouse. Dividing into small groups, the armed white men set out into the countryside to search for the sharecroppers. The posse believed that a black conspiracy to murder white planters had just been begun and that they must do whatever it took to put down the alleged uprising. The result was the killing of 237 African Americans.
MS Lawmaker Opposes Education Funding Because It Would Go to ‘Blacks’ Who Get ‘Welfare Crazy Checks’
A Mississippi state lawmaker said he opposed putting more money into elementary schools because he came from a town where “all the blacks are getting food stamps and what I call ‘welfare crazy checks.’ They don’t work.”
In an interview with the Clarion-Ledger regarding education funding, state Rep. Gene Alday (R) stated his opposition to a push to increase funding to improve elementary school reading scores. Alday implied that increasing education funding for children in black families would be pointless.
Alday continued, saying that when he was mayor of Walls, MS, that the times he’d gone to the emergency room had taken a long time. “I laid in there for hours because they (blacks) were in there being treated for gunshots,” he told the newspaper.
At issue is something called Mississippi’s “third grade reading gate,” a measure passed in 2013, which won’t allow students to advance to fourth grade if they can’t read proficiently. A survey of Mississippi’s school superintendents estimated that about 28 percent of the state’s third graders would have to repeat a grade because they couldn’t pass the reading proficiency exams.
The idea for the policy came from Florida, where the state invested about $1 billion into schools to pay for reading coaches, teachers and increased attention to students who struggled with reading.
The Mississippi legislature recently advanced a bill that would provide exceptions to the reading policy for students with learning disabilities. The bill is opposed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who supports the third grade gate policy.
What else can you expect Jake, it’s Mississippi!
A Letter to Ish Entertainment and the Producers of “Kosher Soul”:
I got a tweet Monday night I should probably pass on to you:
I was mortified. It’s official, the thing I have railed against in my crusade for culinary and cultural justice had come for me: my name, established long before someone got the bright idea for a merger of ethnic stereotypes, has been compromised by your “sense” of “koshersoul.”
Appropriation—the big word that seems to have been repeatedly hurled from London to Tokyo—un-reciprocated and unwelcome borrowing, or if you will outright theft of the cultural and artistic production of “others” seems too obvious to even whisper here so I will leave it up to my readers to decide whether you in bad faith decided to nab my moniker for your own purposes or if you just carelessly decided to ignore my work when naming your program.
The “others” I mention above are we the people who in our struggles to make this a more perfect Union, are often marginalized and robbed of our ability to rise and achieve by being denied the same platform as those appropriating our creations. There is a difference between respectful quoting, acknowledging sources and origins and sharing words, genres, styles and modes on the one hand and lifting them wholesale and using them in ways that diminish and demean originators.
The promo trailer for “Kosher Soul” shows a classic collision of cultures- and who could be more different than “the Blacks” and “the Jews?” What could be funnier than a Black man passing out from the sacred ritual of hatafat-dam-brit (blood drop circumcision)? Ooh his baseball cap says “Kosher” in thug motif! Her mother is skeptical, the Jews and their customs are so bizarre that it’s a guilty pleasure you can’t wait to shmear your eyes with. Goodness gracious glory be to Hashem-this TV show sho’ do “look so funny.” (How easy the sarcasm flows…)
Because it “look so funny,” (sic) things will be slow to change. We will go on believing that to be Black is monolithic and to be Jewish only means Ashkenazi; or that Blacks have to be invited into Jewish civilization, not that we have always been a part of it from the Jews of Ethiopia to Harlem synagogues in the 1920’s and far beyond. Despite this we we have to remind the entertainment media that we’ve done this stereotype/archetype game before, it’s so tired, so boring, so basic. In the shadow of Ferguson, in the clearing haze of the Chapel Hill shooting, television seems to have abdicated making cross-cultural understanding possible in exchange for preserving Old World demons and New World canards. Because the world believes what it sees, and perception “is reality,” it means that real people suffer because their vision and their truth rarely make it to the screen or page.
Michael Twitty’s eloquent response to his carefully-nurtured unique cultural heritage being misappropriated and ridiculed by an idiotic sitcom full of lame stereotypes is simply heartbreaking.
By one way of reckoning, this week — February 8, to be exact — can be called the 100th birthday of the medium that many of us have spent our lives enthralled with: the feature film. But don’t expect any parades, fireworks, grand speeches, or other shows of celebration. That’s because the film that premiered at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles on February 8, 1915, was D. W. Griffith’s The Clansman, soon to be retitled The Birth of a Nation — the most virulently racist major movie ever released in the U.S.
Of course, the definitions of such landmark dates can be debated. (Thanks to propaganda by the French, many people think motion pictures were first publicly projected in Paris by the Lumiere brothers in December of 1895, when in fact this was accomplished in New York by a former Confederate artillery officer named Woodville Latham seven months earlier.) But the three-hour Birth of a Nation had a dual impact that was profound: Aesthetically, it synthesized the various cinematic storytelling devices that had been created until that time into a grand whole that many saw as announcing the arrival of a full-fledged art form; commercially, it performed so spectacularly in road-show engagements across the country as to effectively propel the industry from the era of storefront nickelodeons mainly serving lower-class crowds toward that of stand-alone movie palaces aimed at middle-class viewers. In a real sense, Hollywood itself was constructed on the foundations laid down by Birth, which is sometimes still reckoned the most commercially successful movie ever released.
It’s almost impossible for us to imagine what it was like for viewers to encounter Birth in 1915. Many would have never seen any movie before; only a few would have seen one longer than 20 minutes; and no one had seen anything with the visual dynamism, emotional power, and spectacular sweep of this one. Among its innovations, Birth owed much of its impact — ironically, for a “silent” film — to being the first movie with a score written specifically for it and performed by a live orchestra, along with a battery of backstage sound effects. Contemporary accounts emphasize how important the film’s sonic attack, coupled with Griffith’s extraordinary editing, was to the way it gripped and galvanized audiences — leaving many thinking they’d seen “history written in lightning,” to quote the famous but probably apocryphal praise by President Woodrow Wilson, after the first-ever screening of a movie in the White House.
It’s no less essential for anyone wanting to grasp the ambivalent spells movies cast over us, especially ones in which visceral excitements and racial undertones intertwine. Griffith, after all, invented much about this popular art form, and his influence abides. For example, as the music swells and helicopters sweep down from the night sky at the climax of Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips — another scene, like those in a thousand Westerns, of heroic white guys riding to the rescue of innocent whites imperiled by vicious darkies — I couldn’t help but recall the Klan’s triumphant arrival, set to the strains of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” in Birth. These days, of course, cinematic hostility toward the darker races is usually permissible only when they are foreign. Which is to say: Is it not possible — just something to think about, trolls — that Americans a century from now will be as appalled by the huge popularity of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, as we are by the countrywide hosannahs that greeted Birth?
The constitution was put to a popular vote in the state in 1857 and included two referendums that were to be voted on independently. The first was whether they should reject slavery. Roughly 75 percent of voters opted to reject the adoption of slavery. The second measure was whether or not to exclude black people from the state. About 89 percent of voters cast their vote in favor of excluding black and mixed race people from the state. And thus, the exclusionary aspects of the state constitution were adopted.
The resulting Article 1, Section 35 of the Oregon state constitution:
No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such negroes, and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ, or harbor them.
The voters who overwhelmingly embraced this exclusion rationalized it not as blind hate, but as a progressive move that was simply keeping their new land “pure.” Utopia often means starting from scratch, and just as often it means excluding undesirables.
As one “pioneer” voter who would later become a Republican state senator and a member of the U.S. House explained at a reunion in 1898:
Some believers in the doctrine of abstract human rights interpret this vote against admission of free negroes as an exhibition of prejudices which prevailed agains the African who was not a slave, but I have never so regarded it. It was largely an expression against any mingling of the white with any of the other races, and upon a theory that as we had yet no considerable representation of other races in our midst, we should do nothing to encourage their introduction. We were building a new state on virgin ground; it’s people believed it should encourage only the best elements to come to us, and discourage others.
Technically the state’s exclusion laws were superseded by federal law after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. But Oregon had a rather complicated relationship with that particular Amendment. Having ratified it in 1866, the state then rescinded its ratification when a more racist state government took control in 1868. The move was more symbolic than anything, but Oregon gave the sign that it wasn’t on board with racial equality. Astoundingly, it wouldn’t be until 1973 (and with very little fanfare) that activists would get the state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment yet again.
Naturally, the state’s quest for an all-white utopia also included the oppression of other groups — especially those of Chinese and Japanese descent. Though Asian people were not specifically called out in Oregon’s constitutional exclusion laws, the white people of many towns large and small did their best to drive out non-white people any time they got the chance.
In a series of Facebook posts obtained by ThinkProgress, the senior adviser for policy and communications to Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) posted racial comments and endorsed gentrification of his neighborhood.
Benjamin Cole, a former Baptist pastor and energy industry spokesman, posted a series of videos and comments on October 13, 2013 mocking two African Americans outside his DC apartment. In the first, he compared them to animals escaping from the National Zoo engaged in “mating rituals.” That message included a video of a woman, shouting and seemingly engaged in an argument with someone not visible as she walked. In each of his posts, he used the hashtag “#gentrifytoday.”
The National Zoo was closed that week due to a federal government shutdown.
The posts appeared to have been removed Wednesday.
Later that year, Cole described witnessing a shooting of “one of the hood rats on my street” by “another hood rat.”
Federal data released in March 2014 show that black students are suspended at three times the rate of their white counterparts. Research from the collaborative reveals that these disparities routinely aren’t explained by more serious misbehavior by black and brown children: White children doing the same things often get less punitive consequences.
Excessive discipline comes at a steep cost. Studies show a single suspension in the ninth grade is correlated with a doubled chance of dropping out and that suspended or expelled students are three times as likely to end up in the juvenile justice system.
In both schooling and policing, then, young people of color—especially black girls and boys—are disciplined and punished excessively far too often for minor behaviors, with consequences lethal to their life prospects.
Just “Lovely.” David Neiwert has more,
While most American-born activists who become involved in defending Palestinian rights avoid becoming overt anti-Semites even while steadfastly criticizing Israel, Kenneth O’Keefe is not one of them.
O’Keefe, a former Marine-turned-antiwar and anti-environmental activist who specializes in what he calls “direct action,” has morphed in recent years into a raving, David Duke-endorsing anti-Semite, particularly in the speeches he gives to well-known white-supremacist groups.
The most noteworthy of these was O’Keefe’s speech to the IONA London Forum, a gathering of academically oriented white supremacists and anti-Semites held last August. The speech was noteworthy for its crude ugliness: the 50-plus-minute-talk by O’Keefe revolved around the repeated phrase “fucking Jews.”