My New Orleans belle grandmother was a woman ahead of her time - she joined the Army nurse corps in World War I, saw service across Europe and then signed on as a nurse with United Fruit Company rather than return to New Orleans - and despite where she was raised, she was not racist. Indeed, the lowest of the low in her view was "white trash." She sympathized with blacks and the burdens they faced given the bigotry that existed in the South during her lifetime. "White trash" on the other hand was not held back by skin color and had no excuse, in her view for not bettering them self. Today, much of the Republican Party base is what she would have considered white trash that by choice embraces ignorance, bigotry and prejudice and clings to white supremacy because it's the only thing they have to make themselves feel superior. It wasn't always this way, but through the "Southern Strategy" launched by Richard Nixon in the 1960's, the GOP cynically decided embrace racism. Things have only gotten worse since then. A piece in Salon looks at how the GOP got to where it is today. Here are excerpts:
Dylann Roof’s murder of nine people worshipping at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was not about mental illness; it was not about religious freedom; it was not an “accident;” it does not defy explanation. His attack on nine African Americans in a church was a political attack designed to keep the government in the hands of white men. His bullets were a salvo in the fundamental struggle that we have fought bitterly since 1865: Who owns America?
When the 21-year-old white man killed six women and three men, including pastor and South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney, he reportedly said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Roof’s words seem bizarre—not just because black Americans make up less than 15 percent of the population but also because he murdered six women—but they made more sense when they first entered the American vernacular. His statement hails straight from the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, when white Southern men had to come to grips with the fact that they would no longer control the country.
Men like Roof are staring at that same reality today.
Before the Civil War, white Southern Democrats controlled American politics. They used the government to prop up the system of racial slavery that brought money, social status, and political power to wealthy white men.
[Southern] State legislators ratified the[Thirteenth] amendment, but then promptly set about recreating antebellum conditions of racial servitude with what were known as “Black Codes.” In most states, black people could not own guns, had to sign year-long work contracts, and could be arrested on charges of “vagrancy,” fined, and then bound to anyone who paid their fine. Nowhere could a black person testify in court against a white person, which meant that no black southerner could claim the protection of the law against theft, rape, or murder.
[W]hen Congress reconvened in December 1865, Northern congressmen refused to return the same African Americans who had fought for the Union to quasi-slavery under the very men who had spent four years trying to destroy the nation. As a condition for readmission to the Union, Congress put forward the Fourteenth Amendment to give black men legal rights. Southern whites promptly retorted that they would rather remain under military rule than submit to black equality. So northern congressmen passed the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which called for new Southern state constitutional conventions to rewrite state constitutions providing for black civic rights. Crucially, the Military Reconstruction Act permitted African American men to vote.
Before the 1868 elections, members of the Ku Klux Klan murdered at least a thousand African Americans and their white allies. Things were particularly bad in South Carolina, where Klan members killed African American clergyman and state legislator B. F. Randolph at a train depot in broad daylight.
For the next twenty years, white southerners controlled black political voices by finding ways either to work with black voters or to intimidate them into silence. It was imperative to purge black voters from the system, they insisted, for black Americans only wanted social welfare legislation that would enable them to live without working. Those programs would bleed tax dollars from hardworking white men. Black voters were thus “corrupting” the American government and destroying America itself.
By the early twentieth century, white citizens had made the lynching of black men a civic duty. While the Ku Klux Klan had operated in secret, the vigilantes of the early twentieth century took photographs of themselves with victims. For these citizen-terrorists, only by purging the government of black voices could the nation be made safe.
When Roof said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” and then made himself judge and jury, he was echoing both a fear and a crazed solution that grew out of the Civil War, when white Southern men had to face the reality that they were going to have to share control the government. That fact inspired terror—and terrorism—among white men in the late nineteenth century. It did so in the 1960s, when, once again, white Americans tried to silence black political voices with terrorism.
Today, Fox News, talk radio hosts, and Movement Conservative politicians have stoked in their followers that same fear of losing control of the government with constant references to freeloading black voters and the “47 percent… who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” As in the past, the fear of sharing political power with African American voters who, according to right-wing media, are lazy criminals, has led to horrific violence. After a hundred and fifty years, this pattern should come as no surprise.