A review of Peter d’Errico’s Federal Anti-Indian Law: The Legal Entrapment of Indigenous Peoples, an indictment of a legal system with the unflinching goal of stealing as much land as possible.
Despite its confusion and contradictions, federal Indian law — in d’Errico’s terms, “anti-Indian law” — has long had an unchanging purpose. By destroying Native individuals and communities, it has helped the rich and powerful scoop up vast lands and resources. This landgrab is accomplished in part because what’s typically called federal Indian law is hardly a systematic set of statutes. Instead, according to d’Errico, it’s what mid-20th-century U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter called “a vast hodge-podge” and covers all areas of Indigenous life and activity with a massive array of U.S. court decisions, laws, executive orders and agency regulations that have piled up over the years in a disorderly and improvised fashion.
Kent McNeil, a professor emeritus at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto, calls d’Errico’s Federal Anti-Indian Law “a frontal attack on the whole field of American law pertaining to Indigenous peoples.” He lauds it as a “must-read” for those wanting to understand what motivates any claims that the dispossession of Indigenous people has been legally sound. Similarly, Robert Maxim, a senior research associate at the Brookings Institution and a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal citizen, hails the book as “important and enlightening for all people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.”
Throughout the chaos, the application of U.S. law to Indigenous people has had an unflinching goal: theft.
For decades, state and city leaders have clashed over who should control local spending, services and infrastructure. Now, both the federal manager and the city’s mayor are warning that state politicians are attempting to take over Jackson’s water system, along with hundreds of millions in federal funds meant for repairing it.
Jim Craig, of the Mississippi State Department of Health, left, leads Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, right, Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, center, and Gov. Tate Reeves, rear, at a water treatment facility in Ridgeland, Mississippi. Credit:Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo/Pool
JACKSON, Miss. — The freeze of early 2021 wasn’t the origin of Jackson, Mississippi’s water system collapse. But the winter storm introduced the country to Jackson’s aging and improperly maintained pipes and water plants, which failed and left residents without clean water for over a month.
The crisis surged back in the summer of 2022, leaving residents without clean water for two months and drawing comparisons to Flint, Michigan’s lead-poisoning scandal, another banner example of America’s ruinous infrastructure systems. Here, as in Flint, the federal government stepped in: In November, the Department of Justice appointed a federal manager to take control of the beleaguered utility, and less than a month later, Congress approved $600 million exclusively for the city’s water system.
But the rescue effort is already running up against the realities of local politics, reflecting historic tensions between Jackson and the rest of the state. For decades, state and city leaders have clashed over who should control local spending, services and infrastructure. Now, both the federal manager and the city’s mayor are warning that state politicians are attempting to take over Jackson’s water system, along with hundreds of millions in federal funds meant for repairing it.
At the heart of the feud is Senate Bill 2889, introduced in mid-January by a lawmaker who says his only goal is to ensure the Mississippi capital’s water system is restored.
The legislation would create a new regional water-authority board to oversee the system’s water, sewer and drainage systems. The governor and lieutenant governor would appoint a majority of the board. Over the years, state leaders including the current governor, Tate Reeves, have expressed skepticism about whether Jackson is capable of managing its own affairs. Federal agencies, including the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, have also questioned the city’s management of its water and wastewater systems.
The latest move in the Legislature worries the manager, Ted Henifin, who says a regional authority could allow improvements and debt relief to flow out of Jackson and into suburban utilities that join the entity. “I believe the $600+ million in federal funding has created a monster in the Mississippi Legislature,” Henifin told the Mississippi Free Press and ProPublica in a written statement last week. A federal judge appointed Henifin to the position of interim third-party manager in late November.
Ted Henifin was appointed by a federal judge to shepherd Jackson’s water system out of crisis. Credit:Nick Judin/Mississippi Free Press
Jackson Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba built on Henifin’s critique Monday. “It is a colonial power taking over our city. It is plantation politics. I have not been shy in the ways that I have referenced this,” he said.
The mayor highlighted a litany of other proposed legislation that together would give Mississippi authority over segments of Jackson’s police and court systems. He called the legislative proposals a “unified attack” against the city’s autonomy.
“It reminds me of apartheid,” he said. “They dictate our leadership, put a military force over us and we’re just supposed to pay taxes to the king.”
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, whose office helped design the measure, strongly denied that attempts to divert federal funds were behind the legislation. After the news organizations asked Parker about some critics’ concerns, he and Hosemann agreed that the state should recoup none of the federal funds, and Parker pledged to introduce an amendment that would explicitly prohibit the use of the funds outside Jackson’s city limits.
Henifin was unmoved, saying he was concerned that amendments could be overwritten later, and that a regional utility was the wrong solution for Jackson in any case.
“We Need an Arbitrator”
If the Senate bill becomes law, the Mississippi Capitol Region Utility Act would effectively give the state authority over Jackson’s water system once the federal manager’s authority lapses.
That’s because it would grant the governor power to appoint three of the nine members, and the lieutenant governor two, giving statewide leaders, who are white, majority control over water, wastewater and stormwater utilities in Jackson, whose population is 82% Black. The mayor would get four appointments, including one that he would have to select in “consultation” with the mayor of nearby Byram, majority Black, and another chosen with the mayor of Ridgeland, a demographically mixed suburb. The board would then elect a president to formally lead the new regional utility.
In an interview, Henifin said he believes Jackson’s system requires judicial and federal oversight to prevent the mismanagement of critical infrastructure funds, which he estimates would take years to properly spend.
“I think at the end of the day we need an arbitrator, and I think that’s a federal judge in this case.” He said he believes this oversight should be extended to protect the federal dollars, estimating that five years of some form of oversight should be sufficient to lock in the necessary contracts and investments.
He later said that legislative interference might threaten efforts to procure a contract to address the water system’s crucial staffing shortages because the prospect of a change in the water utility’s leadership while a long-term contract is still being executed could scare off large corporations.
Although Parker and Hosemann were complimentary of Henifin in interviews with the Mississippi Free Press, Henifin says neither of the parties involved has ever consulted him. Indeed, he said that Hosemann’s office rebuffed his attempt to set up a meeting. Hosemann acknowledged that he had not spoken with Henifin yet but said he intended to “shortly.”
“I Wanted to Be Very Sympathetic”
Parker said that although he lives 200 miles from Jackson, he did experience the city’s water crisis firsthand.
“I have a daughter that I live with during the legislative session,” he said. “I’ve spent numerous times walking down to the swimming pool and dipping water into a cooler, taking it back up to the toilet to flush. We live in an apartment complex that’s had to put portable facilities on the ground floor to allow people to go to the bathroom.”
“I wanted to be very sympathetic and compassionate to the feelings of the mayor and other people who have spent a long time trying to seek answers to this problem,” Parker said. “So in setting up a board that would be overseeing the water and sewer system, my idea was to give the mayor four appointments on a nine-member board.”
He said he believed the governor and lieutenant governor should appoint a majority of the board’s members because Mississippi’s failure to “provide the basic needs and services that our people deserve is reflected 100% back on the governor and the people in this building.”
Credit:Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo
Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, introduced Senate Bill 2889. is restored.
He said, “Crafting something like this is an extreme challenge.”
Parker said he initially believed that residents in Ridgeland drew water from Jackson’s treatment plant. Though the facility itself is located in Ridgeland, reporters told Parker that Ridgeland does not currently receive water from Jackson’s water system; they also told him that parts of Ridgeland may use Jackson’s greater sewage system. He then suggested the bill may have included that city’s mayor in light of that fact.
He expressed surprise over Henifin’s comments and strongly denied any intent to divert money away from Jackson. He said his only goal is to ensure the Mississippi capital’s water system
The bill gives the surrounding municipalities a path to join the new capital water authority, transferring their assets and debts to it, a common feature of regional utilities.
The news organizations asked Parker if any part of SB 2889 prevented that regionalization from allowing federal funds to be dispersed to utilities outside Jackson. Parker said he would look into that question. A day later, Hosemann said he had agreed with Parker that they should address any gaps that might allow money to be spent outside of the authority itself.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s office helped craft SB 2889, which would allow the governor and lieutenant governor to appoint the majority of a newly created regional water-authority board. Credit:Nick Judin/Mississippi Free Press
“It Is Plantation Politics”
Lumumba said the feud over spending the federal funds highlights the friction between the state’s majority-white leaders and the majority-Black capital city.
“It is plantation politics,” Lumumba said. “It’s consistent with this paternalistic relationship that the state of Mississippi believes that it maintains with the city of Jackson.”
Lumumba compared it to the 1% Sales Tax Commission, a system the Legislature designed to assert control over spending derived from a special sales tax Jackson maintains to fund infrastructure projects.The Unfinished Business of Flint’s Water Crisis
In a response to additional inquiries, Hosemann’s Deputy Chief of Staff Leah Rupp Smith said they defer to Parker on the legislation but “share a desire with all parties to find a long-term solution,” and she said that a regional utility authority “has been viable in other parts of our state.” They said they planned to meet with Henifin the week after next.
Parker said his conversations with the mayor have been “productive and congenial.” He added that they “share an interest in ensuring all people served by the systems have access to safe and reliable water and wastewater services at a fair and reasonable cost.”
In recent years, Lumumba has clashed repeatedly with Hosemann over Jackson’s autonomy. “The last time I met with him, he said that I needed to look at a possible relationship with the state of Mississippi, because ‘what did I think, that Biden was gonna write me a check?’”
“I recently told him I do, and he did,” the mayor said of Biden.
Senior reporter Kayode Crown of the Mississippi Free Press contributed reporting.
Los Angeles has agreed to pay $20m (£16.7m) for a beach that was seized from a black family in the 1920s and returned to their heirs this summer.
Bruce’s Beach was purchased in 1912 to create a resort for black people at a time of widespread racial segregation.
Located in the desirable city of Manhattan Beach, it was forcibly taken by the local council in 1924.
The Bruce descendants would be rich already if their land was never taken, said a LA official announcing the sale.
“The seizure of Bruce’s Beach nearly a century ago was an injustice inflicted upon not just Willa and Charles Bruce but generations of their descendants who almost certainly would have been millionaires,” said Janice Hahn, chairwoman of the LA County Board of Supervisors.
“This fight has always been about what is best for the Bruce family, and they feel what is best for them is selling this property back to the county for nearly $20m and finally rebuilding the generational wealth they were denied for nearly a century,” she continued in her Tuesday statement.
“This is what reparations look like and it is a model that I hope governments across the country will follow.”
Reparations are restitution for slavery – an apology and repayment to black citizens whose ancestors were forced into the slave trade. But whether the government should make payments, and how they should be doled out, is politically controversial.
Willa and Charles Bruce bought the two lots of land for $1,225 in 1912, telling a reporter at the time: “Wherever we have tried to buy land for a beach resort, we have been refused, but I own this land and I am going to keep it.”
But the local police department put up signs limiting parking to 10 minutes, and another local landowner put up no trespassing signs, forcing people to walk half a mile to reach the water. They even faced threats from the racist Ku Klux Klan terror group.
When those measures failed to deter visitors, the local authorities seized the land under eminent domain laws – designed to let the government forcibly buy land needed for roads, and other public buildings.
Officials claimed they planned to build a park. That did not happen until the 1960s, and the area remained vacant in the interim.
In June, the county returned the land to the family, and agreed to keep leasing it from them for $413,000 a year in order to continue operating a county lifeguard training centre located on the beach.
Anthony Bruce, a great-great-grandson of Willa and Charles, told an audience who attended the beachside transfer ceremony that the seizure had “destroyed” his ancestors.
“It destroyed their chance at the American Dream. I wish they could see what has happened today,” he said.
Earlier this year, California’s first-in-the-nation reparations taskforce announced the controversial decision to limit payments to the descendants of black slaves only.
The nine-member government panel must deliver a report to the governor by next year, with a plan for how the payments will be made.
“To many, our most shocking political crises appear unprecedented—un-American, even. But they are not, writes The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer in this prescient essay collection, which dissects the most devastating moments in recent memory to reveal deeply entrenched dynamics, patterns as old as the country itself. The January 6 insurrection, anti-immigrant sentiment, and American authoritarianism all have historic roots that explain their continued power with or without President Donald Trump—a fact borne out by what has happened since his departure from the White House.
Serwer argues that Trump is not the cause, he is a symptom. Serwer’s phrase “the cruelty is the point” became among the most-used descriptions of Trump’s era, but as this book demonstrates, it resonates across centuries. The essays here combine revelatory reporting, searing analysis, and a clarity that’s bracing. In this new, expanded version of his bestselling debut, Serwer elegantly dissects white supremacy’s profound influence on our political system, looking at the persistence of the Lost Cause, the past and present of police unions, the mythology of migration, and the many faces of anti-Semitism. In so doing, he offers abundant proof that our past is present and demonstrates the devastating costs of continuing to pretend it’s not. The Cruelty Is the Point dares us, the reader, to not look away.”
Adam Serwer has been a staff writer for the Ideas section of The Atlantic since 2016, focusing on contemporary politics, often viewed through the lens of history. He is the recipient of the 2015 Sigma Delta Chi award for commentary,… More about Adam Serwer
‘The Fried Chicken Capital’: Where Racial Progress Began Along The Rails
July 10, 20151:01 PM ET
Waiter carriers pass food to passengers on a train stopping in Gordonsville, Va., in this undated photo. After the Civil War, local African-American women found a route to financial freedom by selling their famous fried chicken and other home-made goods track-side.
Courtesy of the Town of Gordonsville
Fried chicken is a racially fraught food. Historically, it’s been associated with racist depictions of African-Americans, and today, some still wield the fried-chicken-eating stereotype as an insult. But in some cases, the food itself has provided a path toward financial freedom for blacks.
Take the town of Gordonsville, Va., for example. As Lauren Ober of NPR member station WAMU recently reported, in the latter half of the 1800s, the town gained fame as the “Fried Chicken Capital of the World.” And the reasons why date back to the rise of the railroad.
By the time the Civil War broke out, the town was a main stop on two rail lines. It was also a major transportation hub for produce coming from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
But those trains didn’t have dining cars, and local African-American women found a business opportunity in hungry passengers. The women would cook up fried chicken, biscuits, pies and other tasty goods and sell them from the train platform, passing the food over to passengers through the open windows.
Waiter carriers sell their wares along the platform. According to Williams-Forson’s book, Bella Winston’s mother is one of the women pictured in this photo.
Courtesy of the Town of Gordonsville
These vendors, known as waiter carriers because they had to transport the food a long way to get to the station, developed a reputation for their culinary skills, according to Psyche Williams-Forson, an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland.
“Some people would deliberately chart their way through Gordonsville because they knew they would encounter these women and those particular foodstuffs,” Williams-Forson tells Ober.
For the waiter carriers of Gordonsville, fried chicken became an avenue of economic empowerment after the Civil War. The title of Williams-Forson’s 2006 book, Building Houses Out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food and Power, is a nod to this entrepreneurial legacy: Bella Winston, an 80-year-old former waiter carrier, who learned the trade from her mother, told a local newspaper in 1970, “My mother paid for this place with chicken legs.”
That degree of economic independence was rare for African-Americans post-emancipation, Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner tells Ober:
“At the end of the Civil War, when we have new freedoms for people, they’re put in a position where they need jobs,” says Coiner, whose family has lived in Gordonsville for many generations. “The situation was bad before, but you could count on the situation. Now it was a big unknown.”
The waiter carriers were part of a larger tradition of African-American women who found economic independence — in some cases even buying their own freedom — through their cooking skills. Indeed, one of the first cookbooks published by a black woman in America was put out by an ex-slave woman in 1881.
WWilliams-Forson writes that the historical record is sparse when it comes to Gordonsville’s fried chicken vendors. But, she tells Ober, “I think it’s important to talk about it, because it reflects some level of agency that some African-Americans were able to exhibit during that horrible institution.”
Of course, fried chicken is a particularly racially charged dish. To wit: the Coon Chicken Inn, a restaurant chain begun in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1925, that was popular for its fried chicken. The decor was as racist as the name. The caricature of a black man with grotesquely oversized red, open, smiling lips, a porter’s hat askew on his head, was ubiquitous: on silverware, menus, matchbooks and other advertising. Customers had to walk through a giant version of those grinning lips to enter the restaurants.
“Back in those days … it wasn’t nothing to see [such] mockery. Black folks was always being mocked,” according to former headwaiter Roy Hawkins, whose recollections of working there appear in Williams-Forson’s book.
Hawkins said he had to endure customer insults, but it was lucrative work: He’d bring home $100 to $200 a night in tips, at a time when bricklayers earned $5 a day. As Hawkins toldThe Salt Lake Tribunein 2006, he ended up “laughing all the way to the bank.”
As for the waiter carriers of Gordonsville, their trade disappeared in the first half of the 20th century, as dining cars were added to trains and government regulations cracked down on track-side food vendors. But their legacy lives on in Gordonsville, which hosts an annual fried chicken contest.
Lauren Ober’sreporton Gordonsville’s fried chicken tradition aired on member station WAMU in Washington, D.C. You can listen to a longer version of that story, which details other ways that African-American women have found economic empowerment through food,from Gravy, the podcast from the Southern Foodways Alliance.
The AFRO-American Newspapers has a daunting task ahead: Creating a searchable and publicly-accessible database to house an estimated 3 million photos, thousands of letters, business records, original audio recordings, advertisements and even reporters’ notebooks. And then there are the newspapers themselves — 129 years of them. “The collection is really remarkable. It’s probably one of […]
The new multifamily buildings in your neighborhood actually slow displacement.
” . . . That discussionof gentrification is instead frequently diverted to what the buildings look like is a massive coup on behalf of existing property owners. Those current owners often want to maintain aesthetic control, sometimes as a means ofblocking new homes from being built (experts have found that historic preservation is often weaponized to prevent new, more affordable housing options).
It is fine to dislike the way a home looks; not all art is for everyone. But the convergence of aesthetic preferences and physical displacement under the same “gentrification” banner only serves to maintain the current system of housing development, one that has made housing prohibitively expensive for many Americans anddisplaced people under countless different architectural styles.
The problem with this conflation became clear when I looked into the building depicted in the aforementioned Camden TikTok video. Branch Village isn’t a “gentrification building.” It’s actually an affordable housing project funded in part by low-income housing tax credits. According to the Courier-Post, the project’s second phase included the construction of 75 townhomes, all of which “will be considered affordable, accessible to those making less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.” Per an affordable housing database, the development now has 245 units.
Despite the primary concern of gentrification usually being the displacement of low-income residents, the top two comments on the Camden video, which collectively received 76,000 “likes,” were stylistic complaints: “why is it ALWAYS h&r block green, and “they really had to pick the worst colors didn’t they?”
This is common in gentrification discourse. People want to use a word that evokes visuals of marginalized communities being displaced, either through evictions, rising prices, or even violent displacement. But, after prodding, the actual concern is artistic. The rhetorical sleight of hand is not always intentional. For many, the concepts of “new, modern buildings” and “displacement” have simply become inextricable. But the confusion around how the word gentrification is being used has real policy consequences: If people believe that new buildings work against housing affordability, they will oppose the very policies necessary to solve the nation’s housing affordability crisis . . .”
Advocates and experts argue that on-going systemic racism has placed Black Americans at a disadvantage in everything from obtaining an education to being paid fair wages, purchasing homes, starting businesses, and passing down generational wealth — all components needed to achieve robust economic health.
Some advocates and experts say reparations are the answer. They would not only help eliminate wealth differences caused by systemic racism but are also “a form of compensation that would amount to healing,” William “Sandy” Darity, an economist and professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy told ABC News. The topic is controversial, even among the descendants. While arguments have been made that reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people could help restore economic balance in the nation, there is the outstanding question of how much should be paid out and to whom. So what exactly is owed?
Over our 34 years of live broadcasts, we have continuously brought advocates, economic experts, and activists in our discussions of reparations and reparations activism for descendants of the American chattel system. We have, in these discussions, underscored that reparations proposals must consider the economic contributions of free labor made within the hundreds of years of legal chattel slavery and continuing racial oppression up to today.
Episode #2: “Reparations: The Paradigm Shift”
Examining the demand for reparations through many eras of Black Struggle: Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, the Black Power eras and Black Lives Matters protests.
Rutledge M. Dennis is Professor of Sociology and Anthropology. He was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He received his B.A. in Social Science and Sociology from South Carolina State University, and the M.A. and Ph.D in sociology from Washington State University. He is the editor/co-editor, and author/co-author of twelve books in the areas of urban politics, research methods in race and ethnicity, Black Intellectuals, W.E.B.Du Bois, the Black Middle Class, race and ethnic politics, comparative and theoretical approaches to race and ethnicity, marginality, bi-culturalism, Booker T. Washington, and more recently, Field Notes from the Black Middletown Study. He was presented the Joseph S. Himes Distinguished Scholarship Award by The Association of Black Sociologists, and the DuBois-Johnson-Frazier Award, by the American Sociological Association.
Saturday, June 5, 2021 OUR COMMON GROUND begin a series of discussion on the topic of reparations for the descendants of the US system of chattel slavery:
“Reparations: The Debt That Is Owed”
Episode #1: “The Debt That Is Owed: Reparations & the Descendants of US Chattel Slavery”
We are very excited to host a discussion with Dr. William “Sandy Darity” once again. We will explore his views found in his book, with Kirsten Mullen, “From Here to Equality” It makes the case for reparations to Black Americans, the descendants of the US system of chattel slavery. This fascinating work confronts economic injustices and continuing wealth disparity for American descendants of the US System of chattel slavery; and, the injustices created in the aftermath. “Sandy” has been an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice since 2009. We invite you to join us.
William A. Darity, Jr., Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African-American Studies, and Economics; Chair, African and African-American Studies; Director, Research Network on Racial and Ethnic Inequality, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.
His most recent book, coauthored with A. Kirsten Mullen, is From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century (2020). Darity’s book inspired the UNC podcast series, “The Arc of Justice” : through interviews with living descendants of U.S. slavery, renowned experts from Duke University and beyond, historical interviews and other first-person stories.
The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is.
By Frank Hyman
UPDATED MARCH 11, 2021 10:28 AM
I’ve lived 55 years in the South, and I grew up liking the Confederate flag. I haven’t flown one for many decades, but for a reason that might surprise you.
I know the South well. We lived wherever the Marine Corps stationed my father: Georgia, Virginia, the Carolinas. As a child, my favorite uncle wasn’t in the military, but he did pack a .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun in his trunk. He was a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Despite my role models, as a kid I was an inept racist. I got in trouble once in the first grade for calling a classmate the N-word. But he was Hispanic.
As I grew up and acquired the strange sensation called empathy (strange for boys anyway), I learned that for black folks the flutter of that flag felt like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And for the most prideful flag waivers, clearly that response was the point. I mean, come on. It’s a battle flag.
What the flag symbolizes for blacks is enough reason to take it down. But there’s another reason that white southerners shouldn’t fly it. Or sport it on our state-issued license plates as some do here in North Carolina. The Confederacy – and the slavery that spawned it – was also one big con job on the Southern, white, working class. A con job funded by some of the ante-bellum one-per-centers, that continues today in a similar form.
You don’t have to be an economist to see that forcing blacks – a third of the South’s laborers – to work without pay drove down wages for everyone else. And not just in agriculture. A quarter of enslaved blacks worked in the construction, manufacturing and lumbering trades; cutting wages even for skilled white workers.
Flag Protester Talks About White Role
James Tyson was arrested with Bree Newsome in SC Confederate flag removal. BY MCCLATCHY
Thanks to the profitability of this no-wage/low-wage combination, a majority of American one-per-centers were southerners. Slavery made southern states the richest in the country. The South was richer than any other country except England. But that vast wealth was invisible outside the plantation ballrooms. With low wages and few schools, southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than northern whites.
My ancestor Canna Hyman and his two sons did own land and fought under that flag. A note from our family history says: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”
Like Canna, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing that blacks had no slice at all.
How did the plantation owners mislead so many Southern whites?
They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would – in today’s lingo – trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.
Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.
For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid – which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites – resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.
Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.
One can love the South without flying the battle flag. But it won’t help to get rid of an old symbol if we can’t also rid ourselves of the self-destructive beliefs that go with it. Only by shedding those too, will Southern whites finally catch up to the rest of the country in wages, health and education.
Frank Hyman lives in Durham,where he has held two local elected offices. He’s a carpenter and stonemason and policy analyst for Blue Collar Comeback. This essay originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and is reprinted with permission.