Frank Gaffney is working his racist magic in Oklahoma, convincing the Oklahoma legislature (a willing group no doubt) to pass an anti-Sharia law by enormous margins, thus protecting the good people from Oklahoma from the impending horrors of global islamofascism or something.
This is a pretty amazing story of the discovery of a mass grave of Irish laborers who died in the 1832 cholera epidemic. Basically, the Irish found whatever jobs they could when they arrived in the United States. A lot of this was in the growing industry of building transportation infrastructure, mostly railroads but also canals. There were almost no safety precautions in construction at this time. Over 1000 workers died building the Erie Canal, a point rarely brought up. 1000! That’s a lot of dead people.
I want to focus on one piece of the story. During the epidemic, the Irish laborers were not allowed to leave their camp.:
Dr. Monge found signs of blunt head trauma in three more sets of remains, as well as a bullet hole in another. For the researchers, these forensic clues, coupled with contemporaneous news accounts, conjure a possible sequence of events in which a few workers escaped from an enforced quarantine, were subdued and killed, then returned in coffins to Duffy’s Cut, where the rest soon died of disease. Then all were buried in an anonymous grave.
“I actually think it was a massacre,” Dr. Monge said.
When the Irish sought to escape death in their makeshift concentration camp, they were murdered in cold blood.
The 1832 cholera epidemic was the first of the three great cholera epidemics to ravage the United States in the 19th century. And it was really scary. Cholera only came to Europe from India in the 1810s and 1832 was the first true year of the epidemic. So people didn’t know what was going on. When you combine that with the other epidemic of the early 19th century–racism against the Irish–you have the recipe for an even greater disaster. With Irish lives worth so little in the United States, shooting and beating them to death to keep them away from the non-infected was an all too easy decision for a lot of Americans.
The everyday violence of 19th century America is largely lost to us, which is one reason why I respected the show Deadwood so much–it was really only the second major cultural event to display the sheer ugliness of the 19th century (Gangs of New York being the first). For most of the 20th century, you really couldn’t honestly display that stuff and now it seems very distant. The lack of accessible media for the period doesn’t help; not only were there no photographs and recorded music and movies, but even the editorial cartoons of the time are completely opaque for the modern reader.
It wasn’t until Thomas Nast that this began to change. Not coincidentally, editorial cartoons are really only teachable beginning with Nast.
So this story made me really sad. But it also at least provides a window into a lost bit of American history, even if it is something we’d probably rather forget.
It’s true that busing didn’t really work very well. It was a clunky approach to a horrible problem of school inequality. It was an incredibly brave plan, particularly in the face of the extraordinary racism in Boston during the 1970s. I’m not sure how it could have really worked in a functional way though.
Meanwhile, for all our patting our own backs about racism not being as bad as it was forty years ago, school segregation and inequality remain intractable problems.
As a white male, being attacked by the hate-spewing mouthbreathers of the internet gun lobby was horrible. Were I a black woman like Zerlina Maxwell who rejected the ludicrous notion that women should be responsible for preventing their own rapes by carrying a gun, the awfulness would have been magnified 100-fold.
In a world where the key provision of the Voting Rights Act is about to be overturned, repealing civil rights won with the bloodshed of thousands of victims, it’s hardly surprising that open racism would come back into vogue. Take the brand-new cover of Bloomberg Businessweek:
Plutocrat created, Scalia approved!
To quote Yglesias: “The idea is that we can know things are really getting out of hand since even nonwhite people can get loans these days! They ought to be ashamed.”
Almost Verbatim Emory University President James Wagner: “The 3/5 Compromise is a Model to Which We Should Aspire. Also, the Liberal Arts are Like Slaves and Should Be Treated As Such”
During a Homecoming program in September, a panel of eminent law school alumni discussed the challenges of governing in a time of political polarization—a time, in other words, like our own. The panel included a former US senator, former and current congressmen, and the attorney general for Georgia.
One of these distinguished public servants observed that candidates for Congress sometimes make what they declare to be two unshakable commitments—a commitment to be guided only by the language of the US Constitution, and a commitment never, ever to compromise their ideals. Yet, as our alumnus pointed out, the language of the Constitution is itself the product of carefully negotiated compromise.
One instance of constitutional compromise was the agreement to count three-fifths of the slave population for purposes of state representation in Congress. Southern delegates wanted to count the whole slave population, which would have given the South greater influence over national policy. Northern delegates argued that slaves should not be counted at all, because they had no vote. As the price for achieving the ultimate aim of the Constitution—“to form a more perfect union”—the two sides compromised on this immediate issue of how to count slaves in the new nation. Pragmatic half-victories kept in view the higher aspiration of drawing the country more closely together.
I think we can all be impressed by a bunch of elite southern white men discussing politics and coming to the Three-Fifths Compromise as ideal legislation. That one would say this publicly is even more bizarre–does he not have people to make sure he doesn’t actually articulate the incredibly offensive things he believes? Or, good lord could this be, is this the compromise editorial? If so, I don’t want to see the first draft.
But wait, there’s more. Because see where this ends!!!
Part of the messy inefficiency of university life arises from the intention to include as many points of view as possible, and to be open to the expectation that new ideas will emerge. The important thing to keep in view is that this process works so long as every new idea points the way toward a higher shared ideal, namely truth.
At Emory of late we have had many discussions about the ideal—and the reality—of the liberal arts within a research university. All of us who love Emory share a determination that the university will continue trailblazing the best way for research universities to contribute to human well-being and stewardship of the earth in the twenty-first century. This is a high and worthy aspiration. It is tempered by the hard reality that the resources to achieve this aspiration are not boundless; our university cannot do everything we might wish to do, or everything that other universities do. Different visions of what we should be doing inevitably will compete. But in the end, we must set our sights on that higher goal—the flourishing liberal arts research university in service to our twenty-first-century society.
I am grateful that we have at our disposal the rich tools of compromise that can help us achieve our most noble goals.
As a historian, where does this lead me? I mean, I already know that we liberal arts people probably do in fact count as 3/5 of a person when it comes to university decision making, but if university presidents are going to openly compare us to slaves, well I just can’t wait for the future. Why even pay us at all? The strike of a whip should force us into line!!!
On February 8, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the Dawes Severalty Act into law. The Dawes Act created a process to split up Indian reservations in order to create individual parcels of land and then sell the remainder off to white settlers. One of the worst laws in American history, the Dawes Act is not only a stark reminder of Euro-American colonialism and the dispossession of indigenous peoples, but also of the role dominant ideas of work on the land have in promoting racist and imperialist ends.
We might not think of the Dawes Act as labor history. But I want to make the beginning of a case that it is absolutely central to American labor history, a point I will expand upon in the future. Labor history is not just unionism. It is histories and traditions of work. The Dawes Act was absolutely about destroying traditions of Native American labor and replacing it with European notions of rural work. That it did so while opening more land to white people was a central benefit.
Now, it’s worth noting that there is nothing like a “Native American tradition of work,” now or ever. There were thousands of different ideas of labor. Eventually, I’m going to try and touch on a few specific examples of 18th and 19th century Native American labor. The Dawes Act was largely directed at the Native American populations that had developed their cultures and work systems around horses and nomadism. Acquiring horses by the early 18th century, some peoples such as the Crow, Comanche, Utes, Blackfeet, and others made the conscious decision to convert to horse-bound hunting cultures, which created entirely new ideas of work that included men on long hunts, women treating bison hides, horse pastoralism, and other labors to create a bison economy. These choices allowed them to resist white encroachment with real military might. It also meant they received quite sizable reservations when the U.S. signed treaties with the tribes in the post-Civil War period.
“Cree Indians Impounding Buffaloes,” from William Hornaday’s The Extermination of the American Bison.
At the same time, white Americans were populating the West through the auspices of the Homestead Act of 1862. Beginning with the Northwest Ordinance, white Americans had gridded the land to sell it off in 160 acre parcels. This led to the relatively orderly (and lawsuit-free) population of the West as Native Americans had been pushed off. The Homestead Act encouraged this process across the Great Plains. Although it had little immediate effect because of the Civil War, beginning in the late 1860s, white Americans began pouring into the Plains.
White ideas of rural labor on the Great Plains.
So when whites saw relatively few Native Americans holding legal title to vast tracts of lands on the Great Plains and American West, it offended both their notions of race and work. Whites saw land as something to be “worked” in very specific ways. Work meant the individual ownership of land or resources that create capital accumulations as part of a larger market economy. Proper labor “improved” upon the land; because Native American conceptualized the land differently, they did no legitimate work. The actual tilling of land for cash crops was the only appropriate labor upon the land, once existent resources like timber, furs, or minerals were extracted. The land did all sorts of work for Native Americans before 1887. It fed the bison upon which they had based their economy since they acquired horses in the early 18th century. It provided the materials for their homes and spaces for their camps. It also provided fodder for those horses. To whites, this was not work. It was waste typical of a lesser people.
The Dawes Act split up the reservation lands so that each person received 160 acres of land, the amount a white settler would receive under the Homestead Act. After allotment, the remainder of the reservations could be divided under the normal methods of the Homestead Act. Native Americans could not sell their land for 25 years. At the end of that time, they had to prove their competency at farming, otherwise the land reverted back to the federal government for sale to whites. By trying to turn Native Americans into good Euro-American farmers, the Dawes Act also upset the relationship between gender roles and work among many tribes. To generalize, men hunted and women farmed. But with the single-family breadwinner ideology of whites thrust upon them, it turned farming into men’s work, which many Native Americans resisted and resented.
Naturally, there was the usual language of concern for Native Americans in creating the Dawes Act. Cleveland claimed he saw this as an improvement on Native Americans wandering around their desolate reservations. I don’t want to underrate how tough those lands were by 1887; with the decline of the bison, an intentional effort by the federal government to undermine food sources and the willingness of Indians to resist conquest, poverty and despair was real. But of course, whites had created this situation and the “solution” of dispossessing Native Americans of the vast majority of their remaining lands was hardly a solution at all.
Allotted land for sale.
The Dawes Act devastated Native American landholdings. In 1887, they held 138 million acres. By 1900, that had already fallen to 78 million acres and by 1934 to 48 million acres. About 90,000 people lost all title to land. Even if Native Americans did try to adapt to Euro-American notions of labor on the land, the land itself was mostly too poor, desolate, and dry to farm successful crops. The Indian schools such as Carlisle continued this reshaping of Native American work, theoretically teaching students skills they could take back to the reservations, but there was little use for many of these skills in the non-existent post-Dawes Act indigenous economies. Plus that goal was always secondary to killing Indian languages, religions, and traditional workways.
The Dawes Act finally ended in 1934 with the U.S. Indian Reorganization Act.
There were many acts and events that ruptured the relationship between indigenous labor and the land in the late 19th century American West. The Dawes Act is among the most important. By thinking of the Dawes Act in terms of the relationship between nature, labor, and racial notions of proper work upon the land, we can expand our understanding of both labor history and the history of Euro-American conquest of the West.
This is the 51st post in this series. The rest of the series is archived here.
Robert Stacy McCain, the man who defended the lynching of Emmett Till, has some really good advice for the Republican Party. Double down on white supremacy and reject those anti-capitalist Latinos.
As a Democrat, let me give a full-throated recommendation that Republican leaders listen to this wise, wise man.
On January 25, 1941, A. Philip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the most important civil rights leader of the World War II era, called for a March on Washington to protest discrimination in defense industry work. The success of this movement in convincing the government to act on employment discrimination both opened unprecedented economic opportunities for African-Americans during the war and helped lay the groundwork for the modern civil rights movement after the war.
The civil rights movement was perking up in the 1930s. Between the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, cases that led to the integration of the University of Maryland and University of Missouri law schools, and other small but significant victories, civil rights leaders had hope for the future. As the nation turned its attention to fascism in the late 1930s and President Franklin Roosevelt began to prepare the nation for war, civil rights leaders hoped that African-Americans would see their share of economic advancement. But persistent discrimination from both employers and labor unions meant that defense work remained strictly segregated.
Randolph and other leaders, including Walter White, Mary McLeod Bethune, and T. Arnold Hill, met with Roosevelt, hoping to convince him to desegregate defense work. But for as great as FDR was, he basically didn’t care much about discrimination against African-Americans. The New Deal in fact reinforced segregation on the job. For instance, TVA administrators were so worried about offending local racial sensibilities, they segregated what were previously integrated manual labor work. The result of this meeting was that FDR agreed more African-Americans should be in the military. In 1941, the Army had 230,000 members, but only 5000 African-Americans. But in creating more black units, Roosevelt explicitly said they would remain segregated.
A. Philip Randolph
Angry at Roosevelt’s indifference to advancing racial equality, Randolph and other civil rights leaders turned to more direct pressure. After planning the logistics of this in the fall of 1940, on this date in 1941, Randolph officially announced the March on Washington. He created the March on Washington Committee in Harlem, involved the NAACP, and began spreading the idea around the country. It was to take place on July 1 with estimates of up to 100,000 African-Americans attending.
Originally, much of the nation’s African-American leadership was skeptical that Randolph and the NAACP could pull this off. But Randolph’s tireless work and alliance building made the idea a real threat to the Roosevelt administration. Working with groups such as the National Negro Congress, as well as Randolph’s own close ties to socialist groups, the infrastructure to create what would have been a truly unprecedented protest in African-American history took shape. Most important was Randolph’s union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which not only used their privileged positions within African-American communities to give the movement legitimacy in cities across the nation, but also chartered buses and trains to take people from around the country to Washington before July 1.
Roosevelt was desperate to avoid the embarrassment of a nation preparing to fight fascism having its own caste system publicized before the world. He asked Eleanor Roosevelt and Fiorello LaGuardia to intervene, but Randolph refused to budge. Roosevelt finally decided to use his personal charm on Randolph, calling him for a private meeting, but again, Randolph remained firm. Randolph told the president:
Mr. President, time is running on. You are quite busy, I know. But what we want to talk with you about is the problem of jobs for Negroes in defense industries. Our people are being turned away at factory gates because they are colored. They can’t live with this thing. Now, what are you going to do about it?
Roosevelt caved on June 25. He issued Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry. The order also established the President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practice to investigate and resolve discrimination on the job. Under last-minute pressure from Randolph, Roosevelt also agreed to end official discrimination in federal employment as well, although actual implementation of this was quite varied and depended on the agency (Hoover’s FBI, no).
This milestone cannot be overstated. It was the first federal action to prohibit job discrimination on the basis of race in American history. It also opened the door for hundreds of thousands of African-Americans to achieve high-paying jobs during World War II, working in factories and building the economic and political base that would be vital to laying the foundation for the postwar push for civil rights. It was a key part in the NAACP’s Double-V campaign–V for victory against racism both at home and abroad.
In the end, the sheer need for workers was more important in African-American employment than the FEPC or anything else Roosevelt did. Desperation broke employer resistance. But the institutional framework for involving the government in racial discrimination on the job was absolutely necessary to these changes. African-Americans held about 3% of defense jobs in 1942, mostly janitors. But by 1945, that number had risen to 8%, including a lot of craftsmen, as well as industrial laborers more broadly. Black employees of the federal government tripled. In all of this of course, significant discrimination remained. Blacks were the last hired and first fired, were often paid less for the same labor, and had few chances at advancement on the job. That said, the World War II black experience at work helped create the postwar world.
The employment of African-Americans in the defense industry reshaped the geography of African-American life. Blacks moved in huge numbers not only to northern cities but to the American West as well, establishing large communities in important manufacturing centers like Oakland, Seattle, and Los Angeles. 750,000 African-Americans moved during the war. This caused massive tensions of its own, including the Detroit Hate Strike of 1943. In the South, blacks usually worked in segregated jobs, but in northern cities integration caused wildcat strikes, particularly among the recent white migrants from the South for those same jobs. Yet despite violence, de facto segregation, white flight, and massive employment discrimination, African-Americans kept coming after the war. Why? The prospect of decent work in the wartime and then Cold War defense industry offered the hope of a better life.
Randolph’s inspiration for the March on Washington was recognized by Martin Luther King and other leaders of the postwar movement; although isolated from the movement in the 60s, Randolph was asked to be on stage in 1963. Perhaps his most notable contribution to the March was talking John Lewis off the ledge when an increasingly infuriated SNCC demanded change now, with a tone that made a lot of allies, including United Auto Workers President Walter Reuther, organized labor’s most important ally with the civil rights movement, nervous. Lewis agreed to tone it down slightly after a discussion with the godfather of civil rights.
This is the 49th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.
“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth,” Obama said.
Democrats in Virginia are accusing state Republicans of taking advantage of a prominent civil rights leader’s trip to Washington for the presidential inauguration to pull a “dirty trick” in order to take control of the state Senate in the 2015 elections.
The state Senate is split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats. On Monday, while state Sen. Henry Marsh (D) — a 79-year-old civil rights veteran — was reportedly in Washington to attend President Obama’s second inaugural, GOP senators forced through a mid-term redistricting plan that Democrats say will make it easier for Republicans to gain a majority.
Politically, the move coud derail McDonnell’s ambitious agenda for his last year in office ahead of a rumored run for higher office. Optics-wise, the state Senate GOP’s move could reverberate far beyond the Commonwealth: after using the absence of civil rights leader Marsh to push through the legislative changes, the Senate adjourned in honor of a well-known Confederate general.
“On motion of Senator Stosch, the Senate adjourned in memory or [sic] General Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson at 4:10 p.m. to convene Tuesday, January 22, 2013,” read the official minutes of the legislative day.
According to the progressive blog Blue Virginia, Deeds also took to the state Senate floor to speak about Jackson after the new district lines were approved.
This is a fascinating piece on Ken Gonzales-Day, the artist and author who explores the history of lynching in the American West. We usually think of lynching as something that had to black people in the South. But it was far more pervasive, especially in the American West, where non-whites of all varieties were lynched throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gonzales-Day has an exhibit of images where he has digitally erased the hanging bodies from old lynching photos, forcing our gaze to the people proudly posing next to their victims.
There’s also this:
As if to underscore this idea, Mr. Gonzales-Day has also produced a self-guided walking tour of lynching sites in downtown Los Angeles that allows participants “to revisit places and events made infamous” in the context of their present-day lives. The tour is an extension of the artist’s own six-year pilgrimage to nearly every county in California, culminating in another series, “Searching for California’s Hang Trees,” that features large-scale color photographs and billboards of lynching sites, particularly the trees that possibly served as hanging posts.
A self-guided walking tour of lynching sites? Wow. That actually sounds amazing and important. Forcing us to recognize the dark histories on the landscapes we take for granted has tremendous value in making us confront our national racist past and how whites benefit from that historical racism and white privilege today.
On all fronts, the Republicans are making remarkable progress in building a coalition that will appeal to people who aren’t old and white.
If there’s three things that appeal to young voters, it’s denigrating why they voted for Obama, Jim Crow-style treatment of brown people, and hating on the disabled because of anti-world government nonsense.
I can’t wait for the coming immigration debate.