Robin Washington of the Duluth News Tribune called me in February to ask me about my latest snow sculpture. An angry black motorist who had cruised past my house had just called him up at the Trib to ask about it. The driver suspected the elephant waving a confederate flag was intended as a dig. I assured Robin, who is also black, that it most certainly was.
On March 4, 1861 the Congress of the Confederate States of America adopted the Stars and Bars as their secessionist nation’s official flag. On the same day Abraham Lincoln, whose election provoked the secession, was sworn in as President of the United States of America. Today’s “The Party of Lincoln” barely acknowledges their founding father, Stephen Spielberg notwithstanding. That’s because Lincoln’s adversaries in the “Old South” switched their political allegiance in the wake of the 1960’s Civil Rights.
They couldn’t stand Democrats like Hubert Humphrey speechifying about escaping the “ shadow of states' rights “ to “…walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.” Meanwhile Republicans who were calculating the electoral vote began pursuing a “southern strategy.” It worked wonders.
Last week the Republican appointed majority of the Supreme Court overturned a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and released Southern States from Federal scrutiny of their elections.
Leading the charge was South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond an outspoken enemy of mongrelized interracial children like the half-black daughter he secretly fathered. When Strom died 50 years after becoming a Republican Senator, one of his GOP colleagues eulogized him by saying that America wouldn’t have suffered its current indignities if there had been a few more Thurmonds.
School Superintendent Thurmond was particularly vexed with one Supreme Court ruling from my hometown. When I was four the Supreme Court handed down its most important Civil Rights decision, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. It was crafted by Chief Justice, Earl Warren, a former Republican Governor of California. Not long afterward my Mother drove me by an “Impeach Earl Warren” Billboard on the way to my swimming lessons at the local Howard Johnson’s Motel.
My swimming lessons ended abruptly when HOJO’s management told my Red Cross instructor that he had to stop teaching “colored” children in their pool. It upset their white guests. My teacher built a pool in his own backyard and continued teaching children of all colors how not to drown.
My Kansas family was pretty exclusively Republican. My Grandfather Robb grew up next to an escaped slave that he suspected had been castrated by his former masters. Grandfather became a white officer in the 369th Infantry Division in the 1st World War. Its black recruits enlisted in Harlem. They had been his neighbors in 1915 when he got his Master’s Degree in History from New York’s Columbia University. Just across the street stood Grant’s Tomb.
When I told Grandfather that my 5th grade teacher had told my class that Ulysses S. Grant was a “butcher” he minced no words. He told me that Grant was Abraham Lincoln’s favorite General and that Grant saved the Union. And by the way, he did it with a lot of colored soldiers.
My Grandfather gave a speech that told his audience that black soldiers were the equal of white soldiers. The text is not dated but I expect he delivered it about the same time that Harry Truman, that damned Democrat, integrated the Military and gave Strom Thurmond a shove into the arms of the GOP. Years later George Robb told his daughter Georganne, my Mother, that he liked Harry Truman.
Despite their century old Constitutional right to vote Black American’s rarely voted in most Southern States when I was a kid. Fellows like Stom Thurmond perfected laws which denied the descendents of slaves the franchise. The South’s politicians have passed that legacy on to today’s Republican Party. It’s no longer just the South that erects barriers to vote. Poll taxes and literacy tests have long been outlawed but today’s Republicans, north and south, all favor photo identity cards. I expect that in future elections it will be retinal scans.
In case you weren’t sure, that was another dig.
Harry Welty is a local crank who also vents at www.lincolndemocrat.com