A Tricoastal Woman: Charlottesville

My voice teacher in college, Aldrich Adkins, was an African American man about the same age as my father. He served in the Army in World War II.

When he was stationed at a base in the south during the war, they assembled all the soldiers for a speech. They put up a fence, put the white soldiers on one side and the Black ones on the other, and then some general proceeded to talk about freedom and democracy and the American way.

The Black soldiers came with in an inch of a riot.

When well-meaning people say of the horrific events in Charlottesville “I don’t recognize my country any more,” I think of stories like that told by Mr. Adkins. Unfortunately, I do recognize my country in the hate of white supremacists.

I grew up in the Jim Crow south. My high school was integrated my senior year – a long time after Brown v. Board. That was the same high school where I learned in American history class that the Civil War was fought between us and them.

I knew – I tried cases with – the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Texas. I knew the first Black graduate of the University of Texas law school – he was a friend of my father who represented Freedom Riders in Houston in the 1960s. I followed the brutal attacks on Civil Rights activists on television and in the papers.

And, for that matter, my father sang “Dixie” at a Confederate veterans reunion when he was five years old. Most of my ancestors fought for or supported the Confederacy. My family history and the white history of the United States are fully intertwined.

The hate demonstrated by the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville surrounded me as a child. Fortunately, I was taught at home that it was wrong. I do not know how my parents managed to move beyond the racism they grew up in, but they did. My own understanding of the issues has become deeper over time, but it helped a lot to start from the premise that racism was intolerable.

The white supremacists were quieter for awhile, though the hate they preached still showed up in many places. Now, though, they are coming out of the woodwork again, emboldened by the politicians who use hate to get elected.

We must stop them. To do that, we must recognize that the hate they spew has always been here in our country. It goes back to slavery and to the many years of Jim Crow laws, lynchings, white race riots, segregation, and criminal laws designed to keep Black people down.

We can’t stop this unless we deal with all of that. Just driving the current set of white supremacists back into hiding is not enough.

Yes, protest them. Sue them. Stop them any way you can. They represent a great danger to us and we must all come together to rid ourselves of their hate.

But we must go farther than that, look at the bad associated with our country as well as the good. It might be possible some day to have the democratic country we’ve always pretended to have, but only if we start telling the truth in history class. And to each other.

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A Tricoastal Woman: Charlottesville — 11 Comments

  1. Yes. This is very difficult to do when the national heritage of hate and idiocy is located in the very highest reaches of the state. Got to change the voter repression and the gun laws numero uno.

    In some ways perhaps the most chilling thing for me personally out of the weekend were the descriptions of white men parading by the Charlottesville synagogue with their torches on Friday night, yelling “There’s the synagogue!”, the the fully armed white men standing outside the synagogue on Saturday, while services were going on, white men wearing the uniform of one of the hate groups circling the synagogue at the same time. The congregation did not feel safe leaving by the front, but went out the back of their own house of worship.

    It’s impossible to have anything resembling a ‘peaceful’ demonstration when the demonstrators come fully and visibly armed, wearing body armor, carrying spears, clubs and shields. They brought it, the violence. These things are violence. That’s also how slavery works — it is entwined with violence, thus the white overseers and owners visibly carrying whips and other instruments of physical punishment . . . .

    At least for once there it was for the whole world to see, the battle flag of the army of Northern Virginia dancing cheek-to-cheek with the nazi flag. People either forget or have always denied how much Hitler took from the writings of the confederates in the formulation of his own racial policies.

    • If armed white supremacists are going to be allowed to march through cities, we must insist that the police protect the residents, the counter-protestors, and the houses of worship from the marchers. It is the white supremacists who pose the threat, not the other people, and our law enforcement must pay attention to this. I note that many police chiefs across the nation are fully aware that right-wing hate groups are the most dangerous terrorism threat in this country. Their departments need to act like it.

      • The first addresses by the Charlottesville chief? superintendent? of the police basically said that his forces were intimidated by the nazi-cons, particularly on Friday night, outnumbered and outgunned. So they did nothing. He walked back from that later though.

        Any groups coming into a city, particularly one in which the members do not live, fully and visibly armed are bringing it. They are firing the first shot just as much as actually pulling a trigger or however guns work these days. They should not be allowed permits to march.

        Boston has given them a permit — one of 9 rallies scheduled around the country. Of course Boston doesn’t have open carry like VA does, but will that stop these people from strutting their armed cosplay? I mean, they LOVE rolling around, doing their swag, strut and fondle of their guns in public where all eyes are forced to look at it, like the guys who masturbate on the subways where little girls are forced to see “it.”

        • I hope that the police in Boston will be better prepared.

          It occurred to me recently that the push for the open carry and extreme interpretations of the Second Amendment was intended to lead to precisely this sort of situation, where extremists with guns are allowed to promote terror. Guns are only rarely useful for self defense, but they’re great for scaring people.

  2. I know what you mean about Jim Crow. It wasn’t until 5 years ago or thereabouts that I found out my immediate family (Mom, Dad, younger brother) had lived in a sundown town for 10 years, and I was too young or stupid to understand. I only knew that I had only met Black Americans in Evansville, where my grandparents lived.

    Evansville was where I first saw sawed off shotguns fastened to the ceiling of police cars. A member of my mom’s family had been in the KKK but left. One of my dad’s cousins owned a diner where Blacks were served at a window and did not come into the diner. Where I asked my mom if the Colored Bathroom was nicer than the Whites Only one because the bathroom was so nasty.

    My father was proudest that the Southern Baptist Seminary students had presented a resolution to their faculty and BoD that the school should be integrated because segregation was un-Christian, He, though, was ordained in an American Baptist (and there is a difference, although less so today) church. He hated Jim Crow and he hated segregation and violence.

    I can’t read mysteries or historicals set in the South anymore. They make me too angry. I can only see the Jim Crow and the white supremacists and it so colors everything about the South look back on my childhood with shame for that little girl who didn’t know she lived in a sundown town.

    • We can no longer avoid knowing. And as we peel back more layers, I find that even though I’ve made an effort to be aware, there are many things I should have known but missed.