Pushback, and race riots for all

I don’t remember this at all. It’s pretty interesting, and I noted with great interest that streetcars were horse-drawn back then. I can’t imagine a horse lugging that whole contraption with several people aboard. Hopefully, they treated animals better during those times, because when there were still mules dragging carriages full of tourists around the French Quarter, they weren’t treated all that well. The mules were usually old, and underfed, and didn’t look particularly happy. Of course I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a mule that looked happy, so that may be the story I told myself. They finally dropped the mules just a few years ago, due to the heat. They should have dropped the whole carriage routine long before that, since the buggy drivers were telling people all kinds of lies to get bigger tips. One of them crashed into the back of my car several years ago, taking out the tail light. And so it goes.

Anyhow, back to the streetcar protests…I’m amazed they were able to make any headway with it. In typical New Orleans style, the issue was resolved when protesters and the establishment finally reached a stand off, and street car traffic came to a grinding halt. The police chief said called it quits, and the rest is history (I won’t give away the article, which I found interesting). From what I read, that protest briefly inspired similar actions, and there was actually some integration of public transit in several places. But, all good things come to an end, and along came Jim Crow. Protests like this one in New Orleans, ironically, inspired the Jim Crow era in their own way.

The reason I am so interested in all this is that it supports my long-standing assertion that whenever Blacks enjoy some level of success at disrupting status quo (i.e. white supremacy), there is pushback from the dominant culture, the power structure. Jim Crow was the pushback for Reconstruction, and progress in a fledgling civil rights era in the late 1800s. That pushback was vicious, and overkill (literally and figuratively). By 1890, Confederate monuments began to appear in courthouse squares, and that continued until the at least 1930. Many historians agree these monuments weren’t erected to pay homage to Confederate war heroes, but to intimidate free Blacks, to remind them of old days gone but not forgotten. Interestingly enough, many of these monuments were erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy, who seemed to have somewhat of a mission to dot the landscape with formidable evidence of the Confederate cause.

By the beginning of the 1900s, the KKK was riding high, with Jim Crow on its right shoulder. Once again, the end game was intimidation of people of color and maintenance of white supremacy, by any means necessary. Lynching became nearly an art form, and were not entirely spontaneous acts of mob violence. Some were advertised in the town newspapers, and entire families would turn out for a picnic lunch to enjoy the spectacle. Bodies were drug through the streets, mutilated, souvenirs made of body parts. I cannot imagine the utterly macabre horror of this practice, let alone bringing children to witness such things. But, this was civil society in those days.

The lynching, the killings, the rapes, the beating, the house burnings…all in a good night’s work, then off to grab a brew. The number of people who were victims of this domestic terrorism will never be truly know, but there are some records. The only point to make about all of this is that it could very well happen again, in these times, when video cameras are in the hands of even small children. And still…we have unarmed black men killed in major U.S. cities, in small towns, in rural areas, on the sides of highways. This is sickeningly familiar for some, no all. We’ve been fed a steady diet of these killings for more than a decade, and that’s only because there’s now easy access to video. The Black community, the LatinX community, the indigenous community have all been witness to police brutality and homicide for decades. It was unbelievable to the larger community until very recently, and even now, there are unbelievers. There are many who blame the victims for their own deaths. If the victim had not been doing SOMETHING wrong, there would have been no reason to be stopped by the police, if the victim had not questioned the actions of the police, they would not have been in a position to be shot. And so on, and so on, and nauseatingly so on. Unfortunately, there have been enough of these situations with clear evidence that officers went beyond the pale, went too far, committed outright homicide. While that provides some affirmation for the community, that is a bittersweet moment, because it has come at the expense of someone’s father, brother, child, sister, mother. We’d rather have those lives back, than be proven right about police brutality.

The events of January 6 showed our country what a large crowd of angry people can do. This was mob mentality, and chilling in its focus. Until it became evident there was careful advance planning to occupy the Capitol, this seemed like a spontaneous protest over political issues. Some participants truly believed they could overturn the results of the Presidential election, and could accost legislators they held responsible for that outcome. As reports continue to surface, there is no question there was a conspiracy, inciting the large crowd with false hope of achieving their goal. The advance planning had spurred thousands of people to attend this event, clad belligerently as a First Amendment exercise. The wolf beneath that sheep’s garb was sedition, and the plan was to literally overthrow the U.S. government’s exercise of Constitutional mandates.

This coup d’etat was not unlike the other recognized coup d’etat in the United States, that of Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. A white mob stormed the state Capitol, and physically removed legislators who had been recently and lawfully elected. The crowd replaced the mayor and several members of the state assembly with its own selections, including at least one member of the KKK, and then began killing people in the streets. So-called protestors, who soon revealed themselves to be murderers, had been brought in from other states via the network of KKK-like hate groups, and their marching orders were to kill as many Black people as they could. They burned Black neighborhoods, homes, the newspaper offices, stores. Hundreds were killed, their bodies scattered in the streets and yards like twigs. They had a mission, these protestors, just like the ones in Washington D.C. on January 6h of this year. They were going to overturn an “illegitimate” election, replace the false leader, and take back their city, their state. They had to restore order, as they knew it, because Black people had been doing well in Wilmington. The rioters had no choice but to return status quo, by any means necessary. The attempted coup on January 6th follows this allegiance to status quo exactly, but was fortunately unsuccessful. I contend that was a stroke of luck, or ineptitude of the rioters, but could have turned out very much the same. In both cases, a large swath of dominant culture became so panic stricken that life as they knew it was over, their societal status disrupted, they were willing to do just about anything to return the hierarchy to the usual order. The usual order.

So. January 6th wasn’t a novel idea, it’s something that has been seen before. There were several race riots at the start of the 1900s – Wilmington, Tulsa, Rosewood (FL), Chicago, and others. Race is still a powder keg in our country, and whenever there is systemic stress – such as with a pandemic – the fuse is lit. When people have to compete for resources, or believe they have to compete, they become feral. They go into survival mode, and they become desperate. Mentality of scarcity, and a zero-sum game – those are lies we’ve been taught.

This has somehow became one gigantic rant, but there are such lies beneath all of the inequity that we find surrounding us now, and it’s making me a little crazy. OK, craziER. But there is enough for us all, we just have it doled out inequitably. There are some literal devils in the details, human ones, and we’re starting to see them…but some of us can’t believe what – and who – is being revealed. So we refuse to accept, we revise history, we return that mail to sender. When a husband cheats on his wife, a lot of the time a betrayed wife will blame the other woman more than the philandering husband. Go figure. I suppose that’s always been the case with us puny humans, but my question these days is…what exactly are we so afraid of? Why are so many people more comfortable with lies, hatred, and blame than with honesty, community, truth? Trust no one. Truly, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, in tenement halls. And they are definitely not whispered, and that is not the sound of silence.

All means ALL.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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