Posts Tagged With: Southern states

GOOD OLE DIXIE

How many of you know that today is Jefferson Davis’s birthday. How many of you even know or care who Jeff Davis was. Well, for those of you that are historically challenged, Jefferson Davis was the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. In other words, he was Dixie’s equivalent to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. For those of you who may still view the Civil War as a long-time-ago kind of a spat among the states that sort of got out-of-hand, let me assure you it was the absolute opposite. The Civil War was every bit as brutal, nasty, and inhumane as the war this country fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the 1940s. Today’s equivalent of over 6 million American lives were lost in that conflict 150 years ago, either on the battlefield or in abominable prisoner of war camps. And while atrocities were committed on both sides, Southern prisoner camps were especially despicable since Northerners held in captivity lived under conditions of unbelievable filth and disease, and were usually starved, beaten, tortured or just cold-bloodly murdered. Nevertheless many Southern states still continue to display the Confederate flag, and one state still celebrates Jefferson Davis’s birthday.

In Alabama today, state offices as well as many businesses will be closed in honor of the Confederacy’s first and only president. Jeff Davis was captured in 1865 and accused of treason, but was never tried in a court of law; and he was eventually released two years later. Just before his death in 1889, he advised Southerners that: “The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations.” But many, to this day, refuse to heed that advise. He is still memorialized throughout the South with statues, parks and highways, in places such as Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia, and even Washington, D.C. But Alabama is the last state to to legislate that the first Monday in June will be set aside to celebrate Davis’s birthday. It should be noted that other Alabamians who actually made huge and beneficial contributions to civilized society such as Hellen Keller, writer Harper Lee, and blues musician W.C. Handy are not similarly commemorated. Such are the foibles of the human condition. I think the head of a local Alabama chapter of the NAACP put it best when he said that: “We’re supposed to be one nation under God. When people keep honoring the Confederacy, we are no longer one nation under God.”

So what has the U.S. accomplished in the 150 years since the end of that tussle among the states. First we had to endure another 100 years of semi-slavery for blacks better known as Jim Crowe. Strict segregation laws were established in the South that made it a crime for blacks to drink out of the same water fountain as whites, or use the same bathrooms, or sit at the same lunch counters. Blacks certainly couldn’t send their children to the same schools that white kids went to. When some protested how despicable segregation laws were, and that the federal Government should step in to rectify this abomination, the cry went out from Dixie for states rights. Southern states hammered home the point that the Constitution gave the states the right to enact segregation laws if they so desired. And by and large, the Feds did stay out of the South’s preoccupation with segregation. It wasn’t until the 1960s, with increased pressure from Northern freedom riders and greater militancy  from black communities that Jim Crowism and resultant segregation in the South finally started breaking down. They were finally washed away in a tidal wave of righteous indignation.

One of the greatest friends, ironically, that civil rights workers had in the early 1960s was an Alabama sheriff named Bull Conners. Conners, as one can infer from his name, was a fierce segregationist who looked every bit the part. When civil rights leaders tried to de-segregate his town, Conners had the police turn gushing water cannons on the marchers. People were hurt by the velocity of the water coming out these canons; and those that weren’t injured were thrown into the local prison. Those scenes were shown on TV nightly news, which then enraged most of the nation, thereby speeding up the de-segregation process. John Kennedy, who was President at the time, often stated that what Bull Connors did for the civil rights movement was well beyond anything he could achieve as President.

One would think that by crushing Jim Crowe and segregation, the cry of “states rights” in legislative affairs would have been long discredited. But if one did think that, one would be dead wrong. Today, try to enact federal gun control laws and the NRA immediately begins to scream that such laws would be a constitutional infringement of states rights. States throughout the South and Midwest have already enacted severe restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion, under the banner of states rights. Despite the Supreme Court’s verdict in Roe V. Wade. And new ballot restrictions intended to intimidate minorities and the poor from voting have also become law, supposedly protected by “states rights.” The Republican Party, of course, has become the chief advocate for states rights, since it perceives itself to be the main beneficiary in upcoming elections. So one must presume that when the GOP takes control of Congress this year, and the Presidency in 2016, the states will have the power to enact whatever they damn well please, no matter how obnoxious the legislation may be.

In the the meantime, let’s raise a glass of champagne in celebration of Jeff Davis’s birthday. At least at the end, when he was on his death bed, he finally got it right.

 

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BALLOT ABSURDITIES

When the Civil War ended ended 150 years ago, President Lincoln managed, mainly through bribery and intimidation, to get the 13th amendment passed which formerly ended the practice of slavery. Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, the 14th amendment was also passed which gave former slaves full citizenship including the right to vote. Since there were heavy black populations in the deep South, especially in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, the fear among whites was that blacks voting in large numbers, could team up with enough whites that might have had a sliver of conscience, to elect candidates that actually possessed some human decency. Well, you certainly couldn’t let that happen. So the Southern white majority, along with all the segregation and Jim Crow laws, enacted legislation to assure that blacks would be unable to vote in any significant numbers.

First of all, most freed slaves possessed little if any education, or job skills, other than picking cotton. So many remained on the plantation and continued to pick cotton, for little more than room and board under the most squalid of conditions. If any of them should have been so foolhardy as to actually try to exercise their right to vote, the plantation owner made it very clear how he wanted the election results to turn out. If his guy wasn’t elected, these former slaves would likely loose the pathetic jobs they were forced to cling to. And, as if that weren’t enough, Southern states put into practice further roadblocks to prevent black turnouts at the voting booths. Laws that came to known as “poll taxes” were enacted in virtually every Southern state. In other words, one had to pay a tax for the Constitutional right to vote.

Now these poll taxes were usually set at a fairly nominal amount such as $10 so as not to discourage too many whites from voting. But $10 was a heap of lettuce to the average black family mired in poverty. So these poll taxes usually achieved their goal of minimizing the black turnout at the voting booth. But just to make sure, most Southern states also enacted literacy laws which required newly freed slaves to take rather difficult written tests on U.S. history and the Constitution, to prove that they were literate enough to cast a ballot. Tests that most high-school and a fair number of college students would likely fail today. As a result, all these barriers achieved their aim of greatly discouraging blacks from voting; resulting in totally racist Senators and Congressmen that could be counted on to always vote for Jim Crow segregation legislation, getting elected, generation-after-generation.

Now, fast forward to a century later, to when President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the civil rights legislation of 1964. This act abolished all poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as any other hinderances that might have existed when any U.S. citizen seeks to exercise his or her right to vote. For the first time, minorities and poor people in general started voting in large numbers, and the age of racist demagogues being elected to national office was over. The 1964 voting rights act also required that Southern states remain under special scrutiny by the U.S. Attorney General, to assure there wasn’t further hanky-panky going on to interfere with an individual’s rights at the voting booth. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has just struck that provision in the law, in the mistaken belief that racism is no longer a factor in national elections. In any event-“who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Only The Shadow knows.” (Sorry, those were the opening lines from a radio show in the 1940s. I just couldn’t resist.)

Now, 50 years after that historic civil rights legislation, it doesn’t take The Shadow to know that huge amounts of evil lurks in the hearts of men. Especially when it comes to finding ways to circumvent existing voting rights legislation. Thus, most Southern and many Mid-Western states, i.e. the red states, have now passed what are called voter ID laws. These laws require that before one can cast a ballot, they are required to produce valid photo identification. I don’t know about others, but the only picture ID I have in my wallet is my drivers license. If I didn’t drive anymore, and let my license lapse, would that mean that I could no longer vote? That’s exactly what it would come down to. In other words, it’s a method by which Republican states can keep those most likely to vote Democratic off the voter rolls.

Who is most likely not to have picture ID in their possession. First, it’s the old and/or infirm that cannot drive because of age or illness. If they don’t drive, what other picture ID would be in their possession. Their gym membership cards? Also, there are many people in this country that don’t have a drivers license simply because  they’re too poor to own a car. No car, no license. I’m pretty safe in saying  that these same people also fail to possess passports. So, in the end, it’s the poor, the sick, and the elderly that are being kicked off voter registration lists, and by the hundreds of thousands. The very groups that are most likely to vote for Democratic candidates. A rather simple but effective way to flush all the good intentions of voting rights legislation down the sewer. In the 2012, the Republican Governor and Secretary of State in Florida, arbitrarily booted several hundred thousand registered voters off the rolls about a month or two before the election. That Obama was still able to carry the state, albeit by a very narrow margin, is like the 8th wonder of the world.

In any event, the voting process in this country has been so thoroughly corrupted by big money, campaign donations, and voter ID requirements that its become a sick joke. I wrote previously (for those interested) about the far right-wing Koch brothers who possess a $100 billion in assets between the two of them, and how they plan to influence the upcoming 2014 elections. About how they, along with their other billionaire buddies, plan to spend whatever it takes to elect a GOP dominated Congress, come this November. But not to worry. I’m sure the Koch brothers will give us the best politicians that money can buy.

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