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Almost sixty years ago, long before the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills were passed, I was a young Marine Corps lieutenant stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, commanding a heavy machinegun platoon of 48 men, almost a third of them black. Harry Truman had integrated the armed forces in 1948 because of the effectiveness of blacks in the armed forces during World War II. My three top noncoms, a master sergeant and two techs, were black, all decorated and wounded vets of the Korean War. Those old enough will remember Marines and the battles of the Chosin Reservoir, called the most intense small unit warfare in history. Because of them and the other blacks in my platoon, I have a big dog in this legal fight over minority voting rights in the Supreme Court.
Corky and I lived in the small town of Jacksonville for a time, then lucked out and rented a house on New Topsail Island before becoming eligible for base housing. So we saw the Jim Crow South from many angles. This was when a black person could not try on a pair of shoes or a shirt or jacket in a store to see if they fit. If he tried them on for size, he had to buy them. My decorated master sergeant and his wife and children had to walk in the streets instead of on sidewalks reserved for whites. Private trailer parks were segregated. Blacks had to ride in the back of buses or separate cars on trains.
Bricks For Whites, Tarpaper Shacks For Blacks
“Separate but equal” schools turned out to be brick for whites, tarpaper shacks for blacks. Fountains, toilets, entrances, and exits were labeled “White Only” and “Black Only.” All public accommodations such as hotels, motels, and restaurants were segregated. Our beach on New Topsail Island was “restricted,” meaning no blacks allowed. We really raised hell with Mr. Jim Crow, Senior and the locals when we threw a beach party for my platoon because we won a division shooting championship. My black troops and their black wives and girlfriends were despoiling the Atlantic Ocean! But that’s another personal story.
I still remember when Lena Horne, perhaps the best singer of her time, was entertaining in a bar at a Chicago hotel where she was not allowed to stay. Lena was a sort-of uppity black who did not take crap from anybody. As she was leaving one night to go to her black hotel, she stuck her big black toe in the hotel swimming pool. White patrons saw her do it and complained. The pool was immediately drained. Our white landlord in North Carolina just couldn’t find the drain plug for the Atlantic.
“I Am The Darker Brother”
After listening to the inquisition of government lawyers by four conservative members of the Supreme Court, I really wonder what heavenly white planet they commute to and from every court day. Eight out of ten living black men have spent hours, days, or years in jail or prison. The senile associate justice Antonin Scalia made an ass of himself again by suggesting that voting by minorities had become a “racial entitlement.” His dark shadow, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, who used affirmative action and other government programs to gain a law degree, said nothing. He has spoken just once from the bench since 2006. It’s just as well. Chief Justice John Roberts said the great Republican state of Mississippi had a better record for blacks voting than the great Democratic state of Massachusetts. That is strictly shyster lawyer talk. As if Massachusetts blacks had been kept from voting for Ted Kennedy all those years!
We are in serious trouble when the chief justice can’t recognize the differences of Mississippi and Massachusetts. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was the deciding vote in the campaign cash Citizens United case (He said unlimited corporate money wouldn’t make much difference in political campaigns!), seemed to be trying to find out whether a positive or negative vote would bring him the most notoriety. Associate Justice Samuel Alito is always on the side of Tea Party Republicans and corporations, so we don’t need to worry about where he stands.
One of my favorite poets is Langston Hughes, a black who lived for only two years beyond the 1965 Voting Rights Act. His poem “I, Too” reveals his hope for the future acceptance of blacks:
“I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes.
But I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong.
Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table when company comes.
Nobody’ll dare say to me, “eat in the kitchen,” then.
Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.”
Even 46 years after his death, we have still not seen all of his “beauty.” We have not reached his “tomorrow” yet.
Fifteen Years Of Observation Of Southern Hospitality
For about a dozen winters since retirement, Corky and I have motorhomed through the South from Florida to California and back, traveling on interstates, scenic highways and byways, and country roads. Some people say, “The South has changed since the Emancipation Proclamation.” We say, “Not enough.”
My favorite columnist Molly Ivins relates a story about Texas football that tells us about racial progress. Sixty-five years after Abraham Lincoln “freed” the slaves, the University of Texas recruited its first black football player. In a big game the Texas black player was tackled by one of the black players from a Northern team. A University of Texas booster jumped to his feet in the stands and screamed, “Goddammit ref, get that nigger off our colored boy!” There’s a quick lesson in that comment.
Eight years ago Corky and I went to a Civil War private museum in Vicksburg, Mississippi. 150 years ago the city of Jackson, Mississippi, had more millionaires than New York City because of cotton and slavery. Many of them had second homes in Vicksburg near the Mississippi River. In this museum there was not a single word, picture, or drawing about blacks. When the war came to Vicksburg, many of the rich whites took shelter in caves along the river. There was not a single mention of their taking their black slaves with them to serve them in the caves. I mentioned the total absence of black history to a museum guide. I got a very cold stare.
We have seen the dumpsters in the white steel-gated communities with guardhouses and the garbage barrels in the black ghettoes. Changes? Yes. Enough? No. Thousands of whites attended the Saturday lynching of blacks just several decades ago, took pictures of the hanging burnt bodies, and sent them to relatives around the country on postcards. Now the lynchings are done in the dark in “private” places.
Did You Know That President Barack
Obama Killed His Grandmother? He Did
It To Cover Up His Birth In Kenya!
I thought of Scalia’s statement about “racial entitlement” when I read the text of a political cartoon in the Forum:
Reporter: “You have opposed the Violence Against Women Act, the Consumer Protection Agency, the Dream Act, financial aid for students, regulation of the financial industry, Medicaid for the poor, and tax hikes for the rich... Just what are you for?”
Senator: “I’m for the average American!”
Press: “Would that average American be a Southern white guy who lives on a golf course?”
Senator: “Well, yes... What’s your point?” It’s quite evident the conservative members of the Supreme Court also think that whites are “entitled” to dominate minorities.
One of the indicators of the continuing existence of racial prejudice in the U.S. is the fact that Obama in 2012 won the presidency with two percent less white vote than John Kerry got in 2004 when he lost to Dubya. Another indicator is the fact that in 2008 there were 149 active white supremacy groups. Now there are 1,360.
But the greatest indicator of racial prejudice is the number of attempts to pass laws restricting and suppressing voting, particularly in those states and territories covered by the Voting Rights Act. Even in “tolerant” North Dakota the legislature is coming up with all kinds of ways to keep minorities, and anyone employed daily, away from the ballot box. The White Party is desperately trying to come up with fascinating ways to suppress voting: state and federal voter IDs, reduced early voting, changing precinct boundaries, gerrymandering districts, charging Democrats with thousands of voter fraud cases, and other imaginative KKK ways to inhibit minority voting. Since 2001, 46 states have introduced over a 1,000 bills to tighten voting laws, but mainly those in the Old Confederacy have had legislators flooding legislatures with restrictive voting bills. Legislators are trying the old “sovereign state” (10th Amendment) idea, long overruled by the federal courts. Voter fraud? Between 2000 and 2010, Americans cast 649 million votes in general elections. During that same time we had 47,000 UFO sightings, 441 Americans killed by lightning, and 13 cases of in-person voter impersonation. Indiana passed a stringent voter ID bill—but had not had a case of voter impersonation in history! This is a case of sprinting tongues way ahead of thought and brains!
Obama Even Redecorated The
Oval Office In Middle Eastern “Style”!
The interplanetary Supreme Court conservatives should travel on earth occasionally to see real discrimination at work. Mother Jones magazine has catalogued some of the Tea Party- Southern Axis conspiracies and “facts” that have surfaced in mainstream politics since the election of our black-white president: Removed flag from Air Force One—won’t say Pledge of Allegiance—mom and dad were commies—coming for your guns, gold, IRAs, and you—is the Anti-Christ (read Obama’s 2008 nomination speech backwards and he instructs listeners to do Satan’s bidding)—according to codes hidden in Bible verse, he is actually a reptilian humanoid—wears ring with Koranic verses—married a Pakistan guy—bringing 100 million Muslims to U.S.—born in Kenya and became member of Black Panthers—is the son of Malcolm X—will put your kids in re-education camps—faked bin Laden’s death—caused the Aurora massacre—will put you in huge FEMA concentration camps near Anchorage, Alaska—caused the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico—according to a man named Larry Sinclair, covered up a crack cocaine/gay/murder orgy in 2008—and on it goes.
Meanwhile, the life of a black in this century is portrayed in another Langston Hughes poem, “Brass Spittoons”:
“Clean the spittoons, boy. Detroit, Chicago, Palm Beach. Clean the spittoons.
The steam in hotel kitchens, and the smoke in hotel lobbies,
And the slime in hotel spittoons: part of my life. Hey, boy!
A nickel, a dime, a dollar, two dollars a day. Hey, boy!
A nickel, a dime, a dollar, two dollars
Buy shoes for the baby. House rent to pay. Gin on Saturday. Church on Sunday.
My God! Babies and gin and church and women on Sunday
All mixed with dimes and dollars and clean spittoons and house rent to pay.
Hey, boy! A bright bowl of brass is beautiful to the Lord.
Bright polished brass like the cymbals of King David’s dancers.
Like the wine cups of Solomon. Hey, boy! A clean spittoon on the altar of the Lord.
A clean bright spittoon all newly polished—At least I can offer that.
In his book “Off Camera,” Ted Koppel of ABC News related meeting Muhammad Ali and his wife at a Washington Redskins football game in 2000. Ted had known Ali for over 15 years. Now Ali could hardly talk and was terribly crippled by Parkinson’s, so his wife did most of the talking for him. Here was the man who refused the Vietnam draft because he said, “No Cong ever called me a nigger.” Ted wrote, “I told Ali... what a great symbol of moral strength I thought he had become... His voice tends to be just a whisper now, and I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat it. I heard the same phrase three times: ‘Still just a nigger.’”
When Ali was champion of the world, his face was the most famous in the world. Now he is still watching his brothers “clean spittoons.” To really understand this heavyweight champion, you have to read his poetry.