African-American life in the shadow of rebel flags and white supremacists
For starters, there was never a cross-burning in my family’s front yard nor the lynching of a family member that could justify personal over-reaction on my part against whites. I have had far too many good Caucasian mentors, bosses, co-workers, neighbors, friends and , now, in-laws, to be that shallow. Animosity toward whites is not what this final scrapbook is all about. It is about highlighting the evil white supremacist culture that my family members were forced to endure their entire lives - three generations of which I personally witnessed before reaching adulthood and still recall vividly. Margaret Mitchell railed about northern excesses against southern whites in her fictionalized work, “Gone With The Wind”, with its familiar, though selective, heroes sympathetic to the southern cause who can be recognized by everyone with a television set. Thomas Dixon, Jr, a son of the Cleveland County, NC slavemaster who may have owned and abused my great-grandfather, George William Whitworth, similarly called out carpetbagger abuses in his licentious fiction, “The Clansman” which morphed into the movie “Birth of A Nation” which, in turn, became the official manifesto of redneck politics. However, I choose not to employ the propaganda of fiction to indict southern white power brokers for waging wars of terror, both legal and vigilante, against the communities of my black ancestors. Instead, I offer the scholarly works of serious researchers, both white and black, who sought the truth of fact to make their cases against their predecessor historical revisionists.
This final scrapbook, then, is about countering supremacists’ lies, myths and distortions that national media and schoolbooks have so dutifully propagated. There were no homegrown lawyers like Atticus Finch of “To Kill A Mockingbird” risking their lives to defend innocent black men in southern courtrooms. Black men were not killed escaping from sympathetic deputies as that movie would have you believe in its shallow attempt to blame innocent lynch victims for their own demise. Black men, usually one, sometimes several, were routinely lynched by white men - riddled with bullets, hung from poles or trees or burned on pyres to scratch the itch of supremacist depravity. Such murder rituals took place as often in town squares to the utter glee of hundreds, even thousands, of white men, women and children as in remote country woodlands. This scrapbook, thus, is about celebrating the courage and dignity of African-American families and their liberal white defenders who routinely endured far more indignity, degradation and brutality by the real-life Ashley Wilkes and his southern cronies than the reverse, the fiction of Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Dixon notwithstanding. And, yes, it is about mourning innocent black and white martyrs whose bodies were broken and lives were taken by marauding white vigilantes. It is about black families whose homes and businesses, like those in Tulsa and Rosewood, were burned to the ground by enraged, but errant, white terrorists. And, yes, it is also about black wives, daughters and sisters whose innocence was lost to the cavalier male privileges of white husbands, sons and brothers granted by law, religion and custom both during and after slavery.
My father’s values were honed by the discipline, ethics and industry of his conservative parents and equally conservative Franciscan Brothers religious order at a private military school for African-Americans in Eastern Virginia. Both influences prove the absurdity of white southerners for imposing white supremacy, a.k.a. social conservatism, as the prevailing litmus test for their body politic over religious or financial conservatism, since African-Americans historically have fully embraced the latter two as fundamental modus operandi. Dad became a very talented electrician working at the Portsmouth, Virginia Navy Yard. After purchasing a home in his hometown of Roanoke in December 1953, he commuted 500 miles round-trip every two weeks in order to spend a weekend with his family while retaining his job with the federal government, the only employer in the entire state of Virginia willing to pay fair wages to black men with critical, blue-collar skills. Even as a youth, it was obvious to me that the state of Virginia was foolish to conspire with its private sector to grant monopolies on opportunities, jobs and merit pay to inferior white men. Such practices guaranteed uneducated, un-Christian redneck whites greater rewards, freedoms and privileges than educated, talented, Christian black men like my father. After two years of commuting to Portsmouth, Dad’s bubble burst when his car was totaled in a multi-car accident involving two white drivers. Consistent with the rules of white supremacy that demanded subordination of black interests to white privilege, the white cop arbitrarily charged Dad with responsibility for the accident. Losing that car forced him to give up his job some 250 miles away. The only immediate employment available for him was bell-hopping at affluent Roanoke hotels, though the U.S. Post Office did eventually hire him. The irony of that extremely low point in Dad’s life was that while he was enduring such repression at the whim of white superiors, his five kids were proving the absurdity of that same racism by excelling in academics, sports and good character under his guidance at the previously all-white, private school that we had integrated after arriving in Roanoke. My brother, Richard, and I, were fixtures at the top of our otherwise all-white classes, thereby outperforming the Caucasian communities’ best and brightest at the city’s most exclusive private academy. The three boys consistently excelled in intramural sports, but due to Virginia’s race laws and Roanoke Catholic High School’s temerity, saw only tokenism on varsity and junior varsity basketball teams. Our successes did little, however, to counter white arrogance, ego and bias. Whereas the subjective measurements of private sector employers dictated assigned inferiority to my Dad, the objective objective measurements of education systems dictated a different tact to enforce racism - simply ignore black excellence as if it didn’t exist as in the case of five children. In the end, the result was the same - black talent and competence were not valued by brokers of white supremacsts who chose , instead, to reward white ignorance, incompetence and, sometimes, criminality. Preserving the myth of white superiority required the continued nurturing of the evil triplets - Incompetence, Ignorance and Immorality - birthed with the country’s rape of Indians and Africans. The rules of white supremacy remained evident to Afro-America despite the progress of Jackie Robinson and Brown vs. the Kansas Board of Education. Just because white supremacists had two racist doctrines shoved down their throats did not mean their perverted readings of Christianity and Constitution would willingly yield elsewhere.
One may browse any of the remaining eight scrapbooks to discern the integrity, discipline and ethics of my parents, village elders and their ancestors. Despite the undeserved racial setbacks our family members routinely experienced, our parents nonetheless maintained a belief that the highest standards of performance would serve us well. “If” by Rudyard Kipling was the perfect metaphor for Dad’s values and he truly pushed us to live by its standards. As a result, we gained the courage to lead the way in demonstrating to the world that we could not be deterred from reaching worthwhile goals by anyone but ourselves. We accepted challenges in difficult settings, sometimes excelling, sometimes failing, but always surviving, learning and growing. That most of our venues were outside traditional African-American safe havens was neither accidental nor random. It was our parents’ plan from the beginning that we learn to overcome obstacles in all worthwhile settings, black or white, while avoiding settings that were not worthwhile.
As I developed the other websites in this collection, I learned that my African-American ancestors, their neighbors and their friends, all living in the South, routinely encountered similar racial animosities and barriers. I soon realized that trying to profile their lives, without documenting the noise and thunder of the racial animus that they experienced would render my works incomplete, even dishonest. This website was created to capture the anecdotal and historical racism that punctuated their lives without distortion in either direction. Much of the racial messaging was regional and impersonal, i.e. broadcast across the entire south, such as segregation and lynchings. Other messaging was community-based or city-wide and personal, such as police harassment, re-development and red-lining. Still other messaging occurred in their neighborhoods and was very personal, claiming friends and acquaintances as victims, such as cross-burnings and police killings. Lastly, some incidents were as personal as it gets, directly affecting my family and myself - initiated by arrogant, hostile whites who launched verbal abuses and physical assaults on us for invading their traditional white spaces or besting them on playgrounds. The shocking truth is that such intimidation lay in the near background of most encounters between southern whites and blacks. That tension was ever-present, incendiary, gasoline fumes of supremacist custom. White privilege was the match given any and every white person to ignite those fumes for any whim in order to gain advantage, i.e. feed their ego, sate their greed or escape blame. White justice assured that outcomes favored whites, regardless of culpability. The whole point of the prevailing “black codes” was not only to place arbitrary limits on African-American behaviors, however harmless and trivial, but to empower white citizenry, including white trash, to enforce such bizarre, even brutal, codes in a knee-jerk fashion with guaranteed impunity.
That is precisely why innocents Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Tamir Rice are dead today. White supremacists began giving whites license for such extreme over-reactions hundreds of years ago. “If he’s black and defies you, you may kill him.” Social conservatives continue to honor that tradition today with vigilante street activism and jury room passivity. The issue is nothing more or less than the demand that blacks defer to the will and whim of whites at the cost of their lives - an American tradition that still haunts us all. That my ancestors and family survived had nothing to do with the constitutional protections of “America, The Beautiful”. That we survived slavery, evaded expulsion as in Tulsa and Rosewood and were spared the Davis, Martin and Rice families’ nightmares was due solely to luck and to the acumen and training of mentors who deftly anticipated the entrapments of evil southern legislatures, policemen and vigilantes. Only now, after observing the southern panorama of degradation, humiliation and horror visited upon African-Americans, do I fully understand those awkward moments with my father and grandfathers as I naively questioned them about racial incidents of the day that they could not adequately explain to a seven-year-old mind brain-washed with an idealistic John Wayne, Randolph Scott and Dick Tracy morality.
Therefore, it makes perfect sense to feature the legacies of my Dudley, Sears, Whitworth and Brooks ancestors for whom white-centric historians and reporters preferred hate-based exclusion and indifference rather than the recognition, respect and reward they deserved. It also makes sense to share the stories of elders and educators in the African villages that nurtured them and me. There is much to be said about the heart and heroism of good black folks and about the compassion and Christianity of their good white neighbors for not bowing to arrogant, greedy, immoral white bullies. Their heroics in the foreground of southern culture are similar to those of immigrant European families all over America. What makes their experiences so remarkable is not so much their origins as African savages, but the extent to which white depravity was practiced, both legally and illegally, in order to prevent black success and to deny recognition of black character, competence and citizenship which always matched, and sometimes exceeded, that of white peers. This scrapbook, then, is “the rest of our stories” in which southern sheriffs, mayors, newspaper editors and vigilantes, i.e. redneck John Waynes, Randolph Scotts, Dick Traceys and, now, Rudy Giulianis are exposed for making heroes of white villains and fools while bullying the real heroes and saints, black and white. White supremacists were wrong four hundred years ago and they still haven’t gotten it right, having failed to understand the two fundamental principles of a civilized society calling itself a meritocracy.
It’s that simple, yet social conservative fools like Rudy Giuliani continue to preach the sanity of rewarding evil white character and punishing good black character for reasons of myth and flawed imagination.
Why this website at this time ?