My dad, Harvey Gray Dudley Jr. above, was born October 8, 1921 - six weeks before whites went on a rampage in urban Tulsa, Oklahoma killing as many as three hundred African-Americans while looting and burning their homes and businesses over a thirty-five block area.  I have no idea whether he later learned about that event occurring far away from his Roanoke, Virginia home.  I am certain, though, that  the routine nature of such white atrocities, the casual efforts of local authorities in preventing them and the indifference of criminal justice personnel in holding known perpetrators accountable had a profound effect on his parents and other black families all over the south.  Dad’s mentoring of three sons indicated that he fully grasped the nature of such white supremacist threats  to his family though he taught us to trust  good white Americans who never posed such threats.

My mom, Gwendolynn May Whitworth above, was born in 1923, the same year as the Rosewood, Florida massacre.  It was distressing to learn, as an adult, that her parents had raised six children in the rural south so full of hostility toward African-Americans that whites could get away with wanton destruction of black homes and lives at the slightest pretext. Unlike the thousands of lynchings that targeted black individuals rightly or wrongly accused of violating supremacist rules,  white terrorism resulted in the killing of innocent elderly, women and children en masse simply for being black.  African-Americans’ recourse,  as defined by the 1857 Dred Scott decision and practiced by souther authorities, was non-existent as black lives and property were taken without consequence. In the south and mid-west, justice officials consistently ignored existential threats to black families’ lives, liberties and property.  All too often, white madmen took full advantage of their court mandated license to terrorize blacks.

Terrorism and White Supremacy: Most African-Americans of my generation learned of lynchings in our youth, even though relatively few occurred during those times. As adults and parents, obscure library materials informed us of the enormity of lynchings in prior generations hidden by embarrassed,guilt-ridden whites. Still later, as grandparents, with television outlets like PBS and the internet providing still greater access to information about our country’s dark racial secrets, awareness of the extent and nature of other past forms of white terrorism of African-Americans in the south and midwest increased dramatically.  The Tulsa riots of November 1921, while occurring far away from my dad’s place of birth in October of that year, reaffirmed that innocent urban blacks were no more isolated or protected from white rage than their rural cousins. Urban black neighborhoods did not imply safety in numbers; they only predicted the size of fires and number of victims when whites burned, looted and killed. On occasion, white authorities passively tolerated white terrorism against blacks, even preventing blacks from defending themselves and their property. To name a few, there were incidents of white terrorism in Wilmington, NC in 1898, Atlanta, GA in 1906, East St. Louis, MO in 1917, Chicago, IL in 1919, Tulsa, OK in 1921, Rosewood, FL in 1923 and Detroit, MI in 1943. Curiously, copies of southern newspapers covering such atrocities elsewhere are quite rare - leaving one to wonder whether those cities with conservative newspapers often looked away and never publicized those outrages in real time.

In September 1961, while walking down Broadway just after my freshman week, I met fellow Columbian, Herbert Harris, a sophomore. We became fast  friends. Though we had many discussions of his family, lifelong residents of Wilmington, North Carolina, the 1898 riots in that city, ending with the white overthrow of a legally elected black city government and the only successful coup d’etat in United States history, never came up. Herb was a charismatic charmer, with whom I had very little in common except being African-American, but we maintained our friendship…at arms length. Though he lived in the fast lane, he was a genius  with a bright future in academia. He earned a graduate degree in astrophysics and, later, passed the New York Bar without ever attending law school. Still later, he became a successful author and self-made millionaire.

Camelot - 1921

Dudley,Harvey Jr 1922 1.jpg Harris, Herbert 3.jpg Grigsby, Jefferson Sr 1st Lieutenant 1918.jpg

1st Lieutenant Jefferson Eugene Grigsby, Sr., U. S. Army, was the husband of my maternal grandfather’s 1st cousin, Purry Dixon.  Even as he served in Europe in this 1918 photo, the home fires were burning in a way completely different for African-Americans than for whites as the coming “Red Summer” of white rage in 1919 would attest. Largely due to heightened expectations of returning black veterans, resentful whites went on the rampage in many urban black areas.  Luckily, Lt. Grigsby’s neighorhoods in Charlotte, North Carolina were not among them.

Grigsby, Jefferson Jr. Lieutenant.jpg

2nd Lieutenant Jefferson Eugene Grigsby, Jr., U. S. Army, was the 2nd cousin of my mother.  Ironically, just like his father in 1918,  while he risked life and limb to make the world  safe for Europeans, African-Americans were under assault from rampaging whites back home. Apparently, little had changed for the “black condition” as indicated by the Detroit race riot of 1943, the year the above picture was taken.  Sadly, the root causes were almost identical to those twenty-five years erlier.

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