There has been a great deal of protest lately against monuments to the Confederacy and Confederate notables in general. NASCAR racing circuit banned the flying of the Confederate flag last week in its stadiums. Today a noose was found the in car stall used by NASCAR’s only black driver.
Until Dylann Roof murdered 9 African-Americans at a Charleston church because they were black the Great State of South Carolina still proudly flew the battle flag of the Confederate States of America – part of the “heritage” ya know. And here in my adopted city of Tampa we too have those bitten with the “heritage’. A 50’X30′ foot Confederate flag flies in Tampa, Florida, the metro area where I now live. It flies on private property at the intersection of I-75 and I-4. The property was purchased specifically to fly the battle flag of the Slave State by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The Confederate battle flag flying in Tampa. It was taken down two weeks ago by the Sons of the Confederacy – lest it be forcibly taken down.
Application was made to the City Counsel for a zoning variance for an extra high flag pole to “fly a flag”. The pole is 139 feet high. Illumination at night ensures the flag is seen for miles. No one apparently told the City Counsel which flag. Then again maybe they did. When the Republican Convention was here in 2011 some enterprising young men thought of running tours so the delegates could go out and take pictures. Of course the flag is there because of “our heritage”.
Let us look at that heritage for a moment. Over 5,000 lynchings occurred in the United States between the end of the Civil War and the mid 1960s. Eighty five percent of lynchings occurred in the Gallant South. Florida (not Alabama; not Mississippi) had the highest number of lynchings per capita of it’s black population – between 1880 – 1940 over 200. Alachua and Marion Counties led the way. The year 1892 was a peak year when 161 African Americans were lynched in America. That’s one lynching every other day.
The creation of the Jim Crow laws, beginning in the 1890s, completed the revival of white supremacy in the South.
The Presidential election of 1876 resulted in a narrow popular vote victory for Samuel Tilden, Governor of New York, the Democrat over the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. While Tilden had an electoral college plurality of 184-165 he did not have a majority as required by the U.S. Constitution. He needed 185 votes, South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana sent two sets of electors, one pledged to each. There were deals to be made.
The election went to the House which formed a 15 man Commission (5 from the House, 5 from the Senate and 5 Justices) to decide the disputed electoral votes.
The commission via the Southern Electors eventually awarded the Presidency to Hayes in return for a commitment to the Southern electors to remove Federal troops from Southern states. The vote was 185-184 in favor of Hayes. The election of Hayes and the withdrawal of Federal troops from the south signaled the imposition of Jim Crow and the beginning of another hundred years of black oppression
Terror and lynching were used to enforce both these formal laws and a variety of unwritten rules of conduct meant to assert white domination. In most years from 1889 to 1923, there were 50–100 lynchings annually across the South.
And it was not just “lynching”. It was torturing, castrating, burning alive. ISIS has nothing on us.
The Klan in Tampa – 1923
The ideology behind lynching, directly connected with denial of political and social equality, was stated forthrightly by Benjamin Tillman, Governor of South Carolina later a United States Senator: “We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”
Yes there were some lynchings outside the Confederate States – Arizona, Montana, Minnesota even New York but the vast majority occurred in the Gallant South. Yes people other than black people were lynched – Sicilians in New Orleans, whites in Montana – but the vast majority were black citizens.
Americans made postcards of lynchings. At the turn of the 20th century in the United States, lynching was photographic sport. People sent picture postcards of lynchings they had witnessed. The practice was so base, a writer for Time noted in 2000, “Even the Nazis did not stoop to selling souvenirs of Auschwitz but lynching scenes became a burgeoning sub-department of the postcard industry. By 1908, the trade had grown so large, and the practice of sending postcards featuring the victims of mob murderers had become so repugnant, that the U. S. Postmaster General banned the cards from the mails.” Still the cards were made as souvenirs. Just under a hundred of the cards can be seen at: https://www.withoutsanctuary.org/
With so many lynchings to choose from let us just pick one. Rubin Stacy was lynched in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in July 1935. Yes, that Ft. Lauderdale where the kids come for Spring break and where my eldest daughter, her husband and my grandson now live. Yes, 1935 during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Rubin Stacy was born in Georgia sometime between 1899 and 1907. No one knows for sure. No sense keeping records of negro births. He left Georgia and came to Florida where he heard there would be more opportunity for work which was hard to come by in 1935 for white folks let alone a black man.
He found no work. He was starving. He knocked on the door of a white woman, Marion Jones, begging for food. She screamed at the sight of a black man at her door. Six Sheriff’s Deputies took Rubin Stacy to jail for having the audacity to knock on the door of a local good white woman begging for food. A mob broke into the jail (how convenient – ever try breaking into a jail?), took Rubin Stacy back to the Marion Jones’ house and hanged him from a tree on the property. And then they took pictures:
In the picture, Rubin Stacy is dead, hanging from the tree. In the background a group of fine citizens hanging around looking on with satisfaction. And then there are the children.
Take a good look at the cute, little white girl, hands crossed in front of her. She may still be alive. She is smiling and wearing her Sunday best. What is she thinking while surveying this hideously grotesque scene? She is not the Klan. She is the daughter of ordinary law abiding Southern folk. Probably a nice church going family. How is she capable of a smile at the torture and murder of a black man?
Did she take a closer look at his body? Did she collect a souvenir? Keep it in her room? Did she poke the body with a stick?
Look at the little girl closely and see the faces of America not that long ago. Staring with glee. Staring with victory in the eyes. Just an ordinary Summer afternoon in Ft. Lauderdale.
In these photos and in the faces of a little girl is the “heritage” of the Slave State. And that is the great shame a battle flag of the Slave State brings to the South, to South Carolina and to my city.
Perhaps it will help others to understand the feelings of millions of our fellow citizens when they pass those battle flags and confederate monuments on state property; monuments supported by their tax dollars.
For too long our nation has mythologized the “old South” and the likes of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson which might have been necessary after the Civil War but is certainly not necessary today. We have made it into something it never was – a nostalgic version of Gone with the Wind; a would-be nation in rebellion against the Union. It wanted above all to remain a slave state with ambitions of expanding into Latin America bringing its slave plantation, feudal economy along with it. And its “heroes” supported that goal. The so-called “freedom” they were fighting for was not for all and never was meant to be. That is why the Confederate battle flag now proudly marches with swastikas.
All Confederate monuments should be removed from state property. If the “Sons of the Confederacy” wants to buy a piece of private property to display their heroes, they are free to do so. Otherwise put them in a museum.
Think of it this way. Suppose 150 years from now, Germans had romanticized and looked back with nostalgia at the Nazi era and the “Sons of the Third Reich” began erecting monuments of Hitler, Himmler and Goring?