In a relative sense the American Civil War wasn’t that long ago. Soon after I was born, my parents took me to visit my great grandfather, Charles Davis, who everyone called “Pappy.” Pappy was living in a VA hospital in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh and it was his 93rd birthday when he was photographed holding me in his arms. Pappy was a veteran of the Spanish-American War and Pappy’s father, Richard B. Davis, was a corporal with a Zouave regiment, the 155th PA, in the Union Army and fought at Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg, among other engagements.
That’s how recent the war was. As a baby I was once held by the son of a Civil War veteran.
But on the other hand, 150 years or so is a very long time when we consider post-war racial equality. As many of us observed in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in America for good, passed through Congress on its way to ratification in the states in early 1865. Yet the real struggle for racial equality had only just begun and, to this day, still hasn’t been fully realized.
On February 7, 2013, after all this time, the state of Mississippi finally ratified the amendment that abolished slavery.
The state House and Senate voted to ratify it back in 1995, but it wasn’t officially and legally recorded as a ratification until it was delivered by Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (real name) to Charles A. Barth, director of the Office of the Federal Register. Last week. And this might not have happened at all if Dr. Ranjan Batra, an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, hadn’t seen the movie Lincoln and been inspired to check on the status of the state’s approval of the amendment — again, an amendment that had been ratified by most of the states by the end of 1865.
Somehow, when I read this news yesterday, I wasn’t surprised. After all, over the weekend, one of the most discussed news stories was about a racist, slack-jawed hoople named Joe Ricky Hundley (also, real name). On the day after Mississippi finally ratified the 13th, Joe Ricky was traveling aboard Delta Flight 721. Seated behind him was Jessica Bennett and her two-year-old son. When the plane began to descend for landing, the boy began to cry.
Stop here. Whenever we read a news story like this, we automatically begin to imagine what we might’ve done in this situation. Flying is mostly a nightmarish exercise in humiliation and indignity. We’re all in the same predicament, though, so we struggle to put up our best attitude, our happy-faces, and endure it. But there’s always that one guy who thinks he’s in his own living room and everyone else is deliberately inconveniencing him. And he’s not afraid to say so. Joe Ricky is one of those guys times a thousand.
In an FBI affidavit, Bennett testified that Joe Ricky allegedly said to her, “Shut that nigger baby up.”
Classy. But that’s not all. CNN reported: “Hundley then turned around and slapped the 2-year-old in the face with an open hand, which caused the child to scream even louder, the affidavit said.”
And now, I think we can safely assume that if there’s one man in America who just about everyone wants to pummel about his soft, misshapen head, it’s Joe Ricky Hundley.
Yes, I know. We just re-elected our first African American president within a relatively short period of time since the Civil War and an even shorter span of time since the end of Jim Crow and the subsequent era of the Civil Rights Act. That said, we still have a considerably long way to go before the notion of racial intolerance and outright anti-black hatred is abandoned as a terrible relic of our collective past. Over the weekend, Matt Drudge invoked the “lazy and shiftless” racial stereotype against the president when he emphasized his golf trip with Tiger Woods, using the headline: “SPRING BREAK.” Again, this can only be a racial dog whistle since President Obama has taken fewer vacations than any modern president since Truman, other than Bill Clinton who holds the record for the fewest vacation days.
It’s not just Drudge and other members of the conservative entertainment complex, one of the two major political parties in America — the party that currently enjoys a majority in the House of Representatives and filibuster-strength in the Senate — continues to engage in the politics of racial fear. The most recent Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, went further than most recent Republican candidates, going back to the days of Lee Atwater, in his exploitation of the Southern Strategy — using coded language to scare whites into voting against an African American president.
Republican racism goes deeper than that. As Sam Tanenhaus wrote last week, the nullification movement in the Republican Party is on the rise again — the states’ rights and 10th Amendment-driven doctrine that claims to allow for states to overturn or to simply ignore federal laws that are deemed by the state as unconstitutional. John C. Calhoun, the pro-slavery states’ rights firebrand of the pre-Civil War era, not to mention the mortal foe of Abraham Lincoln, is the great-great-great-grandfather of the cause. Calhoun once called slavery “a positive good” and used the idea of nullification as a cudgel to oppose any federal government effort to abolish it.
In the 20th Century, nullification was revived by William F. Buckley in the pages of The National Review in response to the civil rights movement, and it was carried forward by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, who was one of the hand-picked nullification spokesmen of the conservative far-right. It was the 1950s and 1960s when the conservative movement began to control the Republican Party, dragging it further to the right.
Today, Tanenhaus wrote, Republican politicians like Rand Paul and others are carrying on the legacy of an idea that had its origins in the very attitudes that Lincoln and many others in his footsteps attempted to eradicate. And until mainstream Americans and members of the press truly recognize that the Republican Party is nothing more than a cartoonishly sinister cabal of outdated, disgusting racial scaremongers, we can never hope to cure our society of hate-mongers like Joe Ricky and everyone else of his ilk.
Oh and I almost forgot. Here’s that photo of Pappy and I.