Friday, August 28, 2020


As a former newsman, old habits die hard and I always think I have an obligation to watch both conventions, but at this age I no longer have any time or patience to waste and try as I might, I'd watch a little bit of the RNC Convention and, as a writer friend of mine said, "feel like I'd just had a lobotomy," and have to turn it over. Why watch when there was absolutely nothing of substance?

It was hard enough just getting through the intro by that flag-waving, self-righteous, Bible-thumping sycophant Jon Voight. But then to have to watch hours of fawning, mindless king-worship, continual lies, blatant hypocrisy from people like Nikki Haley, who in 2016 said Trump was a racist and unfit for office, and public self-congratulatory political masturbation with no policy revelations (because there aren't any), no mention of how to repair failed pandemic efforts, no attention to the most devastating hurricane in recent memory that was happening in real time, blaming the violence that his administration has spawned for the past four years on Biden (WTF!), and a GOP mob-fest (sans masks or social-distancing) at the White House—supposedly home to the leader of ALL Americans now converted into yet another piece of pro-Trump-only real estate—complete with red, white and blue fireworks to "celebrate" 181,000 COVID deaths and the devastation of parts of the deep South by a monster storm was just more than my septuagenarian heart could take. I preferred to read about it after the fact so I at least didn't have to listen to Trump's disdainful, mocking, conceited, unsympathetic voice.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

MASSACRES YOU MAY HAVE (CONVENIENTLY) FORGOTTEN ...or, Horror Stories My White History Teacher Never Told Me

When a bad cop in Minneapolis “starred” in what was virtually a documentary video about the torture and murder of African American citizen George Floyd earlier this year, that veteran cop, Dereck Chauvin, unwittingly gave birth to a new nationwide movement against systemic racism and endemic police brutality that ended up spreading worldwide even quicker than the coronavirus pandemic that preceded it. At the forefront of that movement—which spawned massive multi-racial and multi-sectorial protests that lasted for weeks in cities all over the US as well as in major cities abroad, and that continue in parts of the United States at present—was the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Although BLM had been present on the grass-roots political level since 2013, the brutal public slaying of George Floyd pushed it to the forefront of the national scene. Which is precisely why there has been a far-right-wing attempt, led by the current administration in Washington, to cast BLM as “a terrorist organization”, going as far as putting out propaganda in the form of memes on social media that seek to classify it as the opposite number of the Ku Klux Klan.
Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Although BLM advocates civil disobedience—a deeply-rooted American principle since at least the time of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)—it also supports non-violence in the tradition of civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and the late US Congressman John Lewis, who just prior to his recent death, took part in and praised the “good trouble” that protesters were getting into in defending the rights of every American.
BLM emerged, first as a hashtag—#BlackLivesMatter—and then as a full-fledged if decentralized movement in July of 2013 following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a Florida neighborhood watch member, who seventeen months earlier had shot and killed an unarmed seventeen-year old African American named Trayvon Martin, who was accompanying his father in visiting a friend who lived in the high-end neighborhood for which Zimmerman was working security.
BLM would rise to nationwide recognition as of the following year, with its participation in protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and in New York City against the respective police slayings of African Americans Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Brown, a shoplifting suspect who ran from the officer who killed him, was shot six times. Garner, accused of trafficking black-market cigarettes, was choked to death by his police captor. Grand juries ruled against indicting either of the officers investigated in the incidents.
The BLM movement’s activism first pushed to the political fore in 2016, when it openly opposed Donald Trump’s candidature. The popularity of Black Lives Matter has grown since then. But it wasn’t until the George Floyd murder that it began to garner universal appeal among liberals and many independents.
Major US opinion polls in 2018 tended to show that BLM had a negative image among Americans as a whole. But as a broad base of Americans became increasingly aware of continuing injustice against minorities, BLM’s popularity grew over the course of the next two years. With Floyd’s blatantly public murder and BLM’s organization of massive pro-civil rights protests in 2020, that popularity has burgeoned. Indeed, a June poll by the highly respected Pew Research Center demonstrated that there was widespread support for BLM among the US public across all racial and ethnic groups. That fact, coupled with BLM’s fervent opposition to the current president and his administration’s ties to racist far-right segments of the political spectrum make clear the motive behind the White House-led campaign to vilify the organization.
BLM, and indeed the entire current liberal trend toward a renewal of the struggle for the protection of Americans’ civil rights, is a response to the centuries-long scourge of inequality. The struggle among black Americans for true equality has not ended since the civil rights era of the nineteen-sixties. But, with the help of BLM and other activist organizations, it has taken on new impetus over the last three and a half years during which one of the most racist administrations in modern US history has sparked a revival of attitudes that many thought had ended with passage of historic civil rights legislation in the mid to late sixties.
White critics of anti-discrimination activism are fond of suggesting that the Civil War freed the blacks so “they should get over it,” or that they got equality with the civil rights era and now are the focus of “reverse discrimination”.  In point of fact, although the Civil War might be over for the majority of white Americans, the consequences of slavery indubitably continue up to the present day.
Another argument is that slavery happened a long time ago and that white people can’t be held responsible for what happened to African Americans “all those years ago.” But all of these arguments fail to take into account the continuing history of violence and tragedy that is too often written off as “black history”, as if it had nothing to do with its perpetrators or as if African American history were separate from American history. Clearly, that is how history has been taught to most of us—failing to confess the continual atrocities perpetrated against African Americans or the contributions of many black personalities to the history of the United States.
But in this essay, let’s start with the atrocities. Here are some all but forgotten massacres—in chronological order, but not, by far, a complete list—that your history teacher almost certainly never told you about:         
The Ebenezer Creek Massacre. US General William Tecumseh Sherman’s historic march to the sea included, in the last months of the Civil War, an assault on Confederate defenders at Savannah, Georgia. That raid encompassed a crossing by more than sixty thousand troops at Ebenezer Creek on December 9, 1864. In order to cross the creek with men, horses, wagons and equipment, the Army Engineers deployed a pontoon bridge. As infantry and cavalry under Sherman’s command were crossing the temporary bridge, what were described by eyewitnesses as “hundreds or perhaps thousands” of emancipated slaves escaping before the advance of Confederate troops begged to be allowed to cross with the Union Army.
Drawing by Isaac McCaslin of Union troops crossing Ebenezer Creek

Union officers told them that they would have to wait until all troops and equipment had passed because they were expecting military engagement on the other side. The former slaves anxiously waited until the Union Army had crossed the creek, only to see the Engineers immediately take up the pontoon bridge without letting them cross. Black men, women and children almost immediately came under withering fire from Confederate troops under the command of General “Fighting Joe” Wheeler, who ruthlessly slaughtered some of their number while others desperately plunged into the icy waters of Ebenezer Creek and fought the current to try and swim to the other side. Many who weren’t shot drowned.
A Sixteenth Illinois Cavalry officer would recall in his diary how, hearing their screams, a few Union troopers hung back and tried to float logs to the people in the water, while the rest of their contingent forged on, leaving the former slaves to their fate.
The Memphis Massacre. In the Reconstruction period following the Civil War, both the Southern states and newly freed former slaves were left in legal limbo by the federal government. According to historian Lerone Bennett Jr., in the eyes of the post-war federal government, the legal status of blacks depended on the legal status of each individual state and the legal status of each state depended on the legal status given to blacks.

Before his assassination, President Lincoln suggested readmitting former Confederate states to the Union as soon as ten percent of the prewar electorate had qualified by taking an oath of allegiance. Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, basically agreed. But neither president was willing to come to grips with the actual legal status of newly freed African Americans, with Lincoln suggesting a highly subjective palliative that included giving “very intelligent blacks” and black Union veterans the right to vote.
In this climate of post-war Reconstruction chaos African Americans were being granted land and the possibility of earning a living for the first time, while many die-hard Confederates were seeking ways to reinstate slavery by another name. The animus that this loose legal status of both the defeated Southern states and newly freed blacks caused boiled over into ostensibly spontaneous “riots” which were actually anti-Negro campaigns involving civilian violence but organized by local police and former Confederate military men.
One of the worst of such “riots” was the Memphis Massacre of 1866, in which, from May first through third, white citizens and police went on a rampage, burning the homes, schools and churches of African Americans and slaughtering those who resisted. According to US General Carl Schurz, who was dispatched by Washington to investigate, the incident in Memphis claimed the lives of forty-six African Americans. Seventy-five others were injured. Among the dead, black veterans of the Union Army were especially targeted. Five black women were raped, and twelve schools and four churches were burned. No criminal charges were ever filed against the perpetrators.
General Schurz would write: “Some planters held back their former slaves on their plantations by brute force. Armed bands of white men patrolled the country roads to drive back the Negroes wandering about. Dead bodies of murdered Negroes were found on and near the highways and by-ways. Gruesome reports came from the hospitals—reports of colored men and women whose ears had been cut off, whose skulls had been broken by blows, whose bodies had been slashed by knives or lacerated with scourges. A number of such cases, I had occasion to examine myself. A reign of terror prevailed in many parts of the South.
“The emancipation of the slave,” General Schurz continued, “is submitted to only in so far as chattel slavery in the old form could not be kept up. But although the freedman is no longer considered the property of the individual master, he is considered the slave of society. . . . Wherever I go—the street, the shop, the house, the hotel, or the steamboat—I hear the people talk in such a way as to indicate that they are yet unable to conceive of the Negro as possessing any rights at all.”
The New Orleans Massacre.  On July 30, 1866, there was a repeat performance of the Memphis Massacre, this time in New Orleans. There, African Americans had organized a march to the Mechanics Institute, which was the site of the recently reinstated Louisiana Constitutional Convention that was meeting in response to the State Legislature’s decision to enact so-called Black Codes designed to suspend or strictly limit the rights of black citizens, including their right to vote.
The marchers were attacked by white vigilantes. But that attack was a premeditated sham to justify intervention by local police, whose chief had been recruiting former Confederate soldiers to “keep the peace”. When the police and armed firemen arrived, they opened fire on unarmed black “rioters”. The final tally was one hundred fifty casualties—forty-eight dead and one hundred two wounded. The dead were all black except for three white Radical Republicans, who had been demonstrating for the African American cause.
The Camilla Massacre. The vigilante massacres continued with one in Camilla, Georgia, on September 19, 1868. Seeking to express their newly gained rights as American citizens, a group of African Americans marched from nearby Albany to Camilla, the Mitchell County seat, to attend a Republican political rally.
Leading the march was Philip Joiner, who had been elected to the Georgia State Legislature as representative for southwest Georgia, only to be expelled, along with twenty-seven other legislative members, for being more than one-eighth African American. Joiner was accompanied by Northern political activists Francis Putney and William Pierce.
Local white supremacists were determined to repress the incipient civic, economic and human rights that black citizens had gained with the South’s surrender in the Civil War, and intercepted the African Americans as they reached Camilla, bent on not permitting the rally to take place.
As the marchers reached the Mitchell County Courthouse, white gunmen stationed in buildings across the way opened fire on them. As the marchers sought to retreat and return to Albany, they were dogged for several miles by whites who repeatedly attacked them. At least a dozen African Americans were killed and dozens more were injured.
The Opelousas Massacre. The massacre in Opelousas, Louisiana, on September 28, 1868, differed from others in that it was organized by a precursor to the KKK—the Knights of the White Camelia. The spark that lit the fuse was when three of the “Knights” gave a severe beating to newspaper editor Emerson Bentley, who was in the midst of teaching a class. Bentley and his newspaper had been promoting voter registration and education for all African Americans.
As Bentley was being beaten, black supporters stepped in to rescue him from the three thugs. This so angered white supremacists that they quickly organized white mobs that went on a ruthless rampage, killing more than one hundred fifty people, most of them black.
The St. Bernard Parish Massacre. Election year 1868 saw another massacre on October 25 in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. Former slaveholders and ex-Confederates were pushing for the election of Democrat Horatio Seymour for president, while the Republican candidate was Civil War Union hero General Ulysses S. Grant.
Republicans were encouraging African Americans to make use of their new voting rights to help elect Grant. Seeking to ensure that this didn’t happen, whites in St. Bernard Parish formed vigilante groups that attacked potential black voters to sow fear and to repress the African American vote by force.
While many ran from their homes in terror and hid in the sugarcane fields until the mayhem died down, estimates of blacks dragged from their houses and slaughtered in the pre-election carnage run anywhere from several dozen to well over a hundred.
The Colfax Massacre. Many former Confederates and slaveholders dragged their feet against federal Reconstruction efforts every step of the way. In Louisiana state elections in 1872, Republicans managed to squeak out a narrow win and retain the state. But the victory was immediately challenged by a recount call from local Democrats, who were still seeking a way to return to their pre-Civil War lifestyle and to once again subjugate African American citizens.
This challenge boiled over in Colfax, Louisiana, when white supremacist militias were formed to take power by force. Fearful that these militias would take over local government by means of a coup, Republican office-holders and their supporters, including sixty African Americans, occupied the parish courthouse.

Their fears were borne out when, on Easter Sunday, 1873, three hundred white supremacists culled from the Ku Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camelia and other racist groups, besieged the courthouse. Eventually, this white militia rolled a cannon up in front of the courthouse and was preparing to open fire. The sixty black defenders at the courthouse sought to escape before they could be captured, but in the ensuing melee, white militia leader James Hadnot was accidentally shot by one of his own men. In response, the militia members hunted down and murdered as many of the black defenders as they could lay hands on. It is considered to have been one of the worst slaughters of the Reconstruction era.
The Alabama White League Attacks. On Election Day, November 3, 1874, the recently formed White League in Barbour County, Alabama, was determined not to allow African American citizens to go to the polls. Members of the League, which was affiliated to the southern Democratic Party, were spurred to action by the presence of more than a thousand African American voters who were camped on the outskirts of the county seat and other polling sites on the eve of the elections, to make sure they could exercise their right to vote early.
The League circulated false rumors among white people in the community that there was a “Negro invasion” afoot. Whites took this as a call to arms and formed vigilante groups to keep blacks from voting. As African American voters in the towns of Eufaula and Spring Hill headed for the polling stations the next day, they were confronted by armed white vigilantes. 
As a result, seven African-Americans were murdered and another seventy were wounded, while at least a thousand black voters were driven away from polling places. The state of Alabama turned a blind eye to the violence and tacitly backed the forcible removal of elected Republicans from office and their replacement by pro-white supremacy Democrats.
The Alabama white uprising to suppress black voting, which was repeated in other Southern states including Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, sounded the death knell for federal Reconstruction efforts in the South, which would end less than two years later. And it was a prelude to continuing racial discrimination and voter suppression against black citizens that would persist until the mid-twentieth century and the Civil Rights Era.
The Vicksburg Massacre. In December of 1874, African American citizens in Vicksburg, Mississippi, organized themselves to defend their candidate and democracy, after their elected county sheriff, Peter Crosby—a former slave and Union Army veteran—was forcibly removed from office under threat of assassination.
In response, a White paramilitary group culled from the ranks of the KKK, the Knights of the White Camelia and other white supremacist organizations—which, together, referred to themselves as the White Line—imposed their new policy of “very definite intimidation”. By this time it was becoming clear to southern white Democrats that, after almost a decade since the Civil War, Washington was growing bored and weary of having to deal with the internal politics of the South, and African Americans were clearly not a priority in their thinking as to how to reunite the United States.

Southern Democratic Party venues were slowly but surely being turned into bases for white supremacist paramilitary groups as were so-called “rifle clubs” that sprung up throughout the region. And a united front of whites bent on reviving the Confederacy by another name sought to subvert democracy by virtually running out local Republicans—and particularly black Republicans—voted into office.
Despite efforts by Mississippi’s then Republican governor, Adelbert Ames, to get local authorities in Vicksburg to submit to the democratic process and restore Sheriff Crosby to his post in the predominately black Warren County, the white paramilitary defied state authority. Sheriff Crosby, meanwhile, under authority from the governor, formed a posse of several hundred African American defenders to retake his office. But on December 7, as they marched in two columns toward Vicksburg, they came under attack from the White Line paramilitary. Despite a brief standoff, they were clearly out-gunned and had to break ranks. At least twenty-nine black defenders died in the fighting.
But for days afterward, the White Line paramilitary hunted down and killed or terrorized members of the would-be black militia. There is no historically accurate list of total casualties but different accounts estimate that anywhere between seventy-five and three hundred African Americans lost their lives in the massacre.   
The Clinton Massacre. Ten years after the end of the Civil War, on September 4, 1875, Republicans were holding a rally on the former grounds of a plantation near Clinton, Mississippi. The rally and barbecue were attended by between seventy-five and a hundred white Republicans and a few invited Democrats, in addition to fifteen hundred African American voters and their families.
During the speech portion of the event, shots rang out, as white supremacist vigilantes fired into the crowd. Three African American adults and two children were killed instantly, as were three whites. Another thirty people were injured.

But the massacre didn’t end there. In the days that followed, marauding bands of white paramilitary members indiscriminately murdered some fifty African Americans. They also murdered a white teacher at a school for black children.
Governor Adelbert Ames made an urgent request to the federal government for US troops to quell the unrest. President Grant rejected the request and shortly afterward began applying a federal policy of non-intervention in the affairs of the Southern states.
It was the beginning of the end for the rights that African Americans had won with the Union victory in the Civil War.
The Hamburg Massacre. In the run-up to the 1876 gubernatorial elections, African Americans near Hamburg, South Carolina, had formed a militia to protect black voters. While the militia was in the midst of training exercises, two local farmers challenged them, accusing them of interrupting traffic on a country road. Although the farmers were permitted to pass, they filed charges against the members of the black militia with the county courthouse for blocking the road.
The court heard the charges but postponed the case for two days. In the meantime, white vigilantes from several surrounding counties, organized by South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman, who would later serve as the state’s governor, formed a band of a hundred armed men, determined to break up the black militia. A couple dozen of the African American militia members were captured. Six of them were slain in cold blood. Others managed to flee.

The election violence spread to nearby Ellenton, where dozens more African Americans were murdered, including black Congressman Simon Coker, as well as two white Republicans.
The Danville Riot. By 1882, the majority of seats on the City Council of Danville, Virginia, a majority African American town, were held by members of the bi-racial Readjuster Party. White supremacists refused to stand still for this and in election year 1883, decided to do something about it.
On November 3, voting day, white paramilitary members terrorized black voters by murdering four of their number and killing a white supporter as well. Then they rampaged through the town using violence to keep black voters from reaching the polls, thus allowing the pro-white Democratic Party to regain political control of City Hall.
The Thibodaux Massacre. In the late eighteen hundreds the Southern sugar industry had found a way to reinstate slavery by another name. African American sugar workers from the area surrounding Thibodaux, Louisiana, were paid in what was known as “scrip”, a sort of IOU en lieu of cash, which was only redeemable at the “company store”, which charged exorbitant prices. Organized by the racially integrated Knights of Labor union in November of 1887, Thibodaux black sugar workers went on strike against this practice and to demand that their paltry wages be paid to them in cash.
On November 23, the Louisiana Militia was called in to break the strike. Joined by armed bands of local merchants and landholders, the militia opened fire on the unarmed striking workers, murdering at least thirty and perhaps as many as sixty of them.

The incident’s effect was long-lasting and black farmworkers in the South didn’t attempt to unionize again until the nineteen-thirties.
The Polk County Massacre. By the end of the nineteenth century, racial terrorism was a common practice in Southern labor. An example of this took place in Polk County, Arkansas, on August 5, 1897, when white workers attacked black workers, who were on their way to their jobs on the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railway.
As a result of the attack, three African Americans were killed and another eight were injured. The attack was perpetrated in an attempt to keep black workers out of Polk County. The incident was to become part of a pattern of race-related labor violence in Arkansas.
The Wilmington Coup and Massacre. Although practically all of the post-Civil War violent actions to remove Radical Republican anti-discrimination activists and African Americans from Southern politics could be considered political coups, the case of the Wilmington Massacre of November 10, 1898, was, perhaps, the most blatant and formal of them in US history. In order to provide some context, we need to let it sink in that this came thirty-three years after the end of the Civil War and it was, for instance, the year that my own grandfather, who died in 1985, was born. So we are talking about an era that is tangible to living, breathing generations of Americans, not an event from the distant historical past.
On that date in November of 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina, witnessed the only direct coup d’état ever to take place on American soil. White supremacists physically removed from office local government officials elected two days earlier and replaced them with people from their own ranks. Two days later, the massacre began, as the racist whites sought to consolidate their insurrection by taking over the offices of the local newspaper, the Daily Record, from its editor, Alex Manly, and setting the premises ablaze. This was only the start of a rampage in which white mobs murdered sixty people, mostly African Americans from what, until then, had been a thriving black community.

The Springfield Massacre. Neither the turn of the century nor the demarcation between North and South could stop the anti-black violence. On August 14, 1908, a mob of five thousand whites in Springfield, Illinois, went on a rampage that lasted for three days, marauding through black neighborhoods burning dozens of African American homes and businesses to the ground.
In the course of the rioting, two black men were lynched: Scott Burton, who used his shotgun to try and defend his home and shop, and William Donegan, an 84-year-old African American shoemaker who had long been in the sights of white supremacists because his wife of thirty years was white. Another half-dozen blacks who sought to defend their property were summarily shot dead.

As a result of the incident, some two thousand African Americans were driven out of Springfield permanently. 
The Slocum Massacre. In 1910, Slocum was the Lone Star State’s answer to the much more famous—and eventually infamous—Rosewood, Florida: an unincorporated community made up overwhelmingly of African American citizens. As such, the populace boasted numerous black property owners and merchants, which, in the South of those days, was enough to prompt envy and anger in less prosperous whites in other nearby parts of East Texas. In those times of racial discrimination and tension, it was a powder keg just waiting for a spark.
That spark came in the form of a confrontation between a white man and a prominent black city father over an alleged debt that the white man was trying to collect. The falling-out prompted bad feelings among that man and his friends toward the black community. That undercurrent was bolstered still further when a regional highway commission engineer put an African American foreman from the community in charge of hiring a crew to carry out road improvements.
This development enraged prominent white citizens from the area, who began agitating among their peers, spreading false rumors of plans by the African American community to rise up and riot against the white population. Fears of a black uprising were stoked to the point of hysteria, and on July 29, 1910, it all boiled over. Organized white supremacists from all over Anderson County, of which Slocum was part, formed mobs of several dozen people at a time to rampage through the town, while heavily armed killing squads of a half-dozen men each went house to house and business to business taking potshots at any African American they saw.
Terrified, many of the black citizens of Slocum sought to escape ahead of the advancing hordes, but relentless shooters pursued them into the nearby marshes and woodlands to shoot them down in cold blood. More than a score of African Americans were murdered and a couple of hundred were injured.
In an attempt to cover up the incident, local news sources conspired with the white community to spread tales of armed black terrorists from which spontaneous white militias had to defend themselves. But it was a bald lie, as confirmed by then-Anderson County Sheriff William H. Black, who told a New York Times reporter, “Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them.”  He said that it would be difficult to provide an accurate body count because the dead were “scattered all over the woods.” In Sheriff Black’s judgment, “These Negroes have done no wrong that I can discover. I don’t know how many were in the (white) mob, but there may have been two hundred or three hundred. They hunted the Negroes down like sheep.”
This kind of hatred demonstrated in the Slocum Texas Massacre was prefaced by a shocking incident in the city of Dallas. There, a few months earlier, on March 3, a sixty-five-year-old black man named Allen Brooks was dragged by an angry mob from the courtroom, where he was being tried for the alleged attempted rape of a three-year-old girl, and lynched before a crowd of as many as five thousand spectators. First strung up from a second-storey window of the courthouse, he was later dragged by his neck, at the urging of the crowd, to the landmark Elk’s Arch, where the lynching was completed.
Lynching of Allen Brooks postcard

A photographer snapped a picture of the hanging, which was then made into a postcard that white supremacists sent to family and friends. This gave birth to a popular new “art form” among racist whites—souvenir “lynching postcards”, which bore images of real-life white vigilante hangings of African Americans.
As this kind of racist violence became the rule rather than the exception in that part of the country, a group of one hundred-fifty African American pastors sent a petition to President William Howard Taft requesting federal intervention. They received a response from Taft’s attorney general saying, basically, that protection of life and property was the province of state and local authorities and adding that “your letter and petition deal with the subject of the treatment of colored persons generally and therefore furnish no facts which would warrant this Department in taking any steps to redress the wrongs complained of.”
The Red Summer “Riots”. In July of 1919, African American soldiers who had been fighting overseas during World War I came home to Washington DC where they were presented with the continuing struggle against racism, which came to a head in what became known as the “Red Summer Riots”. The trouble began when a white woman, Elsie Stephnick, and her husband, who was a white civilian employee of the Navy, accused a black man, Charles Ralls, of assaulting her.
Hearing about this, dozens of returning white Marines, sailors and soldiers formed what newspapers of the time described as a “mob in uniform” and went looking for Ralls. They came upon him and his wife as they were walking toward their home and immediately surrounded them and started beating Ralls. Ralls and his wife managed to break free, hearing gunshots behind them as they ran, and made a break for their apartment where they barricaded themselves inside. The mob followed and tried to break their door down, but black neighbors intervened in defense of the couple. A brief shootout ensued in which a sailor was wounded.
Violence raged throughout that day, July 19, and continued throughout the next day and night with white mobs attacking African American Washingtonians, and particularly uniformed black war veterans. African Americans organized and started fighting back. The Washington Times threw fuel on the flames with a front page story that largely blamed blacks for the violence and referred to the mob of white service men as a “provost guard of soldiers, sailors and Marines”. The story included a call from white organizers to assemble that night and finish the job.

While Metropolitan Police sat back and watched, the violence burgeoned and extended for another day. Blacks armed themselves in self-defense with gun outlets reporting the sale of some five hundred firearms before the capital city issued a ban. In the end, as many as thirty-eight people were reported killed and over a hundred others injured before President Woodrow Wilson finally, after five days of lawless violence, brought in nearly two thousand troops from surrounding bases to quell the rioting.
Chicago Red Summer. The Washington riot of 1919 fueled Red Summer racial unrest in other cities around the US. That same July, violence broke out in Chicago. It began on a very hot July 27, when a group of African Americans decided to cross the color line and go to the traditionally white Twenty-Ninth Street beach on Lake Michigan. Although there was no written law against their being there, white tradition dictated that no blacks were allowed, and the mostly white, Irish Chicago Police were all too happy to enforce that de facto ban or to simply turn a blind eye to whites driving African Americans away.
In this case, white beach-goers started chucking stones and other objects at the black would-be bathers until they were forced to leave. But the African Americans decided that this time they were, literally, going to draw a line in the sand against racial discrimination. They went and rounded up a group of friends and came back.
While tempers flared between blacks and whites on the beach, some boys who had built themselves a raft and were out enjoying it, poling up and down along the coastline, sailed into view of the white segregationists on the shore. One of these, a man named George Stauber, began heaving rocks in the direction of the raft. One of the stones he threw hit one of the teen-aged boys named Eugene Williams in the head. Dazed by the blow, the boy fell overboard and drowned.

The Twenty-Ninth Street beach was on the beat of Officer Daniel Callahan. When blacks on the beach called on him to arrest Stauber, he refused. As many as a thousand black protesters thronged to the beach to demand Stauber’s arrest. Police again refused. In a rage, an African American man called James Crawford pulled a gun and fired at white police officers on the scene. They immediately returned fire and killed Crawford. But black protesters disobeyed a police order to disperse, and fist-fights broke out between blacks and whites vying for control of the beach.
Word of the incident spread and by sundown, white neighborhoods were rife with rumors of an imminent race war. Whites organized themselves into roving mobs that wreaked havoc in black neighborhoods. Thousands of African American homes and businesses were overrun, severely damaged, looted or burned to the ground. Blacks sought to defend themselves, generating ever more virulent rioting. After the smoke cleared in the week-long disturbances, at least twenty-three African Americans and fifteen whites were dead, and five hundred people were injured.
After the Washington and Chicago Red Summer incidents, violent riots would spread to three dozen other cities around the country.  
The Elaine Massacre. At the end of September in 1919, the first year of “peacetime” after the horrors of World War I, black union activist Robert Lee Hill congregated African American share-croppers in Elaine, Arkansas, to form the Progressive Farmers and Household Union of America. The tenant farmers union’s premise was simple: to fight for higher pay and better cotton prices.
When white supremacists got wind of the September 30 meeting, they first sent armed deputies to try and break up the gathering. Black farmers shot back in self-defense, driving off their attackers. But word of the shootout spread like wildfire and what followed was a massacre, in which enraged white supremacist mobs carried out a wholesale slaughter of African American farmers and farm workers. There is no accurate count of how many were murdered, but historians estimate anywhere between a hundred and eight hundred, depending on the source.

Not satisfied with that, however, white authorities also decided to put the blame for the violence on the black farmers and unionists. Sixty-seven of their number were indicted for inciting violence. A dozen other sharecroppers—who would become known in historical accounts as “The Elaine twelve”—were charged in connection with the murders carried out by the white mob and were sentenced to death. The sentence was appealed and the US Supreme Court eventually ordered their release in the landmark Moore vs. Dempsey Ruling of 1923, after the twelve men had spent four years on death row.
The Elaine Twelve
An arrest warrant was issued for Robert Lee Hill, but he managed to escape to Kansas, where he was later arrested. The Kansas judge handling Hill’s arrest held him on federal Justice Department charges for nearly a year but refused to extradite him to Arkansas, citing doubts about his safety if he were sent back. The federal charges were eventually dropped. Hill was released and ended up remaining in the Midwest, where he worked for the railroad until his retirement in 1962.
In the terms of post-Reconstruction “justice” in Arkansas, African Americans weren’t merely jailed for “trouble-making”. A dozen of them were sentenced to death for their own slaughter by whites as well.
The Ocoee Massacre. On November first, the eve of Election Day in 1920, the KKK donned their sheets and pillowcases and took to the streets of Ocoee, Florida, a town in Orange County near Orlando. Shouting through megaphones they ordered African Americans to stay home from the polls the next day. They dared any of them who wanted to try, to go ahead and see what would happen.
Determined to vote, some black men defied the Klan and tried to reach the polls. But they were either headed off by armed Klanners near polling stations, or, when they reached the polls, were told by white voting officials that their names were “not on the voter rolls.”
Most returned home frustrated, but a man called Mose Norman refused to be bullied and rode his horse to Orlando where he spoke to a judge who told him to get the names of the people who hadn’t been permitted to vote and the names of the poll officials who refused to let them and legal action could be taken against the county.
But when he returned to an Orange County polling station with other African Americans to demand that their rights be respected, he was again turned away. Shouting, “We will vote, by God!” Norman demanded to be given the names of voting officials.

The response of the KKK was immediate and definitive. They went on an Election Day rampage that continued the following day. When it was over, they had murdered at least fifty African Americans. One of the victims was a local civil rights pioneer, Julius “July” Perry, a local labor straw boss who encouraged young black men to get an education, to stand up for their rights, and to vote as proud citizens of the United States. In the melee, he had been placed under arrest and was in jail in Orlando. Orange County Klanners and their cohorts assaulted the jail and dragged him out. His body was later found, bullet-riddled and hanging from a tree on the grounds of an Orlando country club.
The Tulsa and Rosewood Massacres. Perhaps the two best known and worst white supremacist aggressions against African American communities in the post-Reconstruction years are the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. The Tulsa Massacre was recently in the news when Donald Trump decided to hold a controversial in-person rally in that Oklahoma city in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic. Trump rallies clearly never have more than a token black audience and his base is recognized as encompassing a significant white supremacist component. In the wake of the George Floyd murder, widespread solidarity protests and the emergence of Black Lives Matter as an ever more popular influence, Tulsa, which had been the site of the wholesale slaughter of African Americans in 1921, seemed like a controversial choice of venue.
Worse still, the original date for the rally was to have been June 19, the same day as the “Juneteenth” holiday celebrating the definitive emancipation of African American slaves following the Civil War. Trump eventually pushed the rally ahead to Sunday, June 20, explaining that there had been no intention to have it coincide with Juneteenth, that it had simply been the first time he had ever heard of such a holiday.
The 1923 massacre in Rosewood, Florida, meanwhile, is the subject of a now classic 1997 Hollywood film starring Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Bruce McGill, Loren Dean, Esther Rolle and Michael Rooker. In seeking context, I should again point out that the Tulsa and Rosewood massacres are within living memory. The Rosewood violence, for instance, occurred the year my own mother was born.
The Tulsa Massacre was a case of the violent dispossession of a thriving African American community—Greenwood, a predominately black enclave in the city of Tulsa. The incident is also known as the Black Wall Street Massacre, since the Greenwood district enjoyed a level of industriousness and prosperity that had grown to be the envy of much of the white community in Tulsa.

As has often been the case with such episodes of racial unrest in American history, the incident that sparked the violence involved a white woman and a black man. But the true motives were long-standing envy and hatred by whites of blacks who had managed to carve out a modest version of the American dream for themselves.     
The incident began on Memorial Day, May 31, 1921, when Dick Rowland, a nineteen-year-old African American shoe-shiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a seventeen-year-old elevator operator who worked in a nearby office building. Rowland was charged and jailed.
As soon as white Tulsans heard about the arrest, groups of white supremacists began to organize to lynch him. Getting wind of these rumors, the black community organized a group of over seventy men, some of whom were armed, who went to the local jail to ensure that white vigilantes didn’t take justice into their own hands. The African Americans told the sheriff that they were there to back him up, but he assured them that he already had the situation under control and that he wouldn’t be allowing anyone to lynch one of his prisoners. He urged them to go home, and they obeyed. But as they were leaving the jail, a group of white vigilantes attempted to disarm one of the black men. Then someone fired a shot and, according to the sheriff, “All hell broke loose.”
In the ensuing shootout, two African Americans and ten whites were killed. As word of the shootout spread like wildfire, agitators incited white mobs to take revenge and mass violence suddenly ignited throughout Greenwood. Whites leading the charge had been deputized, and on that authority, incited the burning and destruction of homes and businesses in the forty-block black neighborhood. Although body counts vary according to the source, white deputies and other gunmen are thought to have killed as many as three hundred African Americans that night and well into the next day. Over a score of whites were killed as black World War I veterans and others sought to defend their homes and businesses.

It wasn’t until well into the next day that Oklahoma National Guard troops were called in to impose martial law. When the smoke cleared, over twelve hundred structures in Greenwood, including homes, schools, churches and businesses, had been burned to the ground. Some six thousand blacks were arrested by deputized whites and the National Guard, and were only released if they could get white employers or other white citizens to vouch for them. Over nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and those who stayed lived in tents, well into the next winter. The many who left Tulsa, saw their lives in the neighborhood where they had prospered destroyed. Their properties were lost to them and they were never compensated. They were, in a word, robbed, of everything they had worked so hard to own.
Neither black nor white survivors were anxious to talk about the two devastating days of terror thereafter, and all mention of it was left out of accounts of local, state and national history for long decades, and even up to the present day.
The Rosewood, Florida, Massacre sprang from a situation not dissimilar to the one in Tulsa. On New Year’s Day 1923, a white woman accused an unnamed black man of beating her up. Historians believe she made up the lie to cover up the fact that she was had been beaten by a lover who visited her when her thirty-year-old husband was away working at a local mill.
Rosewood was an industrious and prosperous predominately black town in rural Florida that had also awakened envy in whites from the area. By the 1920s, the town boasted near self-sufficiency. The economy hinged on a sugar mill and a turpentine mill and it was a well-established village municipality with a school, three churches and two general stores—one of which was white-owned. There were no fewer than a dozen two-storey wooden houses and a number of other smaller dwellings. The town had its own baseball team and a Masonic Lodge, and some families even owned pianos—at the time, a social indicator of middle-class bounty.  
The woman in this story, twenty-three-year-old Fanny Taylor, may have found inspiration for her lie in the fact that, just the day before, a hundred robed and hooded Ku Klux Klanners had marched in nearby Gainesville and the theme for their march had been First and Always Protect Womanhood. At any rate, local Klanners were looking for someone to blame and decided it was probably a black convict called Jesse Hunter who had recently escaped from a chain gang he was working on.
The local sheriff, Robert E. Walker, didn’t have any trouble getting a posse up to search for Hunter. He just deputized a large number of the four hundred white vigilantes who had gathered of their own accord and who went along on the hunt anyway, whether deputized or not. Many of the men were drinking and out of control. At some point somebody came to the conclusion that perhaps the nephew of Fanny Taylor’s laundress, Sarah Carrier, might know something about the whereabouts of the fugitive, so they kidnapped him in front of Sarah’s home, tied him behind a car and dragged him to the town of Sumner, near Cedar Key, where the sheriff put him under protective custody to keep him from coming to any further harm.
But the white vigilantes, who were using hounds to try and track the convict then ended up at the home of an African American blacksmith called Sam Carter. Convinced Carter had hidden the fugitive, they tortured him until he told them what they wanted to hear before he led them to a place in the woods where he claimed to have left the man. But after the hounds were unable to pick up any trail, someone pulled a gun, shot Carter in the face and killed him. Then the mob strung Carter’s body up as a warning to other blacks in the area to be cooperative or suffer the consequences.
Meeting up with Sarah Carrier’s son Sylvester, vigilantes told him to get out of town. Instead, Sylvester started getting together other African Americans to defend their community. Meanwhile, white vigilantes continued to gather from surrounding towns. Although the sheriff and a mill operator named Pillsbury tried to calm the gathering white mob, its members were already out of control. Self-convinced that the Carriers were hiding the fugitive, they surrounded Sarah’s house, where a score of black neighbors had gone for refuge, and opened fire.
There was a standoff, in which Sylvester Carrier and perhaps two other armed men inside the house, killed two white men and wounded four others. The house came under intense fire. Sarah and Sylvester were killed and several other African American townspeople were injured, including a child.
Four days into the riots, white mobs began randomly attacking Rosewood as a whole, burning both the two black churches and the white church as well. Later, white vigilantes started dousing houses with kerosene and setting them ablaze with residents inside. As African American home-owners and their families ran out of the burning buildings, many of them were shot. One of these was a fifty-year-old woman who was sick in bed. As her house began to burn down, she managed to get out of bed and run out the door, but received a shotgun blast in the face. Her children, like many other black townspeople had escaped to the surrounding swamps where some of them hid out for days. Others begged white friends to hide them. The white owner of one of the general stores hid a number of black residents or got them out of town, as did the white owner of the turpentine mill. A white postman spirited murdered blacksmith Sam Carter’s widow out of town hidden under some mail bags.

James Carrier, another son of murdered laundress Sarah, who was partially disabled from a stroke, had been hiding in the swamp, but returned to Rosewood to seek shelter. Along the way, he was intercepted by vigilantes, who tortured him to find out if he knew where the fugitive Jesse Hunter was. When this proved unsuccessful, they made him dig his own grave and executed him.
On January 6, independently wealthy railroad men, James and William Bryce, began using the railway to evacuate Rosewood residents to Gainesville, since it was clear that the state government was reluctant to send in the National Guard. The black community in Gainesville took their Rosewood brethren in and protected them. The following day, a mob of over a hundred whites returned to Rosewood and burned what was left of the town to the ground.
As in other cases, there is no accurate death toll for the Rosewood Massacre, but some historical accounts indicate that as many as one hundred fifty black residents lost their lives. Both black and white residents abandoned the razed town forever and none of them was ever compensated for the destruction of their homes or for their deserted properties. Rosewood simply ceased to exist.
Governor Cary Hardee, who had abandoned the town to its fate and gone on a hunting trip, ordered a grand jury after the fact, but no one was ever prosecuted.
The Catcher Terror. What has come to be known in white history—when it is mentioned at all—as the “Catcher Race Riots”—was actually a systematic white supremacist campaign to rid Catcher, Arkansas, of its African American population and turn it into a “sundown town”. I understand a little bit about this, since I was born and raised in a sundown town, not in the Deep South, but in West Central Ohio.
The meaning of the term is not at all subtle. It signifies that if a black person dares pass through town, he or she had better be gone by sundown. In my town, it was a tacit rule, but law enforcement of that time made sure that it was, in practice, hard and fast.
In Catcher, the purge began on December 29, 1923. In just a few short days after that, one African American man was murdered and eleven others were jailed and charged with “night-riding”, a catch-all phrase that indicated any sort of unspecified trouble-making. Two of the men tried on this vague charge were executed and a third sentenced to life in prison by a court of law that made its decision on only the most dubious of evidence presented by the prosecution. It was basically legalized lynching.
Meanwhile white supremacists terrorized and intimidated the rest of the black community. African Americans got the message and there was a mass exodus of color from Catcher.  
An Historical Cavalcade of Lynchings. As if the details and body counts for all of the massacres described above weren’t shocking and sickening enough, the general massacre of black Americans attributed to the widespread white custom of race-related lynching is, by far, the most genocidal. From the Reconstruction era until 1950, there were over four thousand one hundred historically recorded lynchings of African Americans in the continental United States. Not counting all of the ones of which there is no record.

Most lynchings took place in former Confederate States:  Alabama (361 lynchings up to the year 1950—the year after I was born), Arkansas (492), Florida (311), Georgia (589), Kentucky (168), Louisiana (549), Mississippi (654), North Carolina (123), South Carolina (185), Tennessee (233), Texas (335) and Virginia (84). But there were also numerous black lynchings during this period in states that were either non-Confederate or not technically Confederate states or territories, even when the sympathies of part of their population lay with the South. These included: Illinois (56 lynchings), Indiana (18), Kansas (19), Maryland (28), Missouri (60), Ohio (15) and Oklahoma (76).
Up until the 1950s, a black person, and especially a black man, could be lynched on just about any excuse one can think of. But one out of four lynchings involved usually baseless accusations of sexual assault or rape by an African American man or teen on a white woman or girl. Others were accused of “murdering” a white citizen, when these were quite often cases of self-defense or of a black being framed for a crime that a white had committed. 
Merely accusing a black male of rape, even without confirmation from the victim herself, was considered good enough “evidence” to torture and hang an African American. Even when the white woman involved might have initiated a sexual encounter with a black man, white supremacists were likely to consider the act “rape” and excuse enough for a lynching.
Ida B. Wells
Pioneer African American investigative reporter and civil and women’s rights activist Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) campaigned arduously against lynching and for rule of law. But when she wrote an editorial piece that challenged “the threadbare myth” that sex between black men and white women was never consensual, the offices of the newspaper she worked for in Memphis were burned to the ground and she was threatened with being lynched. Ms. Wells ended up leaving Memphis for Chicago and never returned.
The most popular white supremacist talking point in the first half of the twentieth century blamed lynching on the victims of the practice, since there was no admission among racist white males that a white woman could willingly have sex with a black man. So the only appropriate response to the increasing trend toward the “rape” of white women by African American men was lynching. It was a sick, twisted rationale but it was applied in the white supremacist response to attempts to introduce federal anti-lynching legislation, which were met with charges of “racial favoritism” (like the arguments of “reverse racism of today”) because lynching mostly targeted on blacks.
You can’t make this stuff up!
As I say, just about any crime or misdemeanor was enough to get a black man lynched. For instance, here are a few excerpts from the Third Edition of Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror:
“In 1934, after being accused of ‘associating with a white woman’ in Newton, Texas, John Griggs was hanged and shot seventeen times and his body was dragged behind a car through the town for hours.
“Richard Wilkerson was lynched in Manchester, Tennessee, in 1934 for allegedly slapping a white man who had assaulted a Black woman at an African American dance.
“In 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched in Luverne, Alabama, for referring to a white police officer by his name without the title of ‘mister.’”
When it came to white violence against blacks, the rule of law was conspicuous by its absence. Studies show that of all of the hundreds of lynchings committed in the twentieth century, only about one percent of the perpetrators were ever convicted of a crime.
The Civil Rights Era. This is another excerpt from Lynching in America:
“Black Southerners who survived the lynching era remained subject to the established legal system of racial apartheid known as Jim Crow. As organized resistance to this racial caste system began to swell in the early 1950s, Black demonstrators were met with violent opposition from white police officers and community members.
“Black activists protesting racial segregation and disenfranchisement through boycotts, sit-ins, voter registration drives, and mass marches consistently faced physical attacks, riots, and bombings from whites. As a leader of the non-violent protest movement, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. challenged white law enforcement officials and private citizens who issued death threats, physically assaulted him at public lectures, and bombed his Montgomery, Alabama, home while his wife and infant daughter were inside.
Dr. King under arrest in Fulton County Alabama 

“Police attacked demonstrators during highly publicized events like Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. Even black children engaging in peaceful demonstrations were at great risk of harm and death. In 1963, four young girls were killed when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed, and that year, more than seven hundred black children protesting racial segregation in the city were arrested, blasted with fire hoses, clubbed by police, and attacked by police dogs.”
The study also mentions another Klan lynching that was masterfully addressed in the 1988 Alan Parker film, Mississippi Burning, starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe:
“Closely mirroring the era of lynching, police in Mississippi facilitated the extrajudicial murders of civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner in 1964 by delivering the men to a white mob after detaining them for an alleged traffic violation.
“A mob of Ku Klux Klansmen, who had gathered during the several hours the three young men were held in jail, was ready and waiting to seize and murder them upon release. Just as lynchings had been justified in the preceding decades, these violent incidents were defended as necessary to maintain “law and order.”
The Orangeburg Massacre. Nor did the wholesale killing of African Americans end after the first half of the twentieth century. The Orangeburg (South Carolina) Massacre took place in February of 1968, the year I graduated from High School. Orangeburg is home to two historically black colleges—South Carolina State University and Claflin University. Despite that fact, businesses in Orangeburg in 1968 remained eminently old school white.
One of the town’s segregated businesses was the local bowling alley. So when a black Vietnam War veteran student went there wanting to bowl, he was turned away. When word of the incident spread, several hundred students from Claflin and South Carolina State went to the bowling alley to take part in a non-violent protest outside.
Local police arrived on the scene to try and disperse the protesters. In the process, white cops beat up two black female students. This infuriated other protesters who, en route back to their campuses, smashed the windows of white-owned businesses.
The violence escalated when Governor Robert McNair sent in South Carolina state troopers and the National Guard. By late evening of February 8, the day of the protest, the governor had the South Carolina State campus surrounded by Army tanks and one hundred heavily armed state riot police, backed up by four hundred fifty reinforcements who were standing by downtown.
A couple hundred black students had built a bonfire on the SCSU campus and were gathered around it in a demonstration of student solidarity. A fire truck with an armed State Police escort was sent in to put the fire out. In a confusing incident, the chilly evening air was broken by a fusillade of shotgun blasts that lasted about ten seconds. When the shotguns fell silent, twenty-eight students lay wounded on the ground, while three others were dead. All presented buckshot wounds and nearly all of them had been shot in the back or from the side.

The three fatal casualties were all black and all male: SCSU students Henry Smith and Samuel Hammond, and a local high school student Delano Middleton. An already well-known bystander wounded in the melee was arrested—Cleveland Sellers, who had recently left his national post as program director for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (an organization that police believed formed part of Stokely Carmichael’s Black Power movement), to return to his home state of South Carolina and organize a program of black awareness there. He was arrested at the hospital where he was being treated. He was charged with inciting a riot and was later sentenced to a year of hard labor. His alleged agitation was a State Police invention and two decades later the false allegation would be expunged from his record.
In an enquiry following the campus shootings, the officers who had opened fire on the gathering admitted that they had done it, but claimed it was in self-defense. According to eye witnesses, this was patently false. The federal government brought abuse of power charges against them, but two different South Carolina juries failed to back the charges and no one was ever held responsible for the killings or the twenty-eight other shootings.
Twenty-First Century Massacres. The recent resurgence of racial animosity and, indeed, of open racism, make it clear that the hard work of the Civil Rights Era is not over by a longshot. What the open racism of the current administration in Washington and the far too broad echo that it has found in ever more vociferous segments of the American public demonstrate is that systemic racism against people of color and other ethnicities has not been conquered, as some of us might have hoped and believed. It has merely been dormant since the seventies.

It takes little to rekindle it. A president who sees “very fine people” among neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klanners at a rally in which an anti-white supremacist protestor was murdered and others injured provides a window into why racists are once again feeling emboldened to commit unspeakable acts. Indeed, it is the reason that the opposition candidate in upcoming elections has given for why he is running, “to win back the soul of America.”
When a white supremacist called Dylann Roof walked into Charleston, South Carolina’s Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and slaughtered nine black worshippers on June 17, 2015, it was symbolic of the new rise of racism following the election and re-election of the country’s first African American president. The current president has played strongly to that racist base and to their hatred of his predecessor, empowering them to give new rein to vile old attitudes.  
Emblematic too then, have been the unjustified slayings by police since 2016 of African Americans like the previously mentioned George Floyd in Minneapolis,  Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Philando Castile in St. Paul, Stephon Clark in Sacramento and Breonna Taylor in Louisville. Or the others who were summarily executed prior to the current administration in Washington, back when the Justice Department was still willing to investigate racial injustices—victims like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott and so many others.
To those who say, “Why should black lives matter any more than any other lives?” all I can say is, you are missing the point by light-years. It isn’t that the lives of African Americans, or of caged Hispanic children, or of Dreamers threatened with deportation although the US is the only home they have ever known, or of Asians, or of Muslims, or of Jews, or of any of the other minorities that the current racist revival sees as alien invaders of a white supremacist world matter more than those of the majority. But they at least need to matter as much! And we need to do penance for everything we, the white majority, have done wrong up to now. We, as a society, need to evolve past skin color, ethnicity, social class or religion as barriers to unity. And as white people, we need to bend over backward to set the historical record to rights.
For my fellow whites Americans, who say African Americans need to “get over it and move on”, I invite you to go back and thoroughly read the house of horrors that is this essay on the history we would like to forget—or have others forget. This is not black history. It is American history, our history. And if we are white, we are the villains in it, by proxy, by omission, or by commission. It is an unspeakable history, but one that indeed needs to be spoken, and taught, and repeated until we “get it” and are willing to make amends and never let it happen again.
And in order to do that, perhaps we should stop and think for a moment about what kind of anger, resentment, sorrow and sense of injustice we would feel if our history had been the other way around and we couldn’t recall a time when someone in our immediate family, our extended family, or our broader racial family hadn’t been murdered, lynched, massacred, dispossessed, beaten or falsely accused simply because he or she was white.
Think about it, because in a not too distant generation, our descendants will be the minority and hopefully other races will be kinder and more generous with us than we’ve been with them. But also think about it because understanding it fully, accepting it and doing something positive about it is what we need to do in order to finally embrace the true meaning of Black Lives Matter and start to sow peace and healing for our society as a whole.