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Taking on Confederacy-era values
NAACP takes stand against southern celebrations
 
Published Thursday, April 14, 2011 7:19 am
by Dwight Ott, Philadelphia Tribune

The reverberations from down South over the Confederate flag and the 150th anniversary of the kickoff of the Civil War can be felt as far way as a Voorhees, N.J. gym.

That’s where the laughter of Sollie Walker, 64, a South Carolina native, can usually be heard above the clank of the weights and boom of voices at the gym just outside Philadelphia.

But, Sollie Walker wasn’t laughing last week as he was asked about the Confederate flag that hangs over his former state capitol building.  Nor was he smiling when he talked about the upcoming Fort Sumter anniversary in South Carolina.


“Blacks, in my family as well as others, are really upset,” he said, especially over the cavalier preparations of some whites for the celebration.

 
To many, the event commemorates the bombing of and invasion of the U.S. government by insurgents to preserve a way of life involving the buying and selling of human beings — black human beings.


Last December the celebrations included a gala “Secession Ball” complete with period costumes.


NAACP president, the Rev. Lonnie Randolph said another celebration is coming up with the commemoration of the firing on Fort Sumter, the start of Civil War hostilities.


“The big event is on April 12 — that is the day Fort Sumter was fired on by the Confederacy. There will be another re-enactment of a firing on a military installation,” he said, adding the Fort Sumter installation is now under the management of the National Park Service.


“The National Park service has been very quiet about all of this,” he said.


Mississippi and South Carolina are the only two states that fly Confederate flags on state house property.
Derrick Johnson, head of the Mississippi state NAACP could not be reached for comment.


In South Carolina, Randolph said the local NAACP was not yet prepared to announce its plans for the commemorations. In the past, the NAACP has shown its displeasure with the Confederate flag as well as Confederate galas forcefully.


The organization registered its disgust with the location of Confederate flag with the launching of a nationwide tourist boycott against South Carolina to end the practice of flying the Confederate flag over the statehouse. NAACP officials like Randolph, say the boycott has been successful, even though the flag was not moved all the way off the state house grounds.


“The monument on the statehouse ground is a shrine to white supremacy, yet they would not allow a monument to [slave revolt conspirator] Denmark Vesey in Charleston,” Randolph observed.


Vesey, himself a free man of color at the time, was captured and hanged but remains a hero to blacks in that area.
Meanwhile, according to Randolph, monuments to white supremacists like John C. Calhoun and Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, dot the urban landscape and the countryside.


Though the flag was not moved all the way off the statehouse grounds, the impact of the NAACP nationwide boycott has been felt in other ways.


The boycott has been particularly successful in dissuading sports events from coming to South Carolina. Myrtle Beach decided not to apply to host the 2012 Olympic trials for beach volleyball for fear an NAACP boycott on South Carolina will hurt its chances at attracting the event, a decision that has left future sports tourism in question.


The state was previously embarrassed when the ACC baseball tournament was awarded to, and then withdrawn from, Myrtle Beach for 2011 to 2013; it was withdrawn after the NAACP raised concerns.


The boycott has also influenced the NCAA, which will not award predetermined championships to South Carolina.  But, John Rhodes has said the boycott has had limited impact on Myrtle Beach because African-American tourists, unaware of the boycott, are still coming.


“People think this is some happy-go-lucky event,” said Randolph about the celebrations. “The Confederacy was a terrorist organization.  We don’t re-enact things like Timothy McVeigh [the bomber of Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla.]. We don’t re-enact the people who bombed the World Trade Center and killed all those people on 9/11,” said Randolph.


In neighboring North Carolina, NAACP executive director, Amina Josey Turner, [whose husband is a relative of Nat Turner] said she agreed with Randolph’s characterization of Confederates who deliberately bombed and attacked the U.S. government as terrorists.


“We’re decades away from Civil War time,” she said. “But we’re still reliving the wounds from that period, generations of racism and classicism.  Yes, we do have an African-American president, but there is also a resurgence of racism and its attendant problems.  They’re celebrating what was painful in black history.”


Sollie Walker and experts agree the Civil War did throw a wrench into the South’s “economic system” that had been based on “theft of services” and the buying and selling of human beings.


After the war, control of the South temporarily passed to federal troops, who occupied the South from the 1860s to the late 1870s.  But, after the election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president, federal troops were withdrawn. The old white ruling class and the poor whites they controlled returned to power.


Utilizing a campaign of terror via groups like the KKK and the Red Shirts as well a system of Black Codes designed to keep blacks down, they established a new kind of slavery that some say was worst than the first — sharecropping, which reduced former slaves to the level of serfdom. Blacks, though “free,” returned to their “place” on the plantation tilling the land and “sharing” it with the plantation owner.


Though whites no longer engaged in the legal ownership of blacks, people of color remained dependent on whites, since they had to “buy” their tools and equipment from planters who controlled them through such indebtedness.


It wasn’t until the 1960s that many of the most overt shackles of Jim Crow segregation were broken. Mechanization put an end to sharecropping, though in many cases blacks culturally and economically still remain dependent on whites even to this day – even in the North.


In fact, some have described modern day prisons as the “New Jim Crow,” since so many young black males are scooped up from the streets on minor drug violations or manufactured cases and thrown into modern prisons.


The prisoners are not educated or taught useful skills and in some cases their voting rights are taken away.  Some refer to this system as the “Prison/Industrial Complex” — a new method of controlling blacks that has been privatized to make money for eager companies, usually headed by whites.


And, there is evidence that for many the Civil War is not over.


According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, despite Obama’s election, the number of hate groups for the first time has topped 1,000.


Meanwhile, “an anti-government ‘Patriot’ movement expanded dramatically for the second straight year as the radical right showed continued explosive growth in 2010,” the center stated.


A graph on the front page of the report indicated that South Carolina alone may have as many as 170 neo-Nazi groups, as well as a substantial number of White supremacist groups.


“In South Carolina, we have the second highest number of hate groups in the country, more than the entire state of California,” said Randolph.  “It’s not state’s rights these people want; it’s White supremacy,” said Randolph.
The memories of South Carolina disturb Sollie.


“When my grandmother would see that flag she would always say ‘there go my reparations.’  She said, ‘That flag means you got to pay me for all that free labor you got out of my mother and other slaves.”


The Rev. William J. Barber II, North Carolina’s NAACP president, commented about the resurgence of white supremacy in the report on the tea party released months ago.


“We have to have particular concern about supremacy attitudes, violence, hate language, particularly when it’s rooted in notions of restoring or taking back or redeeming the country,” Barber stated.  “Because, in the American social-historical-political psyche, we have historical markers that tell us how dangerous this is to be given legitimacy.”


“We know in 1867 when the Ku Klux Klan, for instance, laid out its political purposes, it was about restoring and re-enfranchising, if you will,” stated Barber.  “And, then when you go to the Reconstruction Era, you find this same attempt to spew this division, this hate language out … ‘we need to restore America.  We need to take it back.’”

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