Will Trump Resurrect a Violent South?


Hate groups are on the rise. Klan membership is increasing astronomically. In Trumped-up America, are we marching back to Bloody Sunday and Bombingham?

As police shootings of blacks continue, as anti-Muslim speech and violence intensifies, and as Donald Trump surfs a wave of Alt-Right bigotry toward the White House, I can’t help flashing back to the Alabama of my childhood, half a century ago. I grew up in a small town during the heyday of George Wallaceand the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, when wholesale hatred and violence from angry whites were directed against African Americans seeking equality.

I was seven in May 1963, when the police chief in Birmingham turned fire hoses and police dogs loose on Civil Rights protesters. I was still seven in September, when four KKK members planted a bomb beneath the steps ofBirmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, which had played an active role in the movement. The bundle of dynamite—15 sticks say some accounts, 19 say others—went off shortly before the worship service was scheduled to start, killing four girls and injuring more than 20 other people. It was the city’s deadliest bombing, but far from the first: previously some 50 racially motivated explosions had already earned Birmingham the nickname “Bombingham.”

I was nine in March 1965, when state troopers and a mounted sheriff’s posse blocked a march by peaceful protesters in Selma. After a brief standoff, the police attacked the marchers, firing tear gas and clubbing people with wooden nightsticks. At the time, I was too young and too sheltered—I lived in a quiet town of 6,500—to grasp the ferocity of the bigotry and violence.

By the time I was in seventh grade, my school had integrated. One of my basketball teammates was a black boy named Earl—“Earl the Pearl”—who, confounding stereotypes, played as badly as I did. Earl sometimes stopped by my house after school to shoot hoops, but we both remained benchwarmers, sitting side by side: equals, judged not by the color of our skin but by the lameness of our game. Dr. King’s dream had come true, at least in a third-string sort of way.

In high school I got religion and felt called to the ministry; at 16, I landed an appointment as a Methodist lay pastor, preaching the gospel twice a month at a one-room country church whose dead, their graves adorned with dusty plastic flowers, far outnumbered the living. One day early in my appointment, I passed a hand-lettered sign beside the road, less than a mile from my church: Klan Meeting Tonight. I was astonished; I’d imagined the Klan was over and done with. I was also baffled. Who would go to a Klan meeting in this sleepy crossroads? Would Etta Mae, the church’s fifty-something pianist? Her husband, Bob, whom I never saw on Sundays because he had his own pulpit, in a fire-and-brimstone Primitive Baptist church? The handful of quiet farmers and highway-department workers scattered among my pews?

Being young and new and unsure of myself, I didn’t ask about the sign, I’m sorry to say. Over the course of my pastorate—which ended two years later, when I went off to college and lost my theological certainty—I never saw the sign again.

I remember it, though—more often than ever now, against the backdrop of Ferguson and Black Lives Matter and White Lives Matter and Charleston and a sickening rise in hate groups and Klan groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose Intelligence Project tracks extremists of all stripes, the number of U.S. hate groups rose last year to more than 1,600—a 14 percent increase in just one year. More alarmingly, says the SPLC, the number of Klan chapters rose by more than 250 percent in 2015, to a total of nearly 200.

Last fall came the mass shootings in San Bernardino and Paris, which killed dozens of people in the name of radical Islam. Those tragedies were followed by a fierce anti-Muslim backlash. Donald Trump vowed to ban Muslim immigration and called for a “national registry” of Muslims already in the country. Trump’s Muslim-bashing was mirrored by (perhaps partly responsible for) a continuing surge of anti-Muslim violence, including incidents of vandalism and arson at mosques, widespread harassment, and violent assaults—beatings and murders—of innocent Muslims.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sympathizing with radicalized terrorists who kill in the name of Allah. Their actions sicken and grieve me, just as “Christian Identity” violence—shootings and bombings at abortion clinics, or calls for the killing of every Jew in America—sickens and grieves me. Murder gives God—any God—a bad rap. You don’t have to be a former preacher boy to realize that.

I no longer live in Alabama; now I’m next door in Georgia, in the music-making, tatted-up town of Athens, home of the University of Georgia. I love it here. And yet: Two weeks after the Charleston church shootings—and less than an hour after my wife and I first arrived in Athens—a shiny crew-cab pickup rumbled past us, cruising the street that doubles as the university’s fraternity row. Two big Confederate battle flags streamed behind it, waved by jeering young white men, and my wife—a newly hired professor of social work and human rights—stopped dead, turned to me, and wept tears of sadness and fury.

Last month, in Covington, Georgia, a Muslim group’s plan to build a mosque was thrown into doubt when a militia group staged a protest at the proposed site. Some of the militia members wore fatigues and carried assault rifles. Their spokesman called the local Muslims “a future ISIS training group.”

It’s not very far to Covington from Athens. Truth is, these days it’s not very far to Covington from anywhere in Georgia. Or Alabama. Or America. The back roads of bigotry and dark alleys of violence could quickly take us all to Covington. From there, it’s only a hop, skip, and a rope back to Bloody Sunday and Bombingham and Klan Meeting Tonight.

Jon Jefferson is a crime novelist in Athens, Georgia.

 

 

BJSquiggel

 

I was a teen in the 60’s and I remember protesting Vietnam, eating dinner while we watched them pull the numbers of the next boys going to Vietnam, and watching American Bandstand and learning about Civil Rights. I didn’t know what a lynching was until I saw one on the news. I remember being horrified by what was happening in the South. If only Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated, I thought and the reconstruction he planned had happened. I was even more idealistic then than I am now.

 

Today I am a 66 year old rebel and I do not like what is happening in our beautiful country. First of all, it is not perfect and it never will be. It was not perfect when the Founding Fathers still walked the streets of Philadelphia. The Revolutionary War separated the people into two sides, the Whigs and the Tories. The war tore many families apart. The Civil War saw the formation of the Union and the Confederacy.

 

Today our country is going through a very difficult time. The country is full of haters, racists, bigots, narrow-minded people who live in fear of all that is different. This has happened before in our country and we survived. Our country is growing up just as our children have. Things that worked before, just don’t anymore. Americans are more educated than we used to be, we are more traveled, we have experienced more natural disasters and crime than before.

 

America is also prone to periods of paranoia  For example the McCarthy years when many talented Americans left and became ex-pats because McCarthy was determined to root out all Communism …real or imagined.  He terrified people to give up names of others who were communists where it was true or not; to save themselves from going to jail. Careers were destroyed.

 

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, we rounded up all Japanese people and put them in camps. Many of them were of Japanese heritage but were born here. That was cruel, but America was paranoid once again.

 

We must stop the hating and every American must turn back to what is important in life. Friendship, love, kindness, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness. We need to put violence into our past where it belongs. Yes, there are refugees living here now. Yes, we have a lot of Latinos here. We are a country built by immigrant peoples. All of this land belonged to the Indigenous people. We killed them and stole their land from them. But as Americans we can learn, we can grow, we can take the higher road this time. We can stop all of the negativity that is pummeling  our country and open up our arms to each other.

 

This is what acceptance comes in. You may be Irish, Black, Italian, Asian, Swedish, Russian, or Tibetan but we are the same. The differences may be cultural or spiritual or the color of skin, but they don’t matter. There are no 100% Americans so put your egos away and realize that we all came here from somewhere else, or someone in your family tree did. Stop hating, stop hating anyone. Muslims, blacks, little people, fat people are all acceptable in the arms of Divinity. Do you know more than God? I don’t think so. Yes, there is warring going on with radical Jihadists, they are a very small portion of the Muslim population.

 

Don’t let America be torn apart again. Vote. Go home and practice whatever spiritually you follow in peace for yourself and for all other people.

Pearl Harbor


Newspaper headlines

Newspaper headlines

This attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was a sneak attack against the United States.

This attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was a sneak attack against the United States.

Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941 
Overview and Special Image Selection

The 7 December 1941 Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor was one of the great defining moments in history. A single carefully-planned and well-executed stroke removed the United States Navy’s battleship force as a possible threat to the Japanese Empire’s southward expansion. America, unprepared and now considerably weakened, was abruptly brought into the Second World War as a full combatant.

Eighteen months earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had transferred the United States Fleet to Pearl Harbor as a presumed deterrent to Japanese aggression. The Japanese military, deeply engaged in the seemingly endless war it had started against China in mid-1937, badly needed oil and other raw materials. Commercial access to these was gradually curtailed as the conquests continued. In July 1941 the Western powers effectively halted trade with Japan. From then on, as the desperate Japanese schemed to seize the oil and mineral-rich East Indies and Southeast Asia, a Pacific war was virtually inevitable.

By late November 1941, with peace negotiations clearly approaching an end, informed U.S. officials (and they were well-informed, they believed, through an ability to read Japan’s diplomatic codes) fully expected a Japanese attack into the Indies, Malaya and probably the Philippines. Completely unanticipated was the prospect that Japan would attack east, as well.

The U.S. Fleet’s Pearl Harbor base was reachable by an aircraft carrier force, and the Japanese Navy secretly sent one across the Pacific with greater aerial striking power than had ever been seen on the World’s oceans. Its planes hit just before 8AM on 7 December. Within a short time five of eight battleships at Pearl Harbor were sunk or sinking, with the rest damaged. Several other ships and most Hawaii-based combat planes were also knocked out and over 2400 Americans were dead. Soon after, Japanese planes eliminated much of the American air force in the Philippines, and a Japanese Army was ashore in Malaya.

These great Japanese successes, achieved without prior diplomatic formalities, shocked and enraged the previously divided American people into a level of purposeful unity hardly seen before or since. For the next five months, until the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May, Japan’s far-reaching offensives proceeded untroubled by fruitful opposition. American and Allied morale suffered accordingly. Under normal political circumstances, an accommodation might have been considered.

However, the memory of the “sneak attack” on Pearl Harbor fueled a determination to fight on. Once the Battle of Midway in early June 1942 had eliminated much of Japan’s striking power, that same memory stoked a relentless war to reverse her conquests and remove her, and her German and Italian allies, as future threats to World peace.

–Naval History & Heritage Command

My father was traumatized by the attack on Pearl Harbor. I remember him showing me the newspapers with the headlines blazing with the news. He told me it was so hard for people to grasp. He told me that America didn’t want to enter WWII. Isolationism really was the public thinking. But the attack changed all of that. And history shows that for the rest of the world it would be a turning point in the war. Many good men died in Pearl Harbor. Some went down in their ships and are “buried” there. Those men and women who were killed that day are every bit as much heroes as the men and women who served and worked through the rest of the war to free the world. I remember my Father tearing up telling me about the attack. His family had immigrated to America, but he considered himself an American. He was not called up to fight but he followed all of the news of the day.  December 7, 1941, was a Sunday morning and the Japanese planes came out of nowhere and bombed all of the Navy ships as they were docked at Pearl Harbor. A veteran, any veteran gives up a huge piece of himself when he/she goes off to fight a war. “The Great War” was the last time that veterans came home to parades and pride for opening up the camps and letting out the Jews, Poles and Gypsies. They freed France and many men died.

My father was very upset by Pearl Harbor, but I didn’t understand why.  On 9-11, when we were once again attacked, I understood. It had happened again. My Father had passed some  20 years before, and I wish I’d been able to tell him that, now, I understood completely.

Air attack on Pearl Harbor

Air attack on Pearl Harbor

Old War-Dreams

In midnight sleep of many a face of anguish,

Of the look at first of the mortally wounded,  ( of that indescribable look, )

Of the dead on their backs with arms extended wide,

I dream, I dream, I dream

Of scenes of Nature, fields and mountains,

Of skies so beauteous after as storm, and at night the moon

so unearthly bright,

Shining sweetly, shining down, where we dig the trenches

and gather the heaps,

I dream, I dream, I dream

Long have they pass’d, faces and trenches and fields,

Where through the carnage I moved with a callous composure,

or away from the fallen,

Onward I sped at the time — but now of their forms at night,

I dream, I dream, I dream

—-Walt Whitman

Pearl Harbor attack

Pearl Harbor attack

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