The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Sunday, November 02, 2003

Dean and The Human Stain - more racial blasts from the past in the Land of the Free

It's an accusation not uncommonly made of Englishmen - especially by Germans caught between Canossa-like self-abasement over their (great-(great-))grandfathers' part in World War 2 and seething resentment at the expectation of others that they should thus demean themselves - that they persist in living in the past: Imperial Echoes is our signature tune, they say [1].

But, in fact, the British Empire to most people here is watching The Jewel in the Crown on video: history is a far more clear and present danger to the smooth running of the modern American polity.

Ripped from the headlines #1: leading lefty among the Little League, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, decides to broaden his appeal, and goes down among the rednecks (WaPo November 2): an interview with the Des Moines Register, Dean mentioned the Confederate flag. "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks," he told the Register. "We can't beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross section of Democrats."

Goodbye Bleeding Heart, hallo Boss Hogg! Even amongst its Southern delegation, the rest of the Little League is having forty fits of the vapours, like an ante-bellum Southron matron whom an uppity nigger had had the temerity to look in the eye (a tricky task given the height of those pedestals on which Southron matrons were placed, of course...). Fans being fluttered furiously, maids plying smelling-salts, grizzled butlers uttering soothing words in the lower bass register of Mr Paul Robeson.

It's an election campaign, and voters expect that sort of pantomime. Of course, as any fule kno, the Confederate flag in post-Civil War politics is a modern invention of the Democratic Party: the first to draft it into the segregation forever cause was, it seems, Democratic Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi, attempting to balk James Meredith's attempt to enter the University of Mississippi [2]. Other Democratic Party paragons - George Wallace, for instance - took their cue and coopted the flag for use in the (Soon to be) Lost Cause.

The Party of Treason in the South, for the second time in a century, had to endure humiliation at the hands of the Yankee for the sake of its Negroes - but at least it could still wave the flag of rebellion - right up to the South Carolina farrago of earlier this year (February 5).

Courtesy of the GOP's Southern Strategy (January 21), a lot of the flag-wavers eventually found a new home. Although Republicans were, in deed, as wedded to the New Racial Order as the Dems, they were at least sympathetic to their bereavement. Trent Lott's Dixiecrat encomium (December 2002 archives passim) was just going a little further than most in providing a comforting shoulder.

The compartmentalisation of the American political class about the Democratic Party's century-plus as the party par excellence of slavery and Jim Crow never ceases to amaze me - that, for example, former Klansman Robert Byrd D-WV still finds a warm welcome in the US Senate Chamber: taking the national love of self-reinvention to something of an extreme.

[Memo to self: how would the ADL have reacted if the NSDAP had been allowed to present itself to the electorate of the new German Federal Republic in 1949, merely shorn of its former personnel and antisemitic policies?]

Meanwhile - Ripped from the Headlines #2 - we have a movie about a Tragic Mulatto. The old fictional trope I mentioned on October 13. But The Human Stain is a brand new 2003 release [3]. And, in this case, if I've got it right, the Negro who turns out to be Anthony Hopkins decides to pass as a Jew - something of a nod to the mid-century liberal alliance between Jews and Negroes that once prospered at the other end of the Democratic Party to Ross Barnett's.

[There is, by the by, an interesting paper (PDF) by Jerald E Podair on The Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis: New York's Antigone [4]. The affair was triggered when, in May 1968, a Jewish teacher in Brooklyn, Fred Nauman, was fired by a predominantly Negro school board in the cause of diversity. Apparently, the swankier end of Big Apple Jewry failed to come to the aid of the party - the majority-Jewish United Federation of Teachers, to be exact - and the Jewish teachers found new and unexpected allies amongst the Catholics.]

  1. It actually was the signature tune for Radio Newsreel, broadcast on the BBC - from 1940 onwards, from memory - first on domestic services, latterly only on the World Service. It was only dropped from WS around 1990. (There's a 1947 speech from Michael Barkway, the guy who started it - not many people know that. Truly.)

  2. There is, of course, no such thing as the Confederate flag - the arcana, an anorak's dream, don't interest me much, but the February 5 piece links to earlier pieces with links to details.

    Barnett gave a speech at half-time during an Ole Miss football game in Jackson, MS - the opponents were Kentucky - in which he said (reportedly):

    "I love Mississippi," Barnett boomed to the electrified crowd, as Ole Miss cheerleaders jumped up and down, and students waved the Confederate banner. "I love her people. I love her customs. I love and respect our heritage."
    (There is a conflict of evidence - this piece refers to a Barnett speech at a football game on September 28 1962 - which would seem to fit the chronology. But the September 28 game was said to have been against Louisiana State University - LSU.

    I can triangulate with a serendipitous copy of James Meredith's Three Years in Mississippi (1966), which says (p210) that

    It was Sunday. Barnett had had his greatest day of triumph the day before at the "Ole Miss" football game in Jackson...
    Sunday was September 30, implying the game took place on September 29, the Saturday - which makes sense. Unfortunately, the book has no details about what happened at the game; Meredith's mind was on other things at the time, of course.

    Reasonably diligent searches have failed to reveal whether, during the September 28/9 speech, Barnett himself was waving, or was draped in, the Confederate flag.

  3. Not, I hasten to add, that I've seen the film - so this is clearly not criticism.

  4. Also a book, The Strike That Changed New York.


Fred Nauman survived the Ocean Hill-Brownsville business to retire as a teacher in 2000.

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