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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Saturday, July 03, 2004

A netwise historical concatenation

It's the July 4 weekend, so it's no more Bush or Kerry round here till Tuesday. Yay!

I come across the amusing Civil War era stories of Artemus Ward, aka Charles Farrar Browne, dialect humorist [1], on the page and in person [1]. He wrote at a time when the Copperheads (or Copperhead-ism, at least) were something of a force in Northern politics. Thus, in his Sixty Minutes in Africa, he writes
The African may be our brother. Several highly respectable gentlemen and some talented females tell me that he is, and for argument's sake I might be induced to grant it, though I don't believe it myself. But the African isn't our sister, and wife, and uncle. He isn't several of our brothers and first wife's relations. He isn't our grandfather and great grandfather, and our aunt in the country. Scarcely.

One Edward P Hingston (same URL) comments
It may easily be imagined how popular this joke became when it is remembered that it was first perpetrated at a time when the negro question was so much debated as to have become an absolute nuisance. Nothing else was talked of; nobody would talk of anything but the negro. The saying arose that all Americans had "nigger-on the-brain." The topic had become nauseous, especially to the Democratic party; and Artemus always had more friends among them than among the Republicans. If he had any politics at all he was certainly a Democrat.

Does that make him part of that Democratic wing of the Democratic Party I keep hearing about?

Harper's Weekly cartoons from 1863 and 1864 also use the expression Nigger on the brain. It seems to be a phrase peculiarly associated with the Copperheads in 1863-4 [3].

Which led me to a compare and contrast - of no probative value whatever - between American and British attitudes to race.

And the name Dr Hastings Banda came to mind: Banda, born in Nyasaland (now Malawi), came to Britain, via the US, to train and work as a doctor. He was a GP in poor areas of England - where racial prejudice would be outweighed by the chronic lack of medical services (his time in Britain straddled the beginning of the National Health Service in 1948).

I have no reason to suppose (no evidence either way) that he did not treat white women, and for gynecological as well as other matters. I can only speculate how many of his contemporary Negro doctors in the US would have been doing the same at that time.

And the often-told story of the Negro servicemen stationed in Britain during World War 2. There was prejudice, of course; but hostility against the importation of Jim Crow laws (and an appreciation of the WW2 race irony [4]) perhaps made relations easier than they might have been.

Suggestive is the case of Leroy Henry - sentenced to hang for the rape of a white woman (a part-time whore). An outcry amongst the British public got him released.

Part of the relatively relaxed attitude amongst the wartime British was the fact that the Negroes were a novelty. When large numbers of West Indians (mostly of African descent) arrived in the 1950s and 1960s, things got uglier [5]. But long-lasting ghettoes never developed. (In contrast to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, who, in several cities, have created their own. Indians - Moslem Hindu and Sikh alike - have not. Or, at least, have no reputation for having so done.)

  1. Which dialect, I'm not sure. He was born in Maine, but got his break writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

  2. Ward is a discovery only to your ignorant blogger, of course! His works available online all over - here, for instance.

  3. A history of the 12th West Virginia, for instance; Abraham Lincoln papers here and here; letter from one Jacob Cohen.

  4. One race-obsessed nation (the US) fighting another (Germany). The humiliating Visiting Forces Act 1942 - by which the UK granted the US the sort of capitulations provided to superior foreign powers by the Turks and the Chinese - was not calculated to endear the British to the US military authorities.

  5. There is, from memory, a similar effect in France: there is (or was) less prejudice amongst Fran├žais de souche against Africans than against North Africans (norafs, ratons, bicots amongst other choice slang terms). The immigration of the former was smaller and more gradual than that of the latter. And the banlieues are often ghettoised, no-go areas for cops and other whites.

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