Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

NAACP’s Origin: 1908 Race Riot in Lincoln’s Home Town

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Illinois Mobs Kill and Burn

Foiled in Attempt to Lynch Two Negroes, Angry Whites Start Destructive Raid

Troops Bring Gatling Gun

Mob Sets Fire to Negro District and Refuses to Allow Fire Department to Work

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Aug. 15 — Race riots are raging here as the result of an attempt to lynch two negro prisoners in the county jail. [ New York Times ]

Those are the headlines and opening sentence of a New York Times account published on August 15, 1908, of a race riot in the home town of Abraham Lincoln, the sainted president who practiced law in an office that overlooked the Old Statehouse. It was at that same building, 100 years later, where Lincoln’s would-be successor, a young Barack Obama, announced his campaign for the presidency. But, in 1908 that very area had been full of a seething white mob.

Who could have imagined it? A ‘race riot’ in Lincoln’s home town?

This was no Watts or Detroit. No, this was a white man’s riot. At one point, according to the New York Times’ account, “the sky over the east end of Springfield was aglow.”

I know that ‘east end’ of Springfield — the ‘end’ Springfield residents now call the East Side — because I was born and raised in Springfield. For as long as I can remember, the East Side was ‘the black side’ of Springfield, the ‘other side of the tracks’ just beyond Ninth Street. And it was in that part of town, the Times reporter wrote 101 years ago, where a mob roamed, killing blacks and destroying their homes and businesses.

How did this all begin?

On the hot summer evening of August 13, 1908, a white woman, Mabel Hallam, who lived on Springfield’s north side, claimed she’d been raped by a black man. Subsequently an African-American construction worker, George Richardson, was identified by Hallam, whom she told “I believe that you are the man and that you will have to prove that you are not.” [ Something So Horrible, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation, 2008 ]

Richardson said, “Before God, I am innocent of this crime. I can explain her identification of me only by the theory that all coons look alike to her.”

According to the Lincoln Presidential Library account, “Richardson was a handsome, dark-skinned man, the well-spoken grandson one of Springfield’s most prominent Blacks, William Florville, who had been Abraham Lincoln’s barber.”

Richardson was taken to the county jail, where another black prisoner, arrested a month earlier in a different case, resided.

The next morning the city opened its newspaper, The Illinois State Journal, to find this screaming headline: “DRAGGED FROM HER BED AND OUTRAGED BY NEGRO.”

Aflame with the alleged ‘violation of a white woman by a black man’ — the ruse concocted to lynch untold numbers of black men over the history of this nation — an angry mob formed at the jail, demanding the sheriff to release his two black prisoners, so the mob could lynch them both.

Instead the sheriff spirited the two out of town for their protection, and the riot began in full force.

One of those killed in the furious mayhem was a black barber named Scott Burton, who faced the mob in his shop doorway. Someone shot and killed Burton “and his body was paraded from his porch to a place several blocks away where it was hanged from a tree outside a saloon. Burton’s corpse became the symbol of the mob’s hatred of blacks and was riddled by bullets.”

At the end of the second day of rioting, the mob, frustrated in its attempt to roust other black Springfieldians from under militia protection at the state arsenal, marched across the Capitol grounds, where the militia was encamped, to the home of 80 year-old William Donnegan, a successful businessman. Donnegan came out of his house - two blocks from the Capitol - to confront the crowd of a dozen men, who attacked him, cut his throat and used clothesline rope to lynch Donnegan to a small tree standing in a school yard across the street from his home. He was cut down, still alive, by members of the militia, whose act proved too late to save Donnegan’s life.

And how did State Journal, Springfield’s leading newspaper, headline its day-after, post-riot account? Well, it tells you a lot about what Springfield was in 1908, and what, eerily, still lurks there today: “Frenzied Mob Sweeps City, Wreaking Bloody Vengeance For Negro’s Heinous Crime.”

A ‘crime’ that had never occurred.

“Two weeks after the riot, Mabel Hallam would confess to the grand jury that her story of rape by a Black man was a lie. … But that Friday morning, August 14, her cry set the mob in motion and evoked death, destruction and untold hardship for which Hallam was never held accountable.”

Something positive did come of this horrific event: the NAACP was founded less than six months later in New York on the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909. Last year at the Old State Capitol in Springfield, the Association commemorated its link to that terrible summer of 1908, and included a copy of William English Walling’s chilling, on-the-scene account. [ The Independent - 1908 ]

And what of Springfield today, 100 years after the founding of the NAACP, 101 years after the riot itself?

The State Journal-Register (successor to the State Journal) produced a special edition to commemorate the riot’s 100th anniversary on August 14, 2008. But below the online story in the ‘comments’ section, the ugliness of 1908 raised its head in the form of two anonymous comments:

‘tweetybird’ wrote:

“this is a total waste 0f time why keep bringing up the bad stuff? Nobody living now was involved in that. Its past. Leave it there. The article states its not forgotten. Well its not forgotten because this paper keeps shoving it down our throats. I’m tired of hearing about it. drop the subject and leave it in the past where it belongs.”

Following tweety’s comment, ‘Iremember’ wrote:

I am in my 70’s. I was born and raised in a small town outside of Springfield. When the riot was still fresh on the minds of many, I recall folks stating that one of main reasons for the riot was the black’s ‘push day.’ On one day of the week (I think it was Thursday, but am not sure), groups of blacks would literally walk down the sidewalk in mass pushing everybody — in this instance, whites — out of their way. That tactic and the supposed rape I guess set the white folks off. Whether ‘push day’ is true or not, and I am of the belief it occurred, it is part of local lore, and I am disappointed the JR didn’t do a better job of researching and reporting the complete story of the riot.”

Has the election of Barack Obama changed the thinking of these two? You have to wonder. Springfield remains a racially tense town.

Just a little more than two months ago in Springfield, a noose was hung in the work area used by a black employee of the city’s power and light utility.

The apparent target of the noose hanging, Mike Williams, an African-American, pleaded to the Springfield City Council,

“So, I beg of you, as this ground starts to shake and the rumble is coming, to please don’t just ignore this, don’t sweep this under the rug,” Williams said. “Adopt a no-tolerance policy immediately that says if you are caught or if you admit jokingly, unintentionally or whatever it may be that you committed such acts, that you will be terminated immediately.”

After Williams spoke, Archie Lawrence, president of the Springfield Branch of the NAACP, said that hanging a noose is “the ultimate insult.”

“The only thing that’s worse than hanging a noose is hanging itself,” he said, adding that he finds it impossible “to believe that anyone would hang a noose did not have the intent to send a message that black people are not welcome in this town, that black people did not deserve to perform their job without any type of threat or intimidation.”

Following a ‘review’ of the incident by the Mayor of Springfield and the Sangamon County State’s Attorney, the names of those who placed the noose were made public: one was the brother of the mayor’s former wife, and the other a nephew of the city human resource director, himself a well-known former high school coach.

The punishment – meted two months later – for the heinous act committed by these well-connected city employees in Abraham Lincoln’s home town: 60-day unpaid suspensions in scheduled five-day increments. This unusual method of discipline was taken, according to the city utility’s spokesperson, “in order to not adversely affect the operations of those departments and avoid overtime.”

At an October 7 secret meeting, the city’s civil service commission declined to intervene, yet one member questioned the suspensions as a “a new level of discipline … that basically keeps people from being terminated.”

And so it goes in the Land of Lincoln.

The President at Wakefield

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Has there been anything as unreal as the enormous row — created by the far right and ‘covered’ by cable news — over our President’s visit to Wakefield?

First, his opponents claimed he wasn’t born in the United States, even though his birth certificate was on his website all of last year.

Then he was ‘taking away our freedom’ and ‘creating death panels to pull the plug on grandma,’ according to the folks who brought you the ‘town hall’ riots last month.

Things seemed to be spiraling out of control as extremists began appearing with guns at some of the President’s events, the most outrageous of which was in Phoenix where police said the gun-toters were not breaking the law, but if something untoward should happen with those guns, “we will intervene at that time.”

Imagine the outcries that would have erupted, had an officer of the law expressed that attitude about a display of guns in the presence any other president.

Now it’s gotten personal. The crazies decided they would use Arlington’s Wakefield High School as the scene for their next showdown with the most intelligent and wise president we’ve had in generations.

And what was their issue this time?

The President was going to preach ‘socialism’ to our children and use a national speech to indoctrinate them into a foreign ideology.

Well folks, it’s over; and his speech was inspiring.

His message could not have been clearer to the students for whom it was intended: “I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down. Don’t let your family down or your country down. Most of all, don’t let yourself down. Make us all proud.”

No demagogic forest fires; no Karl Marx or Adolph Hitler apparitions. Just our impressive new President, setting aside time to tell kids to get with it, and take school as seriously as he — a troubled young man — did when he turned around his life in his youth.

Now it’s back to our starving economy, hemorrhaging jobs, bank fraud, Israeli settlements, torture committed in our name, and wars and untold crises that never appear on our radar but engulf him every moment.

Thanks for coming over, Mr. President. We in Arlington are grateful for your visit and hope you’ll stop by any time you, Michelle or the girls want.

You see, America, we’re proud of our President, and embrace him openly. We want the world to know that we welcomed him to our wonderful community.

Lincoln Gave Him Strawberries

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

As he lay on his cot at Carver U.S. General Hospital in Washington, D.C., Caleb Brewster of New York heard a knock on the door at the end of the ward. And when it opened, he saw the President, Abraham Lincoln, standing tall in the doorway. Caleb watched the President walk down the rows of cots, hat in hand, speaking to an occasional soldier.

Imagine. It’s 1864 and you’ve been shot at Spottsylvania Courthouse, just 70 miles south of Washington, by a ‘minieball‘, which has mangled your right hand.

You find yourself in a military hospital in Washington, far away from the home you left three years ago in New York. Outside a nearby window you’ve seen the President, sometimes alone, on horseback as he rode to his summer ‘cottage‘ at the Soldiers’ Home, three miles north of the White House.

One day, standing alongside your humble cot in the hot ward, that same tall, bearded President reaches to shake your hand. Your right having been damaged, you extend your left, and President Abraham Lincoln asked when you’d been hit, And after hearing of your wounding at Spottsylvania, he shakes his head sorrowfully as he stands to leave.

Growing up in Springfield, Illinois, I heard that story many times, and was able to read it, just as you see it in the link above.

Our mother, Jean Hartley Penning – the granddaughter of Caleb - took her six post-War children to visit Lincoln’s home on Seventh Street and his magnificent tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery nearly every February 12, the date on which Lincoln had been born in 1809.

So, today has special meaning for all sons and daughters of Springfield. We honor his memory while we celebrate the presidency of Barack Obama, who opened his campaign on the steps of the old state capitol, where Lincoln had received visitors after learning of his victory. And where, on June 16, 1858, he delivered words nearly as applicable to our condition today:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. … I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

For President Obama seemed to speak similarly February 9:
“We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It is a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the sake of our future and our children’s. The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. That is the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship, and it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead. After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can.”

With President Lincoln as his guide, we must hope and pray our new President can equally bind our nation’s wounds and lead us from through this terrible moment in our history.

This is how I, as a great grandson of Caleb Brewster, will remember this day. One filled with the memory of Caleb and our slain 16th president; and with hope that our 44th will bring us together to meet the challenges of our own time.


Answering That ‘Forwarded’ E-Mail: “The Democrats Didn’t Bring Change”

Monday, October 13th, 2008

You know how it goes. A friend who ‘forwards’ lots of e-mails sends you this one: “HERE IS THE CHANGE!,” which dumps all over the Democrats, saying they’ve done nothing since the won the majority in ‘06. Don’t groan and delete it. Copy all those who’ve been sent the ‘forwarded forward’ and start your answer this way:

Think about it.

Sure, the Democrats got control of both houses in ‘06. But they hold the Senate by one vote, and that one belongs to McCain’s best friend, Connecticut’s former Democrat Joe Lieberman [ ]. It takes 60 votes to do anything in the Senate, which must approve anything passed by the House before it can go to the President [ C-SPAN ].

So the Republicans have blocked nearly everything the Democrats have tried to move forward [ New York Times ]. Besides, we have a Republican president who threatens to veto or does veto everything the Congress may manage to put together that could have brought change [ ].

For six of the past eight years we have ‘enjoyed’ an administration and GOP Congress which deregulated nearly every sector of the economy they could [ Google News Archives ]. The party had complete control of all three branches of government. Recall that the GOP-appointed members of the Supreme Court put George W. Bush into office… not the voters [ US News ].

Recall that in 2004 John McCain did a complete 180 and decided to throw his lot with Bush, after working against him for his first four years. There are photos of McCain — who stood by the President all through the 2004 campaign — embracing Bush [ msn/ ], the very man who tried to crush McCain and his credibility in 2000 [ The Boston Globe ]. McCain threw his former ‘maverick’ principles aside and welded himself to the pro-war, anti-regulation Bush agenda [ The Hill (D.C. newspaper) ].

And what did that deregulatory atmosphere bring us?

Economic collapse, the root of which came from a cleverly composed amendment by a Republican U.S. Senator, Phil Gramm of Texas, who quietly slipped his ‘hands-off Wall Street’ amendment into a must-pass bill at the end of the 2000 session of Congress [ The Texas Observer ].

That one move allowed Wall Street executives to concoct and trade and re-trade to one another ‘instruments’ — not tangible products — that led to the creation of a virtual ‘house of cards,’ as one stock analyst wrote in an e-mail [ New York Times ] , that finally began to collapse, as the free-wheeling, shaky ARM mortgages began to re-set starting in 2006 [ The Heritage Foundation ], leading to the economic disaster we’re now experiencing.

The Phil Gramm who made that move is the same Phil Gramm who said we are in a ‘mental recession’ and ‘a nation of whiners,’ as people lost their homes and then their retirement savings, and finally their livelihoods, as the stock market wizards swooned toward catastrophe. The same Phil Gramm who was ‘officially’ — and presumably still unofficially — John McCain’s top economic adviser [ The Washington Times ].

So, the Dems barely have control of the Senate, giving the GOP virtual control over it. The Dems have the House, but anything they pass is halted in the evenly-divided, filibuster-prone Senate [ McClatchy Newspapers ].

The choice, though difficult for some to consider, is becoming clearer every day. The stakes are too high to put at the head of our government a former ‘maverick’ — who turned into a Bush advocate — and his ‘heart-away-from-the-presidency’ v.p. pick, who is clearly not up to the job of assuming the duties of the Presidency, should McCain have a heart attack or his cancer recur [ The Independent-U.K. ].

She said the other night that the Constitution is ‘flexible’ when it comes to the duties of the vice president, yet the words of the Constitution could not be more precise: “The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.” Article I, Section 3 [ The United States Constitution, Cornell University School of Law ]. That is the only reference in the Constitution to the vice president, other than his or her election. He or she shall be the President’s successor in the event of the President’s death or incapacitation [ 25th Amendment ], and shall be President of the Senate. Period. No ‘flexibility.’

Times are too desperate to cast a purely partisan eye on this election. We have spiraled down terribly over the past eight years, and particularly over the past four years. “Getting government off the backs” of business [ The Idaho Statesman ] led us to this stage. Government had to step in, we have been told by the current occupant of the White House [ Associated Press via MSNBC ], because the unregulated system he nurtured fell apart. A new executive with an entirely different point of view is called for.

And on January 20th — the date that’s brought us too many scoundrels and 28 years of unhinged, wealth-tilted presidencies [ Time magazine ] — he will raise his right hand, saying, as stipulated in Article II, Section 1 of The Constitution [ The Constitution, Library of Congress, 1789 image ], “I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.”

And this time we’ll have a president who means it.

So, on November 4, get up out of your bed, go to your precinct, and, together -– all across this immense land — we’ll get our country back again.

God save this great nation.

Dealing From the Bottom of the Slime

Sunday, August 3rd, 2008

So, this is the legacy you want, John McCain?

You did not start the race division between the Republican and Democratic Parties, but you are feeding it generously. We can most likely find its birth in the moments after Lyndon Johnson had addressed Congress, advocating for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and uttering three words that transformed the political divide for the next 43 years.

He looked out at his colleagues and the nation and said, “We shall overcome.” [ LBJ video ] How’s that for guts? Could you have mustered such courage?

It didn’t take long for the Republican Party to take advantage of the racist backlash Johnson’s bold statement had caused in the once “Solid South.” Up to that point nearly every southerner had been a Democrat because of racism, since the defeated South had succumbed under a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, whose worst ‘sin’ had been liberation of the nation’s slaves. [ Wikipedia ]

With local governments racist to the core, southern Democrats nevertheless could scarcely imagine embracing Republican beliefs.

South Carolina’s racist governor, Strom Thurmond, made the jump, in 1964, to the Republican Party [ ] , which first didn’t know what to do with him, as the GOP had been dominated by moderate folks such as Nelson Rockefeller, Charles Percy, Edward Brooke, George Romney, Wayne Morse and Jacob Javits. [ American Prospect ]

By 1970 the Republicans knew exactly what to do with disgruntled southern Democrats, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (yes, the late ‘liberal’ senator from New York), then a staff aide to Nixon, wrote him a memo in which he recommended Nixon adopt a policy of “benign neglect” of civil rights issues, leaving the slain Martin Luther King’s movement to carry on by itself, without presidential backing. [ ]

This began Nixon’s opportunistic GOP campaign to politically ‘take over’ the South with his so-called ‘Southern Strategy.’ [ Washington Post ]

The GOP grip on the South was further cemented by the avuncular Ronald Reagan, who unashamedly announced his run for the presidency with a “state’s rights” speech in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, infamously known as the scene of the vicious, terrorizing 1964 murder of three Civil Rights activists who had dared to drive south to register blacks to vote. [ Black America Today ]

Reagan gave us eight years of ‘welfare queen Cadillac’ [ Washington Monthly ] stories that led to the eventual end of federal public assistance for poor families — a policy destruction later sought and won by another southern governor, Bill Clinton. [ Washington Post ]

Republicans George Bush — both H.W. and W. — appointed right-wing justices [ ] to the Supreme Court, which has delivered ever-growing racist decisions that weakened affirmative action, erased an African-American city’s gun-control laws, made school integration more difficult, and appointed an unelected George W. Bush president. [ Grolier ]

So now we have an inspirational African American running for president of these United States. He emanates wisdom, reflection and calm in the face of crises. He has organized a complex and brilliant campaign organization with its roots in communities, not board rooms. Bearing stellar academic credentials and an estimable record of private and public service [ Seattle Times ]; he has the unique ability to inject hope and steadfast faith into a nation haunted by doubt and growing despair.

With the economy hanging by a thread [ Akron Beacon-Journal ], thanks to years of unregulated Wall Street greed of the worst kind [ Mother Jones ]; Republicans now look to John McCain, heir to and admirer of past Republicans who cleverly drew their own so-called ‘race cards,’ which was particularly successful during the 1988 campaign of the current president’s father via his racist ‘Willie Horton’ ads. [ YouTube ]

This same John McCain, bearing few of the qualities we seek in a president, is grasping for anything to paint his opponent, who happens to have been born with deep brown skin, as an ‘elitist,’ a mere airhead ‘celebrity,’ who is ‘out of touch’ with the average citizen. [ ]

And because he dared to say his face ‘doesn’t look like any of those other presidents on dollar bills,’ Barack Obama is now accused of himself ‘playing the race card’? [ Washington Post ]

How can a black man ‘play’ any kind of race card, when it is dealt to him every waking moment of every day; when he looks in the mirror in the morning, and when almost every white person he is near looks back at him with ‘that glance,’ which is more of a stare, that says, “What are you doing here?”.

He is black; McCain is not. And to inject race into any campaign is to insert a needle filled with poison used to infect the public with the racist elements that too many white citizens either have buried in our souls, or alive and flaming in daily thoughts and deeds.

McCain, once considered a ‘moderate maverick’ [ NY Times ] in the Republican Party, now seems just another cynical politician, who arranged a meeting for a criminal savings and loan executive with five United States senators [ Memphis Commercial-Appeal ], and who voted for a war when that action was exceedingly popular and knowingly wrong.

How will he react from his ‘Straight Talk Express’ seat when confronted with the well-established fact that at least one of his television ads is a cynical lie – the one in which the announcer states that Obama did not visit wounded soldiers in Germany, ‘because he could not bring a television camera with him’? [ Media Matters ]

How will he face his God and his conscience with his decision to allow vicious and racist attacks on an honorable man, who simply happens to have black skin?

Many of us, myself included, once thought of John McCain as an honorable man.

But when he tells an outright lie about his political opponent at this tenuous time in our nation’s history, when he gives the green light to television and radio commercials [ USA Today ] that belittle and disrespect a fellow public servant, when he seems to have sold his soul to win a prize; then he is not only not worthy of that prize, but he has also drug up from the slime of our past the one lasting evil stain on our national soul. And that act can only serve to divide us, when the need for unity is paramount.

It is not up to us to forgive his sin; it is up to him to absolve himself, and to refuse to rip this nation apart again, for the selfish sake of one more rich white man’s personal political gain.

You don’t need a flag pin to say “God Bless America.” But you should need decency and honor.

End this, Mr. McCain. Tell your crafty team that you’re better than the slime they’ve slopped on our kitchen tables and into our family rooms.

In the meantime, our hope is for a united country. And our prayer is “God help America. God be with Obama.”