Good day Austin:
Former Gov. Rick Perry delivered a speech Thursday at the National Press Club. It was entitled, “Economic Opportunity for All Americans,” but it was really Rick Perry’s speech on race.
I know Republicans have much to do to earn the trust of African-Americans. Blacks know that Republican Barry Goldwater, in 1964, ran against Lyndon Johnson, a champion of civil rights. They know that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because he felt that parts of it were unconstitutional.
States supporting segregation in the South cited “states’ rights” as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table.
As you know, I am an ardent believer in the Tenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment says that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
I know that state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government is.
But I am also an ardent believer in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
There has been – and will continue to be – an important and legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing civil rights.
Too often, we Republicans – myself included – have emphasized our message on the Tenth Amendment but not our message on the Fourteenth – an Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the first great contributions of the Republican Party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.
For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote because we found that we could win elections without it. But when we gave up on trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln. As the party of equal opportunity for all.
It is time for us to once again reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.
The body of the speech made the argument that Republicans, better than Democrats – that he, better than Barack Obama, the first black president – could pursue policies that would benefit African-Americans.
But what was most compelling and moving about Perry’s speech was its hushed preface, opening his remarks with a vivid account of the horrific lynching of Jesse Washington before a festive crowd in front of the McLennan County Courthouse in Waco, Texas, where a jury had taken all of four minutes to find Washington, who seemed barely aware of the charges against him, guilty of rape and murder.
It was 99 years ago, on the 15th day of May, 1916, at a courthouse in Waco, Texas.
There was a mentally disabled 17-year-old boy. His name was Jesse Washington. He was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his employer.
He pled guilty and he was sentenced to death. But Jesse died no ordinary death. Because he was black.
After the death sentence was issued, Jesse was dragged out of the McLennan County Courthouse into a crowd of hundreds. And thanks to the advent of this new technology called the telephone, word spread rather quickly to what was about to happen, and soon there were 15,000 people watching Jesse Washington be tortured, to be mutilated, to be tied to a tree.
Someone lit a fire under Jesse, and raised him up in the air.
Jesse tried to climb up the chains to keep from being consumed by that fire.
Someone started cutting his fingers off, so that he could not climb that chain
One man castrated him, Another used a pole to prevent him from pulling himself away from the fire.
There was a A prominent local photographer who took pictures of Jesse’s charred remains and sold them, as souvenirs, on a postcard.
Even today, we Texans struggle to talk about what happened to Jesse Washington. We don’t want to believe that our great state could ever have been the scene of such unimaginable horror.
But it is an episode in our history that we cannot ignore. It is an episode we have an obligation to transcend.
We’ve made a lot of progress since 1916.
A half-century ago, Republicans and Democrats came together to finally enshrine into law the principle that all of us – regardless of race, color, or national origin – are created equal.
Shedrick Willis was a slave. This was before the Civil War. He had been bought and sold on the courthouse steps of McLennan County, the same courthouse where Jesse Washington would later be drugged down and brought to his death.
When I was governor of Texas, I had the proud distinction of appointing Willis’, Shedrick Willis’ great-great-great-grandson, Wallace Jefferson, to be the first African-American justice on the Texas Supreme Court. In 2004, I appointed Wallace to be the Supreme Court’s first (black) Chief Justice.
There are tens of thousands of stories like Wallace Jefferson’s.
When it comes to race, America is a better and more tolerant and more welcoming place than it has ever been. We are a country with Hispanic CEOs, and Asian billionaires, with a black President.
So why is it that even today, so many black families feel left behind? Why is it that a quarter of African-Americans live below the poverty line, even after the impact of federal programs like food stamps and housing subsidies?
The supplemental poverty rate for African-Americans is nearly double the rate for other Americans.
Democrats have long had the opportunity to govern in African-American communities.
It is time to help black families hold them accountable for the results.
I am here to tell you that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves and their children.
I am proud to live in a country with an African-American President. But President Obama cannot be proud of the fact that the prevalence of black poverty has actually increased under his leadership.
We cannot dismiss the historical legacy of slavery, nor its role in causing the problem of black poverty. And because slavery and segregation were sanctioned by government, there is a role for government policy in addressing their lasting effects.
But the specific policies advanced by the President and his allies on the left amount to little more than throwing money at the problem and walking away.
Perry’s answers were not surprising. He talked about Texas’ successes, citing the economy, education and criminal justice reform.
From 2005 to 2007, more African-Americans moved to Texas than any other state except Georgia. Many were coming from blue states like New York, Illinois, and California. Many came from Louisiana, where they had lost their homes due to Hurricane Katrina.
But each new resident was welcomed to Texas, with open arms.
They came to a state with a booming economy. We kept taxes and regulation low, and frivolous lawsuits to a minimum. And we worked hard to educate every child.
Let me be clear. We haven’t eliminated black poverty in Texas. But we have made meaningful progress.
If we do these five things – if we create jobs, incentivize work, keep non-violent drug offenders out of prison, reform our schools, and reduce the cost of living – we will have done more for African-Americans than the last three Democratic Administrations combined.
What was more striking to me than the specifics, however, was how a speech that was intended to be a rejoinder to President Obama on race in some small measure echoed the tone of Obama’s recent remarks in his eulogy for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was among those murdered in their Charleston church, though, of course, Perry did nothing to rival the president’s moving singing of Amazing Grace.
From Obama’s eulogy:
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — (applause) — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — (applause) — and taught that they matter. (Applause.) That’s what happens in church.
That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate. When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel — (applause) — a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes. (Applause.)
When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps. A sacred place, this church. Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion — (applause) — of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all. That’s what the church meant. (Applause.)
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress. (Applause.) An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways. (Applause.) God has different ideas. (Applause.)
He didn’t know he was being used by God. (Applause.) Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that. (Applause.)
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens. (Applause.) It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — (applause) — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. (Applause.) For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. (Applause.) For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. (Applause.)
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. (Applause.) Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — (applause) — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure. (Applause.)
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. (Applause.) So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. (Applause.) By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace. (Applause.)
Only now, nearly a century since Jesse Washington’s lynching, are the true dimensions of lynching in America becoming fully evident.
In a February First Reading I wrote about the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., releasing a stunning new report on the history of lynchings in the United States. From the press release that accompanied the report:
Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror documents EJI’s multi-year investigation into lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. EJI researchers documented 3959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950 – at least 700 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date.
Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity.
The report explores the ways in which lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the contemporary geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans. Most importantly, lynching reinforced a narrative of racial difference and a legacy of racial inequality that is readily apparent in our criminal justice system today. Mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were shaped by the terror era.
No prominent public memorial or monument commemorates the thousands of African Americans who were lynched in America. Lynching in America argues that is a powerful statement about our failure to value the black lives lost in this brutal campaign of racial violence. Research on mass violence, trauma, and transitional justice underscores the urgent need to engage in public conversations about racial history that begin a process of truth and reconciliation in this country.
I think, in this context, Perry’s focus in his remarks Thursday on the lynching of Jesse Washington, matters.
From sociologist Joe Feagin, a prominent scholar of race at Perry’s alma mater, Texas A&M University.
Clearly, savvy politicians like Rick Perry understand that the demographic trend inside and outside Texas is one where whites are an increasing minority in many places now – and will, in two-and-a-half decades, be a voting minority in the country.
Republicans cannot win in most places, eventually – and in California and some other important places now – without growing and significant percentages of voters of color. So, the politically smart whites like Rand Paul and Perry are going to make some play for voters of color, and that effort will grow by 2020, for certain.
However, the current white attention to these matters, including eliminating the Confederate battle flag (symbol of white resistant to racial change since its intentional use for that purpose in the early 1960s), is rather superficial and does not reach to the level of a majority of whites supporting aggressive anti-discrimination action by local, state, and federal governments – and certainly not for remedying the huge impact of 346 years (slavery, then Jim Crow) of whites unjustly enriching themselves and unjustly impoverishing black and many other Americans of color with large-scale programs of resource enhancement and just compensation for that huge and unjust economic impoverishment (and associated violence and other brutality for 83 percent of our history)
Most whites do not even know much about the 83 percent of our history that was white imposed slavery and Jim Crow…. or that we were not remotely or officially a real democracy until 1969, when the totalitarianism of legal segregation ended.
The massacre in Charleston recalled the violence of that era.
From David Remnick in The New Yorker:
Between 1882 and 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, three thousand four hundred and forty-six black men, women, and children were lynched in this country—a practice so vicious and frequent that Mark Twain was moved, in 1901, to write an essay called “The United States of Lyncherdom.” (Twain shelved the essay and plans for a full-length book on lynching because, he told his publisher, if he went forward, “I shouldn’t have even half a friend left down [South].”) These thousands of murders, as studied by the Tuskegee Institute and others, were a means of enforcing white supremacy in the political and economic marketplaces; they served to terrorize black men who might dare to sleep, or even talk, with white women, and to silence black children, like Emmett Till, who were deemed “insolent.
That legacy of extreme cruelty and unpunished murder as a means of exerting political and physical control of African-Americans cannot be far from our minds right now. Nine people were shot dead in a church in Charleston. How is it possible, while reading about the alleged killer, Dylann Storm Roof, posing darkly in a picture on his Facebook page, the flags of racist Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa sewn to his jacket, not to think that we have witnessed a lynching? Roof, it is true, did not brandish a noose, nor was he backed by a howling mob of Klansmen, as was so often the case in the heyday of American lynching. Subsequent investigation may put at least some of the blame for his actions on one form of derangement or another. And yet the apparent sense of calculation and planning, what a witness reportedly said was the shooter’s statement of purpose in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church as he took up his gun—“You rape our women and you’re taking over our country”— echoed some of the very same racial anxieties, resentments, and hatreds that fuelled the lynchings of an earlier time.
But the words attributed to the shooter are both a throwback and thoroughly contemporary: one recognizes the rhetoric of extreme reaction and racism heard so often in the era of Barack Obama.
Just as the church massacre in Charleston was a signal moment in history that, as the president said, in wholly unexpected ways, has a resulted in people rethinking their attitudes toward the Confederate flag – right up to and including TV Land canceling reruns of the Dukes of Hazard, and NASCAR asking fans to refrain from displaying the Confederate flag – the lynching of Jesse Washington was so appalling that it became a popular cause that led at least some people to rethink their attitudes toward lynching.
While the newspapers and the journals chewed over the grisly story of the Waco Horror, the NAACP took immediate action. On May 16, 1916, one day after the lynching of Jesse Washington, Royal Freeman Nash, the white social worker who was then secretary of the NAACP, wired Elisabeth Freeman in Fort Worth, where she remained following the statewide suffrage convention in Dallas.
Freeman wired back that she was mystified as to the “nature of business” Nash wanted done-at least until she received Nash’s follow-up letter, also written on May 16. In the letter Nash tells Freeman that the evening papers had all carried a brief AP story on the Waco lynching: “Such a spectacle in the public square of a town of over 25,000 inhabitants, a young boy condemned to death and then taken from the court-room, affords one of the most spectacular grounds of attack on the whole institution of lynching ever presented.” Nash’s next remark makes it clear that the NAACP had been lying in wait for a lynch mob to strike again: “Mr. Villard of the Evening Post, our treasurer, asked me when I came back from Georgia to get the inside story of the next horrible lynching so that he can write it up and spread it broadcast through the Southern press over his own name.”
In February, when the Lynching in America report, was released, I wrote:
William Carrigan, a historian at Rowan University in New Jersey, grew up in Chalk Bluff, Texas, just outside Waco. As an undergraduate at the University of Texas in Austin he took a history class taught by the historian George Wright, now president of Prairie View A & M University. It was a large lecture class – maybe 300 students – but he passed out photos from the Jesse Washington lynching, the famous photos focused on the faces in the crowd.
It set Carrigan on the path of trying to understand how those good, ordinary people could have been a party to such evil.
In his 2004 book, The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas 1836-1916, Carrigan writes:
Ironically, the moment of central Texas’s most brutal act of racial violence became a turning point in the region’s history of race relations. The local, national and global reaction to the murder of Jesse Washington prompted civic leaders to reconsider their tolerance of central Texas’s culture of violence. Although mob law did not end there overnight – indeed racial violence persists to this day in the region – the burning of Jesse Washington ended an era eight decades old. No longer would central Texas’s leaders publicly support, praise, and encourage the use of extralegal violence. Eventually, the cultural and intellectual change led to a decline in the size and frequency of the region’s lynch mobs. The struggle over the local memory of the region’s racial violence continues, a reminder that we are never completely free of the past.
Last year, Carrigan and co-author Clive Webb, published another book, Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848 – 1928, in which they recall that “in 1854, a vigilance committee in Austin expelled every landless Mexican `who is not vouched for by respectable citizens.’”
Per capita, Carrigan said, Mexicans in the United States were as likely to be lynched as blacks.
Flash forward to Donald Trump, whose announcement for president last month included the following passage:
The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. [Applause] Thank you. It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Far from hurting him, those remarks, and the backlash against them, appear to have helped move Trump into second place among Republican presidential aspirants in national and Iowa and New Hampshire polls, and led Trump to stand his ground against those who, he said, are “folding” under pressure from the politically correct.
From Thursday’s Guardian:
Donald Trump doubled down on his claim that Mexican immigrants are responsible for a large number of rapes in the US on Wednesday. “Who’s doing the raping,” Trump shot back in an interview when challenged on his controversial remarks.
The businessman and would-be president, who launched his presidential campaign with an attack on Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and rapists, has claimed that there is “mind-boggling” link between rape and illegal immigration.
“If you look at the statistics of people coming, you look at the statistics on rape, on crime, on everything coming in illegally into this country it’s mind-boggling!” he said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday night.
Trump, who has already sparked a minor diplomatic incident and lost business deals with five companies over his remarks about Mexicans, claimed that statistics show that Latino immigrants are more likely to perpetrate rape than the wider population. However, the Fusion article he referred to said 80% of women crossing the Mexican border are raped along the way, often by criminal gangs, traffickers or corrupt officials.
When CNN host Don Lemon pointed out that Trump had misread the article, the former Apprentice host said: “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it! Who’s doing the raping? Who’s doing the raping?”
There are no centrally recorded government statistics on the ethnicity of convicted rapists in the US.
Trump’s surge in the polls has come at the expense of other candidates, including both Perry and Ted Cruz.
Nonetheless, despite that, and despite the fact that Trump has said he is not sure if Cruz, by virtue of his Canadian birth (to an American mother), is eligible to run for president, Cruz said that he remains a big fan of Trump, and thinks he has nothing to apologize for.
From The New York Times:
The Republican from Texas told Fox and Friends on Tuesday that he had no problem with the billionaire businessman’s suggestion that those who cross the southern border illegally are “rapists” and “criminals.”
“I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific, I think he’s brash, I think he speaks the truth,” Mr. Cruz said.
NBC severed its relationship with Mr. Trump on Monday after criticism of his comments, canceling plans to air his Miss USA beauty pageant. Mr. Trump has threatened to sue for breach of contract.
Mr. Cruz said that Mr. Trump, who is a rival for the Republican nomination, should not have to apologize for speaking out about the problem of immigration. He suggested that NBC was being “silly” with its political correctness.
“Donald Trump, he has a way of speaking that gets attention, and I credit him for focusing on an issue that needs attention,” Mr. Cruz said.
Cruz’s defense of Trump’s remark enraged Jon Stewart even more than Trump’s remark itself. As he put it:
It is hard to get mad at Donald Trump for saying stupid things, in the same way you don’t get mad at a monkey when he throws poop at you at the zoo. It’s a monkey. It’s what they do. In some ways, it’s on you for watching. What does get me angry is the ridiculous, disingenuous defending of the poop-throwing monkey.
But, unlike Cruz – whose father emigrated from his native Cuba to Austin in 1957 – Perry condemned what Trump said about Mexicans.
Here is the exchange with Charles Payne on Fox News:
CHARLES PAYNE, FOX NEWS: “You’re talking big tent, you’re talking inclusion. You were also asked today about Donald Trump, some of the comments he made and the way he’s entered the GOP race. One thing that is undeniable is that he has made an amazing splash, rocketing up in the polls and resonating with a lot of GOP voters. What is he doing wrong in your opinion?”
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: “Well I don’t think he’s reflecting the Republican Party with his statements about Mexicans. I think that was huge error on his part and, number one, it’s wrong. When I think about the Hispanic in Texas, and I think about the individuals who have paid a great price, whether were Tejanos at the Alamo in 1836 or whether it’s been as late as the last wars that we’ve had with Hispanics being killed for America.”
PAYNE: “But with all due respect, he didn’t talk about people who were here legally, Mexican or otherwise, he was saying that Mexico itself–”
GOV. PERRY: “But I would suggest to you he painted with a very broad brush, and I think that’s the problem. Yes, we have some challenges. Nobody knows that border better than I do. Nobody has stepped into the fray on that border the way that I have–”
PAYNE: “But are they sending bad people over here? Listen, I guess that’s the point, because let’s face it, he is resonating. I’ll give you this, corporate America is dumping him like crazy. Macy’s, NBC, they’re all lining up. Even the City of New York. To a certain degree that may reflect the greater electorate and also it’s just galvanizing and making Donald Trump a legendary figure within your party because he is standing up, he’s not a politician and he’s not afraid. What would a career politician like you say to that?”
GOV. PERRY: “What I would say is that we want somebody who’s actually dealt with this before, not somebody that’s just going to shoot from the hip. I will suggest to you I know how to secure the border, and the border security is the real issue here. It’s not painting with this broad brush that, obviously, I think Donald Trump, painted with, where he tried to say, you know, Mexicans are bad people, they’re rapists and murderers. Yes, there are bad people that cross the border but how about let’s get a Commander in Chief that knows how to secure the border, and at that particular time we can have a conversation about how to deal with this immigration issue, but not until that border is secure.”
PAYNE: “In the meantime, were these companies right to dump Donald Trump?”
GOV. PERRY: “Listen, that’s their call. My way to address this is to talk about the contributions that the Mexican-American has made to this country. Knowing that they are the number one trading partner for the State of Texas, knowing that Mexico is going to play an incredibly important role economically in the future of North America with the energy resources that they have. Canada, the United States and Mexico, you put those energy resources together you lower that corporate tax rate, you lower the electricity prices, bring back manufacturers in this country and this region can explode economically, and that’s what we ought to be focused on.”