Tag Archives: racism

Across America’s Racial Divide: Michael Jackson, Rest in Peace

michaeljackson.01Barack Obama has certainly brought Americans together in unprecedented ways, but America’s black and white racial divide still exists.

And every once in a while, an event happens that starkly reveals how just deep this racial divide remains.

The untimely death of Michael Jackson is such an event.

Last week, at a meeting of progressive Democrats in Southern California, I heard speaker after speaker bemoan the fact that Michael Jackson’s death had taken over the cable news, shunting to the side what they believed to be obviously more significant topics – the revolt in Iran, the fight in Congress for new health care legislation, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I see similar comments from many of my politically progressive Facebook friends.

None of them seems remotely aware that their disdain for the wall-to-wall news coverage of Michael Jackson’s death is a reflection of their own racial perspective – or that black people might view it differently.

For many, perhaps most, white people, Michael Jackson was, at best, a fading pop star and entertainer, someone whose music and persona they may have liked in their childhood but not now.

For black people, Michael Jackson was, and remains, a cultural figure of heroic, almost mythic, proportions, someone who changed not just music but the world, and who tirelessly worked for African and African-American causes and charities.

Today Michael Jackson will be honored and memorialized as a hero.

As a white American, I may not really get it.

But I get why I don’t get it.

And for that reason, I give my respects today and I say:

Michael, Rest in Peace.

For Memorial Day, 2009: The Lesson of the Four Chaplains, 1943


When I was child, my father, a World War II Navy veteran, taught me the story of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.

I thought of the four chaplains during the presidential election when I listened to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell explain why he endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States.

In stating why he could not support the candidacy of John McCain, Powell referred to the death of U.S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20 year old from Manahawkin, N.J., who was killed in Iraq and to a photograph he had seen of the soldier’s mother pressing her head against his gravestone at Arlington National Cemetery.

The headstone was engraved with the soldier’s name, his military awards (the Purple Heart and Bronze Star), and the Muslim symbol of the crescent and star.

As the New York Times observed, “Powell mentioned Mr. Khan’s death to underscore why he was deeply troubled by Republican personal attacks on Mr. Obama, especially false intimations that he was Muslim. Mr. Obama is a lifelong Christian, not a Muslim, he said. But, he added, ‘The really right answer is, what if he is?’ ‘Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? No, that’s not America,’ he said. ‘Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way.’ Mr. Powell said that he had heard senior members of the Republican Party ‘drop this suggestion that he [Obama] is a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists.’ ‘Now, John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I’m troubled about the fact that within the party we have these kinds of expressions.’”

General Powell probably thought, too, of the four chaplains of the USAT Dorchester.


On the night of February 3, 1943,United States Army Transport ship Dorchester was en route from Newfoundland to England via Greenland, when it was hit by torpedoes from a German submarine.

The Dorchester listed sharply to starboard and began to sink almost immediately into the icy water.  The ship was overcrowded and there were insufficient lifeboats or lifejackets for the 904 men on board.

As the Dorchester sank, the  ship’s four U.S. Army chaplains aided the wounded, helped get the men into lifeboats and then gave up their own lifejackets when the supply ran out.

A survivor later explained:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the four chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

As the ship went down, survivors in nearby lifeboats could see the four chaplains – their arms linked and braced against the slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.

Twenty-seven minutes after the torpedoes hit, the Dorchester was gone.

The four U.S. Army chaplains were:

Lt. George L. Fox, age 42, Methodist.
Lt. Alexander D. Goode, age 32, Jewish.
Lt. John P. Washington, age 34, Roman Catholic.
Lt. Clark V. Poling, age 32, Reformed Church in America.

According to the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, the lesson of their sacrifice is “unity without uniformity” and “selfless service to humanity without regard to race, creed, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.”

My father had a simpler lesson to teach me:  We are all Americans.

In a speech on in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, Barack Obama said that “The men and women from Fayetteville and all across America who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats or Republicans or independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag, They have not served a red America or a blue America. They have served the United States of America.”

(This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, on October 19, 2008.)

A Great American Hope: Time to Pardon Jack Johnson

O my Lord
What a morning,
O my Lord,
What a feeling,
When Jack Johnson
Turned Jim Jeffries’
Snow-white face
to the ceiling.

Adaptation of the spiritual “My Lord, What a Morning” by William Waring Cuney, 1910.

While I’m skeptical about their motives, I applaud the efforts of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Representative Peter King (R-NY) to obtain a presidential pardon for the great heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson.

Jack Johnson fighting James Jeffries, July 4, 1910

Jack Johnson fighting James Jeffries, July 4, 1910

Arthur John “Jack” Johnson, who died in 1946 at the age of 68, was the first black Heavyweight Champion of the World.

The crime that the pardon would cover is Johnson’s supposed violation of the Mann Act — “transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.”  Johnson eventually served 10 months in federal prison on the charges, which also destroyed his boxing career.

No one now doubts that Johnson’s Mann Act conviction was thoroughly racist: the women Johnson was convicted of “transporting” were white.

When Johnson started his boxing career at the turn of the last century, boxing was as segregated as the rest of America – there were separate (and far from equal) boxing matches for black and white fighters.

Johnson became World Colored Heavyweight Champion in 1903 and was widely believed to be the best boxer in the world, but he could not get a match with white Heavyweight Champion James J. Jeffries, who refused to face him.

According to Wikipedia, Johnson won the world heavyweight title five years later, on December 26, 1908, “when he fought the Canadian world champion Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia, after following him all over the world, taunting him in the press for a match. The fight lasted fourteen rounds before being stopped by the police in front of over 20,000 spectators. The title was awarded to Johnson on a referee’s decision as a T.K.O, but he had severely beaten the champion. During the fight, Johnson had mocked both Burns and his ringside crew. Every time Burns was about to go down, Johnson would hold him up again, punishing him more.” The film of the match was stopped just before the fight ended, so that it would not show Johnson defeating a white man.

As the most famous black man in America and far ahead of his time in his outspoken defiance of white racism, Johnson was caricatured by the press as subhuman and an ape, and constantly harassed by local police and federal authorities.  The press called for a “Great White Hope” to defeat Johnson and return the heavyweight title to the white race.  Each of these “White Hopes” failed to unseat Johnson.

Heeding the call to defend his race, Jeffries eventually agreed to come out of retirement in 1910 and fight Johnson, explaining “”I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.”  The fight took place on July 4th in Reno, Nevada, before an all-white crowd of more than 20,000, which chanted “kill the nigger” throughout the match.  After being knocked down twice, Jeffries called it quits in the 15th round.  Johnson’s victory over Jeffries led to white race riots across America, leaving at least 23 black men, and two white men, dead.

Johnson was not a “role model” in the Jackie Robinson mode.  Loud, proud, defiant, and eventually very rich, Johnson reveled as much in ostentatiously breaking racial taboos as in his victories in the ring.

White America could not allow him to survive, and so Johnson was destroyed, with the Mann Act as the weapon.  Following his conviction in 1913, Johnson fled the United States and fought in Cuba and Mexico. After his return to America and serving his prison sentence in 1920, Johnson was never able to regain his prowess in the ring.  He lost seven of his last nine fights, retiring in 1938.

He died in a car accident in 1946, after angrily leaving a restaurant in North Carolina that refused to serve him because of his race.

McCain and King are to be praised for joining with filmmaker Ken Burns (who has made a documentary about Johnson called “Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson” and first sought a pardon for Johnson in 2004) in calling on President Obama to issue a pardon for Johnson.

Still, the politics of their appeal for Johnson should be noted.

In September 2008, both McCain and King sponsored resolutions in their respective congressional bodies urging then-President George W. Bush to pardon Johnson.  Bush did not do so, despite McCain and King’s backing and wide bipartisan support.  According to Ken Burns, President Bush gave him a telephone number to call about the pardon, which turned out to be the telephone number of Karl Rove.

Burns says that Rove told him that a Bush pardon for Johnson “ain’t gonna fly.”

Rove now denies that he ever spoke with Burns about the Johnson pardon.

It is time to put the Bush-Rove years behind us.

It is time to put racism behind us.

It is time for a Great American Hope.

It is time to pardon Jack Johnson.

Orange County Republican Mayor’s Racist Email — “You Gotta Laugh”

Los Alamitos’ Republican Mayor Dean Grose recently sent an email to friends that showed a picture of the White House with a watermelon patch imposed as the White House garden under the title “No Easter egg hunt this year.”


Image sent in email by Los Alamitos' Republican Mayor Dean Grose

One of the people who received the email was local business woman Keyanus Price, an African American.  She said she was horrified and appalled.

I won’t pretend that I’m appalled.

In fact, I’m delighted.

Once again, Orange County’s Republican officials have exposed themselves as among the most racist, and moronic, politicians in the country.

If I were a Republican, I’d be deeply embarrassed.

But I’m not.

Grose said that he didn’t think the email was racist.  “The way things are today, you gotta laugh every now and then,” Grose said when the email was made public.

Now Grose has said that he’ll resign.

No doubt the Orange County Republican Party will find another brilliant public servant to take his place.


It now appears that Dean Grose is planning to resign only from his ceremonial job as mayor, not from his seat on the Los Alamitos City Council.

Grose is also not planning to resign as a director of the League of California Cities Orange County Division and the Southern California Association of Governments (where he represents the communities of Cypress, La Palma and Los Alamitos).

You can tell Grose what you think of his email by sending him an email of your own:


Now Ain’t The Time For Your Tears: The Lonesome Death of William Zantzinger

The New York Times reports today on the death of William Zantzinger, whose murder of a black barmaid named Hattie Carroll inspired one of Bob Dylan’s most haunting and politically acute ballads.


On February 9, 1963, Zantzinger, the 24 year old son of a wealthy and politically well connected tobacco farmer, attended a white tie ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland.  Already drunk before he came to the hotel, Zantzinger became enraged when he thought that 51 year old barmaid Hattie Carroll did not bring him his drink faster enough.  Zantzinger called her a “nigger” and a “black son of a bitch” and hit her on the head with a cane. 

Carroll died eight hours later of a brain hemorrhage.


Zantzinger was arrested and charged with murder. The change was later reduced to manslaughter and assault.  On August 28, 1963, Zantzinger was convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and fined $500.


Dylan recorded the song “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” for his third album,  The Times They Are a-Changin’, on  October 23, 1963.

The song’s lyrics are:

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ring finger
At a Baltimore hotel society gath’rin’.
And the cops were called in and his weapon took from him
As they rode him in custody down to the station
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.
William Zanzinger, who at twenty-four years
Owns a tobacco farm of six hundred acres
With rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him
And high office relations in the politics of Maryland,
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering, and his tongue it was snarling,
In a matter of minutes on bail was out walking.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.
Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn’t even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger.
But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.
In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level
And that the strings in the books ain’t pulled and persuaded
And that even the nobles get properly handled
Once that the cops have chased after and caught ’em
And that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom,
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’.
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished,
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance,
William Zanzinger with a six-month sentence.
Oh, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.
Zantzinger later said “I should have sued him [Dylan] and put him in jail.”

The Times article on Zantzinger’s death includes a six minute and twenty-seven seconds video clip from YouTube of Dylan singing “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” on the Steve Allen Show in 1964. 

Where on television today is there anything as politically or artistically powerful?

Progressive Radio Host Goes Racist on Sanjay Gupta

Today on Los Angeles’ progressive talk radio station KTLK 1150, substitute host Johnny Wendell blasted Barack Obama’s selection of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General of the United States.


In course of his rant, which included attacking Dr. Gupta for his presence on CNN and for his televised disagreements with “Sicko” filmmaker Michael Moore on health care policy, Wendell said that Americans think that people with “foreign accents,” like Dr. Gupta, are smarter than they are.

But Sanjay Gupta is not “foreign” and does not have a “foreign accent.”  Dr. Gupta is from Michigan.

What Sanjay Gupta does have is a non-Anglo-Saxon sounding name, which some racist or very stupid people might therefore call “foreign.”

Whatever issues are properly raised by Obama’s choice of Dr. Gupta as Surgeon General, his being or sounding “foreign” isn’t one of them.

I understand that Johnny Wendell, like conservative talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, is part political commentator and part clown.

But racism or bigotry (even of the unintentional and merely stupid kind) isn’t funny.

It isn’t progressive.

I would have welcomed a progressive talk radio discussion about Gupta’s political and social views, as well as his personal qualities.  But Wendell’s statement in connection with Gupta about people who have “foreign accents” was not about any of these things but only about Gupta’s race and ethnicity.

That’s racist and unacceptable.

Especially on self-described “progressive” radio.

A Day to Remember

Before I be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free.

 Greyhound bus with 14 members of an interracial group that was part of the Freedom Ride, firebombed on May 14, 1961, outside Anniston, Ala.

Greyhound bus with 14 members of an interracial group that was part of the Freedom Ride, firebombed on May 14, 1961, outside Anniston, Ala.

It’s appropriate on Election Day to remember and thank those who made the ultimate sacrifice in our military service to secure and protect the rights that we exercise today. 

Those who died in military service are not the only heroes we should remember and thank on this special and historic Election Day.

Today let us also remember and thank those whose sacrifice in the civil rights movement made this amazing day possible for all of us:

addiemaecollins2Louis Allen — A farmer shot on Jan. 31, 1964, in Liberty, Miss., after witnessing the murder of Herbert Lee, a civil rights worker.

Willie Brewster — A factory worker who died on July 16, 1965, in Anniston, Ala., from a nightrider’s bullet.

Benjamin Brown — A truck driver and civil rights worker killed on May 12, 1967, when police fired on demonstrators in Jackson, Miss.

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman

James Chaney — A civil rights worker abducted and shot at point-blank range on June 21, 1964, by Klan members in Philadelphia, Miss.

Addie Mae Collins — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Vernon Dahmer

Vernon Dahmer

Vernon Dahmer — A community leader who died on Jan. 10, 1966, from a firebomb in Hattiesburg, Miss., after volunteering to pay black voters’ poll taxes.

Jonathan Daniels — A seminary student shot on Aug. 14, 1965, by a deputy sheriff in Hayneville, Ala.

Henry H. Dee — A civil rights volunteer abducted, beaten and thrown into the Mississippi River by the Klan in Natchez, Miss., on May 2, 1964.

Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr. — A military policeman shot to death on April 9, 1962, in Taylorsville, Miss., after refusing a police order to sit in the back of the bus.

Willie Edwards Jr. — A deliveryman killed on Jan. 23, 1957, near Montgomery, Ala., when the Klan forced him to jump from a bridge into the Alabama River.

Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers

Medgar Evers — Civil rights leader shot on June 12, 1963, in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Miss.

Andrew Goodman — A civil rights worker abducted and shot at point-blank range by the Klan on June 21, 1964, in Philadelphia, Miss.

Paul Guihard — A French news reporter shot in the back on Sept. 30, 1962, during racist riots at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.

Samuel Hammond Jr. — A South Carolina college student fatally shot on Feb. 8, 1968, when police fired on demonstrators in Orangeburg, S.C.

Jimmie Lee Jackson — A farmer who died on Feb. 18, 1965, after being beaten and shot in the stomach by state troopers following a march in Selma, Ala.

Wharlest Jackson — NAACP treasurer in Natches, Miss., killed on Feb. 18, 1965, by a bomb after his promotion to a job once reserved for whites.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — Famed civil rights leader assassinated on April 4, 1968, during an organized campaign by garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn.

Bruce Klunder

Bruce Klunder

Rev. Bruce Klunder — A minister from Cleveland, Ohio, run over by a bulldozer April 7, 1964, while protesting a segregated school.

Rev. George Lee — A minister in Belzoni, Miss.,who died on May 7, 1955, of gunshot wounds after organizing a voter-registration drive.

Herbert Lee — A cotton farmer and voter registration organizer who was shot in the head on Sept. 25, 1961, by a white state legislator in Liberty, Miss.

Viola Gregg Liuzzo — A civil rights worker from Detroit fatally shot in the head on March 25, 1965, by Klan members near Selma, Ala.

Viola Liuzzo

Viola Liuzzo

Denise McNair — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Delano H. Middleton — A high school student fatally shot on Feb. 8, 1968, when police fired on demonstrators in Orangeburg, S.C.

Charles E. Moore — A civil rights volunteer abducted, beaten and thrown into the Mississippi River by the Klan near Natchez, Miss., on May 2, 1964, .

Oneal Moore — A deputy sheriff fatally shot after his nightly patrol on June 2, 1965, during an ambush by nightriders near Varnado, La.

William Moore — A mail carrier from Baltimore shot on April 23, 1963, in Attala, Ala., during his one-man march against segregation.

Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn — A U.S. Army reservist fatally shot on July 11, 1964, by the Klan while driving near Colbert, Ga.

James Reeb

James Reeb

Rev. James Reeb — A minister from Boston beaten to death on Mar. 11, 1965, on the streets of Selma, Ala., during a civil rights march.

John Earl Reese — A teenager slain Oct. 22, 1955, by nightriders who opposed improvements on a black school in Mayflower, Texas.

Carole Robertson — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Michael Schwener — A civil rights worker abducted and shot at point-blank range by the Klan on June 21, 1964, in Philadelphia, Miss.

Henry E. Smith — A South Carolina college student fatally shot on Feb. 8, 1968, when police fired shotguns at demonstrators in Orangeburg, S.C.

Lamar Smith — A farmer fatally shot on Aug. 13, 1955, in broad daylight in Brookhaven, Miss., after organizing black voters.

Clarence Triggs — A bricklayer shot in the head on July 30, 1966, by nightriders in Bogalusa, La.

Cynthia Wesley — A schoolgirl killed on Sept. 15, 1963, in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

Ben Chester White — A caretaker shot on June 10, 1966, by Klan members in Natchez, Miss.

Samuel Younge

Samuel Younge

Samuel Younge Jr. — A college student shot on Jan. 3, 1966, by a Tuskegee, Ala., gas station attendant following a dispute over a ‘whites-only’ restroom.

Oh-o freedom
Oh-o freedom
Oh freedom over me, over me
And before I be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free