Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Duck You

On April 24th 1946 Phil Alexander Robertson was born in Caddo Parish Louisiana in the small town of Vivian. Vivian fits most definitions of a small town, and I suppose back in 1946 one had to drive south the 20-or-so miles on highway one to the city of Shreveport to get city things. Now-a-days one can take interstate 46 most of the way, and get there in a fraction of the time.

According to records of lynchings between the years 1882 and 1968 compiled by the Tuskegee Institute there were only eight states that boast a tally of African-American lynchings greater than 200. Louisiana with 335 is one of four states with a tally greater than 300. Vivian is much closer to the state lines of Arkansas (226 lynchings) and Texas (352 lynchings) than it is to Shreveport.

The number of lychings in the US dropped dramatically after World War I, and the final nails in this practice’s coffin were hammered in around 1968 by the civil rights movement. Racially-motivated killings continue, but they are more secretive; gone is the carnival atmosphere and community spirit. Lychings often involved hanging the corpse for display. In this way uppity Negroes (As African American’s were called using polite speech during the lynching years) would have a visual reminder of the cost of overstepping their place in society. Vivian Louisiana is right in the heart of USA lynching country.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” -- Phil Robertson

Several months after Phil’s birth, on August 8th 1946, and about 35 miles Southeast as the duck flies from Vivian, John C Jones was lynched. About a year and a half before he was killed by angry white men on a hot summer Louisiana night John had spent Christmas and New Years wearing an American Uniform and fighting German Fascists in the Ardennes forest during the battle of the bulge. John returned from Germany with a 9mm automatic pistol he took from the corpse of a Nazi officer.

About four days before his lynching John and his cousin Albert Harris Jr. were arrested on suspicion of trespassing. For four days the two were repeatedly tortured in an attempt to have them confess to trespassing. On 8:30 August 8th they were “released” to the custody of an armed mob who drove them to a secluded place, stripped them naked, and beat them. Albert lost consciousness and was left for dead. He woke up in time to cradle his cousin's dying body and hear his final words.

John’s lynching drew national attention. The trial was sensational. All the defendants were acquitted. Nobody was found to be guilty of the torture and murder of John C. Jones.

Desegregation of Louisiana began in southern part of the state, and moved northward. Court cases in the 1950s effectively ended segregation in the Louisiana Universities, but a decade passed before Louisiana Tech, located less than 50 miles east of where John was Lynched, was desegregated by Judge E. Gordon West’s 1965 ruling. Phil began school just as the first two black students at LA tech were entering their second year there. He would eventually get both a BS and a MA degree from LA tech. While he was there he was uniquely placed to observe the early stages of racial desegregation.

Phil is uniquely qualified to make his observation that “pre-entitlement” African Americans were happy. This makes the statement all the more reprehensible.

A&E made publicity history by responding to some of Phil’s statements about the evils he perceived in homosexuality. He was suspended from his reality show “Duck Dynasty”. Less was made of his racist statements. Phil received an outpouring of support from public figures who wanted to support his right to be paid to say things the public figures agreed with.

A&E reinstated Phil after 9 days of suspension. They may have even given him a raise.

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