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Turning back the clock?

August 31, 2013
The Inter-Mountain

For Republicans, Barack Obama's election and re-election have been events that they yearned to reverse. Mitch McConnell declared the destruction of his presidency during the first term and his so-called friend Tom Coburn has mentioned impeachment. Say what you will of the GOP, they do not lack persistence.

Certainly this putschist style is not limited to the federal level. In state after state, Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina, Republican state governments have tried to limit the vote with bizarre actions. Using tactics not seen since the literacy test they have taken a cue from John Robert's Supreme Court. Not since Roger B. Taney ruled on Dred Scott had they seemed so eager to move without deliberate speed.

North Carolina is an example. Pat McCrory was elected governor as a pro-business moderate. Voters were tired of Democratic corruption and thought it good to place a safe and sane business progressive in the governor's mansion. Instead, they got a draconian voter-suppression law and abortion restrictions which McCrory claimed he was not in favor of as a candidate. McCrory decided to follow the lead of a radical General Assembly and eschew the style which made him an able mayor of Charlotte.

Perhaps the actions were entirely political, but in doing so he awoke a sleeping giant. Not since February 1960 when four black students tried to desegregate a lunch counter in Greensboro, have activists in the Tar Heel State been so aroused. Demonstrations have been weekly in Raleigh and urban North Carolina has been aroused in numbers not seen in 40 years.

The history of the state would have cautioned against such a drastic approach. In 1898 the so-called Red Shirt Campaign targeted African Americans in especially Eastern Carolina. Angered by the election of a Republican governor backed by populists, Democrats decided to settle the score. Furnifold Simmons of New Bern whipped up the mob and violent groups seized community after community. One particularly violent incident seized a government in Wilmington. Hence began full Jim Crow and outright denial of the franchise to African Americans.

Although this may appear to European Americans as implausible, it is not to African Americans. After the defeat of Henry Cabot Lodge's "force bill" to secure enforcement in 1890, white southerners saw it as a symbol that the course of Civil Rights was no longer a great concern. They moved with alacrity and essentially wiped away the chief successes of the Civil War.

So naturally African Americans are alarmed with actions as those taken in North Carolina. Perhaps it is a matter of an identification card, but history suggests a more sinister motive. It also gives an object lesson how different groups perceive history. Certainly the threat of wild actions can disrupt good will and make unsteady the political consensus. In trying to roll back North Carolina to 1965, the reactionaries come late but yet they come.



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