Living down our history

By BRAD WARTHEN
EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR
MY GRANDMOTHER used to tell a story about when she was a very little girl living in the Washington area.
    Her family was from South Carolina. Her father was an attorney working for the federal government. One of their neighbors was a U.S. senator from South Carolina. When her parents learned that she had visited the senator in his garden, sitting on his lap and begging for a peek under his eye patch, they were shocked and appalled.
    The senator was “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the state’s former governor, and a vehement advocate of lynching who had participated in the murders of black South Carolinians as a “Red Shirt” vigilante.
    Grandma’s people were of a very different political persuasion, as were of the founders of this newspaper, which was established for the express purpose of fighting the Tillman machine. That’s a second personal connection for me, and one of which I’m proud: We still fight the things that race-baiter stood for.
    Ben Tillman launched his rise to power with a fiery speech in Bennettsville, the town where I was born. But we’ve come a long way since then. Two very different politicians have spoken in Bennettsville in recent days.
    In November, Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke there, outlining her plan “to cut the dropout rate among minority students in half and help a new generation of Americans pursue their dreams.”
    John Edwards was there Wednesday. Tillman was a populist; John Edwards is a populist. But there the resemblance ends. Former Sen. Edwards’ advocacy for the poor helped endear him to black voters in South Carolina in 2004, propelling him to victory in that year’s primary here. His appearance in B’ville was in connection with his attempt to repeat that achievement.
    So my hometown and my home state have come a long way in the past century or so, at least with regard to the intersection of race and politics.
    Not far enough, of course. I don’t just say that because a statue honoring Tillman still stands on the State House grounds, a few yards from where the Confederate flag still flies.
    On the day that this newspaper endorsed Barack Obama, our publisher’s assistant passed on a phone message from a reader who was livid because we are “supporting a black man for president of the United States.” He continued: “I am ashamed that we’ve got a newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, one of the best cities in America, and yet we’ve got a black operation supporting black candidates…. I am disappointed and upset that we’ve got a black newspaper right here in the city of Columbia.”
    How many white South Carolinians still think that way? Too many, if there’s only one of them. But such people stand out and are worth mentioning because we have come so far, and increasingly, people who think the way that caller does are the exception, not the rule.
    And truth be told, South Carolina is not the only part of these United States where you can still find folks whose minds are all twisted up over race.
    As I noted, Mr. Edwards did very well among black voters in 2004, but not this time. Several months ago, Sen. Clinton seemed to be the heir to that support. The wife of the “first black president” had lined up a lot of African-American community leaders, which was a big part of why she commanded an overwhelming lead in S.C. polls.
    But in the last few weeks, something happened. Sen. Obama won in Iowa, an overwhelmingly white state, and black South Carolinians began to believe he had a chance, and that a vote for Obama would not be “wasted.” This week, according to pollster John Zogby, he’s had the backing of between 56 and 65 percent of black voters, while Sen. Clinton can only claim at most 18 percent of that demographic.
    And as the days wear down to what is an almost-certain Obama victory in South Carolina, Sen. Clinton has gone on to spend most of her time campaigning elsewhere, leaving her husband behind to bloody Obama as much as he can.
    So it is that I would expect the Clinton campaign to say, after Saturday, that she didn’t really try to win here. But there’s another narrative that could emerge: Sure, he won South Carolina, but so did Jesse Jackson — just because of the huge black vote there. To win in November, Democrats need a candidate with wider appeal, right?
    Maybe that won’t happen. It would be outrageous if it did. But those with an outrageous way of looking at politics see it as a possibility. Dick Morris — the former Clinton ally (but now a relentless critic), the master of triangulation — wrote in The New York Post this week: “Obama’s South Carolina victory will be hailed as proof that he won the African-American vote. Such block voting will trigger the white backlash Sen. Clinton needs to win.”
    As a South Carolinian who’s proud of how far my state has come, I want to say right now, well ahead of time: As Joe Biden got himself in trouble for saying, and as Iowa voters confirmed, Barack Obama is no Jesse Jackson. Nor is he Bill Clinton, or John Edwards, or anybody else. He’s just Barack Obama, and Barack Obama is the best-qualified Democrat seeking the presidency of the United States.
    And no one should dismiss South Carolinians for being wise enough to see that.

22 thoughts on “Living down our history

  1. carol from connecticut

    today I sent the following e-mail to Rep. Clyburn regarding his appearance on Joe Scarborough’s program today (Morning Joe)
    Dear Rep. Clyburn:
    It was apparent from your appearance on Joe Scarborough’s program this morning that the Clintons got to you and you were defending the indefensible, when you tried to blame Mike Huckabee and his comments about the confederate flag to the blatant racism which has been injected into the by the Clintons. Your attempt to protect the Clinton’s was clearly obvious.
    Your response was clearly a page out of the Clinton’s book of obfuscation, triangulation and twisting the facts.
    You simply provided another example of Washington politics as usual and why Senator Obama needs to win this election.
    Incidentally, I am especially appalled as a white woman who supports Senator Obama for his integrity, innate wisdom, inspiration and ability to
    draw people of all races together for the common good. The Clinton’s policy of personal destruction and divisiveness lives on in those of you who are
    afraid to stand up for not only what is truthful, but what is morally right.
    You of all people should be defending Obama not because he is a black man but because of his principles, morals,
    and hope and inspiration for America! Americans who are oblivious to race look upon him as an inspiring leader – a
    combination of Martin Luther King, JFK and RFK.
    Shame on you for falling into the Clinton’s trap!

    Reply
  2. alison weil

    carol
    I saw rep clyburn also this morning on msnbc and I agree with you
    He looked pained in what he was saying and I think he is being restrained by the clinton -bill in particular
    but he should be strong enough -as the example he set as a
    young man – and support sen Obama as a man of integrity & leadership-
    I am also a white woman and this is not and never was about race
    until the clinton campaign &their surrogates made it about race
    For this the clinton have put a pall of shame on their previously
    wonderful record of civil rights
    The fact that Hillary & Bill Clinton were willing to turn their back on a llifetime of good works should scare everyone
    They want the White House too much

    Reply
  3. Nikki in Greenwood

    Living down our history? This is not surprising to anyone with a healthy brain and good vision. There are huge amounts of people here with the same sentiment, they just won’t verbalize it. They show it in the places they choose to eat, the churches they choose to attend (segragated), the careers they choose or not, the schools they send their children (or the reasons they don’t send them to schools at all), and the variety racially diverse friends they select (or not). I wished that Obama would have run as an independent. The parties (Dems and Repubs) even divide us by offering narrow views for their “so called” liberal or conservative lines. These parties even bring with them a rich history of divison. At times among themselves. Our society is too complicated to be put in a box or class. Our entire country is culturally incompetent! I too include myself as an African-American woman.
    We will never live down our history. This nation will never live down its history until it accepts the fact that race and other socio-economic factors play a huge part in how we live and interact with each other EVERYDAY! Thanks for breaking the mold and being a trend setter. Now if you can get rid of the remnants of the past (hatred and division) that proudly represent our state from the top to the bottom by all sorts of leaders (religious as well as political). Then we may all begin to move on and progress.
    We should all be smart, use our good healthy brains and stop being followers of men. We need to follow the things that are good for ALL people, and not just for a select few.

    Reply
  4. Chodie

    I am a white 38 y/o female who is supporting Hillary Clinton, not because I am white or female, but because I feel she is the best qualified candidate, period!!!! Your blog is a blatant attempt to paint anyone who does not vote for Obama as racist is pathetic. Just as it was pathetic how the media tried to paint Clinton supporters in NH of being weak minded women who voted with their hearts instead of their heads because Hillary showed some emotion. I am a nurse practitioner who takes care of the poor and underinsured everyday and believe that Clinton or Edwards health plan is much better than Obama’s. I am disgusted by the media’s attemt to coddle Mr. Obama, and frankly in doing so the media has done a tremendous disservice to him and the voters of South Carolina and the US.

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  5. John

    I appreciate the fact that the paper chooses the person they believe is most qualified.
    However, it is disappointing that the goal is to make race a non-issue, yet by bringing it up we continue to make it an issue. Leave it at the qualifications.
    Concerning the distraught caller: welcome to America, where even he is entitled to his opinion. I can assure you that your ridicule will do nothing but enforce his belief. His concern over a black president is no worse than everyone else’s elation over a black president.
    I’m sick of this. I long for a news outlet to focus on what matters. It doesn’t happen at the debates or in the papers, and the populace is ignorant and naive because of it. We are a relatively young nation, and will see the consequences of our actions. Neither one of your choices is fit to run for office. One advocates stealing in the form of taxes, and the other has no problem with continuing a baseless war at the expense of our money and lives. But, you know, one’s really good looking and the other one seems like a guy I can trust, so let’s make them leader of the world’s foremost superpower.

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  6. Tom Crenshaw

    Jeez Brad, here I was thinking all along this debate and election was about competency, vision, and ideas, etc. As a white, male, native South Carolinian I should have realized all along it was about race, gender and good ol’ Dixie.

    Reply
  7. Brad Warthen

    Tom, listen for what happens after Obama wins Saturday. It will be like Iowa didn’t happen.
    This is not about race and Dixie in South Carolina. It’s about the rest of the country. If Obama can be painted as the guy who can only win in a 30 percent-black state, you’re likely to hear some Clintonistas mentioning Jesse Jackson, or doing so in so many words.
    If you’re a Clinton strategist, you just have to get those oh-so-enlightened white folks in the rest of the country to believe it for a few days, until you get past Super-Duper Tuesday.
    As Young Frankenstein said, “It. Could. Work.” But it would set our racial politics back precisely 20 years.
    The thing about it all is, Obama is so not black, or white, or anything in terms of his qualifications and appeal. He’s beyond that stuff. The question is whether he can get the country to go beyond it.

    Reply
  8. G Davis

    I agree Brad, especially with your last post.
    The Clintons have demonstrated with clarity why we need more than ever to think outside the box, look outside the *system* in DC for our leader(s).
    I could care less what that leader looks like, what they wear, who they marry.
    I care that we dismantle the *system* to rid our country of the petty concentration on our differences so we can get on with the business of finding a path that ALL 300 million of us can live with.
    Special interests of all kinds are killing this country. We have become nothing more than a mass of small, insular groups fighting each other.
    I beg of you all, how do you view yourself and your neighbor? Would you try to settle a dispute with that neighbor by taking out after them with a baseball bat or would you try to talk to them?
    We are far more alike than we are different. It’s time we accept that and get to fixing the huge problems we all face together.
    Speak truth to power.

    Reply
  9. Tom Crenshaw

    “The thing about it all is, Obama is so not black, or white, or anything in terms of his qualifications and appeal. He’s beyond that stuff. The question is whether he can get the country to go beyond it.”
    I agree with you.
    This whole, vicious mess is setting us all back; it’s horrible and eye- opening… and I hate it had to go down here in South Carolina.

    Reply
  10. Richard L. Wolfe

    G.Davis you spoke the truth. I wish more people on the blogs would learn how liberating the truth can be. Thank you for telling the truth and please keep at it.

    Reply
  11. Flatus Ohlfahrt

    Got a flyer in the mail this afternoon. It was an Obama rant about Hillary siding “with bank and credit card companies over families struggling to pay their bills.” It cited the following URL as validation for the Obama attack:
    http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/08/08/clinton-and-the-bankruptcy-law/
    I took the time to poke in the page and read it carefully. It certainly doesn’t justify Obama’s rant.
    He was supposed to be the good guy.
    Flatus

    Reply
  12. Sam D

    Here are facts: Clinton has not passed one bill into law besides naming post offices and some pork (single purpose bill) for NY state, while Obama has been able to pass a large number of very important laws.
    He joined Senator Dick Lugar (R) in passing a law to help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.
    Obama passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 – (Obama/Coburn(R)) requiring public access to all government spending (earmarks, grants, loans and contracts) which you can see for yourself at http://www.usaspending.gov/
    He passed the Predominantly Black Institutions Act (S.1513). This proposal establishes a program for approximately 75 urban and rural colleges and technical programs that serve a large number of African American students – many who are the first in their families to attend college.
    He has passed too many others to name but all of which were for moving this country forward.
    Clinton? nada.
    If Clinton is nominated she won’t be the first woman; she will be “First Wife.” Bill will be running things — just like he’s been taking over her campaign since Iowa. He may even decide to be (after all he is her closest adviser) to be the vice president nominee. Shades of dick Cheney.

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  13. weldon VII

    “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones…”
    In the case of Ben Tillman, Shakespeare had it wrong: Tillman’s good didn’t die; Clemson and Winthrop are alive and well.
    As to the evil, well, Obama’s leading the polls in South Carolina, so Tillman’s violent racism seems mostly dead.
    I would suggest we let it die altogether. I have no sympathy for Tillman’s evil, but focusing on it will create more division, not healing.
    Were Tillman alive to spread more ill will, the situation would be different.
    But, like George Washington and Ulysses Grant, who both owned slaves, Tillman is dead.
    Why can’t we just leave it that way?

    Reply
  14. Karen McLeod

    We can’t just ‘leave it that way’ Weldon, because a memorial is on our state property that describes Tillman as saintly. He did some good things, but his politics did a lot to lose some of our (potentially) best minds. We need to recognize it, or at least, balance out good and bad; otherwise we perpetuate a lie.

    Reply
  15. weldon VII

    Fine, Karen. Then let’s have the guts to tear it down. It just doesn’t make much sense to vilify a dead man on one side of a statue on state property and extol him on the other. if that’s what the inscription does now.
    The inscripton from the statue that I read in The State doesn’t make much sense. Why not just cover that up with one that reflects the whole man, Jekyll-Hyde that he was?
    And while we’re at it, let’s make sure we include the curse he put on the University of South Carolina. It seems to have been pretty effective.

    Reply
  16. kravitz

    There’s a bridge in Chicago. Near Wacker Drive, if I recall. With a bronze plaque. Not far from Navy Pier. It pays homage to (and the following is the exact quote) “THE FIRST WHITE MEN TO PASS THROUGH THE CHICAGO RIVER. SEPTEMBER 1673.”
    You folks have the flag. Chicago has this.

    Reply
  17. Mati

    Brad, you might think like that because of whatever guilt you or your family accumulated. Try for a moment to forget all this stupid racial propaganda .. this is a candidacy for the President of the United States who should be a person capable to identify and solve problems, get things done.. not just give you excitement and motivation to feel proud again.
    Some of your fellow Americans struggle with the everyday life… while you get a good paycheck for writing propaganda.

    Reply
  18. Lee Muller

    Clyburn has to choose his words carefully, because his entire career consists of having powerful white men create a job for him.
    He had no experience in public office, yet had a black Congressional district gerrymandered for him by white Republicans and Democrats, creating 2 sure GOP districts for 1 sure Democratic district.
    Clyburn has gained power by seniority, not by ability or accomplishment. He is a greater embarrassment to our state than Ben Tillman is 100 years after he was last in office.

    Reply
  19. Sonny Goldreich

    Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, 2008
    By Sonny Goldreich
    “Uncle,” the little boy asked one day as the old man cleaned the donkey hutch, “did the fox ever catch and eat that rabbit ?”
    “Some folks say he did; some say ole Brer Fox he done catched hisself,” Remus said as he scraped manure from the donkey’s hooves.
    “What do you mean Uncle? I never heard of a fox catching itself.”
    “Well, then I spect you never heard of the Tar-Baby.”
    “What’s a Tar-Baby? Did the rabbit have a Tar-Baby?”
    “No. Brer Fox made a Tar-Baby special for Brer Rabbit and thass how Brer Fox done catched hisself.
    See, dat ole silver Fox got some tar, den he mix it all up wit some terptime an some code words an some a dat inyerendo. Den he stuck dat ole Ta-Baby in da road an he and Miz Fox hid demsselfs up in da bush and dey just lay der watching and waiting for dat uppity black Brer Rabbit to come along to see dat Tar-Baby.
    Brer Fox didn’t haffa wait long cuz here come Brer Rabbit down the road. He’s hippity-hoppity like he do and his feets dey barely touch da ground. But when dat young black Rabbit saw dat Tar-Baby, he jess fell to da road cuz he was so ‘stonished.
    And da Foxes, dey jess lay low in da bush.
    “Mawnin!” sez Brer Rabbit. “Nice wedder isn’t it?”
    Dat Tar-Baby don’t say nuthin, and da Foxes jess lay low.
    “How are you dis mawnin?” Brer Rabbit sez.
    Tar-Baby, he don’t answer and da Foxes lay low.
    “Why can’t you say?” sez Brer Rabbit. “Is you deaf? Cuz I can yell so you can hear.”
    The Tar-Baby don’t even turn his head to look at dat young black Brer Rabbit. And da Foxes, dey lay low.
    “You’re stuck-up, you are,” Brer Rabbit sez. “An I’m gwine tech you some repsect.”
    Brer Fox start to laff in his belly and Miz Fox wisspuh loud enuff for Brer Rabbit to hear, “Rabbit thinks he’s da King.”
    “He better hope he’s da King,” Brer Fox says.
    Brer Rabbit, he done start to make a spectkul of hisself, talking bout how dat Tar-Baby need to learn some manners and how it’s jess proper behavior to say hello when someone ask how you.
    But dat Tar-Baby, he jess sit der in da road and looks right through Brer Rabbit like he not even der. An da Foxes jess lay low.
    By this time, a bunch of folks start gathrin rown to watch Brer Rabbit hoppin up and down and wavin his hands and yellin at dat Tar-Baby. An da Foxes jess lay low.
    “I’m gwine to tech you how to talk respeckful to folks if it’s da last thing I do,” Brer Rabbit says.
    An he done jump up an down on dat Tar-Baby wiff both feet til he got stuck and couldn’t move at all.”
    Brer Rabbit yelled some more and tried to hop away but the more he move the more stuck he got.
    Jess then, Miz Fox and Brer Fox walk outta da bush and say hello to Brer Rabbit like dey wuz a pair of innocent mockin birds.
    “Mawnin Brer Rabbit,” sez Brer Fox. “You look sorta stuck up dis mawnin.”
    An da Foxes fell to da grown and laff and da folks all around laff at Brer Rabbit lookin so stuck up dat he can’t move.
    “Brer Rabbit must be on drugs if he thinks he kin git dat Tar-Baby to talk respeckful to him,” one young boy seys.
    “Dat young black Rabbit can’t shuck and jive out of dis,” says another.
    Then Brer Fox rose up and said wit a smile, “Brer Rabbit, I’m sure you’ll stay for some barbq becuz I see you aren’t gwine to go nowhere today. ”
    An Brer Fox and Miz Fox rolled on the grown an laffe and laff until they laff themselves out.
    Dat of silver Fox rose up again and say, “I got you this time, Brer Rabbit. You’ve been hoppin around like you wuz da King of everything and everyone but now we all see you just stuck up.
    “Who do think you are trying to make that Tar-Baby talk respectful? You stay put while I build a fire for dat barbq.”
    Den Brer Rabbit he try to make amends and he act all humble like he know Brer Fox got him.
    “‘I don’t care what you do wid me, Brer Fox,” he says, “so long as you don’t fling me in dat brier-patch. “String me up over the coals but don’t fling me in dat brier-patch.”
    “‘I got no string,’ says Brer Fox. “I’m gwine haff to drown you.”
    “‘Drown me deep as please, Brer Fox,” says Brer Rabbit. “Skin me, set me afire. Jess don’t fling me in dat brier-patch.”
    Da folks all laff at how Brer Rabbit was pleadin with Brer Fox and dey surround Brer Rabbit in a little triangle and dey say, “Go ahead, give dat uppity Rabbit what he deserves and throw him in dat brier-patch.”
    So Brer Fox, he step into dat triangle while Miz Fox stood and smiled and he pick up Brer Rabbit and he fling him right into dat brierpatch. An da folks gather around to see what happen to Brer Rabbit..
    But when Brer Rabbit land 100 other black rabbits jump up and they all hoppin mad at what Brer Fox did with that Tar-Baby.
    Den somebody yell at Brer Fox from up da hill and he see its Brer Rabbit layin on his back in da sun and he pickin all the tar out a his feet with a twig.
    “‘Bred an born in a brier-patch, Brer Fox, bred en bawn in a brier-patch!’ Brer Rabbit yell.
    An he go hippity hoppin away an his his feets dey barely touch da ground.”
    “So the fox never did catch the rabbit, Uncle?” the Boy asked.
    “Well, he never caught him down South,” Remus said. “But you’d have to ask Brer Jew up North, cuz they got Tar-Babys all dere own.”

    Reply
  20. Coach Emery

    I would like to bring forth information for you, the readers of the State newspaper. I give kudos to the editors who had the gall to write and print the information about “Pitchfork” Bemjamin Tillman and his historic efforts. I want to say that we should leave the statue on the grounds. I say this for 2 reasons. First due to the fact that he has impacted America and the political system. Secondly, I have rock solid proof that Benjamin Tillman was a descendant of a BLACK SLAVE… He has fooled the entire nation and the historians with his attempts to hide his color… I would love to provide documents to anyone that would like to view or research their accuracy. There are several individuals that are aware of the true history. Many of the politicians are taking advantage of the political power of “Tillmanism”. This practice of using a position of power and authority to manipulate the public is still being used by Mayor Coble, Sen. Rutherford, and Lonnie Randolph(SC.NAACP Pres.). After reconstruction the Dixiecrats took over the republican party and overthrew blacks that were in political positions. There are many issues that are still unresolved due to the fact that we are ignorant about US History. I think that the plack should be modified stating that “Pitchfork” Tillman discraced his own BLACK race, instead of blaming the “White” race…

    Reply

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