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D’Souza: The Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, Segregation, and Separate but Equal

From Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, pp 106-114

THE DEMOCRATS AND THE KU KLUX KLAN

The Democrats did play a role in Reconstruction—they worked to block it. The party struck out against Reconstruction in two ways. The first was to form a network of terrorist organizations with names like the Constitutional Guards, the White Brotherhood, the Society of Pale Faces, and the Knights of the White Camelia. The second was to institute state-sponsored segregation throughout the South.

Let us consider these two approaches one by one. The Democrats started numerous terror groups, but the most notorious of these was the Ku Klux Klan. Founded in 1866, the Klan was initially led by a former Confederate army officer, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who served two years later as a Democratic delegate to the party’s 1868 national convention. Forrest’s role in the Klan is controversial; he later disputed that he was ever involved, insisting he was active in attempting to disband the organization.

Initially the Klan’s main targets weren’t blacks but rather white people who were believed to be in cahoots with blacks. The Klan unleashed its violence against northern Republicans who were accused of being “carpetbaggers” and unwarrantedly interfering in southern life, as well as southern “scalawags” and “white niggers” who the Klan considered to be in league with the northern Republicans. The Klan’s goal was to repress blacks by getting rid of these perceived allies of the black cause.

Once again Republicans moved into action, passing a series of measures collectively termed the Ku Klux Klan Acts of 1871. These acts came to be known as the Force Bill, signed into law by a Republican President, Ulysses Grant. They restricted northern Democratic inflows of money and weapons to the Klan, and also empowered federal officials to crack down on the Klan’s organized violence. The Force Bill was implemented by military governors appointed by Grant.

These anti-Klan measures seem modest in attempting to arrest what Grant described as an “invisible empire throughout the South.” But historian Eric Foner says the Force Bill did markedly reduce lawless violence by the Democrats. The measures taken by Republicans actually helped shut down the Ku Klux Klan. By 1873, the Klan was defunct, until it was revived a quarter-century later by a new group of racist Democrats.

In 1902 a prominent Democratic writer, Thomas Dixon, wrote a vicious anti-black novel The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Burden and followed it up in 1905 with The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. Dixon’s book was a massive bestseller in the Democratic South. A few years later, Dixon collaborated with another Democrat, the film producer D. W. Griffith, to make The Birth of a Nation. This was one of the first full-length motion pictures ever shown in the United States.

Released in 1915, The Birth of a Nation caused a sensation with its dramatic scenes of ruthless northerner carpetbaggers looting the poor, honest families of the South as well as lusty black men preying with impunity on southern maidens. In later interviews, Griffith said he modeled the hero of the story on his own father, who is depicted as heroically if unsuccessfully trying to uphold southern gentlemanliness in the face of northern barbarism.

Interestingly enough Abraham Lincoln is portrayed favorably in the film; he is called the Great Heart and the story implies that Reconstruction would have gone better had he remained in office. The villain of Griffith’s story was a northern politician named Austin Stoneman, who was modeled directly on the Republican abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

The night-riding Klansmen were the film’s heroes, finally taking on the northern malefactors and protecting the honor of the South. The film made no reference to Republicans or Democrats—in a sense, Griffith was the original perpetrator of the progressive myth that party differences were inconsequential and that slavery and segregation were purely a North-South issue.

The Birth of a Nation was strongly protested by northern Republicans such as Harvard president Charles Eliot and the feminist reformer Jane Addams, but also by Republicans in the South, such as the black educator Booker T. Washington. By contrast, the film was vigorously defended by Democrats across the country, including the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Edward White, who was a member of the original Ku Klux Klan.

In the year of the film’s release, the Democratic president, Woodrow Wilson, arranged a private screening in the Oval Office for his cabinet and other invited guests. After the screening Wilson declared that everything in The Birth of a Nation was accurate. In Wilson’s words, “It’s like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

The film inspired a Klan revival, spawning Klan chapters not only in the South but also in the Midwest and the West. These Klans featured men in white costumes with titles like Giant, Cyclops, and Grand Dragon, gathering together for vigils and cross-burnings and meetings known as Klonciliums and Klonvocations. Wives too could participate in the Klan’s sister organization, the women’s division of the KKK.

If there seems to be an element of theater in all these Klan rituals—a kind of perpetual Halloween for participants—the reality for blacks was grimmer. The new Klan focused its hate and violence against blacks, killing thousands over the course of twenty-five years.

Between 1920 and 1925, Klan membership ranged between two to five million, making it one the largest fraternal organizations in American history. Its members included the governors of Texas, Indiana, and Oregon, as well as the mayors of several major cities, and innumerable sheriffs, councilmen, and local judges. The Klan is often described as the face of southern racism, but the group wasn’t exclusively southern. Rather, the Klan represented the racist face of the national Democratic Party.

In the fifty-year period starting from the Klan’s founding through the late 1920s and early 1930s, every prominent Klan leader was a Democrat. In fact, Democrats were so prominent in the Klan that the group sometimes held its own primaries to decide which Klansman should receive the Klan endorsement in the upcoming election, and the Klan role was so central to the 1924 Democratic National Convention in New York that historians sometimes call it the Klanbake.

The Klan claimed to be devoted to justice, ensuring that blacks who propositioned or raped white women were punished through vigilante action. In reality, scholars of the Klan agree that much of the group’s terrorism was aimed at keeping blacks socially subservient to whites, and also in preventing blacks from voting.

To this end, Klansmen raided black workplaces, burned black homes, terrorized black families in nightly raids, and formed lynch mobs in an ongoing campaign of intimidation and terror. As a consequence of Klan mayhem—together with a series of Democratic measures such as poll taxes and literacy tests—black voting declined precipitously throughout the South.

THE TERRORIST WING

Historians now recognize that the Klan wasn’t going it alone; rather, it was acting on behalf of the Democratic Party. As I argued earlier, the Democrats attracted poor whites by establishing a fixed racial caste system in which every white, no matter how degraded, had a higher social position than every black, no matter how educated or refined. The Klan was the enforcement mechanism of this inflexible racial hierarchy.

The Klan also enforced a widely-echoed Democratic Party mantra, which is that whites refuse to allow themselves to be governed by Negroes. This position required the suppression of the black vote, not because blacks were the majority in most states, but because white Democrats did not want any blacks to have a say in how they were governed.

Today this may seem to us like an expression of mindless racism, but the Democratic Party didn’t see it that way. Democrats realized that the party’s political dominance, mainly in the South but also in areas of the West and Midwest, relied on stopping blacks from voting. Black votes, after all, only undermined the Democrats and helped their opposition. In the half-century following the Civil War, the vast majority of blacks who voted did so for the GOP.

The Democrats wanted to be the party of the white man, but they didn’t want the Republicans to benefit from being the party that protected the rights of black people. The Democrats were determined to keep Republican influence out of the South, and after Reconstruction, they were largely successful in doing so. Republicans watched in dismay as Democrats used their virtual monopoly in the South to visit terror and destruction upon a vulnerable black population.

The Klan may have been the poster organization of Democratic racism, but it didn’t operate by itself. The group’s racial terrorism occurred, and was legitimized, within a political context in which racism was the accepted discourse of the Democratic Party. This was an era in which Democratic writers published books with titles like The Negro a Beast; The American Negro as a Dependent, Defective and Delinquent; The Negro, a Menace to American Civilization; and America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro. 10

The racist Democrats weren’t just out in the culture writing books—they also served in the halls of the U.S. Congress. “What does civilization owe to the Negro?” the racist Democrat from Georgia, Tom Watson once said. His answer, “Nothing!” Watson was later elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1920.

Watson, a Klansman himself, deployed the Klan against his political enemies and advocated lynching blacks, Catholics, and nonwhite immigrants. When he died, his memorial service was organized jointly by the Ku Klux Klan and the Georgia Democratic Party.

Another outspoken Democratic racist was James Vardaman of Mississippi, who served both as governor and then U.S. senator. When Republican president Teddy Roosevelt agreed to have dinner with the distinguished black leader Booker T. Washington, Vardaman fumed, “I am just as opposed to Booker Washington with all his Anglo-Saxon reinforcements as I am to the coconut-headed, chocolate-colored typical little coon Andy Dotson who blacks my shoes every morning.” 11 Notice how Vardaman maintains the racial caste line so that poor whites among his constituents can feel superior even to Booker T. Washington.

Another Democrat, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, offered an even more outrageous response. “Now that Roosevelt has eaten with that nigger Washington, we shall have to kill a thousand niggers to get them back to their place.” 12 That’s how Democrats talked back then; they want us to forget about it now. We can see from Tillman’s threat why Democrats needed and relied on the Ku Klux Klan. The Party needed a domestic militia to carry out its racist projects of mayhem and murder.

THE SEGREGATION SOLUTION

In addition to the Klan, another institution of white supremacy that the Democrats created across the South was state-sponsored segregation. This took longer; while the Klan was in full operation in the 1860s, segregation was institutionalized in the 1880s and comprehensively established only by the early twentieth century.

The Democrats did it because they knew they could get away with it. By the 1890s, the Democrats had consolidated their power in the South and the party was strong enough to prevent the federal government from intervening in the way it did during Reconstruction. Thus Republicans in the North were limited in what they could do. Northern Republicans knew that they could not perpetually rule the South; at some point, the southerners would have to govern themselves.

In 1896, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson affirmed the constitutionality of segregation. The Court considered a Louisiana railroad segregation statute that was euphemistically titled, “An Act to Promote the Comfort of Passengers.” A Democratic legislature passed the law, and a Democratic governor signed it.

Homer Plessy, a Republican who was seven-eighths white, refused to sit in the railroad compartment reserved for blacks and when he was cited for breaking the law, brought suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Louisiana statute. A largely though not exclusively Democratic Supreme Court upheld the law, with the sole dissent coming from Justice John Harlan.

Harlan famously stated that “our constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” 13 Here—in the Republican tradition of Frederick Douglass—is a further affirmation of the color-blind ideal, more than half a century before King’s “dream” speech. Harlan’s dissent is justly famous; less well known is the fact that he was a Kentucky Republican.

Gradually, Democrats in the South segregated everything. Hotels, taverns, and inns were segregated. Schools were segregated, as were public water fountains. Prisons were segregated, as were public theaters, public libraries, and public parks. Hospitals, jails, and cemeteries were segregated. Movie theaters and opera houses were segregated, and also the professions. Black barbers could only cut the hair of other blacks; black plumbers could only do repair work in black homes.

Let there be no doubt about this: all the Jim Crow laws mandating segregation were enacted by Democratic legislatures and signed into law by Democratic governors. Democratic judges upheld those laws, and Democratic sheriffs and public officials enforced them. Segregation was solely and entirely the handiwork of the Democratic Party. The party may as well have adopted the motto of Democratic segregationist Governor George Wallace who notoriously declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Over time, as racism became less defensible and fashionable, some Democrats insisted that segregation laws were not racist; rather, they were neutral on their face. After all, segregation laws merely separated the black world from the white world, while making no explicit statement about which one was better.

This “separate but equal” argument was concocted way back in the late nineteenth century. A Democratic majority on the Supreme Court declared in the Plessy decision that if blacks feel inferior as a result of segregation it’s because they choose to view it that way, not because of anything in the law itself.

Yet everyone, black and white, who lived under segregation knew that it was an instrument of white supremacy. Separate was not equal. No one knew this better than the Democrats. In fact, the Democrats counted on their white supporters to see it that way. The whole purpose of stamping the black race with inferiority was to enable the Democrats to confer privilege on their white constituents. Yet notice how Democrats consistently claimed that these mechanisms of exploitation were “fair” and “just.”

The racist Democrat, James Vardaman, speaking on the floor of the Senate, admitted that “separate” didn’t actually mean “equal” and went on to explain why blacks should not be given the same education as whites. “Educating the black man simply renders him unfit for the work which the white man has prescribed. The only effect is to spoil a good field hand, and to make an insolent cook.” 14

Segregation wasn’t limited to the South. Following his election, Woodrow Wilson mandated segregation for all the agencies of the federal government. This had never happened before. In a sense, Wilson was burying the ghost of Lincoln, who would have been appalled beyond measure. The black community was apoplectic. Black leaders like Ida B. Wells and Monroe Trotter protested Wilson’s racism, but the Democratic president was unmoved.

Wilson indignantly told these black leaders that they had no reason to complain, because segregation was in fact beneficial to blacks. Wilson also echoed the argument from Plessy that segregation was just, since whites were being separated from blacks just as much as blacks were being separated from whites.

By now these themes should be familiar: oppression is good for you, and it also promotes social justice. The Democrats had been down this road before. Recall that Andrew Jackson told the Indians that it was good for them that the government was taking their land. Jackson also insisted that his land confiscations were Just—a term that he typically spelled with a capital letter. Of course knowing what we do about how Jackson and his cronies made off like bandits, we may be pardoned in sarcastically quipping that “justice” for Jackson actually meant “just us.”

Today, too, Democrats make the same bogus claims when they exploit people by taking their money and turning them into second-class citizens. Naturally Americans get upset about being demeaned and ripped off. The thieving Democrats then inform them that they should feel good about being stolen from, because in this way they are being cured of greed, selfishness, and materialism. Democrats also justify their confiscations in the name of “social justice.” Now, as in the past, the Democratic Party counts on its victims to be suckers.

THE PROGRESSIVE LIE

Summing up, we can see from this chapter that Hillary Clinton’s arrogance before Senator Brooke was utterly misplaced. Brooke’s indignation over the incident was completely justified. Brooke was actually the good guy, and Hillary’s attempt to talk down to him was condescendingly racist.

Of course, it was no more racist than Hillary’s Democratic ancestors. But this is the point: Hillary was pretending to a different pedigree. She was basing her actions on a progressive narrative that is itself a lie. She was posing as the poster child for civil rights while her actions—and her party’s actions—qualify her as a poster child for white privilege and the degradation of blacks and other minorities.

“America” doesn’t have a long history of white supremacy, the Democrats do. Democrats are the party of racism while opposition to racism came mainly from blacks and Republicans. From the Civil War onward, Republicans have been the party of equality and civil rights while Democrats have been the party of racism and opposition to civil rights.

Did that change? In the next chapter, we explore this question. Let me just say at this point that the answer will surprise you. For now, we can take it as established that the Democratic Party, through the dark night of slavery and the long period of racism and white supremacy, has been the systematic oppressor of blacks. Instead of demanding that blacks be grateful, what Democrats owe them is restitution—and an apology.”

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