Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Line Divide



I thought of Maya Angelou when she traveled back to Stamps with Bill Moyers when I read the article from The Post below.
Over the years and on several occasions, Bill Moyers interviewed Maya Angelou, the legendary author who died in May. In this first of two programs celebrating her extraordinary life and legacy, Moyers revisits an episode from his 1982 series Creativity in which he and Angelou returned to the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, where she spent much of her childhood.

Walking with Moyers, she remembers a place where she was “terribly hurt… and vastly loved.” Stamps, Arkansas, was deeply segregated, and divided by railroad tracks that split the town into black and white.

“This was more or less a no man’s land here… If you were black you never felt really safe when you simply crossed the railroad tracks,” she says. “… And I used to have to walk over here. Oh gosh, I hated it. I had no protection at all over there. I had an idea of protection on this side. I had my grandmother on this side. I had the church, my uncle, and all my people were on this side. So I had an idea of protection, but there I would be all alone and I loathed it, crossing those railroad tracks.”

It was the great writers she read, the music she heard in church, and the scars of racial discrimination in Stamps that guided Angelou toward her passion for writing.

And that mark, that bridge can be either a street, a river or railroad tracks that mark the divide of a town. Cities have it when they employed standard urban planning that enabled municipalities to plan schools, hospitals, roads and other means to incorporate and in turn segregate a city.

I live in Nashville and that is painfully obvious in the lay out and design of the City and in turn the way sidewalks, roads and transit cross the city and the services that accommodate a community. The red lining of more modern cities came in how neighborhoods were created and communities built.

But that is the South you would argue. Yes. but for most of its history Seattle was a segregated city, as committed to white supremacy as any location in America. People of color were excluded from most jobs, most neighborhoods and schools, and many stores, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial establishments, even hospitals. As in other western states, the system of severe racial discrimination in Seattle targeted not just African Americans but also Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, people of Mexican ancestry, and also, at times, Jews.

Seattle had highly racially restrictive neighborhood covenants and deed clauses for any city in the country that to this day is demonstrated with its over 88% population of white residents.

And while I want to point out that while I was aware of this it was not something in our home of which we participated. We had everyone in our home at some point and I don't recall any dismay or horror by our neighbors or ever truly experienced what I suspect was much more prevalent is less working class hoods. But Seattle was for most part an isolated city of largely working class whites who were educated despite their status. It still stands with the district that I lived in having 56% of the residents possessing College Degrees. We were too close to too many schools to not attend so despite it all I felt fortunate that a working class girl could go to a acclaimed Public University.

But I do recall going to Columbia City in the 70s and it is where I ended up living when I moved back to Seattle post divorce.   It was until I left the most diverse neighborhood in the city and then gentrification occurred.  With great public transport came cheaper housing, close to the city and the push for density.   With that came a major upgrade and the cost to live there became financially impossible.   I have seen and experienced this many times.  I've always lived in the it cities when they were on the cusp - the Progressive hoods in red centers.    But if you think San Francisco is progressive let me assure you it too had clearly distinct communities and hoods that were defined by racial and sexual orientation.  And while on some hand it seems great to have an "International" District or the Castro it also defines and segregates with the idea that a persons community is somewhere you visit as a tourist when the mood strikes.

And I live in the South now.  Its history is deep and it revels in it to the point the lines that divide are not ones in the sand.  This article from Salon is an excellent read of the mind and set of the native from this part of the America.  Sadly no one really recalls the real natives of this neck red and all of the woods wherever we live.   But that is just one of the many marginalized people in the South.  There is no presence what so ever of any link to that part of history here.  But Civil War hell to the yeah.   Seattle at least gives it some tacit mention.  Again the progressive is at least to mention it.  Talking is something we excel in.

And yesterday once again I like to remind myself of how the saturation of history doesn't mean it is understood by the residents here.    All of our parks are some historical reference but the largest Centennial and Bicentennial Parks are Nashville's most glorious.  Bicentennial has a tribute to WWII which of course is not surprising as here Cops and the Military are the Christian Soldiers of America so we revel in that aspect of war and death like no other.  The piece has an amazing water sculpture and blocks that tell the story of the war and Tennessee's role in points in history during that time.   I watched a young family walk through and the Dad/Husband goes, "What is this stuff about 1941? What happened then?"  His wife explained it was World War II and he sarcastically responded to her with the yes dear when he realized I was sitting there and he needed to no appear stupid.  He read the tributes and walked off.  They make them ignorant and especially stupid here.  I think when you are constantly recalling one war the others seem so minimal.

So when you speak of the South understand that is is about poverty first, race section and securing some place on this rickety ladder.   Note that in the article and understand Ferguson, Missouri and any other place in flyover America that no one will ever send a plane of people during a crisis and end up a musical on Broadway.  Newfoundland is in Canada and that place in Canada is pretty goddamn white.  There are line divides everywhere.

Will we ever have integrated and diverse communities where it is natural and not contrived or forced upon one by Courts? In a word: NO.

Differences, in black and white: Rural Americans’ views often set apart by race

The Washington Post
Abigail Hauslohner, Emily Guskin

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. — Espinola Quinn views her quaint Louisiana town with a mix of love and loathing. It’s the place her parents — a bar owner and a soybean farmer — raised her; the place where nearly every face is familiar; the spot where she and her husband built their own sprawling house on the edge of the bayou and raised their three girls.
blue suit card pocket

But St. Martinville is also disturbingly segregated: The town still holds separate white and black proms. And Quinn, who is black, hopes her daughters will make their own lives somewhere else.

“The 1964 Civil Rights Act has not come here yet,” said Quinn, who opted to bus her older daughters out of the parish for school and is now home-schooling her youngest, a 15-year-old.

“The community is still physically separated,” and that, she said, “has an effect on your thinking.”

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A new nationwide Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted this spring finds that although rural Americans are more likely to see their communities as neighborly, safer and having better public schools than people in large cities, those opinions come with wide racial disparities.

Black rural Americans — most of whom live in the South — are far less likely than their white neighbors to feel positively about their communities, the poll finds. Sixty percent of blacks say their area is an excellent or good place to raise children, compared with 80 percent of whites. Rural blacks are 25 percentage points less likely than rural whites to give their community positive marks on safety and are 29 points less likely to say their area is a place where people look out for one another. Rural Hispanics tend to fall in between whites and blacks in rating their communities.

Past surveys have found sharp racial divisions among urban and suburban residents on similar questions, but the Post-Kaiser poll of about 1,700 adults provides a rare look at views of African Americans and Hispanics in rural communities where they account for less than 2 in 10 residents.

A few blocks north of Quinn’s neighborhood off Main Street, the town seems to cut in half, transitioning from predominantly black to predominantly white.

There, Logan Verret and his friends said most of the people they know in St. Martinville send their children to private school, vote Republican and “work hard.” Thousands of Louisianans have lost their jobs over the past few years of falling oil prices, but while times are tough, St. Martinville still has “a very strong middle-class society,” said Verret, 23.

But Verret and his buddies, who were having lunch at the town’s Kajun King restaurant on a recent afternoon, acknowledged that not everyone in St. Martinville shares their views and experience.

Walk out the doors of the Cajun eatery, and there’s a newly renovated church across the street, its walls a clean yellow and buttercream and its lawn neatly trimmed. City Hall, the police department and the white-pillared courthouse are nearby, and the sidewalks recently received a $1 million repair.

“When you pass the courthouse, it seems sloppier,” Verret said, referring to the predominantly black side of town.

The segregation creates vastly different experiences for white and black residents in this town of 6,100, even amid shared economic pitfalls, a shared fondness for small-town familiarity, and a shared school system. The poll finds that divide reflected across the rural South.

Two economies

Economics play a big role in rural America’s racial divide. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 1 in 4 rural black Americans lives in poverty; for whites, it’s just more than 1 in 10. Small towns and farming communities that residents describe as “close-knit” can be starkly split.

“In order for an African American to get an opportunity, someone has to give them an opportunity,” said Yulanda Haddix, 54, who recently moved from Philadelphia back to Starkville, Miss., where she was raised. “We don’t get jobs based on credentials alone, not in Mississippi.”

In St. Martinville, an old plantation town set amid the sugar cane fields and bayous of southern Louisiana, the disparity is palpable.

The town is 63 percent black and about 35 percent white, and more than 1 in 5 households rely on food stamps, according to census data. But the poverty rate among black residents is more than double what it is among whites. And while many of the white residents said in interviews that they view poverty as deriving from an unwillingness to work, many of the black residents said the area’s declining economy made them feel as if the deck was irreversibly stacked against them.

“Our town used to be lively. There used to be places to work, and now it’s dying,” said Franca Francis, 52, who makes $7 an hour working at a day-care center and runs a carryout restaurant at night. “Now you have to have two jobs to make a living.”

It’s been years since the local Fruit of the Loom factory and two of the nearby sugar mills shut down; the Walmart folded up and left. Only a few of the town’s smaller businesses remain, including the rickety trailer where Francis sells hot links po’ boys.

‘Nothing will thrive’

Although its wide French-style balconies and Cajun culture once attracted a stream of tourists, St. Martinville is perhaps best known in history as the place where a black teenager, Willie Francis, survived an attempted execution in the electric chair in 1946. Francis had been convicted by an all-white jury for murdering a white man based on a confession given without a lawyer present. An appeal of his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where a defense attorney argued that subjecting a prisoner to multiple execution attempts constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The defense lost, and Francis later was executed.

Local legend says that St. Martinville is cursed as the result of its history of racial injustice. In 1891 — before the failed execution of Willie Francis — the town saw another failed execution when the noose fashioned for Louis Michel, a black political activist, turned out to be too long. Michel, who had been convicted of two murders but said he was innocent, survived long enough to utter a curse before he was hanged a second time.

“Until justice is done, the town will not prosper,” he said, according to an account of the story in the Daily Iberian, a newspaper based in nearby New Iberia. “Grass will grow in the streets, and nothing will thrive.”

The racial power dynamic that his case symbolized lives on, many say.

Ku Klux Klan membership has declined across the country, but it maintains an active recruiting wing in St. Martinville, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery-based nonprofit organization that tracks hate groups. And parish schools have been the subject of a decades-long desegregation lawsuit.

“The black prom is the one the school hosts, but the whites have their own,” Verret said.
Logan Verret, 23, right, stands by a friend’s sugar cane crop in St. Martinville. Verret and his friends said most of the people they know in St. Martinville send their children to private school, vote Republican and “work hard.”© Annie Flanagan /For The Washington Post Logan Verret, 23, right, stands by a friend’s sugar cane crop in St. Martinville. Verret and his friends said most of the people they know in St. Martinville send their children to private school, vote…

The nationwide Post-Kaiser poll finds 66 percent of rural white residents saying their local schools are excellent or good, compared with 50 percent of rural black residents.

Losing out

When it comes to views on race, white rural Americans diverge significantly from the rest of the country. In the Post-Kaiser poll, white rural Americans are one of few demographic groups more likely to say whites “losing out due to preferences for blacks and Hispanics” is a bigger problem than vice versa, 39 to 30 percent. Among rural whites in the South, 45 percent say whites losing out is the bigger problem.

White Americans’ attitudes on this question are tightly connected to partisanship. In rural areas, a 55 percent majority of white Democrats say blacks and Hispanics losing out is the bigger problem, compared with 14 percent of white Republicans. The divide is similar among urban and suburban whites: 61 percent of Democrats say racial minorities losing out is a bigger concern, compared with 20 percent of Republicans.

To the public, St. Martinville authorities tout progress on the issue of race. Twelve years ago, the town elected its first black mayor: Thomas Nelson, now 80. But some black residents said Nelson, whose light skin and straight hair make his race visually ambiguous, has helped perpetuate racial divisions in the interest of capturing the white vote.

The most recent source of tension came last year, when St. Martinville officials shut down the town’s decades-old annual Mardi Gras parade — a move viewed negatively by many black residents and positively by many whites.

The parade participants were mostly black, as were the out-of-town fans the celebration drew, and it was growing.

Quinn felt Nelson’s decision to shut down the parade pandered to white voters: “He promised the whites he was going to shut the n----- parade down if they voted for him.”

But Nelson said the decision was about safety.

“The sheriff couldn’t give us enough deputies,” he said. “He couldn’t afford to participate.”

This Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll was conducted April 13-May 1 with a random national sample of 1,686 U.S. adults contacted on landline and cellphones with an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The sample of 1,070 rural Americans has an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 points. The error margin is 4.5 points for the sample of 759 rural whites, and 12 points for the sample of 115 rural blacks


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