(ThyBlackMan.com) Growing up in Texas, I consider myself a Texan and not a Southerner. I was raised in Fort Worth, the “City Where the West Begins.” So my image of Texans centered on the rough and tough Wild West not the genteel cotillion throwing south.
But, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was growing up during a time of tremendous change in both Texas and the entire south.
Texas was quickly shifting from a Democratic state to one solidly behind the Republican Party. As a child listening to the news about the election of the first Republican Governor of Texas since reconstruction, it made me to see that the once Great Republic of Texas had regained its senses and returned to the Republican Party.
After all, my mother had taken the time to teach me things that were not readily taught in public schools during my childhood. My mother taught me about the party of Lincoln, the heroic efforts of Southern Republicans, like her grandfather Congressman John R. Lynch (R-MS), and the “States-Rights” shouting Democrats who had finally ended Reconstruction and imposed decades of the racist Black Codes and Jim Crow Laws.
The summer after the much heralded election of Governor Bill Clements, I saw my first Klu Klux Klan march.
Each summer my mother would take me to visit her childhood home of Texarkana, which sits on the border of the states of Texas and Arkansas. As a child I looked forward to going to Texarkana so that I could journey to a street called Stateline where I could jump from state to state—for as long as the city street light stayed green.
That summer in particular, as I hopped in the car to head to Stateline, I overheard my mother and her brother arguing about our planned trip to Stateline that day. My uncle vehemently did not want us to go and I recall the words “dangerous” and “bullheaded” coming from my uncle’s mouth as we
Maybe allowing a nine year old to play in the middle of a busy street was kind of dangerous—even if my mother was watching the street lights and the traffic the whole time.
But, the look of determination in my mother’s eyes made me keep all thoughts to myself. It was a quiet drive to Stateline.
As we drove closer and closer to Stateline, I could see a crowd building and lining the city streets. My mother parked the car in front of a store on a side-street just a few feet away from Stateline. The shops were all open, but the owners all seemed to be outside watching towards Stateline. I could hear music, loud voices on megaphones, and shouts from those seemingly in the crowd ahead.
I excitedly started to run ahead to get a better of view of what my young mind had perceived as a mere parade. But, my mother pulled me back, choosing to hold on tightly to my shoulders, instead of simply holding my hand, and maneuvered us through the crowd to a front row view of Stateline.
I did not need my mother to explain. Men and women in white robes, pointy hoods, and covered faces with identities masked, flooded Stateline, straddled from Texas to Arkansas. The mob shouted, “White Power” and “States Rights,” as the crowd along Stateline watched in dismay and disgust. For the first time in my life, I had seen the dreaded South in Texas.
The issue of “States Rights” had long been used by Southern Democrats as a justification for the enactment of various state specific laws which oppressed and segregated “coloreds,” the pre- Civil Rights movement term for American Indians, Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, and anyone else that was not considered White.
Years earlier, in my home town of Fort Worth, Texas, in 1944, approximately ten (10) years before the arrest of Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson had been arrested for violating one of the Jim Crow Laws in Texas by sitting on a public bus next to a woman whom the bus driver mistakenly believed to be White. In Texas, until the 1949 Delgado v. Bishop Decision, Civil no. 388, W.D. Texas 1948) de facto Jim Crow Laws allowed school districts to segregate Hispanics student from “other white students.”
And in the mostly forgotten case of Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, 85 (1927), the United States Supreme had ruled that a citizen of the United States, is not denied the equal protection of the law by being classified by the state “among the colored children of the brown, yellow, or black races.” So, the notion of “States Rights” has historically been a rallying call for segregation and bigotry by the southern states against its “colored” or minority citizens.
The day that I stood with my mother on Stateline and quietly watched as the Klan marched by, I felt a strong sense of hatred grow, as men and women in funny little white costumes hurled incredible racial slurs at the handful of Blacks bold enough to stand their ground in the crowd. The White men and women in the crowd seemed so different that the belligerent mob rallying down Stateline.
I prayed that day on Stateline that I would never have to suffer through the indignity of being surrounded by a mob cheering for the return of “States Rights.” But, my prayer was destined not to be answered.
I believe in the rights of citizens of the United States to carry guns, the rights of citizens to be free of heavy tax burdens, in the right of citizens to worship as they see fit, and the right of citizens to associate with other citizens as they see fit. As a minority, I detest the term “State Rights.” I do not believe in the right of the state, or any governmental unit, to be more preeminent than the rights of the citizen.
When I hear the term “States Rights” that is now so boldly heralded by some in the Republican Party, I cannot help but to remember that summer day long ago on Stateline with my mother.
I remember that as we drove away from Stateline later that day, I asked my mother why someone had not just driven their car through the mob of chanting Klansmen and knocked them down like bowling pins. My mother smiled and chuckled before she replied, “That would be against the law.”
Staff Writer; R. Nachael Howell Foster
Official website; http://nachael.wordpress.com/
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