Sunday, February 12, 2012

Republican Racism Example #15: A Voter Thanks Gingrich For Putting A Black Reporter "In His Place"

Just when you thought that Newt Gingrich couldn’t plumb depths any lower, the corrupt former House Speaker reaped his evil dividend from appealing to racism in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary.  He won, in large part, because the white Southern Protestant fundamentalists in the state hated Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and thought he was a closet liberal.  But his poll numbers exploded when he had a well-publicized face-off with a a rare black talking head from Fox News, Juan Williams, during a January 12 debate with his rivals.  (See Republican Racism Example #15)

 Williams asked Gingrich if he was being racially insensitive for calling Barack Obama, the nation’s first-ever black chief executive, “a food stamp president,” and for suggesting that black people, and the poor in general, lacked a desire to work hard in order to get ahead.  Williams had the nerve to suggest that Gingrich was belittling people.  Williams, got loudly booed by the white audience and Gingrich won wild cheers when he showered contempt on Williams’ question and even sneered when he pronounced Williams’ Spanish-sounding first name.

Gingrich knew he was appealing to white Southern racism and that became clear on January 13 when, at a question-and-answer session with South Carolina voters, a woman in the audience said, “I would like to thank you for putting mister Juan Williams in his place the other night. His supposed question was totally ludicrous, and we support you.”   (You can see a tape of the encounter here:

An African American put "in his place" in Newt Gingrich's home state of Georgia in 1960.  (Photo from the "Without Sanctuary" website, 
There’s a long and vicious history in former Confederate states like South Carolina of white people talking about putting black people in their place.  It’s possible that the white voter didn’t know this, but appalling ignorance would be her only defense. Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history from Tulane University and he’s a Southerner, so it is implausible that he wouldn’t know the pedigree of the phrase. The phrase “their place” has always carried a heavy-handed racist message – that the “place” of blacks is below whites, in a position of subservience rather than equality.  It is a phrase meant to make whites feel they are all part of a superior color caste, regardless of their actual wealth or political influence, and to inspire their anger at any African American who has the temerity to speak out, be assertive, or to question the motives of a sleazy demagogue like Gingrich as Juan Williams did.   

African American men were lynched at a rate of about once a week between the 1880s and 1930s, often because they were “uppity,” meaning they didn’t bow to white people fast enough, or didn’t say “sir” or “ma’am” to the white men and women they encountered with enough enthusiasm, or because they were slow to surrender the sidewalks with enough alacrity.  Wite mobs vowed to put these blacks in their place through terrorism.

One African American used as a bloody example to insufficiently intimidated African Americans was Sam Hose, an Atlanta-area man, in 1899.  Known as hard-working and reliable, Hose could read and write.  He earned money for his family, which included his sickly mother and mentally disabled brother.  Hose worked for the white landlord of a plantation for a year and, as African Americans often discovered, his boss planned to cheat him out of owed wages. In the spring of 1899, the two argued and the white man brandished a gun.  Frightened, Hose swung a axe to protect his life but accidentally killed the landlord..  Hose ran off to hide in his mother's cabin in nearby Newman, Ga.

Newspaper stories quoted the landlord's wife as claiming that Hose raped her after killing her husband but such an accusation does not match what else is known about the young man.  (Whites politicians routinely defended these grisly rituals of public murder by claiming that black men were obsessed with raping white women, although such accusations only occurred in 19 percent of the known lynching cases.  Since these men were never brought to trial, there's no way to verify such claims.  An accusation, of course, is not proof of guilt and rape is hardly a probable provocation in the instances in which black women, children, the elderly and the disabled were lynched.)

A mob outside the Hose home grew to about 2,000, with some chartering a train car to catch the anticipated violence. The mob seized Hose, stripped him bare, chained him securely to a tree, piled wood around him, and drenched everything in kerosene.  Drawing the agony out, the mob used knives to slice off Hose's ears, fingers and genitals and they sadistically peeled the skin on his face like an orange.   According to a news story from the time, the crowd cheered as a lit inferno caused their victim’s veins to rupture from the heat. Hose screamed, “Oh my God! Oh Jesus!” as spurts of blood hissed in the fire.  When Hose finally died, the crowd surged ahead seeking souvenirs.  They cut out his heart, liver, and other body parts for safekeeping in formaldehyde-filled jars at home.  Thos who missed the spectacle could buy pieces of bone and tissue for weeks afterwards  and the black scholar W.E.B. DuBois, teaching in Atlanta, later recalled seeing Hose’s knuckles on display in a storefront window.


The original Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction era disappeared in part because of pressure against the terrorist group by the Federal government during the Grant administration.  The Klan was reborn - to persecute Eastern and Southern European immigrants, Catholics, and Jews in addition to African Americans -- in a ceremony at Stone Mountain (pictured above)  in Newt Gingrich's home state of Georgia in 1915.  (Photo from

The Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction Era routinely bullwhipped blacks considered “uppity” because they expected decent compensation for their work at shops or as sharecroppers.  A Klansman testifying before a Congressional Committee in the 1870s admitted that he and other members of the KKK whipped black women for “daring to dress up like ladies” rather than maids. This is how white men in Newt Gingrich’s home state of Georgia, in South Carolina, and across Dixie, kept black people “in their place.”  The idea was to convince blacks that if they could be killed for even trivial violations of racial etiquette, they better not assert themselves politically. As the African American historian Carter G. Woodson put it:
“When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his "proper place" and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary

. . . The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worth while, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro thus educated is a hopeless liability of the race . . . The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies . . . As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.” (See Woodson, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” available at

Carter G. Woodson was a brilliant and thoughtful scholar.  In his previous incarnation as a scholar, Newt Gingrich was a shallow hack.  But it is inconceivable that even Gingrich doesn’t understand the impact of his words when he suggests that black people don’t know the value of work and rely on government assistance.  A man of Gigrich’s stature must be a sociopath to not cringe when he was thanked for putting an African American in his place.  Undoubtedly, the woman voter was hoping her white hero would also put Obama in his place.  In the worldview of racist Republican voters a black man like the president have no legitimate right to power.  “Uppity” blacks like the president aren’t even real Americans – They must be secret Muslims born in Kenya.

Gingrich also knew what he was saying when he didn’t confront this voter in South like he dressed down Juan Williams.  After the woman’s expression of gratitude, all Gingrich did was smile and say, “thank you.”  Beyond the words, Gingrich was giving a wink to a fellow white supremacist, promising a restoration of the Jim Crow-era racial order.

Whether he is an ugly cynic or a bargain-basement racist, Gingrich lacks any moral stature.  One can only conclude that Gingrich and other Republicans are willing to appeal to the baser natures of voters, even if such appeals have resulted in past bloodshed.  As Dennis G. at the Balloon Juice website puts it, “When Gingrich says Food Stamps he means ‘nigger.’ When Perry says states’ rights he means ‘nigger.’ And when Romney says President Obama doesn’t ‘shares our values’ or that the race is about “saving the soul of America” he means ‘nigger.’”

As Dennis G. argues, Gingrich is simply following the Republican script that has served the GOP so well since the white backlash days of the 1960s.  Lee Atwater, a top Republican strategic mastermind for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and campaign manager for George H.W. Bus in 1988, expressed this strategy with cold bluntness in one interview:

“You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’  By 1968 you can’t say, ‘nigger’ – that hurts you.  Backfires.  So you say stuff like forced busing, state’s rights and all that stuff.  You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all those things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is that blacks get hurt more than whites.  And subconsciously maybe that’s part of it.  I’m not saying that.  But I’m saying that if it’s abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other.  You follow me – because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than, ‘Nigger, nigger.’” (See


Longtime Republican activist and George H.W.Bush political advisor Lee Atwater (standing in the center) searched for a more sophisticated way for the GOP to appeal to racist white voters than shouting the word "nigger."  He succeeded.  (Photo from 

Gingrich and his female supporter may want to put black people in their place.  To achieve this, it is clear they are happy to lurk in their place in the political gutter.

Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

No comments:

Post a Comment