Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005  


News: Ron Wilson takes seat on S.C. school board

One of the most well-known bigots in the country, the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Ron Wilson, is now a member of the body that sets education policy in South Carolina. Despite opposition from people familiar with his history of racism and anti-Semitism, the three state politicians responsible for appointing him have not rescinded the appointment. In a state as ensnared in another era as S.C. is, Wilson's extremism may not seem as extreme to residents as it is to onlookers.

The State reports on Wilson's seating.

Ron Wilson made an inconspicuous debut Tuesday as the state school board’s newest member, voting against several proposals and policies that helped propel the topics to further debate during the board meeting.

During 2½ hours of committee meetings, the precious-metals dealer from Easley did not speak. At the start of the monthly session, new chairman Mike Forrester of Spartanburg welcomed Wilson, who nodded politely.

“It’s a learning experience,” Wilson said after the meeting. “I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ll take it as it comes.”

. . .Unlike in years past, there was no public swearing in for the new state school board member.

Though Wilson was silent during yesterday's meeting, interviews before it provide clues to what can soon be expected. Person's familiar with Wilson's role in the SCV and other racist groups he has been associated with, including the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the South Carolina Heritage Association, will not be surprised. Wilson is the bully boy. The head knocker. The burly, red-faced bouncer who makes other people toe the line, or else. He kicked more than 300 members of the SCV who objected to the group becoming closely aligned with the LOS out while leading the SCV for two years. The LOS, which happens more or less taken over the SCV, is openly white supremacist and secessionist. Wilson has said he is interested in preventing anyone with a criminal record and homosexuals from teaching in the state's public schools. That means Wilson is already targeting African-American and gay teachers. Though anyone can have a criminal record, references to criminality by racists are usually a euphemism for 'blacks.' The neo-Confederate movement is also blatantly anti-gay. Wilson refers to homosexuals as "sodomites."

Wilson's desire to do what he did to moderate SCV members to black and gay teachers may be difficult to fulfill, though. Minor conflicts with the law are rarely used to exclude people from gainful employment. Using having a criminal record as a proxy for race in order to exclude minorities from employment would violate anti-discrimination laws and raise Equal Protection Clause issues. Unless sexual preference can be shown to have caused harm, it is unlikely efforts to prevent gay people from teaching would be achievable, either. Indeed, many folks would consider prying into teachers' private lives to try to determine which of them are homosexual beyond the duties of a state school board. However, the interests Wilson expressed even before being seated confirm that he is not joining the board to help public education in S.C. He hopes to be a force of disunity, undermining public education as much as possible. If Wilson and other members of the neo-Confederate movement had their way, public schools would not exist. From their perspective, public education is a plot by federal and state governments to undermine traditional values and encourage egalitarianism.

posted by J. | 8:59 PM

Tuesday, January 11, 2005  

News: Auteur confronts racism in the family

Nancy Dorr is a very rare kind of white person. Sad to say, but the norm for white people in America is to disavow responsibility for both historical and continuing racial discrimination. Mention the word racism and they begin obfuscating -- if not trying to ride you out of town on a rail. Meanwhile, many of them, including some who deem themselves liberals, are still engaged in racially motivated abuse as a regular aspect of their lives. The Portland, Oregon woman, the daughter of a Ku Klux Klan leader, is taking responsibility for the racism of her family and others.

After being trained in filmmaking at the Northwest Film Center in Portland, Dorr saved $15,000 from her work as a nurse's aide and embarked on a two-month road trip to 50 cities in 23 states. She focused on the sites of historical Klan activity, lynchings and race riots. She interviewed African Americans and whites, Klansmen, as well as descendents of lynchers and those who had been lynched.

Dorr plans to complete the film, Sacrifices of Hate, and enter it in film festivals this year. Regardless of how widely it's distributed, Dorr says she feels as if the film has accomplished its primary goal -- to, as [Margaret] Isaacs, put it, look at her own wounds from her family's legacy of racism.

"It's my life's work," Dorr, 52, says. "All my life, I thought about things my father did and wondered, 'Could I have done something? Am I responsible?' It took (making this film) to get that out of me. It's about acknowledging a terrible injustice happened and not allowing it to be invisible anymore."

In the course of making the film -- mostly in the South and Midwest -- Dorr says she's met many descendents of Klan members, like herself, and of Klan victims. Even when she returned to Oregon, she found that talking about her project brought histories of many residents out of the woodwork.

Dorr made efforts to interview members of her family, perhaps in hope some of them had changed, but was soundly rebuffed. She has had to choose between maintaining relationships with her racist relatives and going her own way. Dorr has found the psychological strength to do the latter.

While making Sacrifices of the Heart, Dorr learned about Oregon's place in the racist history of the United States, something I've known about for awhile. In 1848, the Oregon Legislature passed a law revealing in its rawness.

Slavery is declared illegal in the Oregon Country. The infamous "Lash Law," requiring that blacks in Oregon -- be they free or slave -- be whipped twice a year "until he or she shall quit the territory," is passed in June. It is soon deemed too harsh and its provisions for punishment are reduced to forced labor in December.

The Oregon Constitution included a provision excluding 'negros and mulattoes' from becoming citizens of the state, beginning in 1848. It was not repealed until 1926. Many Southerners migrated to Oregon and Washington after the Civil War. By 1920, Oregon may have had the largest population of Ku Klux Klan members in the country. Today, racist groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans have active chapters in both Washington and Oregon. The Pacific Northwest is perceived by many members of racist movements as an Aryan homeland.

Nancy Dorr is a novice film maker who hopes her inaugural effort will find viewers in Oregon and elsewhere. Read more about this remarkable woman in the Oregonian.

Reasonably related

Peruse a timeline of African-American history in the Pacific Northwest.

posted by J. | 11:45 PM