Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bad (Racist) History Rears Its Ugly Head

I happened across a particularly annoying website and decided to expose it as bad history. I was going to just ignore it, but then decided that meant someone else could happen upon and think it was actually decent history. There are actual facts in this history, which makes it dangerous - you can find it searching for information on normal historical topics and if you aren't paying attention to things like who wrote it and the title, you might think that's it is decent history because some of it is basic history text boilerplate (you know the stuff...this battle was on this date and this many people died...), but it is slanted to specifically make the "whites" look good and everyone else look bad. The text likes to leave out important details to make you think they are telling the truth.

It is written for a white pride (in other words it is a racist group) website and has a so called history book The March of the Titans - A History of the White Race. First off, look at the title and you can tell this is going to be very one-sided history. Its central arguement is that racial mixing causes societial collapse. It actually defends Adolph Hitler!

Since I could only stand to read a part of this after I glanced around enough to be sure this was all bad history, I'm picking one section to refute here. For instance, let's look at this section on the Civil Rights movement:
Voting Rights Act of 1965
In addition to this, the US Constitution was amended in January 1964, to prevent any local authority from using poll tax registration as a means of preventing any person from registering as a voter. Finally in 1965, a comprehensive Civil Rights Act, more correctly called the Voting Rights Act, was signed into law by Johnson: this gave legislative enforcement to the constitutional amendment.
The law also suspended (and amendments later banned) the use of literacy tests for voters. The final abolition of the last literacy tests allowed high numbers of illiterate Black to gain access to the vote: in Mississippi, for example, the percentage of Blacks registered to vote increased from 7 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1968.

While most of the facts are technically correct, the text manages to make the use of literarcy tests seem reasonable and fair. Why shouldn't you have to read to vote? The problem is that while poll taxes (having to pay to vote) did also disenfranchise some poor whites, literarcy tests were aimed specifically at African-Americans. [As a note poll taxes were more aimed at disenchanising anyone but the wealthy - which would leave out a huge segement of the population simply based on their earnings. I hope this is clear why this is injust. Since the African-American population in the South was mostly poor, this effected them more than the white population.] Back to literarcy tests - an African-American voter candidate was given a harder test that was nearly impossible to pass while white applicants were given an easier test or not requried to take one at all. In essence, literarcy tests were a way to make sure that African-Americans specifically could not vote.

Here is a passage from the University of Houston's online history text on voting rights:
In an effort to bring the issue of voting rights to national attention, Martin Luther King, Jr., in early 1965 launched a voter registration drive in Selma, Alabama. Even though blacks slightly outnumbered whites in the city of 29,500 people, Selma's voting rolls were 99 percent white and 1 percent black. For seven weeks, King led hundreds of Selma's black residents to the county courthouse to register to vote. Nearly 2,000 black demonstrators, including King, were jailed by County Sheriff James Clark for contempt of court, juvenile delinquency, and parading without a permit. After a federal court ordered Clark not to interfere with orderly registration, the sheriff forced black applicants to stand in line for up to five hours before being permitted to take a "literacy" test. Not a single black voter was added to the registration rolls.

Try to pass the 1965 Alabama Literacy Test - this isn't aimed at figuring out if you can read. It is aimed at making you fail. Most of us would fail this test if we had to take it before voting come November (as a thought - are you registered to vote? If not, get out there and do it - lots of people have died so you have that right, take advantage of it!)

Here's some numbers to consider on voting rights:
Within five years of the Plessy decision, most southern states had circumvented the 15th Amendment and deprived African Americans of the vote, using such devices as literacy tests, property requirements, poll taxes, and white-only primaries. In 1896 in Louisiana, there were 130,334 black registered voters; in 1904, there were only 1,342. Proponents of disfranchisement justified disfranchisement as a way to end electoral fraud and violence and ensure that only an educated citizenry would take part in elections.
The poll tax was typically a one or two-dollar tax, which was the equivalent of several days' pay. By 1910, all of the southern states had adopted a poll tax. Turnout dropped dramatically, and in most areas, all-white primaries determined the election of government officials. As late as 1935, the Supreme Court allowed the Texas Democratic party to exclude black voters from the Democratic primary, even though a primary victory was tantamount to election.

So as you can see, poll taxes and literacy tests managed to make voting for African-Americans nearly impossible in the South. And why couldn't they vote? Because their skin was a different color not because of their literacy. Plus if African-Americans couldn't read well, it was because of a school system (that lovely "separate but equal" that wasn't equal at all - see Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education) that wasn't equipping them to read.

So what's to be learned from this besides this particular site should be avoided?

First of all, always check your sources. Know where your material comes for. Know who wrote and why you should trust them. This is especially true if you don't already know what you are looking for. As a historian, when I look for stuff for my classes I usually already know the answer - I'm just trying to find a new way to get students interested in it so it is pretty easy for me to spot the junk sites. But if you don't know the material already, you can easily be lead astray by these junk sites that seem accurate. If you want to learn more about a topic, there are a lot of great websites out there, but if you aren't careful you can end up at one that will try to "fix the facts" on you so trace those sites back before you start reading them!

Second, pay attention to what you are reading. If it seems questionable or that it might not be all the facts, look for another site to get another viewpoint. Or actually go find a book - I promise they don't bite!

Third, search carefully. Put in exactly what you want to find. Google isn't verifying sites for you - they are just matching terms.


elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Great post and timely for me as well since Georgia has been going round and round lately with a voter id law. I believe the last court ruling was against it, but there have been so many court rulings regarding it I can't keep up.

ihateracists said...

thank you, thank you, thank you.

i am a black amreican who happened to read some of kemps historical bull nad rasist lies that he calls a book.
what is wrong with author kemp, that guy is no doubt a racist. its a shame too, because whites should have some sort of white history but kemp proved to every one why white history=rasism. another problem is the lies that afrocentralists (whom like kemp are racist) are claiming.