WHAT’S IN A NAME? An Analysis of the Historical Partiality Involved with the use of the Term “Riot”

By: Ashton Reynolds

Covid-19 lockdown protestors at Michigan’s State Capitol on April 30th.
Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.

 

Protestors reenacting the death of George Floyd at Boston Common on June 3rd.
Courtesy of AP Steven Senne

In The Politics of Collective Violence, historian and sociologist, Charles Tilly explains that the word riot is infused with political meaning. He states that the term riot “embodies a political judgment.”  According to Tilly, when power-holders and those who are contingent to power-holders (i.e. those who are at the front of the line in receiving benefits from power-holders) disapprove of violence by those outside of their power structure, they label these demonstrations as riots.

Even when instances of violence are justified, those in power often describe the violence as riotous in order to delegitimize those outside of their group. Once power-holders employ this rhetoric, the assemblies in question are assessed as subhuman and destructive, which further solidifies the strength of those who control the inner-workings of social and political power.

A Historical Example of a Misrepresented Gathering: Millican, TX 1867-1868

Map courtesy of bestplaces.net

In late summer of 1867, the town of Millican, Texas fell victim to a large outbreak of yellow fever that was raging through the state.  George E. Brooks, the minister of a black Methodist Episcopal Church and registrar of voters for Brazos County, set aside politics, race, and grievances to treat sick and dying victims of yellow fever as the majority of the town attempted to distance themselves from those with the viral disease.

Brooks’ acts were a remarkable display of courage and humanity.  He not only cared for black citizens of Millican; he took care of white citizens, the majority of whom undoubtedly detested the fact the he served as county registrar. Indeed, Brooks received some minimal appreciation for his indiscriminate care of the sick and dying. The gratitude of whites, however, only went so far.  Just short of a year later, Brooks’ body was found decomposing in the hot sun on the banks of the Brazos River.  His flesh had been removed in strips and his face disfigured beyond recognition.  He was identified only because one of his remaining hands showed a missing finger from an earlier injury.

The Event that Led to the Eventual Murder of George Brooks

In the summer of 1868, race relations in Millican proved particularly strained.  Blacks were shown definitively that their skin color nullified any possible reconciliation that Brooks’ actions as a caregiver may have initiated.  In July, members of the Ku Klux Klan attempted to intimidate Brooks and his congregation by firing shots at them.  To the shock and dismay of the KKK members, the congregants defended themselves by returning fire.  The congregants’ response was so effective that the clansmen rode away quickly, and in their haste left their robes, masks, and pistols on the ground in front of the church meeting place.

The congregation did not rest on their laurels. Rev. Books organized and trained a black militia to defend the black community of Millican from future attacks. Whites knew of the militia because they trained every Saturday in full view of both black and white citizenry. As expected, the white citizens were unhappy about the black militia’s existence and even more dissatisfied with their practice of consistently drilling.

Most assuredly, the trouble that the militia prepared for came their way. What became known as the Millican Riot began with a rumor.  A leader among the freed persons of Millican went missing, and it was said that he had been lynched because he sought to collect a debt owed to him by a white man. The truth was that the leader had simply gone to neighboring Washington County.

However, because Brooks was unsure about what happened to the man, he sent the captain of his militia with a detachment of men to find the body in order to confirm the lynching.  While on their search, the militia came around a bend in the road. There, they came face to face with the mayor of Millican, as well as the deputy sheriff and a white posse who had come to ensure the militia did not take retribution against the supposed instigator of the lynching, i.e the white man who owed the debt to the missing freedman.

As is often the case when white Southerners described their conflicts with blacks at the time, the white posse claimed that violence began because blacks initiated it. The whites claimed that they were in the process of successfully brokering peace with Brooks’ captain until “a small negro” in the back discharged his weapon.   They responded by firing upon the militia, which resulted in the killing of fifteen to twenty freedmen including the captain with whom they were supposedly brokering peace.

A counter-example to most of the reporting about the Millican Massacre at the time it occurred. This is probably from a black newspaper. The Daily Austin Republic, July 20, 1868.

Undoubtedly, this is not what actually happened.  Rather, it is the fantasy of whites from the past and the present to obscure the fact that the white posse had no intention of negotiating.  Instead, more than likely, Brooks’ men were shot down before a word could even be spoken.  And Brooks was subsequently murdered.

In the flurry of news reports that followed in the days following, whites sufficiently exercised rhetorical power ensuring that what was in fact a racist massacre designed to terrorize the black citizenry and punish black leaders was labeled a “riot.”  From Galveston to New York, newspapers participated in the active delegitimization of Brooks, his militia, and the black citizens of Millican.  Despite the inaccuracy of the published stories about this event, mainstream readers believed what they read, and they capitalized on the word “riot.”

The story of what truly happened in Millican was replaced with a sensationalized tale about the supposed irrational and undisciplined actions of blacks that threatened the safety of rational, law-abiding whites. As is often the case when describing the actions taken by non-white actors against whites in power, “riot” was the name that was used at the time of the event and subsequently canonized by the historical record.  To this day, the event is most often referred to as the “Millican Riot” rather than the “Millican Massacre,” the preferred term of historians who have studied the event.

Connections to the Present

Of course, the politicization of the word riot is not restrained to that  particular subset of American society.  To this very day, the ethics that we citizens of the United States profess and those that we practice are in sharp contrast and possess a violent juxtaposition.  Images of violence pervade our lives, but they are not evaluated with parity or consistency. Recently, in a scene reminiscent of our country’s troubled racial past, white men dressed in camo fatigues and armed with assault weapons crowded the state capitol of Michigan in order to assert themselves and intimidate those around them. They were not military troops acting at the will of the state. Instead, they were a group protesting their state government’s lockdown policies regarding Covid-19.

Protestor who contested rules regarding Covid-19 lockdown at the Michigan State Capitol on April 30th.
Photo Courtesy of BBC and Getty Images.
More protestors at the Michigan State Capitol on April 30th. Photo Courtesy of BBC and Getty Images.

In evaluating the protests of these men, it is appropriate to assess them in tandem with those of other assemblies who gather to make their grievances known, namely those who currently protest the inexcusable and deliberate killing of George Floyd.  They can hardly be considered an armed force in comparison to those who occupied the Michigan Capitol.  But when these people march – with or without violence — to air their grievances with those who hold power, they are met with impenetrable tear gas, clubs, and other tools of state-sponsored violence.  Their demonstrations are described as meaningless, destructive, and an overreaction.

The occupiers of the Michigan Capitol appealed to history by using aesthetic symbols of rebellion and revolution such as “Don’t Tread on Me” signs and Confederate Battle flags to legitimize their angst. And  generally, mainstream society has not rebuffed these individuals for their protests.

May 31st protest against police brutality in New York City. Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone.

However, those who currently protest the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin are criticized.  Their legitimate protests – whether violent or non-violent – are characterized as riots. There are those among them who have resorted to looting and violence, but the majority of them have not done so. Their demonstrations against the generations of systemic oppression in both conspicuous and inconspicuous forms against African-Americans by police departments across the country are often considered illegitimate.  They have been confronted by the National Guard.

It could be said that the National Guard are a necessary presence because the Minneapolis police have lost credibility within their city.  Nevertheless, by calling upon the National Guard, the governor of Minnesota is sending an unequivocal message that those who protest the death of George Floyd and the systemic issues that caused his death are somehow a threat to be monitored and controlled by the state with force.

 The Moral of the Story

Our guiding ethic that “all are created equal” and that we are one nation indivisible is a noble ethic that we conveniently abandon to our collective peril.  Our professed ethics are meaningless and will remain so unless our nation realizes that there is a disconnection between the ethic we profess and the ethic we perform.  Those in power must use the power of law and order to protect the rights and dignity of all people instead of using it as an arm of protection for some and an entity of persecution for others.

Those who cry “Justice!” in the streets must no longer be met with state-sanctioned violence, and white Americans should join non-violent protestors in burning down the façade of righteousness behind which systemic evil too often is enforced. Officer Derek Chauvin’s decision to end George Floyd’s life brutally reminded us that America is a nation of laws – not a nation of justice.  Our guiding ethic should rest in the later instead of the former.

T.W. Gregory’s ‘Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan’ as it Resonates Today

By T. Ashton Reynolds

Intolerable and Inexcusable Acts that and All that Made them Excusable…

On July 10th, 1906, T.W. Gregory of Austin, Texas delivered a paper before the Arkansas and Texas Bar Associations entitled, Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan.[1] His opening comments defined the Ku Klux Klan as the “Invisible Empire,” springing up overnight as a dark ephemeral shadow government fielding its own army of 100,000 men bent on carrying out its bidding.  He described this Invisible Empire as one that “passed laws without Legislatures, tried men without courts, and inflicted penalties, sometimes capital ones, without the benefit of clergy.”[2] It defied state and national authorities with impunity and its every act, according to Gregory, was “in defiance of the established order and the spirit and letter of our institutions.”[3]  Indeed, the acts of cruelty and oppression committed by The Invisible Empire (in addition to those committed in its name by others with dubious connection to the Klan) were both intolerable and inexcusable.[4]

Intolerable and inexcusable as the acts of the Ku Klux Klan were, Gregory was thoroughly convinced that, given the conditions of the South between 1866 and 1872, hardly any man assembled to hear his paper “would have been other than a Ku Klux or Ku Klux sympathizer.”[5] Academically speaking, Gregory stated that no one in their right mind could approve of the Klan as an organization.  But, given that the Klan was comprised of individuals hard pressed by the conditions in which they found themselves, the Klan took on the mantle of something more than a simple organization.  The Klan became a collective of individuals, a movement that assumed the “dignity of a revolution, the protest of proud and despairing race against conditions not to be endured…desperate men, challenging fate, and swearing that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be theirs and their children’s at any cost.”[6]

Gregory concluded that Reconstruction created an unconstitutional vacuum of liberty in the South.  Four misfortunes sucked liberty from the post-rebellion South.[7]  The first misfortune was the assassination of Lincoln along with his generously kind plan of Reconstruction for the South.  The hatred and venom “unsurpassed” directed by Republicans and Southerners alike at Andrew Johnson whose political career was “as a matter of fact” marked by “honesty and consistency,” was the second misfortune that befell the South.[8]  According to Gregory, Johnson was “endowed with such a faculty for doing the right thing in the wrong way.”[9] When it came to reforming the Union, Johnson was like a bull in a china shop.  The third misfortune was the passage of the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill which removed from the Southern states the right to regulate freedmen as they saw fit and entrusted it into the hands of the War Department.  The Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, in the eyes of many white men in the South, was an intrusive attempt to disorder the inherent and necessary racial stratification of Southern society with blacks on the bottom.[10] Finally, the Reconstruction Acts suspended the constitutional rights of Southern states and their white inhabitants by unconstutionally imposing military rule over them.[11]

Ultimately, according to Gregory, these misfortunes allowed for the disenfranchisement of “substantially all of the intelligent class of the South.” Thus, into the vacuum came freedmen, who, Gregory was careful to point out, were mostly illiterate, and now comprised almost the entire electorate.  To make matters worse, Northern carpetbaggers and Southern Scalawags (who were “composed almost exclusively of the very scum of creation) controlled the black vote.[12] Insofar as Johnson was unable to check Congress, and the Supreme Court unwilling to act as the “bulwark against unconstitutional legislation and executive tyranny” as intended by the founding fathers.  Gregory wrote that, by 1867, “it seemed that every remedy had tried in vain and the limit of endurance reached.”[13]

 

The Ku Klux Klan: Defenders of The Constitution and Freedom…

 At the halfway point of his paper Gregory quotes Woodrow Wilson’s History of the American People to set the scene for a full throated apologetic diatribe regarding the Klan:

“The white men of the South were aroused by the very instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of government sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes and conducted in the interests of adventurers…There was no place of open action or of constitutional agitation, under the terms of reconstruction, for the men who were there real leaders of the Southern communities…They could act only by private combination, by private means, as a force outside of the government, hostile to it, proscribed by it, of whom opposition and bitter resistance was expected, and expected with defiance.”[14]

It was simply unbearable to be treated like some vanquished enemy fully at the whim of their conqueror.[15]  But, just when all seemed lost, “fate had prepared a potent weapon, and at the critical moment thrust it into the hands of these desperate and despairing men.”[16]

Where Gregory begins his apologetic description of the Klan is important.  He reminded his listeners that at the heart of the story of the Klan is just a small group of young, professional men in Tennessee with time on their hands who formed a secret fraternal organization whose only purpose was to “mystify outsiders and have fun.”[17] Essentially, according to Gregory, for the first year of the Klan’s existence it was not much more than the Kappa’s throwing a raging invitation only kegger while wearing scary looking robes and chanting creepy sounding incantations in barely visible  locations.  Yet, as new chapters, or “Dens,” sprang up all over the South, members of the Klan began to come to the realization that their goal of mystifying outsiders was having an unexpected side effect: it gave the Klan “amazing influence of the unknown over the minds and actions of men.”[18]  Soon members of the Klan shifted their purpose away from a great social prank to the idea that a “great mission awaited the movement.”[19]

The great mission was to take up the banner of the Constitution which existed to protect the weak, the defenseless, and the decent.  Of course, this was based on Southern white men’s understanding of what “constitutional” meant, as well as who was “defenseless” or “weak.”  The salient point here is that the Klan viewed the carpetbaggers, scalawags, and freedpersons as the true threats to constitutionality and decent people.  This was an important principle which underlay the Klan’s purpose for existence: for the defeated South, Constitutionality took on a spiritual immutable epistemology that had nothing to do with the government empowered by the Constitution.  As the misfortunes that befell the South during Reconstruction robbed it of its constitutional rights, there were men who would keep the spirit of the Constitution, as they understood it, alive until such time as constitutionality in governmental form could be restored to the Southern states.[20]

In the end, Gregory reiterates that though he does not condone the crimes and excesses of the Klan, the ends and accomplishments of the Ku Klux Klan fully justified its existence as a movement.[21]  Even though the Klan was extra-judicial and acted outside constitutional boundaries, it was a more agreeable than the perceived form of extra-judicial, unconstitutional action imposed upon the South by the Northern states.  In reality, Gregory is not describing a battle to protect constitutional rights as much as he is describing a battle to deprive constitutional rights.  If the acts of the Klan could not be condoned, they could be excused in light of their targets.

In Case You Thought This Kind of Thinking Was Dead and Gone…

For a brief time after the end of major hostilities in the Civil War, Southern whites believed life would return to normal, save they no longer legally owned slaves.  It would not be long before the horrors of the war faded into memory and things would go back to what they were before.  For Southern whites, Congressional Reconstruction put that dream despairingly on hold.  The Ku Klux Klan was the bearer of the banner that things could be great again.  More than a banner holder, they were motivated to action by that banner.

I read this document two weeks ago at DeGoyler Library at SMU.  Though we have seen a uptick in overt and covert racist demonstrations in the last few years, in those two weeks I have repeatedly come across the very ideas Gregory puts forth in this paper he delivered in 1906, some one-hundred and six years ago.  Last week I drove past a man selling dozens of racist flags on the side of the road.  This weekend in Hilsborough, North Carolina, Klan members rallied in public outside a courthouse in full regalia.  And yet, Gregory’s maxim continues to hold true.  Most self-respecting white southerners would never put on a robe and hold a banner in public.  The Klan is repugnant, a bunch of violent fringe extremists.  But, for white southerners racism, isn’t the problem: their problem is that they believe the government is creating an environment where white people’s constitutional rights are threatened in the name of justice and righting wrongs of the past.  This is not a matter of remembering the past so we don’t make the same mistakes today or in the future.  This is a continuation of what has always been in our country.

Picture taken in North Zulch, Texas by author
Klan Rally in Hillsborough, North Carolina that happened last Saturday, August 24th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gregory ended his talk with an ominous threat for those in the future who might try and disturb white hegemony again:

“The Ku Klux machine has been stored away in the Battle Abbey of the Nation, as obsolete, we trust, as the causes which produced it; it will stand there for all time as a reminder how useless the prostitution of forms of law in an effort to do that which is essentially unlawful; but it will also remain an eternal suggestion to the vigilance committee and the regulator.”[22]

 

[1] Thomas Watt Gregory. Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan : a Paper Read before the Arkansas and Texas Bar Associations, July 10, 1906 / by Mr. T.W. Gregory. Austin, Tex: s.n., 1906.; T.W. Gregory graduated from the University of Texas with a Law Degree, was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas, a Trustee for Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and was actively involved in the UT Ex-Students Association serving as head from 1926-1928.  He served as Attorney General of the United States under Woodrow Wilson and was active in state and national Democratic politics.

[2] Gregory, Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan, p 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gregory, at one point in his paper differentiated between a revolution and a rebellion, noting that a “revolution is a rebellion which succeeds, while a rebellion is a revolution which fails.” p. 3. So, while in his estimation the KKK movement was a revolution,  by his same logic the Southern cause was a rebellion.

[8] Gregory, 4.

[9] Ibid, 5.

[10] Richard White, The Republic for Which It Stands: the United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017), 50.

[11] Gregory, 6.

[12] Ibid, 7-8.

[13] Ibid, 11.

[14] Ibid, 11.

[15] It is fair to note that there was a certain whiplash to the treatment of the South during Reconstruction due to the competing understandings and goals of Reconstruction between Johnson and Congress, and even within Congress.  The everyday lesson here is, if you have a petulant child, both parents have to be on board or it just makes everything worse.  For more on Reconstruction see Negro Militia and Reconstruction by Otis Singletary and This Republic For Which It Stands: The United States and the Guilded Age 1865-1896 by Richard White.

[16] Gregory, Ibid, 11.

[17] Ibid, 12.

[18] Ibid. 13.

[19] Ibid.

[20] The Klan held an organizing convention in Nashville, TN in 1867 and adopted three (painfully ironic) points of action:

 

  1. To protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured and the oppressed; to succor the suffering and the unfortunate, and especially the widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers
  2. To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and all laws passed in conformity thereto, and to protect the States and people thereof from all invasion from any source whatever.
  3. To aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws, and to protect the people from unlawful seizure, and from trial, except by their peers, in conformity with the laws of the land..

Gregory, 14.

[21] Ibid, 21; Though earlier he goes out of his way to show that 90% of the time the Klan used what he described as the ignorance and superstitious nature of freedmen and poor whites to simply scare them into falling in line, but if and when they did use deadly force they gave their victims at least a days warning to leave.

[22] Ibid, 22.

From the Outside In: How the World Should View Meghan Markle 

By Camille Davis

 

At the end of 2017, a sense of elation was shared by many women in the African American community. There were hashtags such as #blackprincess, #blackroyalty and #princessmeghan floating all over social media to celebrate the royal engagement of England’s Prince Harry to American actress, Meghan Markle.

Although there may have been previous members of the royal family with African ancestry[1] and although Markle’s official title may be “Duchess” instead of “Princess”—as in the case with her future sister-in-law, Duchess Catherine Middleton—many in the  African American  community will continue to see Markle as the  “first black princess.”

Meghan Markle’s bi-racial identity is often referred to when discussing she and Harry’s courtship and subsequent engagement. In fact, when the couple’s relationship first became public in November 2016, the British Daily Mail infamously published a headline stating, “Harry’s Girl is (almost) Straight Outta Compton.”[2]  This and other derogatory remarks from the English press prompted Prince Harry to make a speech in defense of Markle and to publicly affirm his commitment to her.[3]

Ongoing Discussions of Markle’s Racial Identity

Criticism of Meghan Markle’s ethnicity came from across the Atlantic Ocean, as well. Ironically, the source of the criticism was from a black woman. Elaine Musiwa, “a Zimbabwean writer based out of New York City”[4] complained shortly after the royal engagement about African American women referring  to Markle as “black” since she is biracial. Musiwa began her article by recounting how hard it was for her to celebrate Meghan Markle as a “black” woman because of her biracial identity. The following are her words posted to Vogue magazine’s November 28th  online  edition:

“Meghan Markle  is half black. She is biracial, Her father is white, and her mother is black. I wrote it out and then hit send. This was my response to nearly all of the texts from friends about Prince Harry’s new black finance. With some  black  friends who I knew needed  this celebration  of  a black woman’s beauty being internationally recognized, I feigned joy: So cool! A dead giveaway of a lie—I  rarely ever use the word cool to  describe a cultural event other than modern art shows, and those will only be reduced to cool if they are hard to recognize as art…”[5]

Musiwa spent most of her article arguing that the challenges of being biracial are different than those of being “black.” She argues that “Meghan Markle is the type of  black that the majority of right-leaning white America wished we all could be, if there were to be blackness at all.”[6] In other words, Musiwa believes that main stream America’s history of preferring the appearance of some biracial blacks to the aesthetic of  blacks with more Sub-Saharan African features (dark skin, broad nose, coarse hair) makes biracial blacks not black.

Since the other Vogue  writers who have written about the royal engagement have been extraordinarily positive, it is clear that Musiwa’s views don’t reflect the general opinion of Vogue magazine. However, one ponders why Musiwa was allowed to post such an historically incorrect and professionally distasteful essay about Markle. Most people with a very rudimentary understanding of American history know that very few “black Americans” have only black/African ethnicity in their racial makeup. Additionally, Musiwa is ignoring the historical fact that since the time of slavery, blacks who have had any known percentage of black ethnicity within them were—and are—considered black. Even with the well-documented jealousies among African Americans regarding skin tone, there has been a coalescence within the  African  American community of shared identity and shared suffering– no matter the darkness or fairness of skin tone or the percentage of African or “other” blood. One wonders if Musiwa had similar troubles celebrating Barak Obama as the first black president, since he has a white mother and black father.

The Transition from the Outside to the Inside: Markle’s Character

Markle’s Second Royal Engagement with Prince Harry on January 9th

The reason women in the African American community are celebrating  Markle is because her inclusion in the royal family represents a historical turning point in Western history. Very rarely is a woman of African descent considered the ideal representation of beauty, nobility, or virtue in Western standards of positive aestheticism. Most depictions of femininity in its most ideal form are still very Euro-centric in the Western World. Women in the Western world who aren’t of pure  European descent are often seen as beautiful  and alluring in a type of sexualized or eroticized way.  They are exotic creatures to be gazed at, studied, and even conquered for sexual experimentation or exploitation. But very rarely is a black woman viewed as a woman with the whole package: beauty, brains, character, and ability. By choosing Markle,  Prince Harry is showing the whole world that an abundance of good qualities can come in unconventional packages.

The Rare Quality of Servanthood

Vanity Fair magazine placed  Meghan Markle  on the cover of its October 2017 issue. Instead of focusing on Markle’s race, they discussed her character. In the feature article of that month, journalist Sam Kashner, mentioned that “one of the strongest bonds Prince Harry and Markle share is their philanthropy.”[7] As a  strong advocate for veterans’ rights, Prince Harry began  his  Invictus games  in 2014 for “wounded, injured, and sick soldiers,”[8]  and he has recently become an advocate for mental health. Markle has been an advocate for the U.N.[9] and has brought awareness about issues such as poor water quality[10] and the  need for increased education  of women’s health  in developing countries. Arguably, this shared commitment to concern of  others’ welfare is what has  solidified their compatibility, and this will be what  makes both of them a credit to their country and to the rest of the world.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on World Aids Day, 2018.

The ability to look beyond one’s  own circumstances—whether those circumstances be pleasant or painful—is a rare quality for  any person of any race. This quality is so rare that history commemorates the few who have it.  A Mother Theresa, a Princess Diana, a Martin Luther King, Jr. come once in a lifetime, and their service and sacrifice to mankind is not ultimately remembered because of their ethnicity or nationality. They are remembered because they elevate humanity and pierce the darkness of this world  with light. Those who have a problem with Markel’s racial identity—with either the black or the white  part of it— do well to remember this.

As a woman who devoted her life  to service  before  she had  ever met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle challenged  herself to look beyond the comforts and the success of her acting career to become someone that very few people really want to be: a servant. In choosing  servanthood, she met someone who was like-minded.  This person was a prince who elevated her personal and professional status to that of royalty.

To be sure, Meghan Markle’s ethnicity should be celebrated. She will always be an example to the world of the excellence that often emanates from women of color. Most importantly, she exemplifies that entrée onto the great stages of life does not always come  from  narcissism,  calculation and/or self-promotion. (Remember: this is the area of “the selfie.”) Sometimes, the entrance onto the great stages of life comes the old-fashioned way. Martin Luther King, Jr. once explained the old-fashioned way when he quoted this principle  from  an ancient text “ He who would be great, must first be a servant.”[11]

A Servant. This is what the world should see when evaluating “Princess” Meghan Markle.

 

[1] Tatiana Walk-Morris, “Five Things to Know about Queen  Charlotte,” November 30, 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews-arts-culture/5-things-you-didnt-know-about-queen-charlotte-180967373/.

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3896180/Prince-Harry-s-girlfriend-actress-Meghan-Markles.html.

[3] Zach Johnson, “Prince Harry Defends Girlfriend Meghan Markle From Sexism and Racism” on Social Media.” November 8, 2016. http://www.eonline.com/news/807834/prince-harry-defends-girlfriend-meghan-markle-from-sexism-and-racism-on-social-media.

[4] https://www.vogue.com/contributor/elaine-musiwa.

[5] Elaine Musiwa, “The Problem With Calling Meghan Markle the “First Black Princess.” November 28, 2017. https://www.vogue.com/article/meghan-markle-biracial-identity-politics-personal-essay.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sam Kashner, “Meghan Markle, Wild About Harry,” https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/09/meghan-markle-cover-story.

[8] Invictusgamesfoundation.org

[9] Amy Mackeldon, “6 Times Meghan Markle Used Her Celeb Status for Advocacy and Charity.” December 5, 2017. http://www.harpersbazaar.com/celebrity/latest/a13945782/meghan-markle-charity-work-philanthropy/.

[10] Worldvision Press Release: “Event hosted by Suits star Meghan Markle brings clean water to children.” https://www.worldvision.ca/about-us/media-centre/meghan-markle-brings-clean-water-to-children.

[11] Martin  Luther  King, “The Drum Major Instinct,” February 4, 1968.

As American as Apple Pie: Understanding Kneeling within the History of American Protests

By Camille Davis

New England Patriots kneeling during the National Anthem – CBS

NBC recently quenched suspense regarding whether they would show coverage of players who kneeled during the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. They said they would.

Super Bowl executive producer, Fred Gaudelli, explained NBC’s rationale to the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour. Gaudelli stated: “The Super Bowl is a live event … and when you’re covering a live event, you’re covering what’s happening. So if there are players that choose to kneel, they will be shown live.”[1] In other words, Gaudelli argues that showing players who kneel is not an endorsement of those players’ political opinions; instead, showing kneeling players is providing full coverage to Super Bowl viewers of a live event.

Background: How This All Began

Colin Kaepernick (center) and two of his teammates kneeling during the National Anthem. ABC.

The “kneel or not to kneel” debate began during the 2016 NFL season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the National Anthem to protest racial inequality. When Kaepernick began protesting, he explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”[2] Kaepernick made his statement as a response to the outcry from minority communities about the recent deaths of black men and women due to what was perceived as police brutality. Do you remember Alton Sterling? Philando Castile? Sandra Bland? These are just a few examples of unarmed African Americans who died during interactions with police or while in police care over the last three years.

Eventually, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers after being told by the team that his contract would not be upheld in its existing form after 2016. The team’s decision not to allow Kaepernick to operate under the existing contract originated from Kaepernick’s need to play less after an injury in 2015. After his injury, his position as starting quarterback became tenuous. During the 2016 season, Kaepernick’s questionable playing ability after his injury and his protest of the National Anthem culminated into a situation that made the 49ers leadership see him as less than an ideal candidate for their leading position.  General Manager John Lynch stated the following: “We  [the team leadership  and Kaepernick] had a great meeting, and I think we had a very frank and honest discussion, and what we both agreed [to] was that under the current construct of the situation… it wasn’t going to work.”[3] Colin Kaepernick has not played football since the 2016 season. No team has signed or recruited him. Kaepernick is currently suing the NFL because he believes that the league’s owners made an agreement among themselves not to hire him.

 Kneeling as a National Movement and a National Debate

Although Kaepernick has been ostracized from the NFL, his form of protest has been subsequently imitated by many of his former teammates and by other players throughout the NFL. There are those, particularly the President of the United States, who find the protest of the players unpatriotic and offensive. This post won’t quote the detractors verbatim because they have been challenging the protest for over a year, which means their rebuffs are well-documented.

Essentially, critics argue that the unwillingness of players to stand during the National Anthem is an overt sign of disrespect to American values and to those who fight and have fought for American freedom. Some even argue that Kaepernick is hypocritical for taking a public political stance after not voting in the last presidential election.  GQ magazine’s pronouncement of Kaepernick as “Citizen of the Year” for its December issue made critics of Kaepernick and his fellow protesters even more strident. NBC’s subsequent decision to show those who may protest during the Super Bowl will unquestionably fuel the debate. Despite the controversy, one must not look at the recent NFL protests as historical anomalies. Instead, they are best understood within the context of American history. When seen in this light, Kaepernick and others who kneel are obviously more than agitators or provocateurs.  They are citizens who are using their public platform and their right to free speech to  bring  about  what they believe  is  necessary moral  change.

Protests of the Past

Vietnam War Protest, Year Unknown. Getty Images

If we think about it, our country was founded upon the idea of protests and it continues to  become   “a more  perfect union”  because  of them. Consider the following:

Wasn’t the Boston Tea Party of 1773 a protest of what the colonists perceived as unjust British taxation policies?  Didn’t the whole American Revolution occur because the colonists believed that their rights as British citizens were being compromised? Remember that the American Revolution  became a moment of separation of the  colonies  from   the English government because the colonists believed—either justly of unjustly—that the  English government dismissed the rights granted to them by the English constitution.

Kaepernick has not said that he is rescinding his citizenship. However, he is making the argument that the constitutional rights of people of color are not consistently protected.

The Women’s March the day prior to the Inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson, 1913.

Consider the women who marched for suffrage on March 3,1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated as President. These women were Progressive reformers who argued that precluding women from the vote kept them from fully engaging in citizenship.

Have you heard of the Bonus March of 1932? It was a movement when World War I veterans marched to ensure the government provided appropriate compensation and benefits for those who served during WWI.

Have we forgotten that thousands of Vietnam War Veterans protested the Vietnam War after serving in the War?

Finally, remember that Martin Luther King’s venerated “I have a Dream Speech” was delivered during a protest. The March on Washington occurred on August 28, 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The Civil Rights Movement began as a series of protests against segregation and Jim Crow laws of the South. 

If one correctly views Kaepernick and others’ recent protest with the right historical eye, he or she is able to see that today’s protest of  the  National  Anthem fit  within  the  long history of political and social discourse within  our nation.

Those who kneel are not isolated from the larger historical context of American challenges to government. They are not unpatriotic or un American.

It is characteristically American and unquestionably patriotic to use one’s position to challenge the perceived wrongs that are perpetuated by those who are in power. NFL players are using their public profiles to speak for those whom they believe society has forgotten. They have done this with the display of a gentleman’s knee.

Today’s protestors are not political or social outliers. They are as American as apple pie.

 

 

[1] Jason Lynch,” NBC Will Cover Any National Anthem Protests During the Super Bowl : Kneeling players‘will be shown live.”Adweek. January 10, 2018.

[2] Steve Wyche, “Colin Kaepernick explains why he sat during the National Anthem” August 27-28. http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000691077/article/colin-kaepernick-explains-why-he-sat-during-national-anthem

[3] Nick Wagner. “If Colin Kaepernick didn’t opt out, 49ers would have released QB” March 3, 2017. http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/18808233/san-francisco-49ers-released-colin-kaepernick-opt-out

 

Terry: SMU’s Once Great White Hope

Roberto Andrade is a PhD Candidate in SMU’s William P. Clements Department of History

My dissertation examines boxing’s influence on identity, specifically focused on Mexican and Mexican Americans. Concerns over machismo, class, and assimilation inform many of the arguments that use boxing—as well as other sports—as a claim towards authentic “Mexicanness.” In the United States, an equivalent to boxing’s impact on identity is the Great White Hope; a common trope deeply rooted in race that seemingly never fall out of use. In 1972, for one boxing bout, the Great White Hope came from SMU when a student, Terry Daniels, fought for the boxing heavyweight championship. While I was conducting research, Joan Gosnell, an archivist at SMU, mentioned Terry Daniels. As boxers rarely come from affluence, his story immediately intrigued me. After further research, I found a remarkable story that, unfortunately, has an ending that is common for boxing. This is that story.

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The first time Joe Frazier knocked down Terry Daniels, it appeared he would not get back up. Daniels laid there, face down and motionless, for about five seconds. It was the type of knockdown that forces spectators to wonder if they witnessed a man’s death. After eight seconds, Daniels struggled to his feet, just as the first round ended. And as the bell rang, signaling a minute’s rest between rounds, Daniels stood there, confused, staring at the referee. Daniels’s trainer walked across the ring and placing his arm on his fighter’s shoulder, guided him back to their corner to prepare for the second round.

Terry Daniel son knocked down while Joe Frazier waits in the background. (Branson Wright, The Plain Dealer).

That Frazier knocked down Daniels was unsurprising. Ten months earlier, Frazier became the first boxer to defeat Muhammad Ali. Frazier is among the all-time great boxers; Daniels is not. But on a Saturday night in 1972 New Orleans, a day before the city hosted the sixth Super Bowl, Daniels, the latest version of the Great White Hope, challenged for boxing’s heavyweight championship.

Daniels’s manager, Doug Lord, was largely responsible for the fight. “I told the fight promoters I’ve got a white kid from Dallas,” Lord said. “He’s friends with the Dallas Cowboys, and everyone knows the Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl in New Orleans…They loved it. They bought it.”[1]

Technically, Daniels was not from Dallas; he only lived there, moving from Ohio to attend Southern Methodist University. The son of a successful, possibly millionaire, businessman, Daniels was intelligent, young, handsome, and—since it is a prerequisite of any Great White Hope—white. Leading up to the fight, promoters emphasized the many differences between Daniels and his opponent. Stories of him being part of his high school choir, or mentioning that Daniels was treasurer of his junior class became part of the narrative. In the hype, even noting Daniels enjoyed reading was worth mention as was his initial plans to study engineering upon first enrolling at SMU.[2] All these things distinguished Daniels from Frazier, who though lived in Philadelphia was originally from South Carolina. Frazier was a sharecropper’s son—far removed from Daniels’s life of privilege. But as it pertained to boxing, these differences mattered little once promoters sold the fight. And those who bought tickets to see a Great White Hope, were on the verge of watching him lose minutes into the fight.

As the second round began the television commentators wondered aloud if Daniels had recuperated from Frazier’s punches. They noted the obvious—that Frazier had won the first round—when seemingly out of nowhere, Daniels connected with a right uppercut that stunned Frazier. “Oh! He landed a beautiful uppercut,” one commentator incredulously screamed. Maybe Daniels was more than just hype. Maybe he was something almost as romanticized as a Great White Hope; maybe Daniels was a natural.

Daniels was certainly athletic, having played football and baseball for SMU before an injury shifted his focus to boxing.[3] As an amateur, Daniels found success even winning local Golden Glove tournaments. When he fought professionally not only did he postpone his graduating from SMU but also angered his father who, understandably, had not sent his oldest son to Dallas to prizefight. By 1972, three years into his career, Daniels had become a local celebrity, accumulating a record of 28 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw; an impressive accomplishment even if against subpar competition. But as his punch connected and forced Frazier to step back, no one cared about past opposition—not when, for one punch, it appeared Daniels may have been on the verge of orchestrating an incredible upset.

In boxing, hopes die fast. Within a three-minute round, hopes of a championship, of wealth and fame, and even, of any future quality of life can disappear. In the third round, Frazier brought Daniels back to reality—again dominating as he had in the first round. Frazier’s signature punch, the left hook, kept connecting and Daniels could do nothing to stop it. Had he raised his right hand slightly to better protect his face, it would have altered, even minimized, his right cross—his most effective punch.[4] And had he used a right hook, a punch he was not prone to using, to counter Frazier, he would have risked everything; as one of boxing’s old adages warned: you don’t hook with a hooker. Frazier was a hooker—the left-handed, boxing type—Daniels was not. So again, Frazier’s left hook dropped Daniels toward the end of round three. He stood up long enough to fall by the same punch not even ten seconds later. As he gasped for air, a look of bemusement on Daniels’s face, the bell rang and once again saved him.

On the final knockdown, Frazier nearly knocked Daniels out of the ring. (Branson Wright, The Plain Dealer).

There was nothing remarkable about the fourth round besides Frazier knocking down Daniels a fourth and fifth time. The latter resulted in Daniels falling back through the ropes, appearing as if he would fall all the way to the floor. Ringside judges braced to break Daniels’s fall but he remained inside the ring and at least, save some dignity. The referee stopped the fight, leaving Daniels visibly upset. “Don’t stop, damn it,” Daniels screamed, before turning to his manager and saying, “Doug, don’t let them stop it. There’s nothing wrong.”[5] Daniels was likely the last person in the world to realize he never stood a chance.

After the fight, Daniels’s manager implored, even begged him, to not fight again.[6] For a time, Daniels took the advice, returned to SMU and earned a political science degree in December of the same year he fought for boxing’s heavyweight title—one of sport’s most prestigious titles. But the title of boxing heavyweight champion can have a seductive appeal on men practicing a sport so inherently tied into ideas of masculinity. “The closer a heavyweight comes to the championship,” Norman Mailer noted, “the more natural it is for him to be a little bit insane. [S]ecretly insane, for the heavyweight champion of the world is either the toughest man in the world or he is not.”[7]

Whether he deserved it or not, the fight gave Daniels a chance to show he was the toughest man in the world. He failed. And whether he was a Great White Hope or not, the loss hurt the same. Six years after fighting Frazier and claiming he had retired, Daniels fought on, partly because dreams of his title fight haunted him. “I daydream a lot about that fight,” Daniels explained. “I fantasize about what might have been if I had blasted Frazier in the third round, when he was so confident, with a right hook.”[8]

Daniels fought until 1981. Counting his loss to Frazier, Daniels’s final 32 fights resulted in only 7 victories against 26 losses. Terry Daniels left Dallas and returned to Ohio in 2004. He now lives in a retirement home, suffering from what some call pugilist Parkinson’s.[9]

 

[1] Peter Finney, “Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier etched in N.O. boxing history,” The Times-Picayune, November 16, 2011.

[2] Jeff Miller, “The Fight of His Life,” Texas Monthly, February 2015.

[3] Ron Fimrite, “Back-To-School time for Terry Daniels,” Sports Illustrated, January 24, 1972.

[4] Les Thomas, “Student Boxer Believes Punching is his Bag,” The Campus Chat (Denton, Tex.), February 14, 1969.

[5] Don Gardner, “Re-evaluating the Situation,” The Daily Campus, January 25, 1972.

[6] Kevin Sherrington, “Fight of his life amounted to Super letdown,” Dallas Morning News, January 26, 2004.

[7] Allen Barra, “Norman Mailer, Sportswriter,” The Atlantic, December 26, 2013.

[8] Mike Kiley, “Daniels is boxing to keep wolves from his doorstep,” Chicago Tribune, October 26, 1978.

[9] Mark Podolski, “In “My Brother The Boxer,” brother and author Jeff Daniels chronicles pinnacle of Willoughby South grad Terry Daniels’ pro career, a bout with Joe Frazier,” The News-Herald, November 9, 2015.