While Louisiana reels or tries not to reel from tensions centering around Baton Rouge. There are families in Texas that do not yet feel the need to pivot mostly to our news stories. They are the families of the officers killed in the recent Dallas police ambush which preceded the one in Baton R0uge. The fallen officers killed have been identified as: Dallas Police Department Senior Corporal. Lorne Ahrens, age 48, who had been with the department since 2002; Dallas Police Department Officer Michael Krol, 40, who had been with the department since 2007; Dallas Police Department Seargent. Michael Smith, 55, a former U.S. Army Ranger who had served in the department since 1989; Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Officer Brent Thompson, 43, a former U.S. Marine who had been serving in DART since 2009. Thompson was the first DART officer to be killed in the line of duty since the department was founded in 1989 and last in this mention Dallas Police Department Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, a former U.S. Navy sailor and Iraq War veteran who had been with the department since 2011.This event was without equal in carnage of this kind in the period since 9/11 as far as killings in the United States. On that fateful day in 2001 that we all can remember who were Americans and anything near adulthood 72 law enforcement officers died in the totality of horror that is lumped together as the September 11 attacks. But this attack by Micah Xavier Johnson surpasses the two 2009 shootings in Lakewood, Washington, and Oakland, California, where four officers each were killed as well as the recent killings perpetrated by Long in Baton Rouge.
The shootings in Dallas were also a sort of peak thus far in the attack of radially conscious black actors against a combination of the white people of this country and the policing authorities as a direct and declared target. In addition to their significance for race relations they of course have other claims to fame and infamy. Five officers in a community which has been honored for its excellent race and community relations were killed and nine other law enforcement officers as well as two civilians were injured when shot by a decorated ( although not at the higher levels) and experienced US military veteran whose life shows many of the tensions and stresses of life in America in his generation from his upbringing in Mesquite Texas, to his birth in Missisisippi. Most of the victims were shot during the protests, where they distinguished themselves by maintaining an unthreatening demeanor and presentation of a policing force. At least one Officer was killed during a shootout that developed after the killer launched his attack.The dead comprised four Dallas Police Department (DPD) officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officer. Four of the injured officers were from DPD, three were from DART, and two were from El Centro College. Seven of the injured officers were treated at Parkland Memorial Hospital, famous for recieing the fallen President Kennedy. Two officers underwent surgery. One civilian was shot in the back of the leg, breaking her tibia.
Unlike Baton Rouge, no Black Officers were killed in the attack and the shooter was part of the city and community in which he did the killing. I reacted to that deadly attack on police with a post referenced here. I will not spend very much space or very many words revisiting that attack in this post. There has been significant research into the background of the Dallas Cop Killer Micah Johnson who also had other names. The deceased and almost-certainly-correct-and-yet-never-to- be-tried-because-he-is-dead shooting suspect, Micah Johnson, had no criminal history. In terms of understanding what happened in Dallas there are different levels of understanding.
Micah Xavier Johnson had a number of aliases and one was of the Anglo type and the other was Islamic or at least Arabic with Islamic resonance. He visited assertive and strident political causes online and investigators found that he liked several websites dedicated to Black Lives Matter and the New Black Panthers. But he was also involved with groups that are seen as going over the line of respectable discourse in this country — the Nation of Islam and the Black Riders Liberation Party, two groups the Southern Poverty Law Center considers hate groups. The Nation of Islam stands out as the only one with a strong Islamic connection but there is more evidence of his interest in Islam.
There is no shortage of racial tension in the United States nor has there been in my lifetime and there is no single image, event or idea which epitomizes race relations here. There is no single person who embodies the experience of all or even most white people or black people in the country. There is no single position on a gauge which really accounts for how good or bad race relations are, that is the truth. But truth, as I have cited John Denver’s song for saying many times, — is hard to come by. The relations between the races in America have a complex reality and a complicated history. Before even getting to the many legal, economic, procedural, and religious questions that are pertinent to this post there is also the question of language and terminology. The first image in this article is a montage of people including Steph Curry, Mariah Carey, Jeremiah Wright, Soledad O’Brien, Vanessa Williams and Corey Booker who currently identify as Black. That is a legal, political and cultural decision. In the State of Louisiana where this post centers its attention people like them — who look like them and perhaps more than that have not been considered Black. This division into Black and white was accomplished in large part getting people like this to accept the designation of African-American. But the same processes and struggles had been ongoing long before that particular drama of terminology… Polarizing the country into Black and White even occurs to some real degree in a country of white and non- white. But there has been a middle ground approach which in our history also fostered greater sensitivity to 0ther differences within a responsible context. This post will get into that history a bit below. I have proposed addressing that set of realities which is represented in this discussion in my model constitutions which take up many posts and pages and in my writing about them in posts such as this and this. The current crisis is nothing compared to what may be coming down the road if we do not address our situation well.
The place where I am writing is a place with very specific racial history which is very significant in the United States of America. Every other place may have a thing which they may have done with racial overtones that falls across the line of history into the realm of legends where history joins folklore once again. But South Louisiana has many claims to fame in racial history. Perhaps if a few are listed they will add to the discussion of racial identity and relationships in America
The Battle of New Orleans is one of those parts of American history which was an enormously important event which has been minimized by various group over the years for political reasons. Many of these varied minimizers would hate and despise each other more than anyone involved in that important battle and some in fact have hated and despised each other — but nonetheless it has been a very important event which could not be accepted by many as decisive in American history and occurring as it did. One of the reasons that the battle of New Orleans was not given the fair share of credit it deserves in the age of Jim Crow segregation was because of race relations and racial identities among those in the flotilla of Jean Lafitte. Today there is little incentive to resurrect the sources buried then because Blacks were not equal in the complex reality of the period but they had vastly more opportunities and nearly equal positions than at many other times and places. In addition the society as a whole had both better (not well known) and worse (very well known) positions for African Americans of various identities including but not limited to the free negroes. Mulattoes, Quadroons, Octaroons and others of mixed race could be slave or free but they were not negroes. Sometimes the differences were large and sometimes they were slight.
Acadians who increasingly are called Cajuns have a white identity which is careful and as nuanced as whatever the society they are in may allow but they are a white ethnic group which has attachments to non-white groups that included their involvement with Jean Lafitte. the arguably very small act of setting up a relationship with Jean Lafitte and the Baratarian Association specifically to provide for the defense of their interests in the region and of their own lives and liberties from the depredations of the British. The person who would have been most in charge of this activity would have been Gils Robin. The memories of this period persist across Acadiana.
There is a Jean Louis Robin Canal and a Jean Louis Robin Lake to this day in South Eastern Louisiana. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina journalist Ken Wells did a book published in 2008 about the family still building their own boats and navigating the waters of that region. Today they are only partly Cajun culturally and genealogically and have become part of another cultural fabric beside the homes of their Cajun ancestors. But in his book they remember the ties between the outlying Cajuns of that region the pirates and privateers of the Barataria Association. Folkloristically, the story would be more or less that the brothers Gils, Martin and Jean Robin would have moved to the region shortly after the Acadians had settled in the Lafourche region relatively nearby. Their small community would have ties to Attakakpas and Oppelousas Prairies of Louisiana in the West as well as with Lafourche. Martin Robin who was a godfather to one of the Lafitte children was the grandchild of one of these brothers. Jean Lafitte also had a number of titles he sometimes used that are capable of being given Cajun interpretation unique to it Helllenic Centre Ouest Languedoc vernacular. But the words have other possible explanations. In addition to the role Lafitte played in the Battle of New Orleans which was crucial in terms of artillery and supply and guides to the waters of the area Cajun units also fought in the area. Future Governor Henry Schuyler Thibodaux was a Lieutenant who saw action there. In addition Cajun or Acadian units served in several parts of the encounter. The service record was perhaps mixed in that battle but while some Acadians may have been farmed out to the other units and deployed some real expertise in throwing up defenses along the wetlands it does seem to be likely that the plurality of Acadians served on the ill-fated West Bank line under David Morgan. Morgan had put his troops in a more or less indefensible position to support Patterson, the artillerist not from Lafitte’s group. The bad position was exacerbated by the Kentucky riflemen in the unit who were sick exhausted and without Lafitte and others from Louisiana would have been unarmed for all practical purposes. At the moment of the attack all witness blamed the break in the line on the lack of courage not of the Cajuns but the troops from Kentucky. However, a court of inquiry found them also without fault because the position was so ill conceived and because the overall glory of the event was enough to overshadow the failures. Nonetheless men very likely to biased in favor of the Kentuckians over the men from South Louisiana thought they broke first. So the ties between my own ethnic community and the Creoles of color are both deep and important ties.
The most fierce fighters on the American side in the battle of New Orleans may well have been the Free Blacks. I did write earlier that no North American Colored officers existed before the Confederates of the Louisiana Native Guard. However, anyone who knows the battle well will remember Major Savary and Lieutenant Listeau were officers of color who fought in the battle. However, it seems very likely that their commissions like many titles of the era were carried over from other service. They held commissions as Spanish troops in Santo Domingo and the US recognized those commissions. This was intended to be temporary. Dominique Youx the Lafitte artillerist who played the most significant role of direct fighting by any Baratarian is of uncertain (certainly not Cajun) ancestry and became a respectable citizen of Louisiana when others went to galveston for the chance to continue a disreputable way of life. He likely had some colored ranking people in his unit but they were not formally commissioned, that leaves Listeau and Savary as exceptions to my statement about the Louisiana Native Guard. The Spanish had a few knowingly and officially commissioned colored officers in the Caribbean but not in their North American forces. Nonetheless, the victory at New Orleans was the greatest in American history at that time by many measures and Cajuns were there. So also were many creoles of color not all of whom considered themselves black or were considered such.
President Barack Hussein Obama has explicitly condemned the supposed absurdity of words and ideas such as “Octaroon”. He has been quick to make every African American Black in his ordinary speeches and has few real options given his ideology. He has presided over the dismantling of the Confederate Heritage preserved in monuments across much of the South. He has added to the impossibility of seriously examining the Confederate legacy as regards race relations. All those things listed above I believe to be demonstrable parts of his presidential legacy. But the truth is that the lack of understanding and discussion of the racial realities — realities we may not understand but which we nonetheless use to guide every day decisions that affect millions — has been badly inhibited for a long time.
I think that the constitutional realities were less than ideal for Micah Xavier Johnson, that does not excuse him for avenging Philando Castille and Alton Sterling as he did. But he was a man who had a gift for killing and attacking and for forming passionately held political convictions. A child of divorce and a marginal student he found a way to honor and decency in the US military. But he came home an alienated and violent man in an individualistic and dishonest society. Alienation underlies the violence,rage, unreasoning rhetoric and chaos coming from much of the Black community today. Alienation affects many others in our country and I think in part for constitutional reasons. That includes alienated white southerners and many cops.
But the Cajun people with whom I most identify have suffered enormous alienation in this country. For Cajuns it was often the case that there was a sense of facing three unpalatable realities at the same time. It was a cultural shift from a time when French heritage and American citizenship had enjoyed a more promising and positive relationship than they were coming to have in the years between 1865 and 1943. The portraits of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI had hung in honor in the halls of the Congress in Philadelphia before the Capital was moved to Washington and the District of Columbia. The Louisiana Purchase was both a friendly act and one which established a very definite equality between Citizens of France in Napoleonic Imperial Louisiana and those of the current United States of America. The result was a new country which was in a real sense a merger of two societies. This unity had been imperfectly but impressively sealed in the Battle of New Orleans. While other states, like Missouri would find themselves under the British common law after entering the Union, Louisiana itself at least would remain under the State’s new version of the French Civil Code. In 1847 the first laws describing language in schools were passed and the assurance was made of right to English only, French only and bilingual education. The Acadian Governor Mouton had from the Cajun point of view presided over the zenith of antebellum life in Louisiana before the forces of chaos and destruction which led to the Civil War were pouring across the region and were contested by his son Alfred Mouton. That same Alfred Mouton was killed in that war and so it was to that same golden age which Margaret Mitchell commemorated in Gone With the Wind was in fact a golden age in memory for many Cajuns as well. The horrors that followed were no less horrible for them than for other Southerners in fact they may have been worse years to come on average but the complexities of the period which followed were not going to be simply defined. Postbellum America was an increasingly alienating and hostile place for Acadians to live out their lives and destiny as Acadians or Cajuns.
But one may well argue that Black people are far more alienated and that certainly the Confederate monuments help to alienate them and cannot possibly point to anything that Black or other African American people would relate to in a way that might point to a path forward. A path rooted in Christian experience primarily, in the leadership of whites but in hope for full realization of African American potential. Probabaly most people who feel that way would still feel that way after reading this post but there are other arguments to be made from the facts. There is no way to avoid writing that despite all that has been written by very many competent people about the issues related to race in these decades I find that there are many large areas of important experience that are not duly explained.
While the Code Noir of 1685 was not the law in effect in Louisiana in 1860 it was still the strongest single source of the legal spirit behind the Louisiana Civil Code and the customs and practices of the State. That law stated in its final article the following: Article LIX. We grant to freed slaves the same rights, privileges and immunities that are enjoyed by freeborn persons. We desire that they are deserving of this acquired freedom, and that this freedom gives them, as much for their person as for their property, the same happiness that natural liberty has on our other subjects.
An ocean of ink has been expended to show that by no means did any spirit of this law exist in the South. That has been done by those of a more Southron party and disposition and those more inclined to extol the benevolence of the wonderful Union reconstruction. There is evidence that much of that ink does not deal adequately with the facts as they existed in Louisiana. We see that in the period of time immediately following Louisiana’s secession, Governor Thomas Overton Moore issued pleas for troops on April 17 and April 21, 1861. There is a great deal to be learned from the incidents related to the creation and the rest of the story of the Louisiana Native Guard. So that story is outlined here in brief. It remains in testimony to realities of that era.
In response to the governor’s request, a committee of ten prominent New Orleans free people of color who included people across the color spectrum which in their society was not the only factor for determining a family or an individual’s rank but was the single most important purely social factor in a complex social system. The certified were a group of people less than one eighth Negroes who were proven to be committed to the social order of antebellum Louisiana and these enjoyed a special relationship with the Creole and Cajun elite. These people were being woven into the fabric of the merged culture of Louisiana after Statehood until the War. Below them were the Octoroons, the Quadroons, the Mulattoes and the true free blacks. Writers today will tend to call all of these people free blacks and they have their reasons for doing so but that is not how they saw themselves. This complex and racially conscious and stratified community was represented in this Committee of Ten who called a meeting at the Catholic Institute on the 22d of April. About two thousand people attended the meeting where muster lists were opened, with about 1,500 free men of color signed up. The anglo Southron Governor Moore included in all the proper and ordinary channels these applications and included these men as part of the state’s militia. The Louisiana Native Guard is so named because they were natives who were not quite citizens but they were accepted as armed patriots in the Confederate cause. It bears adding that while this text asserts that Acadians were largely very free under the laws of 1685 many French people were not. Thus in the way of thinking of many in Louisiana including most Cajuns these freed people had preserved the kind of liberty and status a 1685 Frenchman would have who did not enjoy the freedom of a Coutume, a religious order, a knightly order, a chartered city or a privileged family. That was still a real level of freedom. Ancient Acadian rights, the Louisiana Purchase and the US Constitution allowed the Cajuns more freedoms to which the freedmen were not a party. Likewise the “Kentucks” as Cajuns sometimes called the newcomers asserted the rights of Scotsmen, Englishmen and the rights of the Louisiana Purchase and the US Constitution. Those were rights to which these people were not a party but did not preclude them from preserving the rights of French Colonial Natives which were transferred as an unspecified adjunct to the rights of Citizens under the Purchase. So the new militia regiment of colored Natives was formed during May 1861. The men were mostly but not all from the Francophone community, some members of the colored Confederate regiment came from wealthy prominent gens libres de coleurs families. they filled the majority of NCO posts initially but the majority of the men held the rank of private soldiers and were in civilian life clerks, artisans, and skilled laborers. at the end of that fateful May on the 29th in 1861, Governor Moore appointed three white officers as commanders of the regiment, and company commanders were appointed from among the larger group of elected non-commissioned officers. This volunteer militia unit was the first of any in North American history to knowingly have African-American officer. That is not because there had not been colored soldiers under the United States, Britain, Spain and France. It was Louisiana as she rose up for Dixie that chose to take this step.Though ten per cent of the members of this Confederate unit would later join the Union Army’s First Louisiana Native Guard, the two are regarded by most as separate military units. It is one of the tragedies of the falling and failing South that these men never fired a shot in anger as Confederates against the Yankee invader. While there may be many other stories for which their fate is a better one for a Cajun view of what the South it was supposed to be it was a sign of bad times to come. It indicates something about the customs, commerce and status of person in Louisiana that these Native Guards were traditional American militia volunteers, and as such supplied their own arms and uniforms. One here is reminded of another article of the Code Noir, as follows: Article XV. We forbid slaves from carrying any offensive weapons or large sticks, at the risk of being whipped and having the weapons confiscated. The weapons shall then belong to he who confiscated them. The sole exception shall be made for those who have been sent by their masters to hunt and who are carrying either a letter from their masters or his known mark.
There is every reason to believe that the even as the Code lived on in more current laws regarding arms restrictions strictly enforced against slaves were not applied to these men in their daily lives before the war.These were displayed in a grand review of troops in New Orleans on November 23, 1861, and again on January 8, 1862. The terribly wasted troops offered their services to escort Union prisoners taken prisoner by the Confederate forces at the First Battle of Bull Run. One could imagine that this could have been done with white troops as well and with international observers it might have been a means of showing the possibility of Confederate policy working out a secure future the abolitionist powers they sought to ally with as they marched through New Orleans.But this would have required the kind of social daring the COnfederacy would usually lack.
Confederate General David Twiggs failed to accept the unit’s offer, but thanked them for the “promptness with which they answered the call. That was a response that reflected the way such transactions occurred in the military. The Louisiana State Legislature had begun to change the society into something new when they passed a law in January 1862 reorganizing the militia into only “…free white males capable of bearing arms… ”. The Native Guards regiment was effectively disbanded by this law on February 15, 1862. Despite the change in racial ideology already starting Governor Moore used his executive powers to reinstate the Native Guards to oppose the U.S. Naval invasion. But when the regular Confederate forces under Major General Mansfield Lovell abandoned New Orleans the whole system was plunged, into disarray. Cajuns served in the regular Confederate Forces and had militia units advancing to defend the city as well as the unauthorized units that have always been part of the culture who hoped to join in the fight in their traditional guerilla manner. But none of these units did well when the Confederate forces withdrew and the militia units were left to fend for themselves. The Native Guards were subject to the same relative disgrace and so it was no great surprise that they were again, and in finality, ordered to disband by General John L. Lewis, 1862, as Federal ships arrived opposite the city. General Lewis of the Louisiana Militia as he sent word to their units deployed in useless positions disbanded these colored Confederates and cautioned them to hide their arms and uniforms before returning home. He also began the process requiring them to hide their COnfederate service, later ten percent of this unit would serve in the Union and be among the most distinguished colored troops. Some came to the irregular Cajun militia according to spoken tradition and assisted in the armed and highly secretive smuggling supplies to Confederate forces during the war. None of those ever received much recognition even though some did fire shots in anger at Union forces in these irregular units. The white creole Colonel Felix Labatut maintained the belief that colored troops could make a difference and was proven right by the Union service with distinction of his former officers Cailloux and Morrison in the cause of the Yankee invaders.
The moratorium of colored troops by the South certainly did not limit the deployment of colored troops by the union. Whatever the injustices and horrors of the slaveholding South may have been there were plenty of woes in the war and reconstruction that followed. From the Cajun point of view it was a bitter irony to lose possible GLC units and see that throughout the war and in the time of the period after end of hostilities in the Civil War was a time in which Cajun folklore reports that people believed that Yankee bureaucrats had motivated and armed a quarter of a million freed slaves and loosed them in strongly encouraged rage upon the Southland. This period followed the kinds of endless horrors described in books like Yankee Autumn in Acadiana and local institutions of my ancestors rolled over to face the new challenge. the Knights of the Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan Also known with the same name given here but with the word White preceding all the others i.e. “White Knights…” also known as the Ku Klux Klan, the KKK and the Klan. The Klan share many motifs, traditions and operating procedures with the much older Ridelles and somewhat older Comites de Vigilance that existed among the Acadians. However, the Klan always had it own symbols too and those grew in importance and common symbols declined. The Cross-Lighting was never an Acadian symbol but perhaps went with the ideas of ethnic differentiation that are very Acadian. Knights of the White Camellia have been basically a special Louisiana version of the Ku Klux Klan. The name is a triple entendre it references the beautiful flowers of this area, the legendary kingdom of Arthur of the Round Table, and the Chivalric legacy left by French Catholic Christian Prince Camille de Polignac, a fine specimen of all that being white as well as being human can offer. Aside from a relatively long list of titles his ordinary name was Camille Armand Jules Marie, Prince de Polignac. He was a handsome, well educated, musical, mathematical, valiant and well traveled aristocrat who was a Confederate General during the Civil War. This Prince took command from the Acadian Confederate General Alfred Mouton after he died achieving the last major victory under the Confederate flag. Cajuns cannot be expected to say that right or wrong as life may be there is nothing to be admired in this Prince that is absent in a miserable ignorant Black field hand given a gun and a few weeks training. The Prince as a friend of Mouton embodied a sense of the lost potential of Acadiana to bring the South into a prominent place in the world. Christian institutions in the White Supremacist South did offer a flowering of African American potential and that flowering was largely vandalized by Southern factors but also by the union. Getting rid of Confederate heritage will not mend our woes. The roots of our struggles these days in my opinion are in various forms of alienation and a solution I could tolerate will start with telling the truth. Telling the truth many times in difficult ways will not solve the problems alone but it will be part of making a start at solving the problem.
Racial violence is not going to end tomorrow. Ending racial violence cannot be achieved in isolation form other challenges. I believe that we need radical change. But most radical change is bad. Getting the right radical change when it is needed is almost miraculous….
I have posted about race in America before on more than one occasion. This is a link to one such post. But I will provide much of the text as needed here below. It is only a moderately distilled and limited boiling down of the original in the next few paragraphs. There is some effort to cover the news but there is more than that an effort to discuss how a great deal of America’s trouble seems to me, it is made real by near experience. That includes a sense that law enforcement and the judicial system are not exactly fixed in the role of protecting me from outside invasion — they have other roles as well. In following the economic collapse and in 2013 the official financial bankruptcy of Detroit, I remembered my ex-wife’s trips to Troy and our entertaining one of her supervisors when she came to Louisiana. I also remember my numerous trips to Michigan. I remember troubled neighborhoods and cities I have visited or lived in around the world. The school shootings remind me of my many experiences in schools. The soaring prison population reminds me of my many visits to and interactions with prisoners. One of the pastors of the church parish to which I belong and which I have regularly attended most of the last fifteen years has been to prison. Governors Edwards and Leche, Attorney General Jack Gremillion, Commissioners Brown and Roemer (Roemer was the father of Governor Roemer) all went to prison. One of the more successful members of my father’s law school class who was also one of his good friends went to prison. Several of my first cousins have gone to jail and a sizable number of my friends and classmates over the years have done time. Those numbers are not an abstraction for me. Lots of prisoners are black and a lot of others are in some way tied up with the results of our attempt at a misguided racial revolution. But misguided or not I do understand to some real degree the resentments and fears of many black people in the United States. I could empathize with black kids protesting over the Trayvon Martin shooting who were afraid of getting shot and the many whites and Asians not protesting who are afraid or disturbed by the racist Black masses of vengeful, ignorant people who harbor those calling for blood, making death threats and collecting money for bounties. This is a real tension and crisis but there are plenty of people who are not black who are concerned about run-ins with the police. When discussing the Trayvon Martin case the role of the President in responding to this crisis is very debatable but it surely can be said that it was not quickly resolved or defused.
Much of the current Black Lives Matter movement began with the shooting of Trayvon Martin. But actually it was less on the fateful night of February 26, 2012, when in Sanford, Florida of these United States, George Zimmerman delivered the bullet that killed Trayvon Martin that the protests really became intense. There were large protests that Trayvon’s killer was not charged. the masses of Blacks who erupted in the streets in those early days could make some claim to acting within reason. The original discussion focussed on the factual reality that after the largely untrained and officious Zimmerman shot Martin, who was young and unarmed, during an altercation which went on in the context of some kind of policing by Zimmerman and became physically intense between the two men and he was not charged with anything. The police who arrived were perhaps predisposed to see his side of things (so it could be argued) because they were responding to an earlier call from Zimmerman, the police had fresh and clear evidence as well because of the call and the fact that they arrived on the scene within two minutes of the shooting. Zimmerman was taken into custody, treated for head injuries, then questioned for five hours — a reasonably thorough response but still not as exhaustive as many. The police chief in charge of the investigation and arrest stated that Zimmerman was released for lack of evidence to refute Zimmerman’s claim of having acted in self-defense. In fact it did seem to be the case that under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, the police were prohibited by law from making an arrest in this case. But the optics were at least controversial and the protests might be just. They became intense and also really anti social in a new way when the issue became different. Right or wrong Zimmerman was arrested and charged for the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old African American high school student. The shooter was a significantly battered 28-year-old mixed race Hispanic man who was the neighborhood watch coordinator obviously doing his earnest best for the gated community and in this situation he killed Trayvon Martin living with relatives there and he was acquitted on July 13, 2013 and the protests began to deny the basic legitimacy of the justice system. This dislocation from a watchdog of the system was intensified when the protest spewed hatred at many parties when on February 24, 2015, the United States Department of Justice announced that “there was not enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution.” In that intense 2013 period there was another set of racial realities on my mind.
The posts I wrote about the Trayvon Martin case came at a time when I would rather have been paying tribute to a local and personal connection in an uncomplicated with one of that same year’s National Medal of Arts recipients: A man who has had his work put into successful television formats, who has a center named after him in my undergraduate alma mater, who has had his work and career recognized in many ways as this native of Louisiana and former Stanford University Stegner Fellow Ernest Gaines had that same year at eighty years old received an important award from the hands of President Barack Hussein Obama. Gaines was the only novelist on the National Medal of Arts list that year – he had already received the National Medal for the Humanities in 2000 and a similar honor from France and his work has been translated into Chinese and most large European languages. Poets and novelists have been awarded regularly the National Medal in both categories but I am not sure how many have received both awards. The language of the citation includes the following statement that Gaines is “recognized for his contributions as an author and teacher. Drawing deeply from his childhood in the rural South, his works have shed new light on the African-American experience and given voice to those who have endured injustice.”
Gaines was born more than 80 years ago on the River Lake Plantation near the small town of Oscar, in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. His ancestors had lived on the same plantation, River Lake, since slavery, remaining after emancipation to work the land as sharecroppers for five generations. Gaines and his family lived in the houses, much expanded, that had once served as slave quarters. His parents separated when he was eight; the strongest adult influence in his childhood was a great aunt, Augusteen Jefferson, crippled from birth, who crawled from kitchen to the family’s garden patch, growing and preparing food, and caring for him and for six of his brothers and sisters.
This became the setting and premise for many of his later works. He was the oldest of 12 children, raised by his aunt, who was crippled and had to crawl to get around the house. Gaines’ first years of school took place in the plantation church. When the children were not picking cotton in the fields, a visiting teacher came for five to six months of the year to provide basic education. Gaines then spent three years at St. Augustine School, a Catholic school for African Americans in New Roads, Louisiana. Pointe Coupée Parish, “Negro schooling” in the Parish did not progress beyond the eighth grade at that time.
At the age of fifteen, Gaines moved to California to join his mother and stepfather. He wrote his first novel was written at age 17, while babysitting his youngest brother, Michael. In 1956, Gaines published a short story, The Turtles, in a college magazine at San Francisco State (SFSU). He graduated in literature in 1957 from SFSU. After spending two years in the Army, he won the Stegner, a writing fellowship to Stanford. In most years since 1984, Gaines has spent the first half of each year in San Francisco and the second half at the university in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he has taught a workshop every autumn. But in 1996, Gaines did spend a full semester as a visiting professor at the University of Rennes in France where he taught the first Creative Writing class ever offered in the French University system Gaine remains deeply rooted and he and his wife a home on part of the River Lake Plantation where he grew up.[ He has also had the church he grew up with moved to his property.
He has been open about what he most treasures from those days, “I was raised by a lady that was crippled all her life but she did everything for me and she raised me,” he wrote. “She washed our clothes, cooked our food, she did everything for us. I don’t think I ever heard her complain a day in her life. She taught me responsibility towards my brother and sisters and the community.””
Ernest Gaines has at least two ways in which he has walked the path of a man of letters, a race man and a son of Louisiana. One part of his legacy is his work and life as a writer in residence, commercial success and regional celebrity. That must be taken into account in any assessment of his work and its impact on racial identity and politics. In that area he has been about the advance of his racial group as well as himself. When I was at enrolled the university where Gaines taught I was never enrolled in one of his classes, I did however attend lectures he gave, two of which were hosted by Dr. Patricia Rickels, now deceased, whom both of us knew very well and who was both in the English Department and head of the Honors Program to which I belonged. I spoke to her and students who knew him well about him much more often than I spoke to him and I read his books and bought several although at a time when I often got books signed I never had his books signed nor asked him for anything that I recall except once for his plans for classes in the coming semester which I recall he did not much appreciate. Gaines was a well dressed, disciplined man who was an intimidating physical specimen and more often in the national spotlight than anyone else in the Department when I was there. A strong academic, a strong son of Louisiana and a strong Black man – he was all those things.
The other side of Gaines is his writing itself. He preserved characters and scenes of White Creoles, Cajuns, Anglos and other people along with the African-American characters often described in ten different ways by use of the same “N word” now left out of some versions of Huckleberry Finn. The black people are humans with hopes, dreams, consciousness and aspiration. In A Gathering of Old Men, there is cowardice, backwardness, ignorance and folly portrayed with realism in the African-American Community. There is also courage, cleverness, hope and community as old men with shotguns having fired a shot face down the white supremacist Cajun establishment. In the Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman there is failure and lack of achievement but also perseverance, a struggle for decency and a triumph of continuity. In A Lesson Before Dyingthere is a bit of heavy-handed moralizing, racial philosophizing, and more Black assertiveness than anywhere else but there is real pathos, tender regard for life and law and compromise as people of all colors find them. These are likely his most important works but not as revealing or upsetting to mainstream America as some of his lesser pieces. I have always liked reading Gaines and found him fulfilling to read as well. I once gave a copy of a Gaines novel, I believe it was Of Love and Dust to a friend and relative of mine, now deceased, who was a self-identified White Racist and asked the person to read it and get back to me. The response as best I recall it was, “That N***** can write. I really could hardly put the book down because it is story you feel. He knows and sees everything I do about N****** and he writes in a fully N*****ish fashion but he makes you think about what is right and how people should relate to each other because you know he is not afraid of the truth.” Gaines has a unique voice, I doubt that friend would have read an entire book by many other Black writers and maybe none at all who wrote about Blacks chiefly. Marcia Gaudet of the University of Louisiana’s Ernest Gaines center was quoted by a West Coast interviewer associate with the Stanford University where Gaines has long had ties and she said: “His literature is based on memory of the past, and it’s somewhat different from that of many African-American writers of the mid-20th century, who based their work on erasure of that past and moving their characters to Northern urban settings. Gaines was one of the first to go back and look at what the hardships were.” I pay tribute to Ernest Gaines here. But we all know that the arts alone will not save our society — they have an important part to play but it will no alone decide our fate.
The school shootings and other mass killings which Obama has loved to lump in together in his cries for gun control are not all racially motivated. The toll they take are also both real and significant. But so are all the acts of violence, disorder and depravity which destory our quality of Iife and do not involve a gun It is hard to see how the Rolling Stone cover of Dzokhar Tsarnaev helped to address the problem then or why it helps that nobody can discuss the fact that police and much more so unarmed white citizens have been driven by violent and disorderly blacks for so much our American heritage in a sustained campaign of ethnic cleansing.. However, it does remind us of how real our social problems are today. This is a society in crisis. I have a different perception of the Tsarnaev’s to add to the big picture of who they are which includes them being Muslim, Chechen, young, living in Boston and a dozen other realities that defined who these brothers were and who Dzokhar still is. But I want to think about their sense of ethnicity and identity and heritage in a society without very strong moorings in that regard. The alienation they felt led them to radical Islam and we have found a kindred and connected set of empathies in the recent cop-killers which is outlined in this post. Alienation and an inability to seriously understand diversity, federalism and sicuss one’s own background with those who surround one’s daily life — these are realities of American daily life.
If it is dangerous not to know one‘s self and it is dangerous not to know the world it is also more dangerous than some would think not to know the elements of one’s history as played by one’s neighbors. I am an Anglo-Acadian. I will not be discussing that heritage here as it relates to the Confederate heritage or American heritage but I have written of such things elsewhere . The word Christian was first used in Syria. It makes all Christians weak that there are few Christians left there and a priest was beheaded and it was scarcely reported here. We are living in a deadly blindness and are seeking a solution in trying to wipe out our own white supremacy for no particularly good reason – rather than trying to make it better. The Trayvon Martin movement is full of racist and violent blacks who want to control the country but not themselves. We are running out of time for a good plan.
Besides the Trayvon Martin protests, the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit and the collapse of al sense of a real legal system I have learned other things. I learned them over a life which has been punctuated by crises before the current cop killings. I have made proposals here which seem radcial and far-fetched and even if they do not seems such have a small chance of success. But they are serious proposals. Such proposal have in large part come about from the realization that it is a demonstrable fact that cowardice, corruption and cruelty are normal in governance and yet fatal as well and those who live in such modes of what might be called evil often applaud themselves most loudly for doing their best. I know hard times loom large and am aware of the fact that life is without apparent justice in countless cases, but I am trying to be part of creating a plan for a better future. My model constitutions have already spelled out the answers I would propose. What I am asserting here is mostly that the course we have been on will not work and will not be survivable if continued. Race and ethnicity must be faced and understood differently and that must happen soon. Doing it right will matter a lot.
I have decided to write most of everything I write from now on in preparation for the future which has stretched out so bleakly and horribly ahead of me for so long to be vastly worse than it has long been. I think that the time will be coming soon enough when I will sign off my web presence entirely but I will at least have written the things I will have wanted to say as the years of living hell extend into a limitless misery at least until death. I need to set a frame of reference I suppose, the person I respect the most among the living in the world today is me. That does not make me happy but it is the truth.
The truth of much policy and political philosophy is that it exists framed and living in a dialectic between that which must be done in a crisis and that which can be reasoned and properly debated in relative leisure during times not defined by a particularly urgent crisis. Lives like those of Gaines and others do map out a path of the minds that must engage the crises in which we live. History well understood makes it possible to be better informed about what is possible in a the new time in which we live. But we must have the basic facts and realities of society clear enough for our decisions to possible matter . The struggle of every society to formulate policy and then to put it into effect is one of the great themes of history although it may less often make its way into the titles of books or even their chapter headings. The truth is that most good historians telling most good and important histories have at least some interest in how the people of a given period discussed and intellectually prepared for a great historical crisis when it was incipient, developing and the then escalating. The activity during the time when the crisis is acute is not likely to produce original theoretical frameworks or innovative discussion which is really excellent. Instead those acting in the acute stage are often doing more than can be expected if they can reach for and apply the best theories and remedies which have been reasoned out and proposed in advance.
There is no shortage of information out and about which connects Islam to terror, here is such a post. The concern about how intense and intrinsic the basic disagreement with Islam may be is also something which has been discussed here and there online. The first link given has John Quincy Adams expressing the awareness of a basic animosity in Islam itself. The second post shows how Sarah Palin feels that Iran is outside the pale of diplomacy and how this relates to Islamic governance there.
One of my Facebook friends who also purchased the house I was living in before recently moving into my grandparents old house has long published a string of posts about Islam and its history with the West. I publish one of those posts here. It is unattributed beyond him but the facts are more or less right — with the exception that Crusade is a Christian word and Jihad is the Muslim equivalent. I reproduce this post from a man whose names start with the initials P. P. only knowing that it is largely correct and also expresses the feelings of a real American in my own sphere of contact and influence:
630 Muhammad conquers Mecca from his base in Medina.
632 Muhammad dies in Medina. Islam controls the Hijaz.
636 Muslims conquest of Syria, and the surrounding lands, all Christian – including Palestine and Babylonia/Mesopotamia (Iraq).
637 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iraq (some date it in 635 or 636).
638 Muslim Crusaders conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
638 – 650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Persia (Iran), except along Caspian Sea.
639 – 642 Muslim Crusaders conquer Egypt.
641 Muslim Crusaders control Syria and Palestine.
643 – 707 Muslim Crusaders conquer North Africa.
644 – 650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sindh.
673 – 678 Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire.
691 Dome of the Rock is completed in Jerusalem, only six decades after Muhammad’s death.
710 – 713 Muslim Crusaders conquer the lower Indus Valley.
711 – 713 Muslim Crusaders conquer Spain and impose the kingdom of Andalus. The Muslim conquest moves into Europe.
718 Conquest of Spain complete.
732 Muslim invasion of France is stopped at the Battle of Poitiers / Battle of Tours. The Franks, under their leader Charles Martel (the grandfather of Charlemagne), defeat the Muslims and turn them back out of France.
762 Foundation of Baghdad.
785 Foundation of the Great Mosque of Cordova.
789 Rise of Idrisid amirs (Muslim Crusaders) in Morocco; Christoforos, a Muslim who converted to Christianity, is executed.
800 Autonomous Aghlabid dynasty (Muslim Crusaders) in Tunisia
807 Caliph Harun al—Rashid orders the destruction of non-Muslim prayer houses & of the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem.
809 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sardinia, Italy.
813 Christians in Palestine are attacked; many flee the country.
831 Muslim Crusaders capture Palermo, Italy; raids in Southern Italy.
837 – 901 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sicily, raid Corsica, Italy, France.
869 – 883 Revolt of black slaves in Iraq.
909 Rise of the Fatimid Caliphate in Tunisia; these Muslim Crusaders occupy Sicily, Sardinia.
928 – 969 Byzantine military revival, they retake old territories, such as Cyprus (964) and Tarsus (969).
937 The Church of the Resurrection (aka Church of Holy Sepulchre) is burned down by Muslims; more churches in Jerusalem are attacked.
960 Conversion of Qarakhanid Turks to Islam.
969 Fatimids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Egypt and found Cairo.
973 Palestine and southern Syria are again conquered by the Fatimids.
1003 First persecutions by al—Hakim; the Church of St. Mark in Fustat, Egypt, is destroyed.
1009 Destruction of the Church of the Resurrection by al—Hakim (see 937).
1012 Beginning of al—Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians.
1050 Creation of Almoravid (Muslim Crusaders) movement in Mauretania; Almoravids (aka Murabitun) are coalition of western Saharan Berbers; followers of Islam, focusing on the Qur’an, the Hadith, and Maliki law.
1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks (Muslim Crusaders) defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia.
1071 Turks (Muslim Crusaders) invade Palestine.
1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Turks (Muslim Crusaders).
1075 Seljuks (Muslim Crusaders) capture Nicea (Iznik) and make it their capital in Anatolia.
1076 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) conquer western Ghana.
1086 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) send help to Andalus, Battle of Zallaca.
1090 – 1091 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) occupy all of Andalus except Saragossa and Balearic Islands.
START OF WESTERN CRUSADES
Only after all of the Islamic aggressive invasions is when Western Christendom launches its first Crusades.
1094 Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus I asks western Christendom for help against Seljuk (Muslim Turks) invasions of his territory.
1095 Pope Urban II preaches first Crusade; they capture Jerusalem in 1099.”
So now I conclude, what do we expect or want to happen if America does not face the facts of being eroded and interpreted into a position where it cannot respond. People like our President tend to believe that the Christianity among Blacks emerged as a sort of covert Islam. There is an element of truth in that. But all Christianity brings forth the culture of those who embrace the faith. In addition not all slaves came to the new world with Islamic roots and not all converts were slaves. We have much to do and honestly not much chance of of doing it. But our national future hangs in the balance.