What’s the difference between American history and Black history? And why don’t we teach more white history?
The national fairytale where white men fought in the Civil War to end slavery (they didn’t) until Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves (he didn’t) and Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movement (he didn’t) is not American history, nor is it white history. It’s a completely fabricated alternative version of history refined by our collective amnesia and spoonfed to schoolchildren like square pizza and Robitussin.
We need more white history.
Constitutionally enforced, race-based chattel slavery is white history. Redlining is white history. Jim Crow is white history. Racial terrorism is white history. White people came up with these ideas. They were the innovators of white supremacy. But, for some reason, they don’t pass it down to their progeny. The controversies over Confederate monuments, Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project underscore the fact that white people don’t know enough about history to whitewash it.
While the Tulsa Race Massacre was common knowledge to many Black Americans, most white people didn’t know anything about it. Even though we’ve celebrated Juneteenth for years, most white Americans had no idea it existed. Black kids know about the Boston Tea Party but ask the average Caucasian kid about the Edmund Pettus Bridge and they will shrug and continue playing with their Caucasian-colored Lego man. And, because white people don’t know enough about their own history, it’s easy for them to believe that someone is trying to indoctrinate their children with lies. Perhaps they can’t believe that America is a racist country because they don’t know enough about white history.
Here’s a list of 10 historical instances that white people are generally shocked to learn about because they aren’t taught about the history of whiteness in America.
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10. The only thing the Confederacy cared about was slavery.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, only eight percent of high school seniors can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Sixty-eight percent didn’t know that the 13th Amendment ended slavery, not Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. But even those who are aware of these facts often assume that the Confederate States of America hid behind the idea of states rights and taxation.
Nah, bruh that myth was created by a bunch of white women years after the Civil War ended. When the Confederate States Vice President Alexander Stephens spelled out the cause, he said the foundation of Confederacy rests “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
But the inarguable proof that the Confederacy was more about white supremacy lies in the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. If they were concerned about states rights and federal taxes, they wouldn’t have included this clause about their federal government: “Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes...” In fact, there was only one difference between the rights afforded in U.S. Constitution and the Confederate States:
No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.
9. The Klansman on the Supreme Court.
His name was Hugo Black. He was a Klansman. He had no judicial experience and was barely a lawyer. Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the Supreme Court.
8. The North created Jim Crow.
I despise when people offhandedly comment about the racist South as if there are a different breed of white people above the Mason-Dixon line.
Long before it was called “Jim Crow,” the white citizens of the Northern United States had established a de facto—or by practice—system of segregation that was, in many ways, more odious than the deep-fried racism in the South. It is true that the Compromise of 1877 was what allowed Southern States to treat their Black citizens however they wanted. But only one of the 13 members of the Electoral Commission that vowed to overlook white supremacy in exchange for the presidency represented a Southern state. In the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, justices didn’t cite Southern laws. Instead, they based their “separate but equal” doctrine on the precedent set in New York and Pennsylvania.
Contrary to popular belief, segregation was more popular in the Northern states before it moved to the South. Southern slave owners often ate, rode trains and shared close quarters with their human property, but the Northern form of American apartheid had less to do with property rights, economics or fear of Black rule; it existed because whites sincerely believed they were more human than African Americans.
Pennsylvania disenfranchised Black voters in 1838 after initially allowing free Black men to vote. Their reason? There were too many voting-ass negroes in Philadelphia. After the Civil War, South Carolina’s Black residents had equal voting rights five years before Black people in New York state gained equal voting rights. Railroad companies in Boston, New York and Michigan had racially segregated cars decades before the Civil War.
In 1841, a traveler showed out so badly over the train company’s segregation policy that it took six men to oust him from the train. “In dragging me out, on this occasion, it must have cost the company twenty-five or thirty dollars. For I tore up [the] seats and all,” wrote some dude named Frederick Douglass.
You might know about the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, but during the civil rights era, white supremacist segregationists bombed one Birmingham, Ala., community so many times that the neighborhood is now known as Dynamite Hill. Living through something like that would probably radicalize someone.
Angela Davis grew up there.
6. Fear of a Black Supremacy.
After the passage of the 15th Amendment gave Black people the right to vote, African Americans in majority Black states like Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina registered to vote in droves.
In 1868, South Carolinians elected Francis Lewis Cardozo, a Black man, as secretary of state and also sent Richard Cain, pastor of historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, to the South Carolina state Senate. By 1870, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina was Black, a Black man was on the state Supreme Court and the state House of Representatives was majority Black. On March 27, 1869, Black state senators created the South Carolina Land Commission to lend money to freedmen to buy the property of former slaveowners.
This wasn’t just a South Carolina phenomenon. In Mississippi and Louisiana, Black voter registration exceeded 90 percent. Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first Black man to serve in the Senate, representing Mississippi. In 1872, Louisiana’s Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback became the first African American to govern a state. Between 1870 and 1884, 15 Black men were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and more than 300 served in state legislatures.
This directly led to the race war we called Reconstruction. South Carolina’s whites were so outraged, they elected Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman–a literal mass murderer–as governor. When his term ended, Tillman was elected to the Senate where he declared: “We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”
“We met here to establish the supremacy of the white race, remarked Louisiana Judiciary Chairman Thomas Semmes during the state’s Constitutional Convention. “Our mission was, in the first place, to establish the supremacy of the white race in this State to the extent to which it could be legally and constitutionally done.”
Louisiana rewrote its constitution to disenfranchise voters who were not the “son or grandson of any such person not less than twenty-one years of age at the date of the adoption of this Constitution.”
And that’s how we got the phrase “grandfather clause.”
5. Why your town is so white.
A few days ago, I tweeted this story about my grandmother:
A few white people (Many of whom probably found out about the Tulsa Race Massacre through Watchmen) were astonished to read replies about how their family members were run out of towns and white neighborhoods. While neighborhood restrictions and racial covenants existed all over America, violence or the threat of violence was the most common way to enforce segregation in the North and the South. In fact, many of America’s whitest cities are the product of white mob violence.
Some of these cities include:
Ocoee Massacre: On Nov. 2, 1920, a white mob burned the Black section of Ocoee, Fla., to the ground because of “niggers voting” and drove African American residents out of town in what historians call “the single bloodiest day in modern American political history.” Black people didn’t moved back to the town until 1981.
The Forsyth County Purge: In September 1912, a white mob burned the all-Black town of Oscarville, Ga., after two Black man were accused of raping white women in two separate incidents. Following the lynching of one of the accused, groups of white “Night Riders” rode through Forsyth County giving more than 1,000 African Americans 24 hours to leave.
In 1951, the state of Georgia flooded the area to create Lake Lanier, a reservoir that provides hydroelectric power to the city of Atlanta. Resorts eventually sprang up in the area but seasons of low rainfall, you can still see the tops of buildings and the smokestack from Oscarville’s motor speedway peeking through the surface.
Since its completion, more than 600 people have drowned in the area.
Celina, Tenn. Negro Drive.: From the Nov. 4, 1878 Evening Star:
A report comes from reliable sources of an exodus of negroes living in the neighborhood of Celina, on the Upper Cumberland. It is stated that they have received a notice to leave the state within a certain time from some persons whose names they refuse to give for fear of harm. Numbers of them have crossed the river on their way to some distant place. What the trouble is none will say. Last July their church was burned by incendiaries, and about the first of September their school-house was fired, and some of them going to save it, met a volley of shots from concealed persons and were compelled to flee. The attorney-general had a number of witnesses before the grand jury, but elicited nothing more than the general facts as above, and could fix the responsibility on no one. It is probable that the present movement was caused by these and other acts, somewhat similar. Many of the negroes will leave farms.
Similar incidents happened in Springfield, Ill., Wilmington, N.C., Rosewood, Fla., Decatur, Ind., Sour Lake, Texas, Marshall County, Ky., Polk County, Ark., Southwest part of Missouri, and the entire state of Oregon.
4. The Orangeburg Massacre
What was the single deadliest incident of police violence during the civil rights era?
It wasn’t Selma. It wasn’t the Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner murders in Mississippi. If you guessed the Birmingham Campaign or the bombing of the Freedom Riders, you’re wrong.
On Feb. 8, 1968, South Carolina State Troopers, S.C. National Guard soldiers and local law enforcement officers lined up on the campus of historically Black South Carolina State College and opened fire on 200 unarmed student protesters. Two college students and one high school student were killed. Another 28 students were shot. Eighty percent of the students were shot in the back.
To this day, there has never been an official investigation. However, one man was prosecuted and sentenced to a year in prison for inciting students three days earlier–Cleveland Sellers, a “Black Power radical” who was being monitored by the FBI. I could see how that might radicalize someone.
In 2006, his son, CNN’s Bakari Sellers, became the youngest legislator in the country when he was elected to South Carolina’s House of Representatives.
3. The Lynchings at the Curve
When the lynching trend hit Memphis in 1892, Thomas Moss, Will Stewart and Calvin McDowell died at the hands of 75 masked men for breaking up a fight between two Black boys.
The men were owners of People’s Grocery in the “Curve” neighborhood in South Memphis. Before Moss, Stewart and McDowell joined eight other prominent Black men to open the store, William Barrett’s grocery store had Memphis’ grocery game on lock. Barrett hated People’s for infringing on his territory. Plus, Barrett was white.
On March 2, 1892, a young Black kid was outside People’s playing marbles with a white boy. The two got into a fight over marbles, and when the Black kid started winning, the white boy’s father jumped in. Stewart and a few bystanders stopped the white man from “thrashing” the Black child, and a crowd gathered around. The next day, the father had let the incident go, but Barrett brought a Shelby County sheriff’s deputy to People’s looking for Stewart. Barrett ended up getting his ass whipped again but the deputy returned with his own mini-lynch mob and hauled the grocers to jail.
Four days later, 75 masked white men surrounded the jailhouse, dragged Moss, Stewart and McDowell out of their cells and took them to a railroad yard outside of town. McDowell was shot four times in the face, leaving holes as big as fists. Stewart was shot in the neck and the eye. Moss was also shot in the neck. After the executions, a criminal court judge issued an order instructing the sheriff to “take a hundred men, go out to the Curve at once, and shoot down on sight any negro who appears to be making trouble.” Evidence would later emerge that the judge may have even participated in the lynching. As the Black residents of the curve hid in their homes, white residents looted People’s Grocery, forever eliminating Barrett’s Black-owned competitor.
Following the lynching, a quote from one of the victims began to filter through Memphis’ black neighborhoods. As he lay dying, Moss supposedly uttered his last words: “Tell my people to go West, there is no justice for them here.” But who would tell them?
“The City of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival,” wrote Moss’ best friend in that week’s edition of the Memphis Free Speech. “There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”
And just like that, Memphis almost ran out of Black people.
In retaliation, the white men of Memphis destroyed the newspaper and Moss’ friend never returned to town. But I can see how that would radicalize someone. The lynchings thrust Moss’ writer friend into the national spotlight as the most noted anti-lynching crusader of the era and one of the greatest investigative journalists of all time.
Some lady named Ida B. Wells.
2. Sam Hose’s American Tale
Although it has been largely forgotten, during the first half of the 20th century, the name of Sam Hose stood as a warning to every Black person in America as proof of what white people were capable of.
By all accounts, Sam Hose was a brilliant, self-educated man who had given up dreams of higher education to take care of his mother and intellectually disabled brother. On April 12, 1899, Hose’s employer, Alfred Cranford, pointed a gun at Hose after Hose requested time off to visit his sick mother. To defend himself, Hose threw an ax at Cranford, killing him. When police arrived to investigate, Hose had already fled the scene. He knew he had no shot at justice.
Over the next few days, police did not investigate the crime scene, collect evidence or interview witnesses. Instead, Georgia’s governor, the Atlanta Constitution, Coweta County authorities and private citizens offered cash rewards for Hose’s capture. Newspapers printed rumors that Hose killed his boss after he was caught raping Cranford’s wife in front of the couple’s newborn child. In the stories, Hose was insane from syphilis and continued his unfinished sexual assault after he hacked Cranford to pieces. A subsequent investigation by local officials found that Cranford’s wife and child were unharmed.
When Hose was captured on April 23, a lynch mob of at least 500 kidnapped Hose from deputies and took him to a field. People from across the state boarded trains to view the spectacle, but they did not lynch Hose immediately.
First, the crowd took turns cutting off pieces of Hose’s nose, ears, fingers and genitals.
Others used their knives to stab him repeatedly as onlookers cheered.
Then they skinned him alive and doused him with kerosene while young children collected wood to build a pyre.
Then, they burned him alive, watching as his veins ruptured and his eyes withered. After the fire subsided, the crowd diced Hose’s dead body into pieces and sold the remnants of their handiwork as souvenirs for those not fortunate enough to attend the “barbecue.”
The festivities concluded with a prayer, and a sign marking the occasion, reading: “We Must Protect Our Southern Women.”
1. The whitest thing that ever happened.
On June 2, 1924, Calvin Coolidge finally signed the Snyder Act, which settled a long-debated matter of Caucasity, stating:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all Indians...are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States.
This is white history.