Hate doesn’t help us fix the racism cancer

“The House overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday disapproving of racist remarks by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, amid a wave of bipartisan denunciation.” – NBC News

Representative King reportedly told the New York Times that he doesn’t understand why terms like white nationalist and white supremacist are offensive.

He has a history of such statements.

Wikipedia photo

I grew up with people who felt that way in the 1950s in Florida, a state with a large number of lynchings, bombings, and other KKK activity. I learned to hate these people when I was in the first grade. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to come to terms with such hatred, an emotion that seems natural but that we are told is spiritually indefensible.

Hate, we are told, hurts us, keeps us from understanding those with whom we disagree, and while we are destroying ourselves with it, does nothing to harm those in our gunsights.

My natural instincts are not to understand Steve King and all the others like him who are getting to much media attention these days. My natural instincts are to hate him, despise everything he stands for, and to question his intelligence.

Some people are trying to curtail our freedom of speech these days. I resent that. Mr. King has just as much right to say he loves white supremacists as I have to say that I dislike them. If you look up white supremacy on the Internet, you’ll find articles in which those who believe in it have used pseudo-science and mythology to try to justify their beliefs. Frankly, I think most white supremacists are thugs and have zero tolerance for them.

The media is giving them a lot of attention. I guess we have a right to know, but the skewed attention is giving these thugs a voice that (in my view) they do not deserve while giving the public the impression there are more racists per square mile in this country than there are.

I want to hate Mr. King but the gurus out there say that if I hate him I am really not doing him any harm while it destroys me. Scary thought. People like Mr. King ruled my world when I was a child and now, a half century or so later, I’m hearing that I should deplore the sin while loving the sinner. I’m not there yet.

I may never be there. That’s why I write novels that speak out against racism. They are my atonement for the times I remained silent years ago.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” and “Lena” all of which are set in the Florida Panhandle of the 1950s when Jim Crow was in charge.

 

 

 

 

 

Florida Folk Magic Series: a journey into the past

In 1954, the year in which most of my Florida Folk Magic Series is set, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, Richard M. Nixon was Vice President, Earl Warren was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and  Elvis Presley issued his first single, “That’s All Right”, on Sun Records. It was the era of an unconstitutional Communist witch hunt conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It was the era of Jim Crow and the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine.

It seemed natural to me then, even in grade school, that people were still talking about World War II and that when kids played army in their backyards, they were fighting the Japanese and the Germans. What seemed unnatural to me then was that people were still, one way or another, fighting and re-fighting the U. S. Civil War.

The words “terrorism” and “terrorist organization” weren’t part of national security debates in those days, but if they had been, the KKK should have born that label; permitting the group to march in parades was, as saw it then, as ludicrous as allowing the Mafia to march in parades and, as I see it now, made as much sense as allowing ISIS to march in a U. S. parade today.

My own childhood years were good ones, but Klan violence–which was heavy in Florida–and the mistreatment of African Americans as a group were, to me, an intolerable smear on our nation’s intentions and mission as written down in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The vestiges of that smear are still part of a polarized national debate today. We still have more problems to solve and attitudes to change in 2018 than we should. White supremacists, neo-Nazis, bigots, and misogynists, as I still see it, are people with an Attila the Hun mentality and, frankly, we’d be better off if we put them on a giant ice-flow and set them adrift during hurricane season.

Yes, I have strong feelings about these issues.

But in spite of those feelings, the three books in this series are not intended as a political statement. They are history. They are the culture of another era. And they are the everyday magic of another era, one that still has many devotees today. It has been said that in the South, Whites didn’t like Blacks as a race but liked many of them personally as individuals. From what I saw, there was at least some truth in this, for our moderate and liberal White friends did have Black friends and colleagues. Even so, the KKK prescribed how far we could go.

If a White went “too far,” s/he would run into trouble that could be fatal. If we broke one of the rules–such as allowing a Black to sit in the front seat of our car or walk through the front door of our house–the Blacks would say, “this isn’t done” because they were even more at risk should anyone see the infraction than we were.

Oddly enough, Scouting brought conjure to my attention. That is, we learned to respect the out of doors and how to live safely in forests and swamps. This led to discussions with Black friends who had additional ideas about what was out there and how to safely approach it. Needless to say, I didn’t take any hoodoo practices back to the Scout troop or overtly use them on our monthly camping trips. But those practices taught me a lot about humankind’s potential relationships with the environment, one that in later years ecopsychology would explore without deriding these relationships as superstition.

The bottom line for a novelist is telling stories set in specific time periods with characters with points of view that aren’t always mainstream. Yes, as a writer I also needed to make sense of what I saw as a child, but not in a political treatise. I’m drawn, as I was then, to the people themselves and how they fought against the dangers that came into their lives. Have I put tall my demons to rest? Probably not.

Nonetheless, writing these stories has brought me a sense of closure to the time when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christened the Nautilus, our first nuclear-powered submarine, Vice President Richard Nixon said we might send troops Indochina (as we called it then) even if the allies didn’t like it, the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional, and Blacks weren’t allowed at lunch counters where I had the blue plate special or in the front of the city bus I rode into town.

–Malcolm

 

 

 

 

Looking back at ‘The Florida Terror’

Florida KKK in 1952, Florida Memory Photo.

Progressives in Florida registered 100,000 new African American voters in 1951 and branches of the NAACP challenged Jim Crow laws at swimming pools, libraries, golf courses and libraries. The legislature passed an anti-mask ordinance.

As PBS notes, “The Klan responded with a rash of cross burnings and floggings from the Florida Panhandle to Miami; Hendrix [who chartered the latest iteration of the Klan] declared war on ‘hate groups,’ including the NAACP, B’nai B’rith, the Catholic church, and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ; and then declared himself a candidate for governor. By the summer, the Klan began trying to roll back progress with sticks of 60 percent dynamite, with so many bombings, or attempted bombings, that the northern press dubbed it ‘The Florida Terror.'”

In many communities, the sheriffs, police chiefs and city fathers were members of the Klan. Meanwhile, the same people associated with themselves with policy gambling operations aimed at African Americans because–in exchange for protection and looking the other way–they got rich from their cut of the action.

Still a community blemish in the 1970s.

The KKK was a fact of life in the Florida Panhandle as well as the peninsula when I was growing up. I saw burning crosses, knew people who were threatened, and sat in my car in down town Tallahassee waiting for their disgusting parades to get off the streets. And, unfortunately, I knew influential people whom I strongly believed were members of the Klan.

The state advertised itself as a paradise, but that reality didn’t extend to everyone. “The Ku Klux Klan was at least as violent in Florida as anywhere else in the nation, and the sheriffs, juries, judges, politicians, press, and citizens, for the most part, as culpable in its murderous history,” Michael Newton wrote in his 2001 book The Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan in Florida.”

“The bed sheet brigade is bad enough, but the real threat to Americans and human rights today is the plain clothes Klux in the halls of government and certain black-robed Klux on court benches.” ― Stetson Kennedy, author of  “The Klan Unmasked.”

My novels Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman focus on the dark era of the 1950s. The first novel tells the story of a white-on-black crime that the small town police force refused to investigate. In the second, the police turn a blind eye toward policy gambling and the threats against those who couldn’t pay their gambling debts. In my fiction, I have a powerful conjure woman named Eulalie with a very helpful cat named Lena.

I didn’t have the grit to tell these stories years ago, but I’m hoping that the better-late-than-never axiom is true.

–Malcolm

New novella tells the story of a cat, a conjure woman and the KKK

Click here for Kindle edition.
Click here for Kindle edition.

Thomas-Jacob Publishing has released Conjure Woman’s Cat,  a novella by Malcolm R. Campbell (“The Sun Singer”), set in the 1950s Florida Panhandle world of blues, turpentine camps, root doctors, the KKK and a region of the state so far away from everywhere else that it’s often called “the other Florida” and “the forgotten coast.”

Lena, a shamanistic cat, and her conjure woman Eulalie live in a small town near the Apalachicola River in Florida’s lightly populated Liberty County where longleaf pines own the world. Black women look after white children in the homes of white families and are respected, even loved as individuals, but distrusted and kept separated and other as a group.

A palpable gloss, sweeter than the state’s prized tupelo honey, holds the spiritual and temporal components of the Blacks’ and Whites’ worlds firmly in the stasis of their separate places. When that gloss fails, the Klan restores the unnatural disorder of ideas and people that have fallen out of favor.

Click her to see the trailer.
Click her to see the trailer.

Lena and Eulalie know the Klan. When the same white boys who once treated Eulalie as a surrogate parent rape and murder a black girl named Mattie near the saw mill, the police have no suspects and don’t intend to find any. Eulalie, who sees conjure as a way of helping the good Lord work His will, intends to set things right by “laying tricks.”

Eulalie believes that when you do a thing, you don’t look back to check on it because that shows the good Lord one’s not certain about what she did. It’s hard, though, not to look back on her own life and ponder how the decisions she made while drinking and singing at the local juke were, perhaps, the beginning of Mattie’s ending.

All that’s too broke to fix, but beneath the sweet sugar that covers crimes against Blacks, Eulalie’s pragmatic, no-nonsense otherness is the best mojo for righting wrongs against both the world and the heart.

I hope you enjoy the book.

–Malcolm

Conjure Woman’s Cat website

Paperback Edition at Amazon

Nook Edition at Barnes & Noble

Eulalie's world.
Eulalie’s world.