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07 August 2010


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"Re: A Historical Counterfactual Hi Steve: Thank you for all those insights"

SOSIII, an interesting essay, but without the first half of the conversation, it is hard fully to understand all of the points. Please give a link to the "insights" you are commenting on.


My (Southern) father is also of the opinion that the South would have evolved out of slavery. Perhaps it would have evolved out of Jim Crow as well, but the victims of that system got tired of waiting. Yes, racism is not an exclusive domain of the South. It is alive and well in all 50 states. I also remember the Boston riots, but they were nothing compared to the resistance in the South, where people were actually firing on American soldiers. I think we just have to accept that racism exists and that demagogues and (some) politicians will continue to exploit it by stirring the smoldering embers. We can't legislate against a state of mind, only hope we evolve and that people of good will continue to speak out. I really don't understand what's controversial about calling out windbags like Limbaugh and Beck who constantly blow on the racist whistle, or pointing out to people the obvious, that there are racists in our midst - North, South, East, and West. As for secession, right now I'm against it, but if the birthers, tenthers, 14th amendment repealers, etc. get their hands on power, I could change my mind.

Medicine Man

Thank you for this post. Not only educational but it engenders a feeling of cautious optimism.

Patrick Lang


"..where people were actually firing on American soldiers."

And where was that? I lived through that time and I do not recall that.

"Jim Crow?" How certain are you that there would have been "Jim Crow" if there had not been the Civil War and Reconstruction? Residential patterns in antebellum Virginia towns were remarkably mixed. That ended after Reconstruction.

And your mother was/is? pl


Col., I must admit that I am too young to remember Little Rock, however the excellent documentary "Eyes on the Prize" included newsreels of live fire on the troops after night fall. The larger point is that compared to the upheavals in the South, the Boston riots were localized and lacked support from officialdom. I am not at all certain that Jim Crow would have existed if history were different. What happened happened, but it's interesting to speculate how things might have evolved if our ancestors had made different decisions. I am unfamiliar with residential patterns in Virginia but am interested in learning about them and what you conclude from them. My father grew up in a small town in Alabama and my mother grew up in Florida. Like you, he's also a West Point grad, served ten years (including a tour in Vietnam and a stint in Birmingham during the riots there) and resigned because, he says, my mother was tired of moving.

Sidney O. Smith III


This comment was a response to Steve who had left one at the end of Habakkuk’s thread The Peace of Dives. Steve and I had exchanged a few before this one and this was my last response that I submitted this morning.

In my prior I had made mention that Georgia had become number 2 in the nation for black owned businesses.



I am the son of a federal judge from Georgia who signed desegregation orders for Atlanta and North Georgia. My experiences are not entirely “academic’. Nothing was going on in the South in the mid 1970’s that compares to Boston. And l say that as someone who likes Boston. But as a friendly reminder, let me again leave you a link to an image of Copley Square.


Again the same questions: that is Boston, right? That is a US Flag right? This is decades after Little Rock, yes? Why isn’t this seared in the US consciousness to the same degree?

The reason that it is not is probably related to the reason that no one credited that ol white farmer from South Georgia for defending Ms.Sherrod after she suffered a character assassination by both the far right and the progressive left.

Patrick Lang


Whatever you think happened in Little Rock, people shooting at US soldiers was not a significant part of it.

I am not a WP grad.

Where do you live now?

The Army did not accept the resignations of Regular Army officers throughout the period of the war. How did he get out?

I thought I made my point clear. People were actually closer to each other before the Civil War and Reconstruction. pl


Thanks for your interest in what I had to say about the South.

As far as Spooner goes, I believe I will have access to most of his work through an inter-library loan system, which will have to wait until the fall semester starts up. When I said earlier that I thought him to be "complex", I meant that some of his positions seem contradictory, e.g., his earlier statement that non-regulation of business somehow enhanced the value of labor. But one way to view "contradiction" is to frame it as something that challenges my assumptions, which is what learning is all about.

You have an interesting idea regarding the 10th Amendment and secession vis a vis your example of Alabama. I agree with you that Alabama would not have voted to secede even though in 1965 the franchise was not fully available to black Alabamans, and that could be a bit of a problem in your scenario. By all accounts ( "Origins of Class Struggle in Louisiana, a social history of white farmers and laborers during slavery and after," by Roger W. Shugg), Louisiana's referendum on secession in 1861 was a "No" largely due to the opposition of north Louisiana's non-slave owning pineywoods small farmers, yet was stolen/disregarded by the planter-owned legislature. But, that's irrelevant to our discussion. I digress a lot.

In terms of how an Alabama vote to not secede would have played nationally, I think that Alabama would have continued to claim that state's rights allowed them to continue to segregate. After all, the concept of "states rights" certainly presumes the state is part of the union.

Regarding reconstruction as a cause of racial bitterness and Jim Crow in the South, I'm sure it played a role. But as I understand legal history (not much--con law in law school was 35 years ago), the 14th amendment was passed in 1868 in response to the emergence of restrictive and onerous laws passed by Southern states immediately after the war. So, I think it is at least fair to assume that at least some of the post-reconstruction bitterness which you allude to, was bitterness at the federal government's enforcement of the rights of black citzens as US citizens.
(an irrelevant historical factoid--in pre-14th amendment days, as the states ultimately determined federal citizenship--had to be a citizen of a state before you were a federal citizen, there was a question whether "citizens" of Washington, DC were US citizens.)

But on to the cultural South:

I have lived in the upper Midwest for 13 years now, and what I greatly miss about the South, among many things, is its capacity--even demand--for warmth and human interaction in even the smallest things.

By way of example: a few years back I was in Forrest City, Arkansas (that's with 2 r's; there is a Forest City, Iowa with of course 1 r), a small cotton/rice town in the Arkansas Delta, about 30 miles west of Memphis. One morning early, I was standing in line at a convenience store along with 6 or 7 other customers waiting to pay for my coffee. This was all taking quite a while because the customer up front, a good-sized good old boy, was leaning over the counter chatting with the cashier about whether he should go to work that day. He said he was thinking about calling in sick and going fishing--a low hum of approval rose up from the others in line (who were no doubt going to work themselves, and perhaps were late because of the delay--but that didn't seem important to them--this little drama did though). After chatting it over with the cashier for a few minutes, he declared that of course, if he called in sick, he wouldn't get paid. The crowd hummed again, though this time in disapproval. But no one seemed at all agitated about waiting in line, rather they seemed to immensely appreciate this mini-drama of life.

I thought to myself how that little vignette would have played out in north Iowa, and it wouldn't have played well--folks would have been irate at having to wait and would have pegged this man as a lazy, ne'er do well, and have taken no interest at all in the tale, but above all, there would be no sense of identification with the man (yet truth is, we are all ne'er do wells at times, and in the South we are all too much human, and appreciate the tragedy that life is not always what it is supposed to be).

Up here, everything is squared off corners and right angles, with no sense of whimsy. For me, "idle" chit chat is a restorative and has nothing to do with the devil.

In New Orleans, I could not wait 5 minutes for a bus or streetcar without one of my fellow riders telling me his/her life story. I could not pop the hood of my car and fiddle with something without 2 or 3 neighbors running out to offer advice--frequently the advice itself was not helpful, but everyone felt the need to relate their own car story--or their cousin's, their uncle's, and so on--and to express their condolences.

To my mind, that warmth makes people feel good, and I miss its presence.

As Willie Morris said in "North Toward Home"--the South has a generosity of spirit.

And all those little examples I gave, whether waiting in line, waiting for the bus, or working on my car, involved both black and white people as participants.

The longer I live up North, the more I recognize the common culture that is shared by both southern blacks and southern whites.

William R. Cumming

Query whether marriage to a white woman would have resulted in an Obama election victory?


Sydney, Thank you for posting the pic. I had forgotten that photo and it is disturbing that those times are so easily swept under the rug. Perhaps if the psychic locus of our country's racist past (and present) is the South, it lets the rest of us off the hook. I live in California which has its own history with racism (including lynching) which is hardly discussed. I'm curious as to why you conclude that the progressive left participated in Ms. Sherrod's character assassination? From what I could see, the "progressives" were on her side and irate that the administration caved to right wing blather so easily.

Col., My apologies. I don't know why I assumed you were a West Pointer. From where did you matriculate? I was a small child when my father resigned, so don't know the details except that he was in Vietnam during the more covert part of our involvement (and subsequently had a heck of a time proving to the VA that he was there). I'm sorry, but I'm still missing something re residential patterns. Do you mean that antebellum, communities were more integrated? I live in Berkeley, CA (which I know will disqualify me from the human race in some quarters) and enjoy the discussions on this blog. I appreciate that you keep them from degenerating into dogmatic tit for tat arguments.

Patrick Lang


My CV is posted on this site and there is a wiki article on me. Do your homework. I was a professor at USMA which I suppose, is a comment on the place. You "assumed' that I was a USMA graduate? You don't know anything about the Army do you?

I have lived long enough to have had the chance to spend a lot of time in local libraries in Virginia. The census data and local directories ar filed with interesting information on this subject especially since race was recorded. One specific study on a given block in the old city of Alexandria shows that in 1860, rich whites, white tradesmen and free blacks all lived on the same block in large or small dwellings with slaves living in the alley in the interior of the block. By 1900 there were only well to do whites living on that block. pl

Joseph Moroco

I tried to submit this before, but it did not take. Fyi, that is Government Center, not Copley Square.

phil cattar

You forgot Tennessee Williams and Eudora Welty



Just wanted to point out the coincidence that the "ol white farmer" you referred to had the last name Spooner: Roger Spooner. Thank you for bringing Lysander Spooner to everyone's attention. Quite an interesting man.

Sidney O. Smith III


Thank you for the info. Please let me know what you think about Spooner.

Joseph Morocco,

My mistake. It’s been awhile since I have been in Boston. BTW, I really do like the place.

If you want an example of someone from Boston who “got it right”, look no further than Dr. Robert Coles.

I simply am trying to point out that some of the very same people who historically have suppressed this image from the Government Center are the Jacobins today who want to annihilate the Palestinians, while at the same time accuse the rest of the world of racism. They are the most racist of them all. And some of these people who consider themselves so enlightened teach out there a few stops from where the red line ends.

For more info, see Dersh.

For more info on a counter example, see the Cantab realist -- Stephen Walt. He's the real deal, a true scholar and a gentleman who certainly has exemplified grace under pressure. I imagine, for a while there, he found himself dining by himself at the faculty club.

BTW, a little off topic. But from what I have read (and I haven’t read much) that Boston cop got a raw deal in the Gates affair. And look who tried to destroy him -- the Chris Matthews crowd.

I really do believe that Shelby Steele’s book, Content of Our Character, reveals a psychological dynamic (guilt-empowerment) that is worth considering because it still seems at play. If so, then race relations based upon that dynamic never end up in a true friendship. They end up like the Jayson Blair controversy at the NYT.

I am not a military person but I think one can argue that the USM did a better job of genuinely integrating the armed forces than the NYT progressive crowd did NYC.

Phil Cattar

You are absolutely right. I am also a big fan of Welty’s photographs. Extraordinary.


I heard recently that Cody’s on Telegraph closed a few years ago. ‘Tis a shame, no? I use to have a great time walking Telegraph. (I was never a student at Berkeley).

Re: progressives and Sherrod. Surely you the see the extraordinary irony. That ol’ white farmer from south Georgia is the one who stood up for Ms. Sherrod and spoke the truth. He had nothing to gain from it.

When it comes to genuine race relations, he appears further along than the NYT, which , in many aspects, is damning with faint praise. Moreover he is further along than that writer from Newsweek, Christopher Dickey, James Dickey’s son, from Georgia. Ersatz.

My only point about bringing up 21st century progressives is that many seem aligned in an “unholy alliance” with the Lindsey Graham crowd. And that alliance may end up destroying the USA because they are the one promoting war with Iran which will lead to the slaughter of US soldiers for no reason regarding US national security and, ultimately, engender societal disintegration here in the USA.

And finally, I say the following as a light hearted attempt at irony; I assume you know that two Confederates are the ones who brought Berkeley into prominence. Say what? Yes. The LeConte brothers, one of whom left South Carolina for Berkeley because he found the politics of Reconstruction intolerable



" ...in 1860, rich whites, white tradesmen and free blacks all lived on the same block in large or small dwellings with slaves living in the alley in the interior of the block. By 1900 there were only well to do whites living on that block."

Any idea where the white tradesmen and blacks went, whether together or separately? Thanks for any further details you can supply.

Patrick Lang


These populations sorted themselves out into more or less discrete neighborhoods. One of the results of this was that gradually the number of light skinned African-Americans ( for want of a better term) became much smaller. Propinquity facilitates the arrival of offspring of mixed "race." A reduction in propinquity produces the opposite. I first became aware of this when doing research in the historical parts of the Alexandria library system. There were always Black women doing genealogical research in microfilm records. As Steve observed, Southerners talk to each other. I have acquired that feature of the culture. These ladies would show me the photographs of the ancestors they were "working up" for the family tree. It was quite striking that many of the ancestors three or four generations back looked almost White and certainly were much lighter skinned than their descendants. pl


"It was quite striking that many of the ancestors three or four generations back looked almost White and certainly were much lighter skinned than their descendants."

Most interesting. Thanks again.


Col. Lang,

I suppose the argument could be made that the White-looking ancestors of the Black ladies you met were likely the offspring or descendants of slaves who had been raped by White masters. However, the very first Africans who were brought to Virginia were not chattel slaves but indentured servants and thought of themselves as Englishmen. They were brought from England along with White indentured servants, with whom they worked and lived and freely inter-married. There were many mixed-race children in the population in those days before chattel slavery laws and miscegenation laws went into effect. I would venture to speculate that the other possibility is far less likely, as slave owners who practiced that were subject to legal and popular disapprobation.

Patrick Lang


"I would venture to speculate that the other possibility is far less likely, as slave owners who practiced that were subject to legal and popular disapprobation."

I agree, especially in the context of an urban environment like Alexandria where there were many household servants, black craftsmen and tradesmen both slave and free. Some owners allowed their slaves to practice trades like blacksmith, wheelwright, cooper, etc. on the basis that the craftsman kept part of the money earned. Such arrangements frequently resulted in "deals" in which the tradesman bought his freedom or those of family members.

There was also a continual, fairly slow process of manumission in wills.

The "rape" argument is sooo easy and comfortable to make. People mostly have sex with people they know and associate with daily. The notion that Black or mixed race women either free or slave were never willing partners for handsome young men of any race is simply laughable.

You bring up a good point about the numerous Black families in Virginia and other places whose ancestors were never slaves. pl



Regarding Laurie's claim US military were fired upon, I know of no instance where that happened. However, US Marshals were shot at in the rioting surrounding Meredith's enrollment at Oxford.

Your point about propinquity is an excellent one. There is an old saying that in the North they don't care how big you get as long as you don't get too close. In the South they don't care how close you get as long as you don't get too big. As to the 'legal and popular disapprobation,' I would refer you to Mrs. Chestnut's diary where she slyly notes the typical plantation lady can identify the parentage of light skinned offspring on every other plantation but she thinks that those on her's fall from the sky. Without citing feminist theory on power and sex- which is tedious and useless at a minimum- relations between chattel and owner could seldom be described as 'willing.' I recognize the universe of human relations is nearly infinite, but my guess is that James Henry Hammond's behavior, described in Secret and Sacred, though extreme is closer to the norm than an inter-racial Love Story.


Mr. Smith, re the Gates incident, the most amazing thing, to my mind, was that President Obama chose that moment to leave off from his careful practice of pouring oil over troubled waters. When he gave the answer he did at that press conference, I was jarred awake, as when my daughter would very occasionally make a hit in softball. And he was not only aware that the question was coming, it was the last-asked question.

Re mandated school segregation, as a transplant from Ohio to central Virginia, I was once told by a white woman, ramrod-straight and the scourge of her United Methodist Church, "We didn't want to do it, but we did it."

And as the Colonel notes, propinquity matters. I have it on good authority that the n-word is privately bandied about by some in this community, but these same people have black 'community' friends that they will jovially and affectionately talk and laugh with. Up north, most people, such as my family, have such little contact with black people that they feel constrained in situations where they come in contact with them.

Patrick Lang


"relations between chattel and owner could seldom be described as 'willing.'"

This is a political statement, not a human one.

You are just guessing as to the nature of many of these relationships, So am I.

One thing you missed for sure is that sex does not have to have occurred between master and slave. Especially in an urban setting there were many opportunities among all these varieties of people.

I suggest you stop trying to force an infinite number of kinds of situations into a politically correct "model." pl


Some of the first African slaves won their freedom by fighting bravely in Indian campaigns. Because there were no free Black women, or very few, the Freed Blacks married White women, usually Irish women who had finished their terms of indenture.

Many of them bought land and did well, even winning court cases in disputes with their White neighbors. But some of the wealthy, large plantation owners coveted the land owned by the free Blacks and helped pass miscegenation and other laws limiting their freedom. Also the plantation owners harrassed them with lawsuits. Many of the free Blacks kept moving west to the new frontier, out of the way of prejudicial laws. Their ancestors eventually ended up in Texas.



I acknowledged the myriad possibilities and motivations involved in human behavior. And sexuality is the most mysterious human activity to me.

You are certainly correct that urban slavery differed from rural and that those places where there were large numbers of free people of color, New Orleans for instance, developed unique cultures. However, the overwhelming experience of antebellum African-Americans was rural and enslaved. Some of the totals per the 1860 census were: Miss. 437k slave, 773 free; Ala. 435k slave, 2700 free; Ga. 462k slave, 3500 free; SC 411k slave, 9500 free. The ratios in Va., NC, and La. were considerably smaller, 8.5, 11 and 18 respectively. If drawing conclusions from empirical evidence and qualifying those conclusions is politically correct, I stand guilty as charged.

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