Walter Rhett

Supremacists Supreme

In Perlo on August 13, 2014 at 6:55 am

In a book of her Southern photographs I’m publishing next month, Dorothea Lange snaps a New Orleans monument; its inscription: “United States troops took over the state . . . but the national election Nov. 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.” [].

That code was based not on hate but a divine birth right that came with being white—aided by good breeding from the best families and being well to do. The rabble rousing since then reflects how far the old noblesse oblige will bend to fit new needs. The prime belief in the original virtue is now a traveled secret.

In the name of this open secret, Senators Eastland, Russell, Thurmond, Robertson, others—all Democrats at the time—worked within the seniority system to rise as powerful committee heads. Then they made seamless transitions to the Republican Party, finding a new perch in Nixon’s Southern strategy.

They co-existed with Democrats for nearly a century, rising from pariahs whose politics edged treason and led to national war. Now building a new coalition with a population of in-migrating, suburban northerners (who are Tea Partyists; these northern immigrants are rarely mentioned!), they protect their power at the state houses, where political leverage has returned.

The old school has faced far tougher threats and mess than the Tea Party musters, who are a variant of the South’s conservative populism. In SC, the threat to Graham was a tempest in a teapot.

John Ferren: Untitled, 1934.

John Ferren: Untitled, 1934.


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