Whitopia

The Wonderful World Tomorrow—What It WON’T Be Like!”: Part 7

Whitopia

This post is the seventh in a series. Each entry in the series will be building on information and commentary in the earlier entries. So it would be best to start reading with the Introduction to the series.

Please note: Any bolding in quotations in this entry has been added
to call particular attention to some wording.
ALL CAPS or italics within quotations were present in the original quotations.

In the previous entry in this series, I noted a strong statement made by radio evangelist Herbert W Armstrong in an article titled “The Real Cause of the Race Crisis” in the October 1963 issue of his Plain Truth magazine:

herbert

… But I know Southern White people, and also Southern Negroes in the United States. The Southern White people did not really mean to inflict unjust discrimination. In many ways they took great pains to try to treat Negroes kindly, and to help them. In their own minds, I’m sure they believed they were treating the Negroes fairly.

I also noted that I seriously doubted that Herbert Armstrong knew ANY “Southern Negroes” personally at that time. Nor any “Southern White people” well enough to know what they believed about how they treated Negroes.

Why did I doubt these things? Because Herbert Armstrong, born in 1892, spent his first 25 years in Iowa, moved to Chicago after his marriage in 1917, and then moved to Oregon in 1924 when he was 32 years old. He remained there over 20 years, until he moved to California in 1947. Oh, he did a little traveling in the last five years or so of his Oregon sojourn, but they were all “business” trips for his ministry, and he would have had no time to “make friends” of any locals. Besides, I’m not aware of any such trips he made during those years to the South. (He wrote an obsessively meticulous and detailed autobiography which is available on the Web, which allows readers to pinpoint all of his comings and goings from his earliest years right up to his death in 1986.) And once he was in California, he was almost non-stop involved in building his media empire and would have had no time for fraternizing with Southern Whites or Blacks. If there was any time in his life where he might have had time to get to know some Negroes of any kind, it would have been in Oregon.

Soooo… why might the fact that Armstrong spent so many of his adult years in Oregon have to do with how well he knew and understood anything about the life of the American Negro, or the opinions of other white people about their relations with Negros?

To answer that question, you’ll need to know the surprising history of Oregon…a history which I’ve read that even many 21st century Oregonians are totally ignorant about! You see, from its very beginning as a US territory, and then a US state, Oregon was crafted by its founders to be a…White Utopia. Or, as some have coined the phrase… a Whitopia.

white utopia

When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.

… The majority of Oregonians (which is to say the territory’s new white residents who were systematically and sometimes violently oppressing its Native peoples) opposed slavery. But they also didn’t want to live anywhere near anyone who wasn’t white.

Even before it was a state, those in power in Oregon were trying to keep out non-white people. In the summer of 1844, for example, the Legislative Committee passed a provision that said any free black people who were in the state would be subject to flogging if they didn’t leave within two years. The floggings were supposed to continue every six months until they left the territory. That provision was revised in December of 1845 to remove the flogging part. Instead, free black people who remained would be offered up “publicly for hire” to any white person who would remove them from the territory. [Gizmodo.com]

When it came time to adopt a constitution, the Oregon founders actually borrowed most of the contents of the document from the constitutions of states that had been admitted before them—172 of the constitution’s 185 sections came directly from the documents crafted by leaders in places such as Ohio and Indiana. But the Oregonians did include a bit of “original” material. Some of it addressed the issue of limits on state spending. But a section titled, poignantly, “The Bill of Rights,” focused specifically on issues of excluding certain potential residents based on their race.

Oregon State Constitution, Article 1, Section 35:

No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such negroes, and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ, or harbor them.

Remember, this was 1859, just before the beginning of the Civil War. By the end of that War, there were many dispossessed Whites in the former Confederate States who had no desire to stay in an area with all the Negroes who were emancipated and ready to compete for jobs, political influence, and more. Where could such White folks go?

As one “pioneer” [Oregon] voter who would later become a Republican state senator and a member of the U.S. House explained at a reunion in 1898:

“Some believers in the doctrine of abstract human rights interpret this vote against admission of free negroes as an exhibition of prejudices which prevailed against the African who was not a slave, but I have never so regarded it. It was largely an expression against any mingling of the white with any of the other races, and upon a theory that as we had yet no considerable representation of other races in our midst, we should do nothing to encourage their introduction. We were building a new state on virgin ground; its people believed it should encourage only the best elements to come to us, and discourage others.”

This language about virgin ground and “the best elements,” burned into law in the new state, was used as a recruitment tool for other white Americans in the latter half of the 19th century — many of whom were white “refugees” from the south who were fleeing the dissolution of slavery.

“If you look at some of the recruiting materials, in essence they’re saying come and build the kind of white homeland, the kind of white utopia that you dream of,” [Walidah] Imarisha [expert on black history in Oregon] said. “Other communities of color were also controlled, not with exclusion laws, but the populations were kept purposefully small because the idea behind it was about creating explicitly a white homeland.”

Technically the state’s exclusion laws were superseded by federal law after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. But Oregon had a rather complicated relationship with that particular Amendment. Having ratified it in 1866, the state then rescinded its ratification when a more racist state government took control in 1868. The move was more symbolic than anything, but Oregon gave the sign that it wasn’t on board with racial equality. Astoundingly, it wouldn’t be until 1973 (and with very little fanfare) that activists would get the state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment yet again. [ibid]

Non-whites who weren’t Negro weren’t mentioned specifically in the constitution. But there was a tacit understanding among Oregonians that Chinese and Japanese were not welcome.

As just one example, the white people of La Grande burned that city’s Chinatown to the ground in 1893. The Chinese residents fled, with some people getting on the first train out. But some Chinese residents weren’t about to be intimidated and set up camp nearby. This wasn’t enough for the hateful mobs of La Grande, who broke up the camp and forced anyone remaining to get on trains out of town.

These efforts were decentralized and not officially sanctioned by the state. But as the 1910s and 20s would roll around, a new domestic terror group would re-emerge to expel, harass, and brutalize anyone who wasn’t “100 percent American.” Some pioneers of the era weren’t going to stand for it. [ibid]

As you may have guessed, that “domestic terror group” was the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

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That’s a pic of Frederick Louis Gifford, head of the Oregon KKK (1921-1924.) (Source)

The arrival of the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon was swift and terrifying. In 1922 the Klan in Oregon boasted membership of over 14,000 men, with 9,000 of them living in Portland. And they were setting the state aflame. There were frequent cross burnings on the hills outside Portland and around greater Oregon.

The Klan held meetings, openly participated in parades, and held enormous gatherings for initiation ceremonies. One such gathering in 1923 at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem attracted over 1,500 hooded klansmen. They reportedly burned an enormous cross, of course.

As David A. Horowitz explains in his book Inside the Klavern: The Secret History of a Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, the entire state was being terrorized. And politicians at every level of government from the state to county to city officials were involved. In 1923, Oregon governor, Walter M. Pierce, and Portland mayor George L. Baker, attended and spoke at a dinner in honor of Grand Dragon Frederick L. Gifford’s birthday. [ibid]

Here are a couple of Knights meeting with Portland officials in 1921. That’s the Portland Mayor, George Baker third from the right. And Portland Police Chief LV Jenkins third from the left. (Source)

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The local newspaper reported that the Portland police department was “full to the brink with Klansmen.”

As were a lot of other venues.

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In order to understand the nature of the Klan in Oregon in those days, it’s necessary to know a bit about the nationwide history of the Klan. For those unaware…there was a group called the Ku Klux Klan that arose in the South at the end of the Civil War. It is neither the Klan of the 1920s, which was a second incarnation of the name, nor the Klan of the 21st century, which is a third incarnation of the name.

The first Klan was founded in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by six veterans of the Confederate Army. The name is probably derived from the Greek word kuklos (κύκλος) which means circle.

Although there was little organizational structure above the local level, similar groups rose across the South and adopted the same name and methods. Klan groups spread throughout the South as an insurgent movement during the Reconstruction era in the United States. As a secret vigilante group, the Klan targeted freedmen and their allies; it sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder, against black and white Republicans. In 1870 and 1871, the federal government passed the Force Acts, which were used to prosecute Klan crimes. Prosecution of Klan crimes and enforcement of the Force Acts suppressed Klan activity. {Wiki: KKK]

And thus the Klan of that era sort of “disappeared from history” except as a dim memory for most people. For about thirty years.

Then in 1905 author Thomas W Dixon Jr. resurrected the glorious memory of the 19th century Klan in his novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan.

clansmancover

clansmantitlepage

Immediately after publication, Dixon turned it into a stage play, and both book and play, but particularly the play, took much of the nation by storm, including productions in Los Angeles:

clansmanplay

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Dixon, born in Shelby, North Carolina in 1864, was a “Southern Baptist minister, playwright, lecturer, North Carolina state legislator, lawyer, and author.”

dixon

A brilliant student, he earned a master’s degree in history and political science at age 18 in 1883. While a grad student in political science at John’s Hopkins University in 1884, he became a friend of future US president Woodrow Wilson, who was also studying for a graduate degree in political science at the University.

Dixon wrote fiction, but he based much of his novel on memories from his childhood, during the period of Reconstruction.

Dixon claimed that one of his earliest memories was of a woman who pleaded for his family’s help. She was the widow of a Confederate soldier who served under Dixon’s uncle, Col. Leroy McAfee. She claimed that a black man had raped her daughter. That night the Ku Klux Klan hanged and repeatedly shot the alleged rapist in the town square. Dixon’s mother commented to him that “The Klan are our people—they’re guarding us from harm.” It was a moment that etched itself into Dixon’s memory; he felt that the Klan’s actions were justified, and that desperate times called for desperate measures.

Dixon’s father, Thomas Dixon, Sr., and his uncle Leroy McAfee, both joined the Ku Klux Klan early in its history with the aim of “bringing order” to the tumultuous times, and Col. McAfee even attained the rank of Chief of the Klan of the Piedmont area of North Carolina. But, after witnessing the corruption and scandal involved in the Klan they would both dissolve their affiliation with the group and attempt to disband it within their region.  [Wiki: Dixon]

But in spite of this “later outcome,” Dixon never seemed to let go of his admiration for the Klan, and built a grand and glorious mythology around it in his writing.

clansmanfrontispiece

There were no doubt terrible injustices committed by individuals and groups of both the North and the South during the period of Reconstruction, but you’d never know that from a reading of The Clansman. There is no hint in the book and play that the Klan was ever anything but an entirely noble Savior of the White man and woman of the South.

In The Clansman, Reconstruction was an attempt by Augustus Stoneman, a thinly veiled reference to Thaddeus Stevens, to ensure that the Republican Party would stay in power by securing the southern black vote. His hatred for President Johnson stems from Johnson’s refusal to disenfranchise whites. Stoneman’s anger towards former slave holders is intensified after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, where he vows revenge on the South. His programs strip away the property owned by whites, in turn giving them to former slaves. Men claiming to represent the government confiscate the material wealth of the South, destroying plantation owning families. Finally, the former slaves are taught that they are superior to their former owners and should rise up against them. These injustices are the impetuses for the creation of the Klan.

…The release of the movie The Birth of a Nation [see the description of this below] finally let Dixon’s work reach a large enough audience to start the refounding of the Klan. This second Klan quickly outgrew the first, drawing significant membership from Northern states in part because of the success of the novel, play, and movie. The social impact of the book was certainly enormous. Though Anglo-centric groups had existed previously, they were mostly limited to Southern states and had small membership. The book and subsequent play and movie glorified Anglo-Saxon dominance through the power held by the Klan. This appealed to Anglo-Saxons everywhere, not merely in the South. In the North the Klan not only advocated suppression of African Americans, but also Jews, Catholics, and other immigrants. Through this nativist sentiment the Klan had its greatest power in the state of Indiana. There membership reached 30% of the white adult male population. The total Klan membership is thought to have reached nearly six million in 1924, less than twenty years after the publication of The Clansman. [Wiki: Clansman]

DW Griffith’s classic movie, the first real “Blockbuster” in movie history, brought Dixon’s written words to splendiferous life.

birthoriginalposter

The Birth of a Nation began filming in 1914 and pioneered such camera techniques as the use of panoramic long shots, the iris effects, still-shots, night photography, panning camera shots, and a carefully staged battle sequence with hundreds of extras made to look like thousands. It also contains many new artistic techniques, such as color tinting for dramatic purposes, building up the plot to an exciting climax, dramatizing history alongside fiction, and featuring its own musical score written for an orchestra.

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When the film was released, it shattered both box office and film-length records, running three hours and ten minutes. [Wiki: Birth of a Nation]

And it soon swept the nation, from  Baltimore, Maryland…

baltimore

…to New York City…

birthnewyorkcity

…to Appleton, Wisconsin…

birthappletonwisconsin

…to Wichita, Kansas…

birthwichita

…to Seattle, Washington…

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…and all points in between.

Including Portland. Oregon, as you can see from these newspaper ads in the Portland Oregonian from the summer of 1915.

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The first half of the film depicted the Civil War, and after an intermission, the second half dealt with the period of Reconstruction.

It is surprising to note that the film didn’t just have a “single run” like many films of the time. Years later it was still being shown in theaters to eager crowds. Even AFTER the advent of the “talkie.” Here’s a poster for the film from 1931, when a musical and sound effects sound track was added to it.

birthinsound1931

I have seen numerous references on the Internet to then-President Woodrow Wilson “endorsing” the movie. However, it would seem from the Wiki explanation below that many historians don’t agree that this is an accurate reflection of what happened:

…Thomas Dixon, Jr., author of the source play The Clansman, was a former classmate of Woodrow Wilson at Johns Hopkins University. Dixon arranged a screening at the White House for then-President Wilson, members of his cabinet, and their families. Wilson was reported to have said about the film, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true”. In Wilson: The New Freedom, the historian Arthur Link quotes Wilson’s aide, Joseph Tumulty, who denied Wilson said this and also claims that “the President was entirely unaware of the nature of the play before it was presented and at no time has expressed his approbation of it.” Historians believe the quote attributed to Wilson originated with Dixon, who was relentless in publicizing the film. It has been repeated so often in print that it has taken on a life of its own. Dixon went so far as to promote the film as “Federally endorsed”. After controversy over the film had grown, Wilson wrote that he disapproved of the “unfortunate production.”  [Wiki: Birth]

In spite of whether Wilson approved or not, huge numbers of Americans did.

…The film is also credited as one of the events that inspired the formation of the “second era” Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain, Georgia, in the same year. The Birth of a Nation was used as a recruiting tool for the KKK. [ibid]

When I initially began researching the history of the KKK back in 2012, I happened to live in Rome, Georgia, just 85 miles from Stone Mountain. When we first moved to Georgia in 2007, I’d never even heard of “Stone Mountain,” although I had seen pictures in the past of the main tourist attraction that draws people to the location:

stonemountain

Look very closely…in this “wide view” of the attraction, you can’t really tell what that is, etched in the stone about half-way up Stone Mountain. It looks like something tiny. It’s not.

It is the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world.

The largest bas relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (and their favorite horses, “Blackjack”, “Traveller”, and “Little Sorrel”, respectively). The entire carved surface measures 3 acres, about the size of two and a quarter football fields. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet, and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. The deepest point of the carving is at Lee’s elbow, which is 12 feet to the mountain’s surface. [Wiki: Stone Mountain]

My family made a trek to visit Stone Mountain Park in early 2011. We found the carving itself is not too impressive, even when seen “in person,” because the mountain it is on is SO big and the carving is SO high up the mountain. But in photos and with the right lighting you can see it up close, and it is indeed pretty neat.

memorial

The Confederate Memorial carving was begun in 1922…but not finished…by Gutzon Borglum—the same sculptor who was responsible for the carvings of the presidential heads on Mt. Rushmore. (Borglum was a KKK member.) Not finished until 1972, the Confederate Memorial is now the centerpiece of a cheerful family fun park, complete with such activities as a cable car ride up the mountain; antebellum plantation with an area where you can pet sheep, goats, and pigs; children’s play barn area holding 65 games and slides and such; rock wall climbing and rope bridges; glass blower and other craft demonstrators; a totally out-of-context “4D” animated movie set in Rio De Janiero—based on the Twentieth Century Fox Rio movie; and the Stone Mountain Laser Show Spectacular.

The Spectacular is a fireworks and laser light display, with huge iconic pictures and corny animations projected on the Mountain. And backed up by booming loudspeakers playing a mix of patriotic and Southern-themed music such as “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

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And, as the description on Wiki puts it, “pyrotechnics.”

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Our visit was over a year before I learned about the KKK/Stone Mountain connection. I would never have known about the connection from anything I saw that day in the various parts of the attraction or in material from the gift shop. The day we visited, the visitor’s history center was closed for renovations. But I’m going to guess that even if it was open, they would have downplayed the story of the firstpyrotechnics” on Stone Mountain, in 1915.

For right in the midst of the hoopla over the Birth of a Nation movie across the land, on the night of November 25, 1915, a group of robed, hooded men gathered for a ceremony on the top of Stone Mountain to bring back to life the Ku Klux Klan. Present were two elderly members of the “original” Klan of the 1800s. They all took an oath…and, of course, burned a cross.

In fact, such fiery pyrotechnics continued for many years at Stone Mountain. Here is a one minute clip of a group gathering at Stone Mountain in 1949.

As mentioned earlier, in 1915 and for some time to come, the Birth of a Nation was used as a “recruiting tool” for the New Klan, as it spread from that beginning at Stone Mountain across the US, reaching Oregon in 1921.

All this info about the KKK is relevant to set the stage for the next blog entry in this series, because just at the very juncture of the height of the power of the New Klan in Oregon in 1924, Herbert W Armstrong decided to move his little family to Oregon.

We’ll take a look in that next entry in more detail
at what Whitopian Oregon was like when Armstrong
and family were there, as well as the rest of the period
from then until the Civil Rights era in the 1950s and 60s.

But before you go, I have a “post script.”

While finishing up this blog entry, I mentioned to my daughter that I was including some material about our visit to Stone Mountain, and about the area’s historical significance. And she reminded me of something I had totally forgotten.

In Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during  the Civil Rights gathering at Washington DC in 1963 (the year that Herbert Armstrong insisted that White Southerners of the time were “taking pains” to treat the Negroes among them “kindly”) , JUST before King gets to the “Free at last” finale, he mentions Stone Mountain! For obvious reasons…Stone Mountain is just barely outside the city limits of Atlanta, where King was born in 1929, grew up, went to school, and graduated from college. He would have been familiar throughout his life with the activities of the Klan and with cross burnings used to intimidate blacks and others. And at least in later years he no doubt was aware of the history of the relation between Stone Mountain and the Klan. As seen in these photos from news reports from the 1920s to the 1970s.

1920 from the Chicago Tribune

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1934 from the Sandusky, Ohio paper

stonemountain1934sanduskyohiopaper

1946 from TIME magasine

stonemountain1946TIME

1948

stonemountain1948Dr. Samuel Green, a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon,
at Stone Mountain, Georgia on July 24, 1948,
flanked by two children

1971

stonemountain1971

So what was MLK’s dream about Stone Mountain in 1963?

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

That was over 50 years ago.  So…how’s the hand-holding singing going at Stone Mountain today?

Have a look at a short video filmed on a night in 2009 at Stone Mountain. No, not at the Amusement Park. The area is big enough to allow… private parties in hidden hollows.

Sorry, Mr. King. Not yet. 

In the next entry in this series, we will return back to 1963 to explore more of the roots of the Present. Click the link to read:

Civil Rights, Civil Wrongs

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