Indoctrinate this, part 1: The voices of the Great Migration laugh at Richard Corcoran
A grifter who can't make finalist in a university president search rigged for him is no match for the honest, competitive study of America -- which is an unpoliceable classroom without walls.
I was already in the process of writing and documenting this piece about The Great Migration’s relevance to today’s economic and social moment when the comical ball of failure and grift that is Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran did what he tends to do.
He helped me — by saying really dumb stuff.
Indeed, it’s hard to quantify all the usefully dumb stuff he said to an audience at Hillsdale College during his recent freestyle Facebook rant dressed up as a Q&A. I will try, bit by bit, in weeks to come.
But the passage that follows is most relevant to this article. It’s about the importance of indoctrinating your kids and mine with whatever nonsense Richard Corcoran claims to believe at any given time. I see no evidence he actually believes in anything but petty personal dominance, which means the “indoctrination” will morph from moment to moment if he thinks he can bully you with it. Indeed, note the part in bold at the end. I think it illustrates pretty well Corcoran’s embarrassing sense of himself as tiny dictator.
But you have to police it on a daily basis, it’s 185,000 teachers in a classroom with anywhere from 18-25 kids and it you’re not physically there in the classroom. I will tell you it’s working in the universities and it’s starting to work in… I’ve censored or fired or terminated numerous teachers for doing that. I’m getting sued right now in Duval County … because it was an entire classroom memorialized to Black Lives Matter… we made sure she was terminated and now we’re being sued by every one of the liberal left groups for “freedom of speech” issues and I say to them … “look let’s not even talk about whether it’s right or true or good …
That, of course, directly conflicts with this laughably vague, unenforceable, and undefinable rule Corcoran is now pushing though the Florida Department of Education as some kind of poor man’s performative “Cultural Revolution.”
Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
Keep this Corcoran prologue in mind as you read the rest of this article, which is Part 1 of 2. And remember that I didn’t know any of what follows about Florida and American history, really, until about 12 years ago.
That’s because of the “indoctrination” of “traditional,” inaccurate, and woefully incomplete American History standards taught by my public schools in Florida and my elite private college in Massachusetts.
I had to teach myself — with help from microfilm, Google, and some great historians — through engaging the actual words and behaviors of people who lived the history as it happened.
Kids today are so far ahead of me at their age. They already know so so so so much more than I did. I’ve maybe helped a little with my books and countless vibrant discussions with young people inside classrooms and outside classrooms. I find them insatiably hungry to know who they are and how they came to fit into America in the way they do.
If that frightens Corcoran, perhaps he should come “police” me, if he can. But I’m not very important, obviously. And I’m not the reason Corcoran has already lost.
Every kid is their own teacher
HBO has put Tulsa on film twice in the last 18 months in two different series. “Drunk History” is more factual and more fun than Corcoran’s grifter drivel. YouTube blows up lies as often as it creates them. Knowledgable “amateurs” on Twitter embarrass grifter clowns and gatekeeping blowhards alike every single day. Of all subjects a teacher “teaches,” history and its adjacent social topics are the least like syringes of content to inject.
Whatever side you take, the ongoing battle for historical memory and its modern application isn't occurring within walled classrooms. No one can police it; and no one can make a kid — or even an adult — swallow an obvious lie, even if it’s important to the brittle self-identity of the liars. You might test a lie and get a kid to bubble in the lie you want them to for the sake of a cheap grade; but that’s not indoctrination. Not even close.
One day, more formidable people than Corcoran might kill me or torture me into recantation or take away my possessions in order to “police” my accurate citation and descriptions of history by using guns and raw physical force. But their ideas or mythology of America can’t touch me. They’re ahistorical nonsense that cannot survive even the mildest contact with historical reality, which is why there’s such an ongoing meltdown over dying mythology and cherished lies.
Corcoran might get off on the rush of firing a teacher; but his weak sauce standards policing isn’t convincing anyone. He’s much better off just trying to indoctrinate at gunpoint. Indeed, when you’re declaring this in a closed meeting to your “allies” …
But you have to police it on a daily basis, it’s 185,000 teachers in a classroom with anywhere from 18-25 kids and it you’re not physically there in the classroom … it’s a constant vigil and fight. It’s a terrible battle.
… then you’ve already lost the fight for history, Dick — just like you lost the FSU job grooved for you. Sorry about that pension. I know it would have been huge.
Part 2 of this will focus on an actual new Florida public school standard — the Ocoee Massacre of Election Day 1920, which culminated the violent repression of the 1920 Florida voter drive led by black women like Mary McLeod Bethune. Killing that Florida civil rights movement helped steal the 1920 presidential election in Florida and the U.S.
So we’ll do an object lesson on whether Ocoee is actually teachable under Corcoran’s stupid and culturally impotent new rule. And if it’s not, who cares, it’s taught all over the place right now in multiple non-school forums.
But here’s part 1, focused on voices from the Great Migration. See if power’s indignant 1916 sense of entitlement to the charity of labor that suddenly has options sounds familiar. Instead of “wartime industry,” hear “Amazon fulfillment” in your head.
World War I broke out in Europe in August 1914, immediately setting off lightning fast, profound, lasting structural changes in America.
Net yearly foreign migration dropped from 769,276 in 1914 to 50,070 in 1915 as the European states mobilized their societies for the most pointless total war ever fought.
While actual immigration plummeted, anti-immigrant fervor surged. Congress pushed for immigration restrictions mostly targeting people from Asian countries. Woodrow Wilson defeated one bill with a veto; but Congress was able to override his veto for the Immigration Act of 1917.
Exactly as this was happening, demand for cheap workers in the heavy industry north, in places like East St. Louis, Illinois, surged as U.S. capital mobilized to supply the European combatants. With European and Asian labor suppressed, American capital turned inward and southward, to black Americans, and started paying them to leave the South and agriculture. Capitalism, baby.
Welcome to the Great Migration
I wrote recently that Florida is embarking on a “Great Migration” moment because we are the oldest American state other than tiny Maine — by some margin. And we do not have the worker capacity to continue supporting the retirement, tourism, and short-term frat boy consumption “hang-out” economy that Matt Gaetz and Joel Greenberg’s daddies built for their spoiled, abusive, and often criminal kids.
Our Great Migration labor moment revolves around the relationship of aged consumption to younger workers and the uncompensated care work, mostly borne by women. Florida’s eldercare industry, for instance, runs almost entirely on the artificially cheap labor of women of color serving and cleaning the messes of people who despise them, politically and socially, and make them watch Fox News all the time. The same essential dynamic exists in tourism and service industry.
The pandemic and the multi-generational, multi-income working class housing arrangements that have emerged in increasingly expensive Florida seem to have prompted a mass re-assessment of how willing care and service labor is to subsidize bad employers. Key points from my article:
The increasingly problematic American capacity creation (worker)-to-capital consumption (retiree) population ratio is 4:1. Florida’s is already just 3:1 and plunging. Florida’s disproportion is even more acute because we do nothing to develop our own capital or capacity. It’s hardly surprising that America’s oldest large, wealthy, growth state also has among America’s worst funded and worst operated state school system....
…I expect Florida to go through wrenching economic and social change in the next 10 years. I’m not sure exactly what form it will take; but elected politics will play only a tiny role, if it plays any role at all. I would compare this period to the Great Migration of exploited, low wage black laborers out of the South to the WWI-born industry of the Northern cities starting in 1915.
The Great Migration, really starting in 1916, blew apart Florida’s and the South’s racial and labor structures over a period of 30-40 years. This was true particularly in agriculture. It caused wide-ranging economic and social change for the country as a whole. A better economic historian than me could confirm; but the Great Migration is likely what ended literal sharecropping as an economic system.
The Great American battle to “bind”
When one closely studies the period bookended by World War I in 1914 and the Great Depression in 1929, especially in Florida (where depression started in 1926), one cannot avoid the sense of common language and conflict with our current American conflict period kicked off by the Great Recession and Barack Obama’s election.
It’s as if the two eras are separate cauldrons boiling with all the same ingredients in different proportion and sequence: global war, drug prohibition, immigration, worker demand, suppressed wages vs. inflation, pandemic, racial conflict, policing, anti-democratic instinct.
There are, of course, many differences. The scale of global war is likely the largest. This is an era of relative global peace compared to the nationalist combat and murder and bloodletting of WWI — indeed most of the 20th Century. At least for now.
But here’s the 2nd greatest contextual difference for the US: the American voting public, for the first time in the country’s history, has openly rejected the Supreme Court’s declaration in the pro-slavery Dred Scott opinion that one type of American has the right to “unbinding” in their dealings with others.
I wrote a detailed article about this called “Bound: American representative democracy rejects the Dred Scott opinion for the first time” back in November.
In Dred Scott, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote this of black Americans: “…they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
In truth, you can plug anything or anyone into “they” once you’ve declared yourself unbound. And Donald Trump, more than all other things, represented and declared the right to unbinding. As he said, without remorse or reflection: “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything." Then he “governed” that way, putting Roger Taney squarely on the ballot.
American power rejected Taney’s unbinding in 1861-1865 through arms and force and mass death in the Civil War; but the American public, through representative government, had never rejected it in both the democratic (popular vote) and republican (electoral college) sense … until the election of Joe Biden in 2020 and the defeat of Donald Trump.
And you see how the ghosts of Taney have responded.
If American representative government gives the wrong people the power to bind them, the unbound will happily end representative government and rule by Supreme Court’s politburo, gerrymandering, feral mobs, and suppressed voting backed by raw force. We’ll see if they get the power to do it.
But even ending representative government for a time does not and will not end competitive politics or the even the advancement of representative government itself. I’ve learned that fact, perhaps above all others, by studying American history closely over the last 12 or so years.
This becomes obvious once you internalize this fact: representative democratic government did not exist in America or Florida in 1916 or 1960. It only sort of exists now. But for 70 percent of American history, Americans as individuals in a sovereign citizenry could not vote their way out of a problem or vote their way into the individual protection and development of shared society.
For instance, in 1916, Putnam County, FL, my home county, had a population of roughly 14,000 split almost evenly between black and white. It had only 2,301 “qualified voters,” all of whom were men, of which 1,763 were white and 538 were black. That’s not representative government. It’s a steering committee or a politburo.
And Putnam County, in 1916, specifically the city of Palatka, may well have had Florida’s most representative local government.
Birth of a Nation
Much of the current angst I sense from true American patriots of egalitarian 14th amendment-based representative government suggests to me a misunderstanding of historical reality and narrative sweep. American patriots of representative government fear we are losing something as a country, that a racially-tinged fascism is overcoming our tradition of shared democracy.
My study of history teaches me the opposite.
Shared American representative government is struggling mightily to escape the unbound power (or authoritarianism or fascism or whatever you want to call it) that has always shackled the soaring ideals written in founding documents. We may not succeed; but that’s not a loss, either, unless you’ve always confused the fruits of majoritarian social status with the fruits of democratic sovereignty. I certainly did for a long time. There’s no shame in it.
America can sort of claim a tradition of “peaceful transfer of presidential power,” although 1860, 1876, and 1920 would join 2020 in raising their hands to object. But America has no real “tradition” of truly representative government. Go find it.
The taste of multi-racial, multi-sex representative democracy we’ve experienced post Civil Rights-era is new and highly provisional — and asterisked by mass incarceration and extraordinary state violence and capital hoarding.
To be clear, I don’t think any other country has a truly representative tradition either. We’re probably the first to have a real shot at it. As Leonard Cohen wrote in his great song/poem “Democracy”:
It's coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It's here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it's here they got the spiritual thirst
It's here the family's broken
And it's here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA
The tantalizing possibility of truly durable, representative government that binds the unbound without excessive violence was born less than six months ago — thanks to wonderfully articulate horrible humanity of Donald Trump.
But possibility is not reality.
If you thought the American unbound were going to let go gracefully of the right to unbinding, without violence and the ill-focused rage of power forcibly restrained, you, like Richard Corcoran, just haven’t studied enough American history. This was never going to go easy.
The unbound and the woke in 1916
But it was far harder in 1916; when the unbound were stronger and we the people were much weaker. Indeed, there was hardly a “we the people” at all.
The “unbound” killed and abused and cheated the “woke” — or vulnerable — of the day with complete impunity. Everybody else rarely dared to object. And yet … politics by other means kept advancing the idea of representative government in fits and starts and reverses and death.
The Great Migration voices I’ve quoted below narrate this collision of the unbound and their resisting subjects during just 1915 to 1917, the very early years of the Great Migration and U.S. biracial mobilization for World War I, which the U.S. entered in 1917.
All of these quotes are cited in my book Age of Barbarity: the Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida. They’re all from primary sources like newspapers or from a secondary source quoting a primary source.
As you read, note how little representative democracy figures in the advancement of representative democracy. Instead, look at the risks and prices these people were willing to pay to avoid submission to the unbound — when they couldn’t see the possibility of representative government in their lifetimes or their children’s.
We can see it, today.
Are we going to sit around whining about loss and the non-existent power of Richard Corcoran? Or are we prepared to risk, lose, and/or sacrifice even a tiny, tiny fraction of what these voices did to deliver what has never existed?
These quotes will have the barest minimum of introductory narration from me. I want them to speak for themselves. After all, Corcoran insists that “topics must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events.” OK, sure.
With that in mind, here’s a warning: the N-word appears often in the language of the day and these quotes. I am leaving it because it is fundamental to the way American power and popular culture communicated and how people experienced that communication. You’ll see that I’ve also highlighted occasional high impact lines in bold italic.
We’ll start with a moment from the Congressional immigration debates of the early WWI period for context.
Jan. 8, 1915: “House Refuses to Ban Negroes,” New York Tribune. Democratic Rep. Joe H. Eagle of Texas declared on the floor of the House:
With the market for our cotton gone [because of World War I disruption], we’ve got more niggers in the South now than we can feed. We don’t want any more to come to this country, for they’re not welcome. I agree with Mr. Quin [of Mississippi] that we ought to send them to a colony somewhere—send them back where they were when the Yankees found them and brought them over here and sold them to us down South.
May 17, 1916: Editor George Ellison of the black-owned Palatka Advocate newspaper challenges the town to upgrade schooling for all its citizens.
Public demonstrations have been made and strong appeal presented to the white tax-payers and voters to this end already and the most forceful methods used to arouse their people to see Palatka's need in its true light in comparison to other cities and towns, and they are aroused. Seeing the urgent need for better accommodation for our own children should fire the breast of every loyal citizen to do all in his power to improve conditions.
We cannot have too much opportunity for training friends for a long time yet. We have got our churches, we have always had them, but only a very, very few have ever taught us anything above how to make our calling and election SURE in THIS life as well as THAT life which is to come. We need more schools--better schools. The school house and the church house side by side, hand in hand, developing the head, heart and hand for real manhood and womanhood which is the hope of the race and the lasting glory of any people.
July 28, 1916: Jacksonville mayor J.E.T. Bowden publishes a letter to his police chief in the city’s Florida Metropolis newspaper ordering the arrest of "Negro idlers” who had been gathering at work recruiting station for northern railroads:
Dear Sir—My attention has been called on numerous occasions to the fact that there are hundreds of idlers in and around the old recruiting station in the vicinity of Broad Street. In coming into the city this morning, I saw at least a dozen groups of from three to twenty negroes standing on the corners and along the sidewalks, seeming to be in deep discussion. There is plenty of work in this city for these negroes, and they are simply demoralized on account of what has been taking place in Jacksonville recently.
You have my instructions: in fact, something I have not done in the past, strict orders to detail a number of your force and to instruct those on the beat to arrest all these idlers and bring them before the courts for vagrancy. The time has come when something must be done to relieve conditions.
August 1916: Cited in C.W. Johnston's 1918 book The Sunny South and Its People, which carried detailed observations of Jacksonville's key role in the emigration wave of 1916 and how the pioneers managed to escape the police trying to stop them.
[Jacksonville]’s appearance is very much like that of any active, progressive Northern city of the same size, especially during the Winter. It has suffered the loss of many colored people during the year, as have all other southern cities. Charleston, South Carolina, lost about 10,000; Savannah, Georgia lost about the same number.
This city tried to stop their migration to New England and the North by passing an ordinance prohibiting any one from inducing or engaging the colored people to leave the city without first taking out a city license so to act. This required the payment of $250 and the observation of and compliance with certain prescribed rules in the ordinance.
When this became law, the white agents refused to take out the license. They established an underground passageway to a hill known as "Four Mile Hill." This was so-called because it was four miles outside of the city limits. The first gathering of the colored people there occurred on an evening in August, 1916. All day long the colored men, women, children and their pets kept up the exodus to Four Mile Hill. Some went on foot and others in broken down buggies and vehicles of every description. These conveyances were loaded with trunks, bundles, bags and receptacles of all ages and kinds holding the earthly belongings of the fugitives. The people were of all ages, sizes and descriptions.
It was the crusade of early history repeated over again, but of another kind. Some were laughing, some were crying. Families, separated for the time being, bade each other goodbye. Yet they were hopeful in the extreme, for they were responding to the people who gave them their freedom and who were now inviting them to come and locate in the promised land--a land of work and plenty, a land where there was real freedom and an opportunity for willing hands to build up and acquire a competence by performing honest labor. The numbers gathered exceed 10,000 souls.
Never before was there such an outpouring of a wronged and oppressed race. They went out peaceably and full of hope, ready to go anywhere in their own country in order that they might make a new habitation in better conditions and among people whom, though strangers, they considered as their friends. As darkness came on, two trains with twelve coaches each were filled with the race that has suffered much from the hands of whites…
…If the statements of the substantial colored men can be relied upon, it is my judgment that this immigration of the colored people has only started. Those who have gone are sending money back for their relatives and friends, who are arranging their affairs to depart at the first opportunity. In time, this exodus will cripple the South in many ways. The colored people will receive better treatment and higher wages in their new home. A living wage makes of a man a better citizen, whether he be black or white; and a practical education makes of him a more efficient unit in society and the State.
August 18, 1916: Front page story in the Palatka News and Advertiser announced the Palatka City Council's vote to impose a $1,000 license requirement on "Negro Recruiting Agents," as the headline put it.
More than twenty-five negroes left Palatka this week for northern construction camps. Who induced them to go is still a puzzle. No one was present who seemed to have direction of the exodus. Palatka is not unlike other cities in the State where the labor market is being stripped to its very hide by these northern recruiting agents.
There are two reasons why Palatka should protect itself against these men. The labor is needed here, and the men who are being enticed away need the protection of the law. They have the right to go, and no one would think of placing any obstacles to the freedom of their movement. But they ought to know that in going into a new country they are going to run against a prejudice that will make them wish they were "back home." The north is a cold country in winter and always cold-hearted individually toward the negro, although it warms to him as a race when he is at a distance. These negroes need protection.
Oct. 27, 1916: Palatka News and Advertiser article about “qualified voters in Putnam County”
…The number of negro voters will be a disappointment to many of that race. Several hundred more had paid their poll tax and thought themselves qualified but somehow they failed to register. That is true to a lesser degree among white voters. They got the notion that because they registered for the primary that was all they had to do. The News has been pointing out this false notion for several weeks.
Now and then you will find a negro who is a democrat, but they are few. Those who registered in the primary books as democrats have long been in the land and look upon the democratic party as their friend. It hasn’t been trying to use them. It has stood for getting them a fair deal, but draws the line at elevating them to official place. It isn’t asking their votes under the false notion that they are to get something in return that looks like an office. The democratic party pledges that the negro shall have a square deal and that he shall have every opportunity to make of himself a useful citizen; it opens to him the door of opportunity, but not the door of official place. For this one reason he has not been a democrat, if for no other. The negro is a republican because that party feeds him on promises. They are false promises, of course, but the negro hasn’t fully recognized that yet. Once in a while he gets an inkling that he is merely being used by designing politicians and begins to bolt. But he’s soon won back by more false promises and the story of Abe Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He prefers to make his bed with republicans and sinners.
It’s worth nothing that as soon as the Democratic Party fully committed to those “false promises and the story of Abe Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation,” the Republican Party abandoned old Abe.
December 1916: the Palatka News and Advertiser published a story headlined, "Negroes Want to Migrate":
Someone without the fear of God in his heart and with a desire to make an extra dollar has been working on the negroes of Palatka and vicinity to get them to migrate to northern states under the promise of better wages.
Whenever you see a group of negroes together, be sure they are discussing the matter of going. Several hundred of them from this county have already gone and others are preparing to follow.
It doesn’t matter that these people are being imposed upon; they don’t know it and no amount of argument is going to convince them.
A certain number of them must pay the penalty for their folly before those who remain can be convinced that their condition is not only not bettered, but instead is made doubly worse. The high cost of living in the north, the severity of the climate and all the extra expense that implies, together with the fact that they will be strangers in a strange land where sentiment has no place in the relations between the races—these must be the teachers.
Rev. D.E. Thompson, pastor of Mt. Tabor Baptist church, and a man who was educated in the north and has traveled much, a man of learning and piety and who is prepared to give good advice to the men on this subject says that he had a big meeting at his church last Tuesday night at which time the subject was discussed.
He tells us that the migration of his people has reached alarming proportions and that something ought to be done to keep them from the folly.
If these colored people will not hear their own pastors, especially men of such character as the good pastor of Mt. Tabor, then they would not pay heed were one to rise from the dead. And some of those who have already made the trip—their ghosts will certainly rise as a warning before many moons. Be sure of that.
November 25, 1916: The black-owned Palatka Advocate said the solution for keeping black labor in the South was clear.
If the whole Southern press and pulpit would come out and mould sentiment for the guaranteeing of the Negro’s rights along all lines, there would be no trouble in keeping the Negroes in the South. All he wants is fair treatment and a recognition of his citizenship rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Dec. 1, 1916: “The Exodus of the Negro,” Palatka News and Advertiser:
Sometimes a negro in this section feels that he is employed by a hard task-master, but the negro who indulges this feeling most, if he will be honest with himself, will acknowledge that the fault is his own. Hard task-masters, even the hardest of them, loosen up and are not likely to be unreasonable to faithful workers. But the hardest individual has a soul.
Corporations, however, whether they be of the north or south, lack souls.
The south is the natural home of the negro; here he was raised and here he familiar with white men. He knows how to take them. The understanding is mutual.
There are no wailings going up from the poor negroes of Florida for the necessities of life—food and raiment. The wailings are, however, just now reaching us from the poor people of the north. So loud are they that mayors of cities and governors of states are taking measures to provide food and clothing. You could almost hear this wailing as you read the press dispatches of the past week.
There will be much suffering among our Florida negroes who have already been enticed from their homes in Florida under promise of a better wage. The winter's biting cold will call for heavy clothing and many will be unable to get it and the fuel with which to keep them warm. They will sicken and die among strangers. The News wishes it might say the word that would keep others from making this sacrifice.
But it doesn't know just what to say.
James Weldon Johnson, who lived in Jacksonville, discussing 1916 in his 1934 memoir Along This Way
I was impressed with the fact that everywhere there was a rise in the level of the Negro’s morale. The exodus of the Negroes to the North…was in full motion; the tremors of the war in Europe were shaking America with increasing intensity; circumstances were combining to put a higher premium on Negro muscle, Negro hands, and Negro brains than ever before; all these forces had a quickening effect that was running through the entire mass of the race.
April 5, 1917: Ray Stannard Baker quoting New York World Editor Frank Cobb describing his discussion with Woodrow Wilson the night before Wilson asked Congress to declare war.
"I'd never seen him so worn down,” Cobb said. “He looked as if he hadn't slept, and he said he hadn't. He said he was probably going before Congress the next day to ask a declaration of war, and he'd never been so uncertain about anything in his life as about that decision."
“Then he began to talk about the consequences to the United States. He had no illusions about the fashion in which we were likely to fight the war.
“He said when a war got going it was just war and there weren't two kinds of it. It required illiberalism at home to reinforce the men at the front. We couldn't fight Germany and maintain the ideals of Government that all thinking men shared. He said we would try but it would be too much for us.
'Once lead this people into war,' he said, 'and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into the very fibre of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street...'
He thought the Constitution would not survive it; that free speech and the right of assembly would go. He said a nation couldn't put its strength into a war and keep its head level; it had never been done…
April 6, 1917: From Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress
There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making: we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our Nation and our people to be ignored or violated.
April 13, 1917: Palatka News and Advertiser shortly after the U.S. entered World War I.
Negroes of Jacksonville have asked the privilege of forming a regiment to enlist for the war. Why not? Surely these citizens should be given opportunity to fight for their country. And this is the American negro's own country. And if we remember rightly, these American negroes did some real fighting in Cuba during the Spanish American war.
Same newspaper, same date, same page, two columns over:
Astonishing revelations, indicating the widespread exploitation of unemployed southern negroes in Philadelphia and vicinity and the use of fake promises of work have cost no less than 500 lives in Philadelphia alone during the last three months, have been made by inspectors in the State Department of Labor and Industry, says the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin.
The inspectors have been at work for weeks running down bogus employment agencies in the disguise of beneficial associations and insurance companies or religious organizations who enticed many of the untrained negroes North by the thousands. The city has been so flooded with negroes, unaccustomed to the climate and unable to withstand the rigors of a northern winter that adequate housing conditions cannot be afforded them. Many have died in the Philadelphia Hospital and tuberculosis and pneumonia is rife among them,’ the Bulletin states.
July 4th, 2017: Joseph Pulitzer's New York World covers the East St. Louis pogrom:
7,000 Blacks Flee East St. Louis As Troops Stop Riot
Twenty-nine of Colony Killed
Four Whites Also Dead---500 Negroes Arrested---300 Hurt in Night of Fighting
State Guard Accused of Siding With Mob--Property Damage $500,000, in Addition to Loss of Negroes' Homes.
With 1,200 men of the State Guard patrolling today the streets where more than a score of negroes were killed yesterday, hundreds of others beaten, and the homes of many others burned to the ground, comparative quiet was restored today.
There was no further resort to lawlessness by the whites who precipitated the trouble yesterday, incensed by the influx of the negro laborers from the South destined to replace many of this city's workers....
It was difficult, in view of the conditions, to arrive at any accurate estimate of the number killed in yesterday's turbulent scenes. But those who gave their whole attention to this aspect of the affair believe that the list will not grow above 29 -- of whom four were whites--while nearly 100 more were injured seriously, and 310 negroes' homes were burned to the ground...
August 23, 1917: The Houston Mutiny. Reported from various sources.
This final part focuses on the Houston Mutiny, when members of the all-black 24th infantry regiment turned violently against the city of Houston, particularly its police, in response to vicious segregation and mistreatment by several local police officers. Their attack left many white Houston police and civilians dead. I think it's the single most underknown event in American history — and among the most morally challenging for everyone.
Lakeland FL, my adopted hometown, had a smaller scale dress rehearsal for Houston in 1898, when groups of white and black soldiers mustered together and clashed with white townspeople prior to the Spanish American War. The Atlanta Constitution's account of the Lakeland violence concluded with this remarkable passage.
This is not a time to go into the details of the conflict between the races, but it begins to look as though the government's method of camping them together indiscriminately will be abandoned when the next camp is formed. The average colored soldier increases a hundredfold in his personal estimation of himself as soon as he gets a uniform and a gun, and he immediately insists upon maintaining a social equality between himself and the whites that would not suggest itself to him under ordinary circumstances. The result is always conflict, and ever since the troops got here, there has been a constant friction between the negroes and the white men that has proven the most unpleasant feature of life in camp.
Moving ahead to 1917, the Houston Mutiny became, to my knowledge, the only racially-charged, post-Civil War large-scale armed conflict that blacks "won"—as defined by which race killed clearly more of the other. It's not a coincidence that the blacks involved were armed, experienced soldiers. The soldiers revolted in response to police behavior while they were stationed in Houston. So here’s a passage from my book, citing investigations by the City of Houston and NAACP’s Martha Gruening.
Everyone, including the whites, agreed that two Houston policemen set the mutiny in motion with truly appalling conduct—first toward an innocent black woman and then toward two soldiers responding to what happened. It started on August 23, about a month after the battalion arrived in Houston. Officers Lee Sparks and Rufe Daniels, while patrolling a black neighborhood, barged into the home of woman named "Mrs. Travers." She was at home with her five children, including a baby.
Sparks and Daniels were pursuing suspects in a craps game. They had nothing resembling a warrant. On this, Gruening is brutally thorough, with firsthand accounts from Travers and a number of other witnesses. No suspects were in the house. But at some point in the chaos, Sparks, who went in and out of Travers' house freely, started shooting haphazardly. Gruening quotes Travers in Nov. 1917 edition of The Crisis magazine: “Houston: An NAACP investigation,” Martha Gruening.
"I called to Mrs. Williams, my friend who lives across the street, and asked her what was the matter. She said, 'I don't know. I think they were shooting at crap-shooters.' He (Sparks) came in again just then and said, 'You're a God damn liar; I shot down at the ground. I looked at her and she looked at me and he said, 'You all God damn nigger bitches. Since these God damn sons of bitches nigger soldiers come here you are trying to take the town.' He came into the bedroom then and in the kitchen and I ask him what he want. He replied to me, 'Don't you ask an officer what he wants in your house.' He say, 'I'm from Fort Ben, and we don't allow niggers to talk back to us. We generally whip them down there.' Then he hauled off and slapped me..."
Sparks then arrested the woman, refusing to allow her to put on shoes or to take her baby with her.
"He took it out of my arms and threw it down on the sidewalk,"she said.
Mrs. Travers would eventually be cleared of all charges, and no one questioned Gruening's conclusion that she was simply a hardworking woman at the wrong place at the wrong time.
As the spectacle unfolded, an unarmed black private named Edwards came to investigate. Sparks and Daniels immediately set upon him with the butts of their pistols, even when he was on the ground. Gruening quotes Sparks' own account: "I beat that nigger until his heart got right. He was a good nigger when I got through with him."
Soon after, Corporal Charles Baltimore, a black military policeman, whose job required him to interact with Houston police, came to investigate. Sparks and Daniels immediately attacked him too with their pistols. They eventually opened fire on the unarmed Baltimore as he fled into a nearby house and hid under the bed, where the two police officers found, beat, and arrested him.
Gruening later quoted an unidentified white man as saying:
Of course Sparks will be let off with a fine. Our policemen have to beat the niggers when they get insolent. You can't expect them to let a nigger curse them.
The Houston Citizens Committee issued its own report criticizing Sparks' behavior. But the committee’s report also said this about how police talked to black citizens in Houston:
...one of [the soldiers'] grievances was that they were called "negroes" by the police and the white civilians of Houston. While no designation of race should be employed offensively it is a fact that there is a thoughtless and hostile element in every race, negroes included, which is probe to apply opprobrious terms to members of other races. ‘Sheeny,’ ‘Dago,’ ‘Shanty Irish,’ ‘Dutch,’ ‘white trash’ and like epithets are no more rarely heard in Houston and the South, numbers of the population considered, than is the word ‘nigger.’ And we assert that similar customs are as prevalent in the North, where race prejudice has frequently vented itself to an extent unknown in Houston, even under the intense provocation of the recent occurrence. For our part, we emphatically deny any duty or obligation to refer to a member of that race, soldier or civilian, as other than a negro.
Nov. 1917: From Gruening’s NAACP report about the Mutiny in The Crisis magazine.
That further disorder did not occur under such circumstances is one of the most remarkable things about the situation, and credit should be given for it to both races. The Houston Post and white people generally explained it as another illustration of the well-known fact that "the South is the Negro's best friend"; that race riot and bloodshed are really indigenous to northern soil; and the relations between black and white in the South are highly cordial.
The colored people of Houston, however, are migrating North, and to this more than to any element in the case do I attribute the new restraint in the attitude of white Houstonians. While I was in Houston, 130 colored people left in one day. In June, one labor agent exported more than 900 Negroes to points along the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The Houston Chamber of Commerce became so alarmed over the Negro exodus that it telegraphed to the head of the railroad asking that this exportation be discontinued. The railroad complied with this request, but the colored people continued to leave. Colored men and women in every walk of life are selling their homes and household goods at a loss and leaving because, as one of them, a physician put it to me, "Having a home is all right, but not when you never know when you leave it in the morning if you will really be able to get back to it that night.
White Houston, especially its businessmen, are beginning to realize this. For the first time they are showing slight signs of seeking to make the South safe for the Negro. While the Northern exodus of the Negro, which began with the war, is largely responsible for this, occurrences such as the Houston riot must be admitted to quicken the sense of justice which has so long lain dormant in the white southern breast. However much the riot is to be condemned from the standpoint of justice, humanity, and military discipline, however badly it may be held to have stained the long and honorable record of Negro soldiers, however necessary it may be that the soldiers should be severely punished, it seems to me an undeniable fact that one of its results will be a new respect and consideration for the Negro in the South.
I think this makes a nice bridge from the economic upheaval of unsustainable labor arrangements coming undone in the early Great Migration to the open political and racial pogrom warfare of the 1919 Red Summer (Chicago, Washington D.C., Omaha, Charleston, Elaine, etc,) and Ocoee (1920) and Tulsa (1921) and Rosewood (1923) and Labelle (1926) among many others.
Florida — and Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran — claim to consider Ocoee a “Florida history standard” now. We’ll walk through what teaching that standard actually requires in part 2.