The former controversy in late 2013 with Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the TV live action or unrehearsed program “Duck Dynasty” brought to my mind a number of issues about him and about race relations in the United States over the years.
In an interview he equated homosexuality with terrorism and he stated that he remembered his happy youthful days in backcountry Louisiana, before government programs and welfare, when the happy darkies lived there and sang all the time. One wonders what Robertson’s definition of terrorism is? And one wonders about his powers of observation, especially during his youth. And why is he a patriarch rather that an old timer or senior citizen?
Robertson is 67 years old, which means he was born in 1946; one year after World War II ended. His memories seem to be of an idealized past reminiscent of the period after World War I rather than that of the Second World War. How far back in the backcountry did he live?
The scenes he talks about I remember from movies made in the 1930s, Like the Marx Brothers’ “A Day at the Races,” which is still occasionally shown on TV, where in one scene the happy “darkies,” who presumably took care of the horses at the Race Track, sat around singing songs and eating watermelons. I don’t think that situation ever existed outside of the movies.
After the Civil War blacks were immediately given full civil rights. They were protected by an army of Northern occupation. They voted and even sent some of their members to Congress and the State legislatures. This continued until 1876 when Samuel Tilden, a Democrat, ran against Rutherford Hayes, a Republican, for President of the United States. Even though Tilden received the majority of the votes the Republicans insisted that Hayes had won the election. Three states, Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, had two set of electoral returns, one for the Democratic candidate and one for the Republican candidate. Oregon had one elector declared illegal and replaced by a Republican. On the night before the inauguration was to be held the two parties reached a compromise agreement. Hayes, the Republican, would be the next president and the occupation troops would be withdrawn from the Southern states. All the questionable electoral votes were counted for the Republican candidate.
The Klu Klux Klan had come into being earlier. From 1867 on it would operate freely throughout the Southern States. The Jim Crow South now came into being, stripping from the blacks whatever rights they had and subjecting them to abject subservience. This was then finalized.
In 1896 the Supreme Court of the United Stated rendered the Plessy v. Ferguson Decision that made so-called separate but equal Constitutional. This legalized segregation in the nation and legally brought about all the “Jim Crow” laws. Blacks from this point on legally became, what they had been before, second class citizens. In the Southern States there was total segregation. In the North there were black ghettos and equally restricted areas. The two groups were kept separate within the society. In fact, if I remember correctly, an early movie where a black man and a white woman danced together on a split screen (Two separate images of people dancing were brought together as a single image.) caused a minor riot when it was shown in a movie nickelodeon.
World War II, the war to keep the world free, inadvertently brought about change. In order to meet war production goals in the Northern States blacks were hired to work in factories by 1943. Winning the war became more important than keeping the races separate. In many instances they worked alongside whites. There was a massive movement of blacks from the segregated South to the ghettoes in the North. This brought about a rearranging of the wartime population of the United States. It gave employment to people who had trouble finding decent jobs. And once the war was over conditions had changed; there was no going back.
In the military backs were treated differently overseas, particularly in Europe, than they had been in the U.S. The military was segregated in this war and for the first time blacks became officers in the air force. All pilots in the military automatically became officers. This created all sorts of problems. In military bases located in the South the soldiers were told that they salute the uniform and not the man wearing it. Shortly after W.W.II President Truman desegregated the armed forces.
The nation was changing. The U.S. entered W.W.II with the Great Depression still lingering and the bulk of the population being lower class, with, at best, a high school education. We emerged from the war with the depression over and full employment. The Federal Government offered free education or a business start to the returning veterans. We emerged after the war as a middle class nation. With the Supreme Court decision in 1954 of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, separate but equal became inherently unequal and unconstitutional. Legally the Jim Crow Era was ended and segregation became illegal.
In the 1960s the Civil Rights Movement would begin with sit-ins and marches. Rosa Parks would begin the bus boycott in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr. would become the leader of the movement.
The process was difficult and still has not been totally accepted throughout the United States. The black is still essentially a second class citizen.
Throughout the United States there was and to a certain extent still is defacto segregation, separation which occurred because of where people lived. I remember hearing or reading about an incident sometime in the late 60s where Lena Horne went to the restaurant in the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. She was seated and waited forty-five minutes for service before she left in disgust without being served. In a sense that is still the situation with blacks throughout the United States.
From the 1970s on enterprising real estate entrepreneurs were able to desegregate expensive housing tracts by initially selling to a black family and then forcing the other white families out by telling them how their property values would drop if they stayed in the tract. Conditions are somewhat better today.
Robinson was a teenager after W.W. II when many of these events took place and even growing up in rural backwater Louisiana glimmers of what was happening must have come down to him. If they did and he didn’t understand them, then that tends to define what kind of patriarch he is.
The A&E channel that runs the unrehearsed “Duck Dynasty” cancelled the show, then after a short period of time changed its executive minds. Profit, it seems, is more important than ignorance. The program has several million watchers and is inexpensive to produce and highly profitable for the network.