MOUNT VERNON — I took a bit of a chance with last week’s column, writing about something with the potential to disturb people.
But it was what I felt compelled to write about, and I thought it was important, so I went ahead. Feedback has been mostly positive.
The first comment I’d like to address came in via the new platform. I’ve been told that comments are not going to be posted because of the perennial problems with abuse that show up in comments, such as spammers who jam the comments full of advertisements and such.
For the moment, however, comments are coming to me even if they aren’t being posted online. Reader Elie Stamper sent a short and direct comment: “Inflammatory article!”
I can quickly dispense with the second word first. It’s not an article. An article is something written by a reporter attempting to report news in an unbiased manner.
When I used to write articles for the Mount Vernon News back in the day, I would occasionally get taken to task by the readers for not expressing an opinion about what I was writing about, and I would explain to them that I was writing an article, therefore, I had no business injecting my opinion into what was supposed to be an unbiased report.
The pieces I write here, however, are not articles. I research, and I write about what I find, but please never mistake History Knox for being news reporting. This is a column.
I am not assigned these pieces; I chose my subjects based on what interests me. And what I write about these subjects is guaranteed to be colored by my opinions, and are written from my point of view.
I have never and will never pretend to give unbiased reporting in this column. It is about my personal interaction with the history of this place.
As for the first word, is it inflammatory? Not in my opinion. Rather, I see lingering issues that aren’t dealt with as being the inflammation. A column like last week’s is designed to pierce such inflammation to help drain it and heal the infection.
Does it sting and make for some discomfort?
Does it help anything in the long run?
I hope so. That’s why I do it, because doing nothing clearly doesn’t work, or we wouldn’t keep fighting the same issues over and over again.
A great example of how to make positive use of the column came from Chris Petee, who commented on the Facebook post:
“As I read and then see ‘Greerville now Greer’ my heart and mind went ‘OH no. Please don’t be my relatives.’ My mother’s family has lived in Greer for decades and had some that served in the Civil War. To my relief they didn’t sign the letter, however I have Piar, Sapp and Blubaugh relatives. We cannot erase the deeds of our ancestors but we can and must evolve.”
I’ve known Chris for years, and greatly appreciate her forthright stand on dealing with our history. It’s there, and sometimes we may have to confront unpleasant aspects. But dealing with those issues and resolving to move past them to a better future is what it is all about.
Another website commentor was intrigued by the column but brings up something which must be discussed.
Lt. Col. Andrew Stanya (Ret.) wrote: “A very interesting article and I congratulate the writer and certainly respect his opinion. I believe he is correct in that central Ohio was seriously anti-Lincoln even around the Columbus area. I believe Ohio had the distinction of having 5 generals fight in the Civil War as well.
“Obviously, these men supported the North to retain the Union and not to free the slaves. It meant nothing to them either way. In his biography, W.T. Sherman likely revised his opinion of Blacks, but was adamantly clear that he wished no Black to live near him.
“Racism takes all forms throughout history and even now has been used to cover all manner of opinions. It goes both ways. Look up Malcolm X’s speech he gave at Kenyon College in the 60’s. It was his opinion that all White men be exterminated in America in the name of Black Muslim rule….”
I thank Lt. Col. Stanya for his respectful nod to my column (again, not article) and my opinions.
I am not familiar with a Malcolm X speech at Kenyon, and would appreciate if anyone can direct me to a transcript of said speech. I was not able to locate anything via a Google search, but there’s so much junk material on the Internet these days, such a search becomes difficult.
The only speech along those lines that I have previously encountered is Malcolm X’s famous “Ballot or Bullet” speech given in Detroit in 1964. While he was certainly advocating for a black nationalist revolution, it doesn’t literally call for an extermination of White men in the name of Black Muslim rule.
Instead, it calls for blacks to unite, regardless of religion, in an armed upheaval to change African-Americans’ position of social inferiority in an exploitative society.
If he gave a more extreme version of this speech locally, I was unable to find it. While the death of some White people is an accurate extrapolation from X’s ominous language, I would caution Lt. Col. Stanya that while the threat of violence is there, it isn’t the same as claiming that he called for “the extermination of White men in the name of Black Muslim rule.”
Now, that is inflammatory.
If someone can direct me to a speech where X literally said that, I’ll of course withdraw my objection. Lacking a specific citation, it appears on the surface to be a classic straw man fallacy, a flawed logic that presents a distorted version of the matter under discussion in place of the real thing, or in other words, a scarecrow instead of the real person.
I have to say that comparing one Black leader’s provocative remarks to centuries of reprehensible conduct by Whites is hardly “going both ways.” That’s a false equivalency, another logical fallacy, even if a more radical version of Malcolm X’s speech does exist.
Are there extreme people and actions on both sides of an issue like this?
Should bad actions on both sides be pointed out and discussed?
But false equivalencies are a distraction away from my point. I very directly ask this: If there are not buried issues with racism, what was it that drove the black population of Knox County down during the 20th century, when 100 years earlier, there had been a small but comparatively thriving population of Blacks here?
The total White population grew by quite a bit during that period, but the black population declined sharply.
Of course, I’m being more than a little rhetorical in asking that question. I’ve written previously about KKK rallies taking place at what is now the Knox County Fairgrounds back in the 1920s.
There is a very real history of racial tension in Knox County. The only way to move beyond it is to expose the dark past to the bright sunlight of open discussion.
I wish I had the luck to make a discovery like my friend, the Wapakoneta storyteller Jim Bowsher, who has built a spectacular rock-garden-gone-wild folk art installation in his back yard, the Temple of Tolerance.
Jim once told me a remarkable story.
During his teenage years in the early 1960s, Jim helped his father move an old rolltop desk out of a downtown business (in either Wapakoneta or Lima, I forget which) when they bought some surplus furniture and equipment. The business didn’t have a key for the old desk, so it went cheap.
After they got it home, Jim and his dad worked on the rolltop desk for a while and finally got the stubborn old lock to break open.
Inside, they were amazed to find that the desk was still full of papers. Most of those related to the business where the desk had been located, and all of the papers were dated from many years earlier. The desk had evidently not been opened in at least 30 years.
But as they searched through one drawer of the desk, the Bowshers were astonished to find that this desk contained the complete membership files, with full names, addresses, and membership dues, for the Ku Klux Klan chapters for that entire area, encompassing a number of counties in western Ohio.
He has retained those files to this day and made it accessible to researchers.
I have never heard of any such membership papers being located for local KKK activities in this region. And if such material ever were found, it could potentially upset many living people to find their ancestors were involved in such threatening activity.
Would that be inflammatory?
But if I had such information, I’d put it out for the public record, because I really don’t see how we can make the world a better place until we own up to what our forebears got wrong in the past.
They were human beings, they made mistakes, as we all do. And if there are those among us today who think our forebears were right, then we have to engage with them to do the best we can to build solutions that have a chance to improve our world, whether it’s easy or not.
I’m proud to work for the Source Media group of publications, which has been doing exactly that sort of reader engagement: Instead of perpetuating long-standing divisions, we’ve taken a stand to change the narrative, in order to bring new light and understanding into old problems.
That’s a stance I can get behind.
Last, but by no means least, I want to thank reader Lynn White Slone, who commented on Facebook:
“Thank you for your honesty and integrity in writing this article. The roots of racism around us are very deep.”
I thank her and those others of you who appreciate what I do in digging into the past, and sometimes bringing up uncomfortable subjects. I don’t do it to antagonize people, I do it so we can heal and grow.
We can only learn from the past if we look it in the eyes and refuse to flinch.