It seems that every time I look into the racial history of the US, I learn something that is disturbing. From the horrible treatment that befell the black population following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, through the treachery of the courts, Jim Crow laws, and the evil and often illegal swindle that big city realtors perpetrated against unknowing migrants from the south, during the 1920s and 1940s. These people have been treated shabbily by the very elements of American society that should have stood shoulder to shoulder with them.
The fate of black men convicted in white courts has been particularly foul. In many cases black prisoners were given much longer sentences for essentially the same crimes as white prisoners. In the South, for example, a black man might be sentenced to twenty or thirty years for a crime that a white guy would get probation for. When I was a boy I lived in a small town in northern California. A highway ran in front the farmhouse and on the other side of the highway was a railroad track. Across the highway from the house there was a trestle that allowed a stream to pass by. The RR carried many migrants from SoCal to farming locations in the northern parts of the state, as well as Oregon and Washington, then back again when the picking season was over.
I met a lot of migrants – white, black, mostly Mexicans. And mostly they were nice people; people just trying to get by, but they seemed okay with the lives they had chosen for themselves. On many occasions I heard adults complain of the “nine-to-five” routine, having to put up with a nasty boss – you know the routine. And there were those who knew no other life. I even met a number of hobos – one became a good friend of my dad – who talked about giving up a life of wealth and privilege, in order to be free of responsibilities and, most especially, groveling family members. (True, I’m not sure I believed them all, but there were a couple whose stories rang true.)
But I digress. One evening on my way back from fishing over at the creek I came upon a black family making camp under the trestle. I greeted them as I always greeted visitors. They were friendly and we started talking about this and that. There were three of them, one an elderly man; there was a young woman in her twenties, and a boy about my age – about 10. The old man had trouble moving, shuffling when he walked, and he looked, oh, so dreadfully old, though I was told he was only in his fifties. He had no teeth, his eyes were blank, showing no emotion at all, and there were many scars on his face and hands. But the clothes he wore were brand new – an incongruous combination, if I ever saw one. His shoes were also new but he didn’t like wearing them and had taken them off, in favor of going barefoot. I don’t think there was a straight toe on either foot; they were horribly bent and gnarled, some were missing.
The woman, who I learned was his daughter, and whose name, if I remember rightly, was Daphne, noticed me looking at them. She said her dad, whom she introduced as (again if I remember true) was Samuel Williamson, had been in San Quentin State Prison for 22 years. His crime? He walked to a store to buy some milk for Daphne (who was two at the time. This was in the middle of the Depression). On the way he was beaten up and robbed of the nickel that he would use to buy a quart of milk. He managed to make his way to the store and sat for a while on a chair outside. When he felt better, he went in the store and, when the storekeeper turned his back, Sam stuffed a loaf of bread under his coat and made his way to the door. I storekeeper saw him steal the bread and immediately called the cops. Sam was arrested and thrown, roughly, into jail. He was charged with robbery (the proper charge – if Sam was white – was petit theft). Where he should have been sent to jail for a few days or a week, Samuel Williamson was sent to state prison for 25 years! (There are many instances of this kind of injustice, mostly brought to bear on black defendants. But, in those days, long sentences were typical for even non-violent crimes. There were few liberal judges in the first half of the century.)
Prisons, when Sam Williamson became an inmate, were not known as country clubs. Guards and even other inmates could be tough, even brutal. From what Daphne said, her father was a rough and tumble guy, not one to take a lot of crap off anyone, and, as such, suffered serious abuse from guards and prisoners, who would gang up on him. Also, he was seriously pissed off over being sent to prison for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Sam had plenty to be mad about and he found his circumstances difficult to live with: he raged against it – who can blame him? When the time came for Sam to be set free, he was a mere shell of his former self. The poor man could barely walk. (Daphne said several guards shackled her father and beat his feet with nightsticks – the reason his toes were so deformed.) The three were homeless and going to look for work picking tomatoes in Oregon.
I have never been in favor of reparations for blacks or anybody else, for that matter. I’d always envisioned the prospect of people uninvolved with the “crime” paying people who suffered not at all (such as the reparations Germany paid Israel after WWII and the Holocaust). But over the years, learning more about the ways blacks were brutalized at the hands of racist and unscrupulous whites, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that there are some instances in which reparations are called for. Those would be to those who were slaves (of which there are none) and those who were systematically robbed by the criminal activities of whites. This would include, but is not limited to, the real estate swindles occurring in the big cities during the forties, fifties and sixties. Black people were lied to, stolen from and outright defrauded while believing they were participating in the American Dream – owning their own home. (You can read about this at The Atlantic website: theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631.
These people should be reimbursed for the fraud they endured, but the money should come from those who stole it in the first place. I would think that the serial payment of reparations (i.e. monthly installments) could easily become yet another system of social welfare. Unfortunately, a group of real estate fraud victims was defeated in a jury trial. Apparently, there will be no justice for those who suffered at the hands of crooked whites. Maybe things haven’t changed much after all.
It is ironic that the black population has for years and years stood behind the Democrat Party and its promises of reform for the plight they suffer. And for years and years the Democrats have done nothing. The plight of the black population may be somewhat better for some – I see more and more blacks in TV commercials and TV shows. The affirmative action rampant in professional sports is certainly an attraction for the athletically inclined. I’ve never believed there are so few white athletes capable of playing at the professional level as we see in pro football and pro basketball. Years ago in an interview Michael Jordan made a passing reference – though I doubt he’d own up to it now – to the penchant of college and professional coaches and scouts to almost always choose a black athlete over a white one. He said he didn’t think it was right. And he’s right. It isn’t. Isn’t this a form of reparations? Just last year it was pointed out to a group of black businessmen that three of the five starters on the Minnesota Timberwolves basketball team were white. It became an issue of great concern to them. They vowed to look into it – because it didn’t sound right. I don’t not know how it turned out. Sorry.
The sad part in all of this is that the Democrat Party has failed to lift the black population from poverty, as promised over many years. (Democrats would rather have the issue to pound down the collective public throat every four years than do anything to remedy the problem). Now we have a Democrat president who is not the least bit interested in lifting anything. He wants to kick the legs out from under the white population and level the playing field that way. Rather than lift everybody up, he wants to let everybody down. Well, he’s doing a good job of it. And remember, he still has a year in office. Good luck.