Political posturing, emotional rants won’t help refugees

Syrian refugees, fleeing the violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq

It’s difficult to say if the world we live in is any more polarized than that of the past, or if social media has simply magnified the chasms that exist, leaving the appearance of a stark black and white realm when reality has always been varying shades of gray.

Take the Syrian refugee crisis. While many US governors practically tumbled over each other in the race to demand that no Syrian refugees be allowed to settle in their states, some on the other side were insistent that any denial of US asylum was outright racism.

Both are unfortunate and ill-considered stands. The first I attribute to political posturing. Certainly, it’s not possible or wise to allow a mass influx of immigrants from any nation without proper vetting. That doesn’t mean you shut your borders, however. You certainly don’t rope off your borders to individuals from a specific country because of the actions of one or a few, or because the majority of the individuals in that country are of a specific religion.

Humanitarian crises demand extraordinary responses, and the US and other Western nations should step up efforts to aid those in need while ensuring the safety of all concerned. Simply slamming the door shut on those either forced from their country or who have left out of fear is not an appropriate response.

On the other hand, we have those who misrepresent the past to manipulate individuals’ feelings in a bid to push an agenda.

Consider this headline from a distasteful story that attacks those in the US for failing to open its arms to all Syrian refugees, no questions asked: “Anne Frank Literally Died Because of America’s Anti-Refugee Stance”.

John Prager, writing for the online publication Addicting Info, states that Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, was denied a visa by the United States, preventing he and his family from escaping the Nazi noose that was tightening around Jews in Europe.

The Franks were captured by the Nazis in Amsterdam in 1944 and Anne and most her family perished, with Anne and her sister Margot dying at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the spring of 1945. Because the US didn’t give the Franks a visa, it is responsible for the family’s death, Prager asserts.

While I find repugnant the attitude of politicians who flat-out refuse to take Syrian refugees, I also despise the above one-dimensional thinking that, in effect, calls today’s conservative US politicians “bigoted and hateful anti-Semit(es),” according to Prager’s article. (As Prager condescendingly points out, “Yes, conservatives, Arabs are Semitic people.)

The fact is, Anne Frank “literally” died because of the Nazis’ policy of exterminating Jews. American anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism in other countries, and a general unwillingness to open US borders to the tens of millions of other individuals who were displaced or endangered by the Nazis (and Soviets) is a sad reality of the 1930s and ’40s, and one hopes that today’s generation will not repeat the same mistakes.

But the US, for all its many flaws, was not “literally” responsible for the death of Anne Frank or other Jews who perished between 1933 and 1945.

We could have done more, much more, but we didn’t deploy Einsatzgruppen to kill hundreds of thousands throughout the Baltics and Eastern Europe, we didn’t set up concentration camps and death camps, and we didn’t transport millions in cattle cars from Nazi-created ghettos to those camps, where they were gassed or otherwise killed.

Ultimately, it was the US and other Allied nations that stopped the Nazi death machine.

Prager’s appeal to emotion doesn’t stand up under scrutiny, and it doesn’t help us solve the problem at hand.

(Top: Syrian refugees, fleeing violence in their country, cross the border into the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq two years ago.)

Interracial couple survived Reconstruction, Jim Crow

bedenbaugh house

A 155-year-old structure located in rural South Carolina embodies the conflicted racial legacy evident in South Carolina and possibly other parts of the South, if not the nation.

The Jacob Bedenbaugh House, built around 1860, isn’t noteworthy for its age or its architectural style. Described as a detached two-story traditional “I” house with a modified L-shaped plan, the dwelling, in serious need of restoration, is located along a country highway about five miles east of Prosperity, SC.

What prompted the US Department of the Interior to the place the home on the National Register of Historic Places is the individuals who lived in the structure during its first 55-75 years.

Jacob Belton Bedenbaugh was a white South Carolinian born in 1833. His common-law wife Sarah Bedenbaugh, described as mulatto, was initially a slave purchased by Jacob. Sometime between 1860 and 1864, the two entered into a relationship.

Despite the increasing difficulties inherent with pursuing an interracial relationship in the Deep South in the years following the Civil War – not that it was a walk in the park during or before – the Bedenbaughs remained together in the house as a couple from at least 1864 until Jacob’s death in 1915 and had eight children.

But going against prevailing social mores didn’t come without a price. In July 1890, they were indicted and tried for “fornication” due to the fact that they living together. Being an interracial couple undoubtedly contributed to the decision to prosecute.

It’s unclear from a search of the Internet what the outcome of the case was, but one should bear in mind that South Carolina’s political climate was changing rapidly in 1890 as the Conservatives who had come to power in 1877 following the end of Reconstruction were about to be turned out of office by populist Ben Tillman, who was elected later that year, and his supporters.

Tillman, a virulent racist, was a leading force behind the state’s 1895 constitution, which solidified Jim Crowism in the state and, among other things, prohibited interracial marriage.

Legally, the couple could have married during the war, Reconstruction and immediate-post Reconstruction period, provided they had been able to find a minister willing to perform the service, but the Tillman Constitution forever barred Jacob and Sarah Bedenbaugh from being wedded.

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More proof the past isn’t always as tidy as we think it is


Another example of South Carolina’s counterintuitive past revealed itself recently, in a cemetery in the middle of the state.

Buried in the graveyard of Flint Hill Baptist Church, a black church located in northwestern Newberry County, are the remains of Richard “Dick” Roberts.

Roberts, who was born March 15, 1833, and died March 7, 1906, has a rather unusual inscription on his tombstone: “During the troublous years of reconstruction he was true to the people among whom he was born, and with whom he was reared.”

A March 9, 1906, story in the Newberry (SC) Observer provided some insight.

“Dick Roberts, colored, was known in his day as a ‘Hampton democrat.’ In fact he voted with democrats all the time, and wore the ‘red shirt’ in the famous campaign of 1876. He was one of the very few negroes who sided with their white neighbors in politics. Dick dropped dead at his home on the Duncan place in Cromer Township on Wednesday. He was about 65 years old.”

The Red Shirts are relatively little known outside South Carolina, but they were supporters of Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton during his run for governor in 1876. Hampton’s election that year brought an end to eight years of Republican rule in South Carolina and the subsequent withdrawal of Federal occupation troops.

A week after Roberts’ death the Observer followed up:

“Dick Roberts, colored, of Number 4 Township, who was a democrat all the dark days of reconstruction and to the day of his death, voting always with his white neighbors, died recently, as was mentioned in The Observer at the time. Remembering his loyalty and fidelity and appreciating his faithful services and the correctness of his life, and feeling that some recognition should be made of these, his white friends have decided to pay his funeral expense and to erect a simple and suitable monument at his grave. A liberal subscription is being raised for this purpose. Sheriff Buford has a list at his office and Mr. C.H. Shannon also has one.”

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Geneticists say they’re closer to solving mystery of the Basques

freedom to choose the basque language

To say that the Basque are enigmatic is a bit of an understatement.

Theirs is the only Western European tongue that does not belong to the Indo-European family of languages. Written Basque features an extraordinary number of x’s and relatively few vowels.

There is a legend that says the Devil tried to learn Basque by listening behind the door of a Basque farmhouse. After seven years, he mastered but two words: “Yes, Ma’am.”

In addition to the language, the genetic makeup of the Basque has also puzzled researchers.

Now, it appears a team of geneticists have made progress in solving the mystery behind the Basques, who reside in northern Spain and southern France.

A study in PNAS journal suggests they descended from early farmers who mixed with local hunters before becoming isolated for as much as five millennia, according to the BBC.

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How the tyranny of the petty minded can infect a society


Like most US states, South Carolina has elected some bad governors over the years. Pitchfork Ben Tillman, an avowed racist and demagogue who did a great deal to divide the state in the late 19th century, is currently getting some much-needed scrutiny, but one of his protegés, Cole Blease, never fails to amaze when his career is analyzed.

Blease was a self-proclaimed pro-lynching, anti-black education politician who was cut from the same cloth as Tillman. He was elected to the state’s highest office in 1910 through his ability “to play on race, religion and class prejudices,” appealing especially to South Carolina’s farmers and mill workers, according to Ernest Lander’s work, “A History of South Carolina 1865-1960.”

Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Ben Tillman, a noxious combination if there ever was one. Blease, for example, is said to have once buried the severed finger of a lynched black man in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden in Columbia.

He was not only doggedly political, but arrogant about it, as well.

In early February 1911, less than a month after taking office, Blease stated publicly that he wouldn’t appoint anyone but friends to public office if he could help it.

The matter came to a head after a judge elected in Richland County, where Columbia is located, did not qualify in time to take office immediately, and a short-term intermediary was needed.

The Richland County Bar Association endorsed Duncan J. Ray as a special judge, and Ira B. Jones, chief justice the SC Supreme Court, wrote the governor recommending and requesting the appointment of Ray, adding that this was “the course prescribed by the law, as the statute governing special judges says they shall be appointed by the governor upon the recommendation of Supreme Court,” according to an article in the Feb. 9, 1911, edition of the Bamberg Herald.

“However, the governor had already taken the bit in his teeth and appointed F.J. Caldwell, of Newberry, to preside, and when the Chief Justice wrote him recommending Mr. Ray, he replied that he would not appoint anybody but his friends to public office,” the paper added.

Blease made no apologies for injecting politics directly into the judiciary system.

“My friends,” he said, “are to receive some consideration from this administration. I do not expect to appoint my enemies to office upon the recommendation of anybody unless it be that I cannot find a friend who is competent and worthy of the position.”

The (Columbia) State newspaper, begun in 1891 as a response to Tillman and his politics, took Blease to task. Continue reading

Amid ignorance, compassion and humanity shine through


Because we in South Carolina haven’t had enough strife over the past month, what with the racially motivated killings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17 and the ensuing polarizing debate about removing the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia, a pair of dubious groups from out of state descended upon our capital over the weekend to try to add fuel to the fire.

The North Carolina-based Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday, as did the Florida-based Black Educators for Justice, described as a subset of the “New Black Panther Party.”

While there weren’t more than a few dozen members from either group on hand to spread their bizarre brand of fanaticism, there were as many as 2,000 individuals who protested the interlopers.

Yet, among the foolishness of two groups who seemed hell-bent on stirring up odious emotions for the sake of publicity was at least one inspiring moment.

In  a scene caught by a civilian photographer, a black police officer came to the aid of an older white man, overcome by heat, who was garbed in a Nazi t-shirt during Saturday’s activities.

In the above photo, provided to the Associated Press by Rob Godfrey, the former spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley, S.C. Department of Public Safety Chief Leroy Smith helps an unidentified man wearing National Socialist Movement attire up the stairs of the South Carolina statehouse.

The image showed “who we are in South Carolina,” Smith told the Charleston Post and Courier.

One never knows what’s in the heart of individuals such as the character who was assisted by Smith, but it can only be hoped that the latter’s actions might force the former to at least reconsider his long-held positions on matters such as race. Stranger things have happened.

Beware of those who divide the masses for fun and profit


One sometimes wonders whether certain elements of society would opt to plunge mankind into the Apocalypse rather than have it experience peace and goodwill, as long as the former enabled them to bolster their bottom line by another handful of shekels.

Case in point: media coverage of several church fires in the South over the past few days seems determined to either outright assert or strongly infer white racists are targeting black houses of worship following the dreadful killings on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A few recent headlines:

Seventh Black Church Burns In South Since Charleston Church Shooting” – CBS News.

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South” – Time magazine.

Seventh Black Church Goes Up in Flames Following Charleston Massacre” – People magazine.

Fires at Black Churches in the South Raise Hate-Crime Fears” – NBC News.

After Charleston, Black Churches Targeted By Arsonists Across The South” – Think Progress.

This, when the story often can’t even back up the rhetoric.

In the first example above, CBS News pointed out in its lead paragraph that the most recent church fire was not arson, despite a headline that might lead some to believe malicious intent was involved.

“A federal law enforcement source says a fire that destroyed a black church in South Carolina was not the work of an arsonist,” the CBS report begins, referring to a fire at Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, SC, about an hour north of Charleston.

While the story adds that the fire is still under investigation, it states that the fire was not intentionally set and was not arson.

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