The Continued Peonage of the Black Voter

double flat Blackbirds for sale!

Handle them, fondle them
But don’t finger them!
They’re prime! They’re prime!

Ya-ha Ya-ha-ma-cundah! double flat

1776 Song Molasses to Rum to Slaves 1972

Buck O’Neil:   (on Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball):  We were all elated — it was the death knell for our baseball. But… who cares?

One of the stories of my youth that always struck was the story of how my paternal grandparents, born in Italy and not familiar with the law or english,  first received social security.

My parents were visiting their house when my mother discovered in conversation that her retired father in law was not collecting social security.  She asked why.  They told her it was because they didn’t want to give up their land.

Confused by the answer she asked what that had to do with it and they told her they weren’t allowed to collect social security if they had land in their name.

Incredulous my mother told them that wasn’t the case and asked where on earth they got that idea.  They told her everyone knew that. In fact her sister in-laws noted a local paisano had arranged to help other Italian immigrants get around this requirement by letting having fellow Italians sign over their land to her so they would qualify for their checks, then doing the paperwork necessary for them to collect.

Mom wasn’t having that.  She told her father-in-law that he didn’t have to give up his land to anyone to collect and insisted she would fill out  the paperwork herself so he could get his social security.  His daughters ridiculed her for thinking she knew more than a respected leader in the Italian American community at least they did until my grandfather got his first social security check with his property intact.  Not long afterwards my mother did the paperwork for her mother-in-law as well earning the favor of my paternal grandparents (and ironically the scorn of their daughters who would ironically inherit their parent’s land) for the rest of their lives.

This kind of story was not uncommon among immigrants. Coming to a new country, unfamiliar with the law and the language, they often found themselves exploited by their fellow countrymen who used the bonds of race, religion and culture and their fears of the powers that be to cement their own positions and wealth.  They would become leaders using their position as the go betweens with the greater culture to provide positions in civil service (or not so civil services) to those looking for favors in return and thus cement their positions as leaders within the community and their contact with the general culture.  Meanwhile if the political bosses of the greater culture needed bodies, muscle or votes from that community they were the people who you dealt with.

Such power (or scams) depended on a fresh set of immigrants coming in to the community so there would be a steady unending supply of alienated people separated from the rest of society as a whole, because once children & grandchildren were educated and assimilated into the greater culture, the gravy train of the bosses was over.

And that in a round about way brings us to not just Mississippi’s GOP primary but the block voting of the Black community that (currently) keeps Democrats in power.

From the Italians to the Poles to the Chinese and even Blacks from Africa , people have passed though the cities, and had their political power funnelled through bosses & leaders building little Italies, Polands and Chinatowns while their kids became assimilated.  Once they did the little Italies, little Polands and Chinatowns of the cities slowly shrank into insignificance compared to what they once were as the children and grandchildren moved out and up becoming not so much Italian Americans or Polish Americans or Chinese Americans but Americans.

As a rule this didn’t happen to the black community, a very large part of said community remained apart, first due to Jim Crow in the south and to some degree redlining in the north, both extended the lives of the political boss far beyond their normal dying point.

America being America this could not continue forever and eventually laws were passed ending these practices and imposing stiff penalties to those who would violate them.

One would have expected that once that process was complete the America Black community would have integrated and  the era of the bosses would be over.

You would be wrong.

While new African immigrants followed the path of other immigrant groups the black community who had suffered under these laws remained to a large degree separated.  A big part reason for this were the actions of black leadership.

Like the “bosses” of various communities their prosperity depended on keeping their community separate but unlike those bosses they had several advantages that the other bosses did not.

Firstly the members of the community had decades of history with discrimination because of this history they were naturally distrustful that new laws and rules would be enforced.

Secondly because the political machine was linked to black church “bosses” were inevitably church leaders.  It’s no wonder the two biggest race hucksters in the nation are the Reverend Jessie Jackson and the Reverend  Al Sharpton.

Thirdly the leader most likely to have encouraged integration into society as a whole M. L. King’s was murdered.

Fourthly with the cold war it was in the interest of those opposed to American Power to do all possible to encourage said separation.  They had wisely used Jim Crow as a counterweight to mitigate their own abuses and because of this had entre to black leadership once it was over.    (This incidentally is the same reason why Nelson Mandela had no problem lionizing some of the most murderous and oppressive regimes in the world it was to a large degree understandable payback for aid when they needed it.)  It’s no coincidence that Black Democrats were almost uniformly on the side of the Soviets, of the Sandinistas, of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro.

But the most important factor was gerrymandering and seniority.  Under normal circumstances a party will attempt to draw districts that dilute the voting power of their opponents.  For example in Massachusetts a fair amount of conservatives live in Worcester County however that voting strength is divided among three different congressional districts.

However Black Democrats in congress and Republicans alike realized that by redrawing lines, under the requirements of the voting rights act to create black majorities in district both would benefit.

With the vast majority of the overwhelmingly black vote in a single district suddenly the GOP’s prospects increased geometrically

Meanwhile black democrats ended up with practically primary proof districts guaranteeing their power for as long as they wanted it along with all the patronage that comes with it.  That also meant they could create their own mini-machines with sub bosses able to turn out the vote when the time or the money was right.

And when Thad Cochran came knocking with five figures to spend for two weeks work, the price was right.

Cochran as a white republican was able to buy the black vote in Mississippi because it increased the power and the credibility of the bosses,

Meanwhile a black republican can never count on that support because she is not willing to allow them to wet their beaks.  Her very existence is a threat to their entire power structure in both the political and the academic world that the political machine helped finance.

That is the real crime of black republicans in the eyes of black leaders.  Not their voting records or beliefs but the fact they attempt to gain power outside of their structure and if they succeed the process of integration that  the bosses have managed to delay for generations might actually begin and the black community freed from the leaders who would keep them in peonage.

And to those leaders whose wealth and power depend on that simply can’t allow that to happen.

That, in my opinion,  is the real scandal not just of Mississippi but of the black vote in america and until that changes, no matter how many “minority” representatives are voted into congress, no matter how many Black studies programs grace the universities,  the Black community in the United States will never reach its full potential.

In Godfather 2 there is a telling exchange between a twenty something Vito Corleone when he first sees the actions of Don Fanucci  in the US.

Genco: Fanucci’s with the Black Hand. The whole neighborhood pays him. Even my father, in the grocery store.
Vito Corleone: If he’s Italian…why does he bother other Italians?
Genco: He knows they have nobody to protect them.

When I see what has happened in Chicago, in the inner cities I ask the same question that Vito does, and I must conclude the answer is even worse than Genco, it’s not that they have no protector, it’s that it’s in their “protectors”  interest to remain effectively serfs for the sake of their “protector’s” power.

I think it’s a disgrace.

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