/Conversation on race Untold history of Northerners’ fear of black migration

Conversation on race Untold history of Northerners’ fear of black migration

Mississippi News OXFORD Nonprofit – Two native Mississippi authors, a veteran journalist and a historian, discuss the troubled history of race relations in America. They also explore how things have changed in modern society. “A Conversation About Race” was one of many conversations held at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. It is an attempt to reflect back on a moment that has changed the course of history. Eugene Dattel (cultural and economic historian) and author discussed a common theme throughout the conversation: how people in the North didn’t want to see African Americans prosper economically, politically, or educationally. He wanted them to stay in the South. This attitude of the white Northerners was an overlooked part of history, he said. “We know the abolitionists abolished slavery. But we don’t know much about their attitudes toward black people. Dattel stated that they were generally anti-black. “Their greatest fear was of a North African migration of black people,” he said. He said that states like Ohio, Indiana and Illinois had exclusion laws in place to keep blacks out of their regions. Dattel said that laws were passed to give African Americans rights in the South, so that they wouldn’t move North. Between 1865 and 1914, there was no black migration North. The North’s black population remained below two percent.” According Dattel, white wealth accumulation has increased by 84 percent over the past 30 years. This is three times the rate of black population. While white home ownership has increased by 71%, black home ownership has seen a 41% increase. He said that only 2 percent of the businesses owned by black Americans have paid employees and that more than 56 percent need remedial education. Dattel said that the difference in what has happened between now and 1960s is striking. What role did the media play in those days and now? Dattel stated that journalism was influenced by the Southern attitude towards black people in the 1880s and 1890s. Dattel gave examples of how The New York Times endorsed segregated schools in the Midwest, favored radical Supreme Court judges who nullified civil rights laws, and wanted to restart cotton production by obtaining white ingenuity. Otis Sanford was the former managing editor of The Commercial Appeal, Memphis. He is also a professor at the University of Memphis. Sanford spoke about his experiences as an African-American journalist in the 1970s and how diversity has been lost in today’s newsroom. “I arrived at this university in 1973. I wasn’t the only African American in the journalism program. There were many of us, and many of us got jobs out of this department. He said that he was the first African-American man to be hired by The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. The Kerner Commission (also known as the President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders) published an extensive study on race and America. Sanford stated that news organizations must reflect the community they serve. He also said that editors needed to be more diverse when looking at newsrooms. The 11-member commission was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in order to investigate the causes of urban riots and provide solutions. The report stated that the nation was heading towards becoming an independent and unequal nation, with two societies: a black and a white one. According to history.com, they decided to provide more support to black communities in order to “prevent further racism and polarization.” Sanford said that major newspapers began to hire African Americans as a result of their continued progress. However, that is no longer the case today. Sanford said, “Now with retrenchment where newspapers are downsizing staff, that has completely gone by the wayside.” Sanford, an African-American journalist, said that he was fortunate to not be typecast either as a journalist or an editor who covers specific topics based on race. Sanford has reported on politics, police and local governments to name just a few. It goes beyond race. “Race is something I enjoy talking about, and that I love to study and research because it provides fascinating insight into where we are, what we’ve done and where I believe we’re going,” he stated. Today’s world is full of racial inequalities and resistance to inclusion. This includes holding separate Northeast graduations for black, Hispanic, and white students, or unfairly judging those who mentor students of other races. Dattel said that black students and white students won’t fully integrate until they meet at college, whether it be in the classroom or at social events. Dattel stated that the classroom is the ideal place to exchange ideas and consider different perspectives. “In that context, I adhere to, Otis also, there are universal standard… those universal standard are civility, respect, listening, questioning, and asking questions.” They said they became friends despite the tensions between race and America. In 30 years, a member of the audience asked, “Will there ever be harmony?” The answer was no. Whites are the minority. Sanford stated that it was unlikely. “As much I love Mississippi, I also see tension there. Mississippi has struggled with conformity for a long time. It all depends on politics, who is politically in charge and what mindset they will have 20-30 years from now,” Sanford said. It’s difficult to say, because I believe that it’s one the greatest fears driving our political discourse is the fact minority-majority, and not just state but majority-minority nation, is what’s driving a lot if tension and concern today.” Another audience member asked if the conversation about race will stop being romanticized and brought to the forefront. Sanford said, “I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to get away from this conversation about race…this country isn’t nearly ready to do that.”