Oregon's well-documented history of racism marches on.
When a 1991 outbreak of neo-Nazi grave desecrations in Stuttgart's Jewish cemetery failed to elicit protests from the city's prominent classical musicians, my response was beyond dismay. I held then, as I do now, that classical musicians and all artists in free societies - authors and poets among them - must help protect the social fabric from racism.
I don't tolerate racists or their apologists, no matter where they live. And I will not be silent about John Daniel's long-winded rationalization in the July 3 Register-Guard for celebrity chef Paula Deen's use of the "n" word.
Daniel was born in the South but has lived in the West since 1966. Perhaps that distance explains his folksy family memories in which "n..." was understandable language.
I was in Mississippi during the presidential election. Following Barack Obama's win, the eruption of racism at Ole Miss (and elsewhere), with KKK signs peppered with the "n" word, was hardly folksy.
But a tin ear for racism is commonplace in Oregon, a state whose well-documented racist history is the prime cause of the state's continuing problems with minorities.
Eugene was particularly famous for its successful Ku Klux Klan, which in 1921 opposed the establishment of the Newman Club at the University of Oregon. Prominent citizens, including the head of the Latin department, took up white sheets.
"Niggers should never be allowed to mingle with the whites," said a member of the Oregon Territorial Legislature in 1855. Oregon's Bill of Rights made it a crime to be black.
The state followed the South by banning interracial marriage, not undone until 1951. Oregon failed to ratify the 15th amendment, waiting until 1959 to erase that shame. Racist history continues to alarm.
Where was Daniel, who lives near Noti, in 1987 when the local bar had a sign reading read "no niggers" and displayed a spiked log chain that read "nigger 'black' handcuffs"? What about the attack on a 16-year-old black kid in Creswell last year, including racist slurs? Volksfront, a violent racist group that started in Oregon, spread to other countries including Germany. Only six years ago one of its members was sent to prison for attacking Eugene's Temple Beth Israel.
Language is often the trigger to violence. "White power," yelled the thug who attacked Native American Sage Frank in Shasta Lake, Calif., last year. "I'm going to kill you f...ing n...s," he said.
Yet Daniels says that "redneck" is somehow similar to the word used there. When was the last time a group of racists went looking to beat up a bunch of "rednecks?"
Daniels is a writer - a poet, no less. One assumes he takes words seriously, making his thesis particularly egregious. Poets of greater wisdom shore up our hearts. Langston Hughes:
...call me any ugly name you choose -
The steel of freedom does not stain...
As a civil rights worker in Mississippi, it was "nigger lover" and "kike" I heard most. Where is the latter in Daniel's acceptable lexicon? How about the ugly words and phrases directed toward Muslims and Hindus? He's silent on the ethnic slurs familiar to Hispanics, too. What's so special about "nigger" for Daniel?
Germany, Mississippi, Oregon - when it comes to racism, they're all the same to me.
And what were the last words James Cheney, Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner heard as Mississippi KKK cops murdered them? One word was "kike," let me assure you. The other? Ask Daniel. Surely he knows that history, too.
Tom Manoff, formerly of Eugene, is an author, composer and critic living in New York City. He also works with the Canton Freedom Musuem in Mississippi, where he was an activist during the civil rights movement.
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|Title Annotation:||Guest Viewpoint|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jul 13, 2013|
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