Return from Hiatus
So.... I have pretty much been on a nearly 1 year hiatus due primarily to school, work and family stuff, but also due to a strange development in my life which I might use as fodder for a story/comic idea. Basically, I have been unofficially drafted into an equally unofficial civil rights group (club?) which is based off Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH organization. It all started when a friend overheard me talking to an immigrant from Ghana about why African Americans seem to have a harder time succeeding in the US than Africans/West Indians/Afro-Caribbeans/etc. despite some of their ancestors being kept in slavery longer. He said he didn't understand them because he gets by just fine despite being "blacker" and "more ethnic" than any African American he has ever met. My response was basically that it probably had more to do with being an oppressed cultural minority than it being strictly skin related, and I thought his observations lacked context since he assumed discrimination impacted all types of black people the same way. When he asked me why I thought that, I told him you can see the exact same patterns he was complaining about in Appalachia. Appalachian communities are similar to African American communities due to them being forced into dependency on the mining industry through violence, intimidation, discrimination and the use of script which followed the same system as sharecropping by virtually enslaving workers through debt. I then took the time to explain to him the issues of King Coal and King Cotton, and felt a bit odd doing so since those things are so thoroughly ingrained in my understanding of the world that I frequently neglect the likelihood most people even within America don't know much about them. Though Appalachia is practically considered the whitest part of America, it's also one of the most exploited regions and has suffered extreme cultural devastation due to virtual enslavement by the coal industry which most white Americans probably can't comprehend. So other white Americans assume that the issues in Appalachia have to do with inbreeding, laziness, backwardness, etc. rather than the very real inequalities which have been statistically documented. Though white Appalachians and mainstream whites have the same skin color, their circumstances are completely different. You can't directly compare the two. Similarly, I told him, you really can't directly compare the circumstances of African Americans with other black populations even though the government seems to like lumping them all into the same category. He admitted that he had never seriously thought of it like that then said he'd like to think about it some more. Shortly after this conversation, a friend (uh, well, he was more of an acquaintance at the time) practically jumped me and told me I was a special kind of "hidden minority" which Jesse Jackson had determined as being necessary for liberals to befriend since they have a special "moral authority which conservatives can't touch." He said my conversation with the guy from Ghana was absolute proof of this because he believed, as an African American, if he had tried to explain the same thing then the other guy would have shrugged him off as making an excuse, but when that sort of statement comes from an Appalachian it bares weight that is difficult for anyone to ignore. I was super skeptical of this because it felt weird to think of myself as some kind of politically magical hidden minority since I had never considered myself as having a people...
... So then he went out of his way to prove to me that I was an Appalachian (specifically an Urban-Appalachian) and that I was an extremely oppressed (though frequently unrecognized) minority. Apparently cities like Cincinnati, OH have been forced to adopt human rights ordinances to try banning discrimination against Appalachians... and then there is eugenics as well as other things he brought up. They were all things I knew somewhere deep down, but I had never applied that knowledge to myself or my family. Mostly because the town my family is from is a former mining town but is now more dependent on the lumber industry... which really isn't much better... Anyway, he got me thinking and so I went to my mama's roots and discovered a lot of really shocking things about her hometown. (Like how apparently one of my cousins' friends ambushed the sheriff and had to go to jail for shooting a deputy for a few years, but everyone thinks it was worth it since it helped expose how the police had been purposely failing to investigate a bunch of murders... It's a long story which I don't fully understand yet, but supposedly a family member was one of those people whose murder investigation was purposely botched by the police. Lots of corruption and stuff. Yay for the 80s~!) There were lots of other cultural ticks that I recognized and finally had to admit I apparently am an Appalachian by virtue of my mama's family regardless of what my dad's family might be. (So, I have a people now. Which is something I'm still not sure how to feel about.) Once I finally admitted it, the Jesse Jackson fanboy started pressuring me to recognize that Appalachians have been and still are enslaved by the mining industry as well as other corporate interests which take advantage of their circumstances. Though I had used the term "virtually enslaved" to describe script and stuff in the past, it was a struggle for me to come to terms with his assertion that the current situation for some areas of Appalachia would definitely fit many sociologists' definition of slavery. Sadly, the more I tried to argue against him, the more I realized he was correct on several levels even though I still can't bring myself to call it that.
I finally caved and told him I would help him out, but I'm still skeptical about the whole "moral authority" thing and recognized that he was really just trying to use me as a shield against conservative backlash. Since he's always been pretty upfront about using me, I don't mind too much so long as we have that understanding between each other, but I also told him that if I'm going to be representing "a people" to him then he'd better do something for them, too. I'm not going to tell him how to win the hearts of Appalachians so he can act against their interests and only serve his. He's been pretty good about that since my suggestions mostly coincide with populist ideologies although he was surprised when I told him he should abandon any thoughts of trying to expand welfare programs, and instead campaign to bring new industry as well as investment to the region in order to break the mining industry's monopoly of the job market. It was an odd moment when I said "You'll offend them by trying to give them money. They want to take care of themselves and most will resort to moonshining or selling meth before accepting federal aid if they can avoid it. Even the people who have no choice but to accept federal aid will resent you for it." He tried to explain to me that he wasn't trying to undermine their independence and just wanted to help, but I told him that his "intentions don't matter here." What matters is that they believe he cares about their interests and isn't simply doing what he thinks is in their best interest irregardless of how they feel about it. Also, I told him that welfare won't solve the root issue of how the mining industry manipulates people by controlling the local jobs and economy of the region. I'm more interested in realistic solutions even though they may be less glamorous than waging pointless ideological battles. Although, I guess if he becomes an activist/politician then he'll eventually need to do that sort of thing.
I'm not totally sure what he's planning on doing with all this. I wonder if it will even amount to anything, but... I've been spending a lot of my free time looking up things to help him and his cohorts to prep for trying to become a humanitarian/politician/activist/whatever on the off chance he is serious. I suppose the greatest benefit I have gotten from it is that I am more aware than ever before of "what" I am (or at least what I have chosen to be) and it's a good feeling. It's also startling to learn that being such a nerdy little data collector might actually be something I can use to make a realistic impact on issues that are important to me. If I could do something about the way pollutants are dumped onto families like mine which adds to their health risk, expand economic opportunities for my baby cousins so they don't wind up selling drugs or in a lumber yard, and maybe even help other people while I'm at it... then why not do it? So, yeah, I guess you could say I've been focusing on that stuff rather than my states. Priorities and whatnot. Although now I'm going to have more free time since I need to part ways with him for a while in order to focus more on myself and figuring out what I want to do from here on out.
Which means I'll be able to work on my own interests/hobbies instead of being consumed with other thoughts about admittedly more important things. =3=; So, yay, states stuff again~!
TN vs. AR Answer
I got an interesting question about something I mentioned a long, long time ago. TN and AR's border dispute over Island 37 that almost ended with them going to war with one another~! Yaaaay~! This is a relatively little known dispute which had MASSIVE implications for the time period. There are a lot of delicious, terrifying and absolutely shocking issues attached to a seemingly minor confrontation regarding who had jurisdiction over an island on TN's side of the Mississippi River. So, what happened with that?
In a nut shell: There was a "Blind Tiger" (a term for places which illegally sold whiskey) set up on Island 37 which was causing trouble for Mississippi County, AR, but the authorities could not arrest them because Tennessee had jurisdiction. Tipton County, Tennessee officers had tried several times to raid the island although they failed each time due to the criminals being able to spot them in their approach then hide before they could even get on shore. Mississippi County Sheriff Sam Mauldin eventually decided to take the matter into his own hands and raided the island where he was killed during the exchange of gunfire. Arkansas police arrested Andy Crum, the owner of the Blind Tiger which was raided, who locals personally held responsible for their sheriff's death. When the people of Mississippi County, AR found out that Andy Crum might be sent to Tennessee for trial since the state was claiming that Arkansas didn't have the authority, they broke into the jail and lynched Andy Crum. They feared that Tennessee would be too lenient and he would escape justice. This, naturally, pissed Tennessee off in all kinds of ways and people in Arkansas started getting super paranoid that they would be attacked by their neighbor. The paranoia got so bad that the Arkansas National Guard was called out to defend the border between the states. No attacking force from Tennessee ever showed up, and no one knows if it is because they got scared off by Arkansas' display of strength, or if there was never a threat of attack to begin with. Either way, it's pretty intense that Arkansas was that confident Tennessee would be too lenient on a criminal to punish him properly, but was so convinced that Tennessee wouldn't hesitate to wage war in retaliation that they called out the National Guard! (Their border conflict eventually ended in the Supreme Court years later, but the border really isn't what makes this story interesting so much as the reasons behind the incident which says a lot about TN and AR's personalities.)
So... what is the big deal about this incident? This happened in 1915 and has several major background events which semi-explain Arkansas' weird feelings towards Tennessee at the time:
1) Progressive Era Politics! This incident wraps up debates about the death penalty, prohibition and even lynching into one neat little bundle! Isn't that fun? All the following actually fall under this category. The Progressive Era was super intense and is very, very, VERY confusing because it comes at you from all kinds of wild angles. I'll try to be brief and to the point, but be aware that this is a SUPER COMPLEX time period where lots of things are happening all at once.
2) Tennessee was one of the 10 (11 by some accounts) "Progressive Era abolitionist states" which banned the death penalty. The Bowers Bill banned the death penalty except in cases of rape (See point 3). This ban was in effect from 1915-1919... although, technically, the TN legislature thought they had repealed the ban in 1917 until it was revealed in 1918 that the law was unconstitutional according to TN's constitution due to the wording of the bill's title. So they re-repealed it in 1919. Tennessee has an interesting history with capital punishment and was actually the first state to enact discretionary death penalty statutes in 1838. This allowed discretion in sentencing rather than a mandatory death sentence for anyone convicted of a capital crime. At the time that was considered borderline scandalous! Anyway, the point is that AR essentially thought TN was soft on criminals because of this and would not serve "justice" properly. Thus, many in Arkansas saw lynching as preferential to handing a criminal over to TN (See point 3)
3) Lynchings! One of the major reasons the death penalty was even an issue to begin with had to do with lynchings. Some people believed that if you didn't have the death penalty to threaten people into behaving there would be anarchy, some believed the death penalty prevented anxious citizens from lynching, and some believed lots and lots of other stuff I don't have the patience to get into. This was, yet again, a very complex phenomenon which still has historians of today scratching their heads and wondering wtf happened that lynching became so freakishly out of control during the early 1900s. Statistically, 1915 had a shockingly high rate of lynchings in the United States compared to years before and after... Which may have had something to do with the volatile gubernatorial race happening in Mississippi at the time, but that's another big discussion for another day. Anyway, it should be remembered that one of the primary excuses for lynchings was white men accusing black men of raping white women, and it should be noted that TN retained the death penalty for rape even when it was banned for everything else. One of the most terrifying thoughts behind this was that many law makers believed it was more humane to be killed by the state than lynched, and hopefully people would be less likely to lynch in general if they thought the state would kill rapists, or at least more likely to let the accused make it to a trial. Andy Crum was a white guy and wasn't accused of rape, but the same principle thought applies here that Arkansas believed Tennessee was inviting anarchy upon them all by not threatening to kill criminals, and even blamed Tennessee for the lynching. A letter to the Commercial Appeal written from Osceola states:
"The manner in which the law is administered in Memphis and the State of Tennessee had much to do with the execution of Crum.
We believe that if Crum ever got into the hands of Tennessee he would escape the penalty on some narrowness or technicality of the law, and we did not propose taking any chances with the result, which every one now knows.
I know whereof I speak because I was one of the leaders of the
Executioners of Crum"
The Arkansas Governor at the time, George W. Hays, certainly approved of capital punishment for some pretty creepy reasons based on his later writings, but I have yet to find a specific comment from him regarding the Island 37 incident with Tennessee. The Arkansas Secretary of State claimed in a newspaper ("Prepared for Attack from Tennesseans," Arkansas Gazette, August 14, 1915, p. 1.) that "Still there would have been no violence had it not been for the fear that the case would be taken into the United States courts." <--Yes, TN was willing to take the issue federal. States are super serious when it comes to their jurisdiction/sovereignty being tested.
4) World War I and a semi-border war with Mexico were also going on at this time. People were freaking out and crazy paranoid already about all kinds of wild stuff! Given those conditions, it isn't too outrageous that Arkansas took rumors that Tennessee would retaliate with violence so seriously. Tennessee did have a scary reputation before people started associating it primarily with music, and Arkansas was apparently convinced that its neighbor had become a hive of scum and villainy, so maybe it's not all that crazy... Maybe. I still think it sounds crazy, but I'm trying to give AR the benefit of the doubt here. Regardless, it is important to keep in mind the international/national issues that are going on in the background of events.
5) A Sordid Past between AR and TN? I'm not sure if I know enough about their interactions yet to say for certain, but it does seem like there is a pattern of Arkansas thinking Tennessee is too soft politically... while simultaneously being wary of Tennessee's temper. It seems like they are usually good neighbors and cooperate well although their tiffs seem to have a special extra tension I'm not used to seeing in TN's interactions with his neighbors. Of course, Arkansas has its own rugged past of being a super vicious frontier even if said past wasn't as nationalized as Tennessee's, so it might be them having a little too much in common when it comes to how they square off against an opponent. Like two bulls butting heads or something... It might seem really intense from an outsider's perspective, but for the bulls it is little more than a normal disagreement? I'm not confident enough to say for certain. Regardless, it does seem like Tennessee and Arkansas take disputes with one another more seriously than they do with most of their other neighbors. =u=;