Henagar Drive-In Keeps the Ball Rolling on Sand Mountain, Alabama’s Bigotry

By Jennifer Lynn – Princess Garden, Festival of Fantasy Parade

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/12/2017.

I am not excited about going to see Disney’s latest rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.” Seriously, how many times does Disney need to tell this story? I didn’t care for the animated version, and I’m sure I won’t like this one either. It offends my feminist and anti-bestiality sensibilities to watch a story about a man, turned to a beast, that holds a woman hostage until she falls in love with him.

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there’s a ridiculous boycott of Disney because some Christians detect a hint of gayness in one of the characters. Friends called me recently and said the wife and I have to go to support Disney. I’m always up for a protest, especially a gay one but they’re really starting to push my limits. I’d considered bailing until I heard about the Alabama drive-in that banned the film claiming it violated their Christian beliefs. I won’t feign surprise, but I did take it personally.

You see, I’m from Alabama, and I dearly love much about it. I grew up in Huntsville which is in the most northern part of the state. It is the home of Redstone Arsenal where my father’s father was a colonel, and to the Space and Rocket Center where my mother’s parents worked with Boeing on the Apollo series.  Huntsville is a hub for engineers and as such, people come from all over the world to work there.

Alabamians joke that you can tell a Huntsvillian because we don’t have that heavy, mumble drawl you hear when listening to Jeff Sessions. My accent might occasionally slip out and it’s getting worse the older I get, but for the most part people here in California have no idea that I was raised in the Bible Belt. Huntsvillians also tend to be more educated and welcoming of different cultures. By no means am I saying there is no racism or bigotry there. There is just like anywhere else. It’s just not as Deliverence-ish as many parts of Alabama.

So when I read that the Alabama drive-in was the Henagar Drive-In, an area that I know well, this Alabama girl lost it. The owner of the drive-in, Carol Laney stated,

“This by no means is sending a message of hatred or bigotry. However, we are Christians first and foremost and must adhere to our Bible and to our Christianity.”

That’s a lovely quote by Carol, but she’s full of shit. First of all, Jesus never said a word against homosexuality. She is taking words from the Bible that were never attributed to Jesus Christ. Secondly, announcing that your actions are not “hatred or bigotry” is basically signalling that they are indeed bigoted and full of hate. Let’s just be honest about this, Carol is using this as an means to draw attention and get business for her drive-in, and it’s working. Next thing you know, she’ll have a fundraiser set up because people are boycotting her.

What Carol and the media have failed to tell it’s readers is that Henagar is located in an area referred to as Sand Mountain. This area has a rich history of racist and bigoted crimes that anyone raised in north Alabama is well aware of. It’s not the type of history that you’ll find in any textbook though. Towns is this region are referred to as “sundown towns,” meaning blacks should not be out in public after sundown. There were even signs posted stating, “N***er don’t let the sun set on you in Sand Mountain.” This was not a joke. And even though those signs were long gone by the time I was a teenager in the 80’s, we all knew the KKK, the League of United Southerners (now known as The League of the South) and Confederate groups ruled that area.

All you need to know about Henagar was that my friends and I (black and white) referred to it as “Hang a n****er.” 

But even if you are not from that region, you should be aware of the Scottsboro Boys story. Scottsboro is twenty-five minutes west of Henagar and part of the Sand Mountain region. In 1931, nine young black men were traveling on a freight train through Scottsboro when they were accused of raping two white women. Sheriff Matt Wann stood in the doorway of the small jail and threatened to kill anyone of the KKK mob who attempted to take his prisoners. They’re intent was to lynch all nine of the men without a trial. The young men were convicted by all white juries and spent as much as nineteen years behind bars before their convictions were overturned.

Though one of the women eventually recanted her story, that didn’t stop the KKK from getting their revenge on Sheriff Wann. He was murdered in 1932. Records from that time are conveniently missing, but everyone in Alabama knows it was the Klan that pulled that trigger, or as we would say, “The Klan done it.”

Henagar itself is over 96% white according to the 2010 U.S. Census. I’m sure there are many residents that are not racist, and maybe Carol is one of them, but there’s been a rise in hate groups and crimes since the Trump administration has taken control. My wife and I recently cancelled our trip to Alabama because we fear these homophobic people who now feel emboldened by Trump. It angers me that I cannot introduce her to the many great things about Alabama. I don’t even feel comfortable visiting my alma mater, Auburn University. It is my home state whether these bigots like it or not.  I am an Auburn Tiger through and through. These people don’t have a right to take away my Alabama simply because they have “deeply held beliefs.” What about my deeply held beliefs?

Back in the day, it was acceptable to be a Klan member, to be a sundown town. Today it’s acceptable to claim your bigotry is justified because the Bible tells you so. A trade up from the region’s anti-black heritage to anti-gay I suppose. Someone should tell Carol that bigotry is still hatred whether you drape it in a Confederate flag or a Bible. They should also tell her that Jesus wasn’t about hate.

War Damn Eagle my friends!

 

 

How Trump’s big fat racist mouth could put another nail in his coffin.

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/1/2107.

Vicarious liability is a legal term defined as, “The tort doctrine that imposes responsibility upon one person for the failure of another, with whom the person has a special relationship, to exercise such care as a reasonably prudent person would use under similar circumstances.” 1

In 1988, two young American men beat to death Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian graduate student. Mulugeta’s only crime, according to them, was his skin color. As it turned out, these men were members of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), a white supremacist group founded by neo-Nazi and KKK grand dragon, Tom Metzger. Metzger began his racist career in 1979 by patrolling the U.S./Mexican border in San Diego as a private citizen stating he was concerned about illegal immigration. When he began hosting a television show aimed at white nationalism, his anti-immigrant stance quickly became an anti-anything not white, Christian and male. Additionally, he sponsored a rock concert for Aryan youth which is how the Seraw killers were introduced to his racist gutter spewed antics. 2

The Southern Poverty Law Center sued Metzger using the vicarious liability concept and won. The court found that because Metzger was an authority figure, had access to media and espoused racist propaganda and that these young men claimed to be influenced by him, he was also liable for Seraw’s death.

Because of the Metzger decision, many of today’s white supremacist websites try to stay clear of suggesting violence. But an argument can easily be made that their readers are obviously being influenced by such talk (written word) by simply scrolling through the comments section or chatlines these sites maintain. Here you will routinely find comments to articles published by said websites not only condoning but advocating for violence against non-whites.

On June 17, 2015, Dylaan Roof entered the Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina and proceeded to murder nine African American parishioners and injure three others. He later testified that he was influenced by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC) website. On the CofCCC website, Roof read article after article stating falsely that blacks were killing and raping whites at alarming numbers. CofCC denied responsibility, but one only has to look at their website and see that they were openly advocating a race war. Republican politicians who had spoken at CofCC events quickly tried to distance themselves from the group and were forced by public outcry to return thousands of dollars in campaign donations by the president of the CofCC, Earl Holt.

The argument against hate speech:

Essentially, I am advocating for a restriction on free speech. But what about the 1st Amendment you ask? I’m in agreement with the 1st Amendment up until the point it physically harms individuals. The popular expression that you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire is an example of reasonable 1st Amendment restrictions. Charles Manson telling his followers to kill innocent people is another. The Metzger decision was an extension of this decision.

Today’s hate speech is spread through websites. Victor C. Romero of Penn State Law argued in the “Columbia Human Rights Law Review” that censorship of the 1st Amendment should be considered when three criteria are met:

  1.  The message is of racial inferiority.
  2.  The message is directed against a historically oppressed group.
  3. The message is persecutorial, hateful and degrading. 3

He continues, “There are, nonetheless, two essential harms wrought by hate speech that require redress, one direct and one indirect. Each hateful message displayed on white supremacist websites aims to put the person of color in her place and reinforces the current American racial caste system, which consciously or unconsciously, promotes the idea that non-whites are inferior to whites. The second harm is an indirect one: people of color are indirectly harmed by the white supremacist website because of its cast-efficient nature as a propaganda disseminator, leading to the increased risk that hateful speech might turn into hateful acts.” 4

The case against Trump:

People have the right to free speech. They also have the right to say things that are deemed hate speech, but only as private citizens and only if that speech does not hurt anyone else. It is when they advocate such speech into action as public persons, persons of influence, persons that meet the criteria as set forth in the definition of vicarious liability that they then become liable. The Supreme Court has stated that “public figures are those who have a more prominent societal role and greater access to the media than private figures…”

Trump fits this profile. He has been a public figure since the 1980’s. He ran for president, and is now the president of the United States. You cannot get more public than that.

Trump began his presidential bid with racist speech when he stated that Mexican immigrants were drug dealers, rapists and murderers. Then he called for a Muslim Ban because he believed that only Muslims could be terrorists. He attacked a Muslim Gold Star family and assumed that the wife was not allowed to speak simply because she was a woman when the truth was that she was overcome by grief. He claimed that African American communities are filled with drug dealers and murderers to the extent that people cannot walk down the street without being shot. He refused to denounce David Duke, the most famous living KKK leader. He started the birtherism movement against our first African American president, claiming that Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen. In November 2015, Trump condoned the beating of a Black Lives Matter Protester at his Alabama rally stating that is was “justified.” When other supporters beat up a homeless Hispanic man, his response was that they were “passionate.” He told supporters at rallies to “knock the crap out of them,” and then offered to pay their legal fees. He repeatedly shared anti-Semitic tweets during the campaign. He also claimed that a federal judge hearing the Trump University case could not be unbiased towards him because the judge was “Mexican.” Justice Curiel was in fact born and raised in the U.S.

By American Freedom Party – https://www.facebook.com/A3rdPosition, Public Domain

Furthermore, the Trump campaign had a known white supremacist as a delegate during the 2016 Republican National Convention. William Daniel Johnson is the chairman of the American Freedom Party, which began in 2010 in response to the election of Barack Obama. When media easily recognized him as a white supremacist leader, the campaign quickly asked him to decline the delegate position. He did decline, but that didn’t stop Trump from accepting $4, 125 from Johnson in campaign donations after the convention. Trump further accepted $5,800 in advertising and robo calls in which Johnson claimed presidential candidate Evan McMullen was a homosexual.

But Trump’s racist history goes back much further. In the 80’s his company was sued twice by the U.S. government for not allowing African Americans to rent apartments in his buildings. The New Jersey Casino Control Commission fined him $200,000 for requiring African American employees to leave the floor of his casino whenever high roller racist clients were present. His own president of Trump Plaza Hotel, John O’Donnell, wrote in a tell all book that Trump called black people “lazy.” Trump even stated in 1997 interview that O’Donnell’s statements about him were “probably true.”

Then there’s the case of Trump taking out a full page ad in a New York paper to call for the execution of the Central Park Five. Even though it was much later determined that all of the five young African American men were innocent and that their confessions were coerced, Trump still maintained that they were guilty and continues to do so today.

As president, Trump continues to race bait and advocate systemic racism by signing blatantly racist executive orders like the Muslim Ban and repeatedly saying that immigrants are “bad people.” Currently, on Trump’s orders, ICE is rounding up Hispanic immigrants and holding them in private prisons for deportation. He’s stated that they are only rounding up drug dealers, rapists and murderers but that is a lie. Arrests have included a mother of three and a woman in the hospital with a brain tumor. Incidentally, those private prisons gave Trump large contributions to his campaign. The GEO Group, one of the two major private prison companies, also gave him $250,000 for his inauguration party.

Even Trump’s administration is full of white supremacists, anti-immigrant fanatics and anti-LGBT pushers. Vice President Mike Pence is a rabid anti-LGBT bigot. Not only does he support any and all legislation against LGBT, he even tried to jail LGBT persons for simply applying for a marriage license. Tom Price, director of Health and Human Services, is another ardent ant-LGBT activist. In 2006, he voted for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, against hate crime laws and against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior counsel, is the former executive director of Breitbart. An anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic white supremacist website. Michael Flynn, former disgraced national security adviser, tweeted that fearing Muslims was rational and that the Islamic world has a “diseased component.”

Jeff Sessions, attorney general, was denied a judgeship in the 80’s because congress deemed him too racist. Stephen Miller, senior white house adviser, was a former Sessions adviser. Miller met Richard Spencer, the leader of the white supremacist “alt-right” movement, at Duke University. He wrote articles against multiculturalism and denied systemic racism. Steve Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, was accused during the mortgage crisis of foreclosing on minority owned houses and lending to white owned homeowners versus those of color.

Julie Kirchner, chief of staff of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is the former executive director of FAIR, Federation of Americans for Immigration Control. Whereas Kris Kobach, Trump’s immigration adviser, is legal counsel to FAIR. FAIR was founded by white supremacist and eugenicist John Tanton. Tanton and FAIR members believe that whites are losing power and numbers due to too much immigration. They claim U.S. security and jobs as their only concern. But according to the SPLC, FAIR and its members are closely associated with Jared Taylor, white nationalist leader and founder of American Renaissance, and Kevin MacDonald, an anti-Semitic professor who writes the Occidental Quarterly racist rag.

According to the SPLC, there have been 900 plus hate crimes reported since the beginning of the Trump campaign. 40% of those crimes have “specifically involved Trump’s name or his election slogans.”  5

Every day we are hearing about bomb threats being called into synagogues, Hispanics being told by Trump supporters to go back to their countries and people of color being asked for their papers. Just this last week, Srinivas Kuchibhotta was murdered by a white American who yelled, “Go back to your country,” before taking his life and injuring two others. Locally, we are witnessing Trump supporters picketing outside our mosques, calling members of our Islamic community and their children terrorists. None of these incidents have been denounced by Trump.

Additionally, white supremacist websites, journals and radio shows are praising the Trump election as their second coming. KKK and Aryan groups have held parades supporting Donald Trump. They have openly stated that they support him because he supports their cause to make America an all white nation.

Trump always claims to be the “least racist” or the “least anti-Semitic” or to love “the blacks.” But you only have to look at his past and his current actions of race baiting, his white supremacist administration and his anti-immigrant executive orders to know the truth. And these hate groups know it too. Leaders set examples of acceptable behavior. Trump is telling white America is is acceptable to hate and justified to commit acts of violence against people of color by his rhetoric, his executive orders and by his silence when such acts are perpetrated in his name.

Trump is THE authority figure, has access to every kind of media we engage in and espouses racist propaganda on a daily basis. Those who are victims of these hate crimes should seek restitution not only from the perpetrators but from their leader via vicarious liability.

To Win, Dems Have to Revisit Voting Rights Act

I was never under the illusion that the Electoral College would save us from Dear Leader Trump. Much of our reaction as Dems has been a sort of knee jerk one. The simple truth that none of us can prevent is that he will become our 45th president. That is not to say we should just give up. There are serious issues being raised with his presidency even before he takes the oath that must be addressed. He will be impeachable due to his violation of the Emoluments Clause, his ties to foreign governments, the Russians hacking in order to assure him the presidency, etc. All need to be discussed at length. After all, Trump, like any other elected official, should be held accountable and scrutinized if he wants to hold the highest office in the land.

But none of those investigations will occur with this Republican held Congress. Modern day Republicans have proven time and again that they care little about America nor about working with the other party to make this country “great.” Their interests lie in obstructionist politics and are about power, money and control. But if Democrats want to start winning, and so far I’ve seen little evidence of this, they have to start working the long game. They have to start figuring out how to win elections. Republicans have been playing this long game since Reagan. Trump’s election is the result of 30 plus years of plotting, organizing and executing by groups like the Heritage Foundation and not some fly by night op.

One of the main areas Democrats need to work on is voting rights. Without it, they will always be pushing that boulder uphill. A reminder:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the

United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” 6

Seems fairly straight forward to me, but racist legislatures being the jerks that they are, don’t think so. Oddly enough, these men were Democrats who were angry at the Lincoln Republicans for freeing slaves. (Yes, I admit that in the beginning Republicans were on the side of civil rights, but things have changed.) Once this Amendment was passed in 1870, they went to work establishing the Jim Crow laws. These laws, predominantly used in Southern states, implemented not only the “separate but equal” laws but voting restictions that were not only selectively enforced, but were biased against minorities. To vote, African Americans were required to pass literacy tests, prove they paid their taxes, not been in prison, etc. If that wasn’t enough, legislatures even purged voter rolls of minorities. A wee bit too familiar eh?

Yoichi Okamoto

Thanks to President Johnson, the Voter Rights Act was passed in 1965 to end all such minority voter disenfranchisement. Knowing that these racist state legislatures would continue to try and pass such laws, Section 5 stated that any proposed voting law would have to be approved by the Department of Justice before implemented. That didn’t stop them from trying though. Even as the parties switched sides, Democrats becoming more inclusive and championing minority rights while Republicans became more exclusive, Southern state legislatures and local governments continued to challenge the law.

In 2013, they finally won with Shelby v. Holder; a case that was not won in U.S. District or Appellant Courts but solely in the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin. The court held that though Section 5’s preclearance was constitutional, the manner in which the federal government determined which states would be required to meet the standard, Section 4, was not. According to Chief Justice Roberts:

“There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these

measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”

He based his decision on the most current Census Bureau statistics stating that African American voter turnout was larger in 5 out of the 6 states affected. In other words, Blacks were no longer afraid to vote, and legislatures were no longer racist.2

Really.

Within two hours of the court’s decision, Texas passed their first voter restriction, the voter ID requirement. Other states followed. It just so happened that all the states that the federal government had deemed in the past to be too racist to be trusted in regards to voters’ rights started working on their own voter restriction laws under the guise of protecting elections from voter fraud. Not one state has ever produced evidence of sufficient voter fraud to effect an election. Yet these states have passed a multitude of laws regarding who can and cannot vote: Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina….get the picture?

Voter ID is the most common restriction. The problem with this law is that not everyone can afford to pay for an ID. To deny someone their right to vote because of money is akin to the poll tax laws under Jim Crow. To combat this, some of these states have made it free. Fair enough, problem solved you say? Not so fast. These states then turned around and began closing their departments that issue said IDs and polling sites saying that it was in an effort to save money. Actually, it is just another way to keep minorities from voting. In state after state, the closures occurred in only districts with high Black or Hispanic populations, not in predominately white districts. Not only did voters have to travel as far as 250 miles (Texas) to obtain said ID, they then had to travel to other districts just to find their assigned polling stations.

Another common tactic used by these Republican legislatures is redistricting. This is occurring in both state and local governments. As an example, instead of having 10 districts with mixed populations, they are redrawn so that 8 or 9 of the districts contain majority whites and the remaining are Black or Hispanic. This leaves minority communities with less representation by diluting their vote. Some legislatures have even further divided white communities so as to give them more representatives on local councils and state legislatures.

Other tricks include changing polling sites at the last minute without notifying voters, moving elections from November to July, holding minority polling sites in police stations, eliminating same day registration and Sunday voting and only opening ID issuing offices one day a month. All of these have been statistically proven to reduce minority turn out. They have even changed the dates of elections just as was done under the Jim Crow laws.

As it stands now, the federal government is being required to challenge each and every law passed in court using valuable time and money to fight the same fight over and over. It’s the same plan Republicans use in regards to abortion: overwhelm the opposition in court battles. Meanwhile, the laws will stand until the cases work their way back through the courts only to end up with the same result. North Carolina’s recent debacle with their voter restriction laws is a prime example. North Carolina Republicans knew these laws were racist and didn’t even try to hide the fact before the court. The goal was simply to tie Democrats up in court and suppress their vote until after the 2016 election.

Democrats have more than enough ammunition to prove Justice Roberts wrong. Unfortunately, there is still one party willing to violate the 15th Amendment to control legislatures. There is no doubt that this is a blatantly racist tactic used by Republicans to gain control over local, state and federal elections. Republicans can and will continually challenge these laws. Democrats need to continually challenge these voter restriction laws and work to get Shelby v. Holder overturned no matter the costs. It does not matter if they lose. They must take a stand. If not, we will become a party of one.

This article was written in reference to: “History of the VRA,” The Leadership Conference, retrieved Dec. 20, 21016, www.civilrights.org.