Advancing abortion ban

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As images of fetuses scroll across monitors in the Senate chamber, Miss. Sen. Joey Fillingane answers questions during a debate of S.B. 2116, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, presented by Fillingane. Jackson, Miss. Wednesday, Feb 13, 2019.  (Sarah Warnock/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)

As images of fetuses scroll across monitors in the Senate chamber, Miss. Sen. Joey Fillingane answers questions during a debate of S.B. 2116, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, presented by Fillingane. Jackson, Miss. Wednesday, Feb 13, 2019. (Sarah Warnock/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)

Mississippi advances ban on abortion after fetal heartbeat


Associated Press

Wednesday, February 13

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is working toward enacting one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation, in a race with other states to push a legal challenge to the more conservative U.S. Supreme Court.

The Republican-controlled Mississippi House and Senate passed separate bills Wednesday to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into pregnancy. Efforts to pass similar bills are underway in Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“I see in this country that we protect sea turtle eggs and we protect other endangered species of animals with a greater degree of scrutiny and zealousness than we protect a child in the womb,” Republican Sen. Angela Hill, a sponsor of the Mississippi bill, said as she fought back tears during a debate.

Anti-abortion legislators and activists believe President Donald Trump has strengthened their cause with his appointments of conservative Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Abortion opponents foresee the possibility that the high court might either reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion, or uphold specific state laws that would undermine Roe.

Mississippi enacted a law last year to ban abortion after 15 weeks. The only abortion clinic in the state filed a lawsuit and a federal judge declared the law unconstitutional. The state has asked a federal appeals court to overturn the ruling.

The House and Senate must agree on a single version to send to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who is in his final year in office. He said he would sign it.

“I’ve often said I want Mississippi to be the safest place for an unborn child in America,” Bryant said Wednesday on Twitter.

This is an election year in Mississippi, with all legislative seats and statewide offices on the ballot.

“Other than election-year political pandering, why did you bring this bill to the House of Representatives? Because you know it is going to be overturned by the courts,” Democratic Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville asked the House Public Health Committee chairman, Republican Rep. Sam Mims of McComb.

Mims said that he and some other House members “feel strongly that life begins at conception.”

In a November 2011 statewide election, Mississippi voters rejected a proposed “personhood” state constitutional amendment that would have defined life as beginning at fertilization.

The bills advancing Wednesday say abortions could be allowed after a fetal heartbeat is found if a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life or one of her major bodily functions. Both chambers rejected efforts to allow exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Democratic Rep. Chris Bell of Jackson said an early ban hurts women: “Can you imagine one of your loved ones being raped and having a child that looks like the rapist?”

Democratic Sen. Deborah Dawkins of Pass Christian said many women may not know they are pregnant by six weeks. She also said a transvaginal probe might be needed to detect whether a woman has passed the cutoff point for abortion to be a legal option.

“For a rape victim, a transvaginal ultrasound becomes another intrusion into their already violated body, and there are no provisions for the physician or health care provider to opt out of this invasive medical procedure,” Dawkins said. “Who thinks it is the role of the Mississippi Legislature to direct medical treatment methods for patients?”

An Iowa judge struck down a similar law in that state last month.

Associated Press writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

The Conversation

Why blackface?

February 14, 2019

Author: Michael Millner, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Disclosure statement: Michael Millner does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Massachusetts provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Blackface is part of American culture’s DNA.

But America has forgotten that.

For almost two weeks, conflict has raged over the use of blackface by two current Virginia politicians when they were younger. The revelations have threatened the men’s jobs and their standing in the community.

The use of blackface is now politically and culturally radioactive. Yet there was a time when it wasn’t.

I teach the history of blackface in the United States. Like much of America, my undergraduate students suffer from a kind of historical amnesia about its role in American culture. They know little about its long history, and they haven’t considered its prevalence and significance in everyday American life.

Most of all, they’ve never asked themselves, “Why blackface?”

Cultural persistence

The blackface minstrel show was a form of burlesque theater that emerged in the 19th-century U.S. in which white men painted their faces black in order to mock people of African descent.

It held sway as one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Hollywood studios used the popularity of blackface to draw a mass audience to the new medium of film.

After World War II, even as the civil rights movement emerged, blackface remained a staple of cartoons, community theater, toys, household decorations and corporate branding.

American music — from the Great American Songbook of 1930s and ‘40s to rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and ‘60s — finds its roots in the minstrel shows of the 19th century.

With the recent blackface scandals in Virginia, we’ve also come to reckon with blackface’s importance to what it meant to be a young white man in the South in the 1980s.

Prejudice and profit

Blackface has always been flat-out racist.

Since its emergence in the 1830s in the taverns and on the theater stages of New York and other northern cities – it originated in the North, not the slave South – blackface has involved the vicious ridiculing of people of African descent.

White men blacked up by smearing burnt cork on their faces. They exaggerated their red lips and wore outlandish costumes, portraying character types like the raggedly slave, dubbed Jim Crow, or the ostentatious but simpleminded dandy, Zip Coon.

Minstrel shows consisted of jokes and clowning skits. The blackface characters mispronounced words and acted like bumpkins. They sang songs, sometimes sentimental and sometimes randy. In the minstrel show, white men from behind the black mask forged some of America’s most racist stereotypes.

And, it’s worth emphasizing, they made a good living at it. Blackface turned prejudice into profit.

Perhaps blackface’s profitable prejudice answers the question about why America so often returned to it in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Blackface offered the perfect entertainment for a slave nation and then, after the Civil War, a society built on racial segregation.

Cauldron of contradictions

But a number of scholars over the last few decades have proposed that there’s a great deal more to blackface than racist caricature.

For instance, historians have examined the ways immigrants put on the black mask as part of a process of becoming American.

Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s and then Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century dominated blackface performance. In part it allowed them entry into the entertainment industry and American popular consciousness. In “The Jazz Singer” (1927), Al Jolson’s character, the son of a Jewish cantor, blacks up to become a star.

But new immigrants also attempted to established their social position in American society by distinguishing themselves from the lowest rung on the social latter through a blackface burlesquing of African-Americans.

Ralph Ellison, the author of the mid-century novel of African-American experience, “Invisible Man,” wrote brilliantly about blackface.

Ellison saw America as a cauldron of contradictions. It preached equality but practiced slavery and discrimination. It valued liberty and the recognition of all people’s humanity, while treating many of its citizens like things and animals.

For Ellison, blackface was America’s way of living with such contradictions. In a 1958 essay, Ellison asserted that blackface “constituted a ritual of exorcism.” In blackface, the black figure represented the negative aspects of American society – slavery, inequality, immorality, exploitation. These negative aspects were exorcised and disavowed by turning them into a big joke in the blackface show.

This “exorcism” meant that white Americans could consider themselves and their nation as good and decent while still engaging in racist behavior.

Ellison presented blackface not as outside of America’s core values, but as telling “us something of the operations of American values,” as he put it.

Blackface performers Harvey Hindemeyer and Earle Tuckerman, who played ‘Goldy and Dusty’ in this 1940 skit.

Yearning for blackface

Like Ellison, many of the recent historians of blackface suggest more is at stake than racial animus. The cultural historian Eric Lott goes a step further and argues that blackface is infused with something like love.

In his influential book “Love and Theft,” Lott sees the donning of the mask as a fetishistic fascination with blackness.

Blackface fascinates white men because it allows them sexual license and access to a purportedly virile, disobedient, yet authentic form of masculinity that rebels against middle-class American life, Lott argues.

But inhabiting blackness, Lott explains, produces great anxiety in those who take up the black mask. The masked men distance themselves from blackness – it’s all a joke in good fun – almost as quickly as they inhabit it because blackness, while deeply desired, is also dangerous to their white privilege.

Lott sees this dynamic as exploitation – the “theft” of his title – but it’s exploitation built on fascination and desire.

Lott’s history focuses on working-class men during the decades before the Civil War, but it’s not a big step from the “love and theft” of antebellum blackface to Mick Jagger cake walking across the stage like Zip Coon or suburban white kids spittin’ rhymes.

‘Masking jokers’

I suspect something like this “love and theft” dynamic was happening in 1980s Virginia.

In addition to the blackface image on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page from 1983, we also find him in two additional photos.

In one he poses next to a muscle car, and in the other he is pictured in a rancher’s 10-gallon hat. In these two images, Northam tries to present a masculine virility. Was that sense of virility quickly slipping away for the soon-to-be pediatrician and future politician?

These are images, too, of a South that was likewise quickly disappearing in the 1980s. This South was as much a New South of suburbs, international corporations and newly established immigrant communities as it was the old Dixie of 10-gallon-hat ranchers and of moonshiners who used souped-up stock cars to deliver their goods.

Blackface in the 1980s was perhaps a way for white Southerners to get back some of the old Southern spunk, its sense of virility and masculinity. The KKK figure, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the blackface figure on Northam’s yearbook page, is present to make sure that all know that everyone is really buddies here and this is a joke – which of course it is and it isn’t.

“Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke” is the title of Ralph Ellison’s brilliant essay on blackface from 1958.

But the joke of blackface is still very much with us. We haven’t slipped its yoke.

“America,” Ellison wrote, “is a land of masking jokers.”

The Conversation

An editor and his newspaper helped build white supremacy in Georgia

February 15, 2019

Author: Kathy Roberts Forde, Associate Professor, Journalism Department, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Disclosure statement: Kathy Roberts Forde does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Massachusetts Amherst provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

The press is an essential guardrail of democracy. As The Washington Post tells its readers, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

But the press has not always been a champion of democracy.

In the late 19th century, Henry W. Grady, one of the South’s most prominent editors, worked closely with powerful political and business interests to build a white supremacist political economy and social order across Georgia – and the entire South – that lasted well into the 20th century. One of his primary tools was his newspaper, The Atlanta Constitution – which merged with The Atlanta Journal in 2001 to become The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

My research, a collaboration with Ethan Bakuli and Natalie DiDomenico, undergraduate research partners in the Journalism Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, uncovers this history.

The ‘New South’ and racial terror

Grady enraptured white Americans with his speeches and columns about the “New South,” a narrative meant to attract Northern investment in the South’s emerging industrial economy.

“The relations of the Southern people with the negro are close and cordial,” Grady proclaimed in the 1886 New York speech that made him famous.

It was a brazen lie. Many white Americans believed it, or pretended they did, but black editors, journalists and leaders challenged it at every turn.

Grady promoted the New South’s reconciliation with the North, its industrial development and the availability of cheap Southern labor. What’s more, he insisted the “race problem” must be left to the South to resolve.

He meant, of course, the white South.

T. Thomas Fortune, a militant black newspaper editor in New York, would have none of it.

“Mr. Grady appeals to the North to leave the race question to ‘us’ and ‘we’ will settle it,” he wrote. “So we will; but the we Mr. Grady had ‘in his mind’s eye’ will not be permitted to settle it alone. Not by any means, Mr. Grady. Not only the White we, but the Colored we as well, will demand a share in that settlement.”

Grady didn’t listen. Instead, he explained to adoring white crowds why the South was committed to one-party rule: to deprive black men of electoral power.

In 1889, the year he died unexpectedly at 39, Grady told a crowd at the Texas State Fair, “The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards – because the white race is the superior race.”

The pioneering black journalist Ida B. Wells understood his meaning. In “Southern Horrors,” a pamphlet that documented lynching and the all-too-frequent collaboration of the white Southern press, Wells drew a straight line from Henry Grady’s New South ideology to the white South’s practice of racial terror:

“Henry W. Grady in his well-remembered speeches in New England and New York pictured the Afro-American as incapable of self-government. Through him … the cry of the South to the country has been ‘Hands off! Leave us to solve our problem.’ To the Afro-American the South says, ‘the white man must and will rule.’ There is little difference between the Antebellum South and the New South.”

Under Grady’s editorial guidance, the Constitution wrote about lynching with disturbing levity, condoning and even encouraging it. One headline read “The Triple Trapeze: Three Negroes Hung to a Limb of a Tree.” Another rhymed “Two Minutes to Pray Before a Rope Dislocated Their Vertebrae.”

Yet another headline read: “Lynching Too Good For the Black Miscreant Who Assaulted Mrs. Bush: He Will Be Lynched.” And appallingly, the man was lynched. Today, his name – Reuben Hudson – appears on the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a monument in Montgomery, Alabama, for victims of “racial terror lynchings.”

Some historians have called Grady a racial moderate for his time and place, but his own words suggest he was comfortable with racial violence.

Well before he became managing editor and part owner of the Constitution, Grady addressed an editorial in the Rome Commercial, a Georgia newspaper he edited early in his career, to his “friends” and “brothers” in the “Ku Klux Klan.”

“The strength and power of any secret organization rests in the attribute of mystery and hidden force,” he wrote. Its members “can be called together by a tiny signal, and when the work is done, can melt away into shadowy nothing.”

Convict labor in the ‘New South’

Lynching was not the only white tool of racial terror and control in the South. Another was the convict lease, which, along with lynching, Wells termed the “twin infamies” of the region.

Grady’s New South promise of cheap labor for industrialists was fulfilled in part by convict leasing – a penal system targeting black men, women and even children, who were routinely arrested for vagrancy, minor offenses and trumped up charges. Once convicted, victims were leased to private companies to serve their sentences working in coal mines, laying railroad tracks and making bricks.

Horrors awaited in these private labor camps: shackles, chains, rancid food, disease, filthy bedding, work from sunup to sundown and tortures like the “sweat box,” flogging, hanging by the thumbs, a water treatment akin to waterboarding and rape. Convicts were killed during escape attempts, in mine explosions and railroad accidents and by sadistic camp bosses.

Grady knew the convict lease system well. His newspaper reported on it frequently, as I discovered by reading material in his personal archive at Emory University and contemporaneous issues of the Constitution.

What’s more, from 1880 to his death in 1889, Grady served as kingmaker for a group of white supremacist Democrats – variously termed the “Atlanta Ring” and the “Bourbon Triumvirate” – who enriched themselves by leasing convicts from the state to work in their private businesses.

In an era of machine politics and a press aligned with political parties, Grady proved a master of both.

Using the Constitution as a tool of public influence, Grady helped appoint or elect Joseph E. Brown to the U.S. Senate (1880-1890), Alfred H. Colquitt to the governorship (1880-1882) and U.S. Senate (1883-1894), and John B. Gordon to the governorship (1886-1890).

Brown made a fortune working convicts at his Dade Coal Mines, where Colquitt was a major investor. Gordon worked convicts on his plantation and subleased others to companies and farmers.

In 1886, Grady sent a Constitution reporter to cover a rebellion at Brown’s coal mines. The prisoners were “ready to die, and would as soon be dead as to live in torture,” one convict said. The governor ordered the convicts starved into submission, and Grady’s reporter witnessed the flogging that followed their surrender. He called it “a special matinee” in his news report.

Black Georgians protested their powerful white neighbors profiteering off forced black labor. William White, editor of the black newspaper the Georgia Baptist, put it plainly: “The fortunes of many a prominent white Georgia family [are] red with the blood and sweat of Black men.”

Grady’s legacy

Grady may have been a pioneering journalist, but his journalism served profoundly anti-democratic purposes.

The University of Georgia’s journalism school is named for Grady – a fitting namesake, it was recently said, because of Grady’s “work in uniting the country, not dividing the country.”

Grady may have united Southern and Northern whites, but he did not unite the country. Rather, he excluded black Americans from the union of North and South and the national democratic project that union represented.

The Grady College motto is “We Are Grady.” Thomas Fortune might well have asked Grady who he would include in that “we.”

University of Massachusetts Amherst journalism students Ethan Bakuli and Natalie DiDomenico helped research and write this article.

As images of fetuses scroll across monitors in the Senate chamber, Miss. Sen. Joey Fillingane answers questions during a debate of S.B. 2116, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, presented by Fillingane. Jackson, Miss. Wednesday, Feb 13, 2019. (Sarah Warnock/The Clarion-Ledger via AP) images of fetuses scroll across monitors in the Senate chamber, Miss. Sen. Joey Fillingane answers questions during a debate of S.B. 2116, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, presented by Fillingane. Jackson, Miss. Wednesday, Feb 13, 2019. (Sarah Warnock/The Clarion-Ledger via AP)
News & Views

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