A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: America must deal with the issue of racism — or where will the future take us?

Did you know at least 186 Black people were lynched in Kentucky between 1877 and 1934 and that it’s more likely the real number approaches 300?

That in Corbin, the site of my first newspaper job, a White mob forced nearly all of the town’s 200 Black residents to board a freight train that carted them off to Knoxville with a warning not to return after two men – thought to be Black – robbed and stabbed a local White man?
That the Corbin riot was part of what became known as the American Red Summer, which involved terrorist attacks on Black residents in more than three dozen cities and counties, including Chicago and Washington DC? The 1910 Census showed 61 Black folks living in Corbin. In 1920 it was down to two.

That in Marshall County, on the other side of the Commonwealth from Corbin, according to the Austin American-Statesman, “vigilantes led by a local doctor posted notices in 1908 telling blacks to leave. When that failed, more than 100 armed and hooded men raided the town of Birmingham, picked about a dozen people at random and tortured them. Nearly two-thirds of the blacks left, and the most recent census showed only 37 blacks among the 30,125 people living in Marshall County”?

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

In most instances, such purges were the result of Black residents accused of some imaginary crime while Marshall County provides an example of Whites failing to develop so much as a pretext — they just didn’t want to live near Blacks.

The paper cited 103 instances in the nation’s history where “the data indicated that there might have been a conscious effort by whites to drive blacks out.”

“Today, one of the physical legacies of these attacks is an archipelago of white or virtually all-white counties along the Mason-Dixon Line and into the Midwest,” the paper read. “Although most purges took place nearly a century ago, the 2000 census showed that blacks remain all but absent from these counties, even when neighboring counties have sizable black populations.”

That Kentucky, throughout its history, has been the site of numerous “sundown towns” — all-white municipalities or neighborhoods that practiced a form of racial segregation by excluding non-whites via some combination of discriminatory local laws, intimidation or violence? The name comes from the old warning heard in many a movie Western – be out of town by sundown.

Had enough? There’s plenty more. Black folks were expelled from Garrett in Floyd County. A number of White parents in 1975 engaged in riots over court-ordered busing to achieve racial integration in Jefferson County. Redlining, the discriminatory practice where banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions refuse or limit loans, mortgages, insurance and other commodities within specific geographic areas, especially inner-city neighborhood, is an issue in Louisville to this day.

All of this establishes just how extensive the nation’s social system has abused the nation’s African-American citizens. And it’s about time for America to hold a come-to-Jesus meeting over the whole sorry mess.

You probably have heard a lot recently about Critical Race Theory, especially if you have tuned in recently to the tragically misnamed Fox News network. CRT is an academic movement that I, quite frankly, have a difficult time defining, and if you ever saw my GPA from the University of Kentucky you would probably understand why.

From what I understand, CRT holds that America’s social structure is used to oppress and exploit people of color. It maintains the nation’s law and legal institutions are inherently racist since they tend to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites.

In other words, racism is baked into the pie. That should seem obvious.

African-Americans don’t remain toward the bottom of America’s economic and social ladders by chance, an unfortunate flip of the coin. The game is and has been rigged against them since the founding of the republic and White folks generally like to lie to themselves, and others, that everyone in the land of the free and the home of the brave have an equal chance at winning life’s lottery.

Get real.

CRT has spawned a movement to explore and expose just how deep racism runs through our system. Therefore, as sure as the sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home, a whole lot of White folks are looking to put the kabosh on the entire enterprise.

Right-wing foes, fully cognizant of the attitudes of their brethren, have taken the opportunity to expand on the purpose of Critical Race Theory, that it is obviously a Trojan horse to convince malleable minds that all White people are racist and that White folks basically have it made in the shade. It will, critics maintain, create divisions, this in a nation that can’t even agree that the fellow who received 7 million more votes than the Orange Menace was actually elected president.

That stirring of the pot, of course, presents a political opportunity.

Rep. Joseph Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, has pre-filed legislation for the 2022 session of the Kentucky General Assembly that would prohibit teachers from engaging in classroom discussions regarding discrimination, white privilege and anything that can be viewed as “promoting division” among different groups of people.

In other words, barring the courthouse door to any discussion regarding Critical Race Theory.

Big surprise, huh? The legislature, which is well over 90 percent White, looking to bury evidence that the system they help perpetuate works to the benefit of White folks. Lord know this nation can’t afford to permit Black folks to arrive at the realization that their getting cards dealt from the bottom of the deck all these years – something, by the way, they already know.

Fischer isn’t the lone wolf here. Outrage over the idea that the American system is built to suit the ever-diminishing White majority can be found in legislation filed by teeth-gnashing conservatives in statehouses across the country who apparently fear the dirty, little secret might get out.

For decade after decade, African-American students have been taught White people history, excluding the triumphs and failures of their own people, as if they never really existed or participated in the building of this country. The idea that Critical Race Theory might pull back the curtain and show that hundreds of years of Black ancestors being driven from their homes, cheated on obtaining mortgages or hanged without benefit of trial have created a social system wholly biased against their ambitions and their dreams.

And, of course, we are forced to view the spectacle of right-wingers foaming at the mouth over censorship and “cancel culture” prescribing in detail what teachers can and can’t teach.

It all comes down to one notion — if the nation is unwilling to consider the reality exposed by Critical Race Theory now, then when?

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  1. Ruth Bamberger says:

    This is an excellent overview of the state’s racial history. No way that Fischer’s bill can pass constitutional muster. Politicians should leave curricular matters to the professionals, i.e., teachers.

  2. Richard says:

    Doesn’t it make sense that our legislature is 90% white if our black population is around 8% and our white population around 88% (worldpopulationreview.com)?

    Critical race theory maintains that white supremacy maintains power through the law. Please provide evidence of Kentucky laws that apply.

    Maybe blacks in inner-city Louisville can’t get loans because they are a credit risk and not because of their skin color.

    Can you provide evidence of real systemic discrimination and racism in Kentucky post-1975? Why are you digging 50+ years into the past, if this is a real issue now?

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