From “We the People…” to “Old Jim Crow”?

 “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This introduction to our nation’s constitution sounds simple enough to me.  And, it seems to get a lot of play, these days. But, when I heard about the recent, so-called “Tea Party” convention’s opening night speaker, former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo (in Nashville, Tennessee on February 4, 2010), calling for a return to what sounded like the days of “Old Jim Crow,” I couldn’t believe my ears.

Instinctively, like preparing for a right-cross after deflecting a jab, my mind relived some of the other punches my people suffered on the awful long and bumpy road to the election of our nation’s 44th president.  The effects from many of those  “punches”  still linger today, but that special day- November 3, 2009- was an historic day in which “the People” of these seemingly “united” geographical and mental boundaries proudly selected an African-American president as its political leader and commander-in-chief!  Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder what my mother- the great-grandmother of my precious grandchildren- whom we buried some 30 years earlier, would think of such regurgitated loathing from this former, so-called representative of “the People.”

At least, that was my take on some long past events leading to President Barack Obama’s election and the powerful imagery of the inauguration ceremonies that trailed in its wake.  I couldn’t help but marvel at the long struggles of our people, aided by many strong-willed and prudent thinking white abolitionists, whose horizons began to brighten with the new and “supreme,” hand-written law of the land, adopted in 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, PA.  Yet, being a “native son” of the South, during the Civil Rights & Black Power Movements (circa 1950–1975),  just hearing about Tancredo’s wistful longings caused me to think back to my childhood days.

Back then, when we were “Colored,” my mother used to lovingly steer me away from the “Whites Only” drinking fountain, at a local train station, in Kentucky.  This was usually just prior to my being placed on the train for those solitary summer trips to my grandparent’s farm, in Ohio.   Merely nodding her head, without uttering a word, she would motion me toward the nearby grimy-looking “Colored” fountain, instead.  On occasion, when she wasn’t looking- and out of the view of the kind, elderly white ticket agent- I’d sneak a sip from the “Whites Only” spigot, anyway.  A couple of times, in protest of those stupid signs, I surreptitiously managed to spackle a couple of wet, tiny wads of toilet paper on its cleanly polished porcelain bowl!  The paper was usually the brown, coarse kind, mostly stocked in the “Colored Only” restrooms- or, more appropriately- should I say, “Toilet Stalls”?   Those days, just listening to some of the older guys, during street-corner bull sessions on “our side” of town, taught me a lot about efficient defiance, or expressing quiet opposition and “reasonable” protest, when your behind might be at risk for a spanking or worse.

These dimwitted signs, from old “Jim Crow” laws, were actually part of many ordinances of the South enacted, between 1876 and 1965, legalizing racial segregation in public facilities, on the intellectual landscape of a so-called “separate but equal” positioning of this nation’s black citizenry.  Fortunately, prudence overruled these statues through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But, this anachronistic babble, dripping from the lips of a former representative of “the People” might constitute some of the underlying reasons why President Obama and a Democratic congress has met with seemingly irrational and unimaginable opposition at every legislative rung on the ladder to governance.

Tancredo’s speech even seems to hawk back for the return of another “Jim Crow” tool- “literacy tests”– which were creatively used to deny the right to vote to non-white citizens.  It was a systemic, Southern strategy and process, involving various elements of the segregated South- from rigid registration procedures and racist voting registrars to repressive suit-wearing “White Citizens Councils” and hood-wearing, pea-brain “Ku Klux Klansmen”- in my humble opinion, of course. It included incredibly long voter applications and shady “literacy tests,” designed to encourage targeted citizens to withdraw their petitions to vote, through intimidation and fear mongering tactics.  In his speech, which whipped up the frenzy for the key-note speaker (former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin), Tancredo also claimed that President Obama is a “committed Socialist ideologue” who was only elected since “we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote in this country.”

Frankly, his rhetorical rambling also reminded me of the 2009 Republican Convention, being largely- and laughably- a “Whites Only” gathering, which caused me to wonder, “… how in the heck does any bona fide political party expect to ever attract decent thinking people of color- any doggone color?”  Of course, I already knew the answer…

How about yoou?  What do you think? Can attitudes, exhibited by Tancredo, be effective at garnering target-audience support in today’s snippy political arena? Could they just be shrewd made-for-television sound-bites, or “code words,” to ignite some strategic outcome?  Or, do you feel such poignant comments are simply feeble-minded musings?

“Backstreet Djeli”  (w.d.s)

(Previously posted @

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About William "Duke" Smither (formerly, pen name: "Backstreet Djeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy.