The Charlotte News

Thursday, October 21, 1937


Site Ed. Note: Probably along with the two pieces definitely by Cash from this date’s News, was the piece on the passing of William Elliott Gonzales, editor of the Columbia State, in Columbia, S.C., and former minister to Cuba--whose father, Ambrosio Jose Gonzales, was a Cuban revolutionary who led a fight to free Cuba from Spanish rule, encouraging aid of such a movement in the United States, especially among Southerners.

The piece calls to mind the reference within the pages of The Mind of the South to the Gonzales brothers--how N. G. was gunned down in cold blood as an act of vengeance by the nephew of Pitchfork Ben Tillman, an act performed in broad daylight on the streets of Columbia, but nevertheless deserving of an acquittal, said the jury, sympathetic to the young Tillman’s motive, that the State had cost his Red Shirt racebaiting uncle the election for Governor in 1902:

Hence the Tillmans. Pitchfork Ben himself owed his success from the beginning primarily to his great skill in using high histrionic gifts to body forth the whole bold, dashing, hell-of-a-fellow complex precisely in terms of the generality themselves. And, above all, to the fact that he brought his nigger-baiting straight down to the levels of the more brutal sort. And after him virtually the whole host of the demagogues, in their turn, would owe their success to their capacity to carry the thing farther yet. Here was the ineffable Jeff Davis larruping the specter of the black man up and down the hills of Arkansas. Here were Tom Watson and Hoke Smith riding hard upon him in Georgia. Here was W. K. Vardaman roaring to his delighted Mississippians: "The way to control the nigger is to whip him when he does not obey without it, and another is never to pay him more wages than is actually necessary to buy food and clothing." And here finally was Blease, as the capstone of it all…

But Blease and all such fellows from Tillman forward were nevertheless in some fashion rebels--the center of a bitter conflict? Of course. But rebels, not against the social and economic set-up as such, but simply against the job-holding hierarchy of the established Democratic organization…

Thus, as much after Populism as during it, attacks on Wall Street, the Cotton Exchange, and that indefinite but exceedingly villainous race called "the rich"--all identified with the regular party organization and particularly the hierarchical candidates of that organization against whom they were immediately arrayed for the prize of office--tremolo references to their own origins among "the common people," and sighs for "the horny hands of toil" and "the poor, hard-working, God-fearing farmer" formed a part of the stock in trade of all the demagogues second only to nigger-baiting. In addition to flattering and delighting the common man with fiery representations of himself masterfully hazing the black man, these demagogues would also flatter and delight him with equally fiery visions of himself, in the persons of these his champions, elbowing the always a little resented lordly ones out of the seats of power, or at least sitting side by side with them.

4. Naturally enough, these men were hated and bitterly fought by both the party hierarchies and the classes the latter represented. The class division, as I have indicated, was never complete. Both Tillman and Blease always had some planter following. But by and large the upper crust was militantly against them. The party organizations everywhere used their control of the election machinery, not merely to disfranchise as many of the demagogues' followers as possible but often to steal votes outright, in the high conviction, fixed by Reconstruction, that, since they had no doubt their cause was righteous, it was wholly justifiable. And planter, banker, factory-owner, professional man, and editor foamed against the Tillmans and Bleases for "arraying class against class," with all the old intensely personal blackguardism native to the region. In South Carolina the fight over Tillman waxed so hot as to eventuate in the killing of N. G. Gonzales, editor of the Columbia State. And fist-fights and cutting-scrapes revolving about the name of Blease were numerous.

It was easy to see the scene as one torn by the most genuine sort of class struggle in politics. But that appearance was mainly illusory. The upper classes were naturally made uneasy and angry over the appeals of the demagogues to the masses' awareness of themselves as "the poor." And of course the better sort of Southerner despised their ruffian appeals to race hatred. But the extent and depth of all this can fairly be gauged by the fact that the hierarchies' own candidates often adopted the methods of the demagogues in one measure or another. For instance, Cotton Ed Smith, who was elected to the United States Senate from Blease's own state in 1908, there to remain to this day. The candidate of the South Carolina Democratic hierarchy, Smith was peculiarly the representative of the rich planters and the industrial and commercial interests, and throughout his career he has served them faithfully and exclusively. But he got elected by dressing up in a farm hat and riding about the state on a farm wagon loaded with cotton, quavering over "the poor, hard-working, God-fearing farmer," and inveighing against Wall Street and the Cotton Exchange, precisely as Tillman had done, in heroic and highly picturesque profanity--by these things, and by nigger-baiting as blatant and as barbarous as Blease's own.

What mainly explained the smoke and heat about the Tillmans and Bleases was something quite simple and obvious: the astonishment and outrage of the hierarchies and the classes they represented that anybody should dare to challenge their traditional exclusive privilege of naming the succession to office and appeal over their heads to the masses, whose historical role it was merely to follow where they were led and to vote for one of the men offered them; the will of these hierarchies and classes to hold on to that privilege in toto. Such was the true extent of genuine class struggle here.

And when these demagogues had won the Democratic nomination anyhow: We return to the fact that, bound within the lesson of Populism, they not only never had any concrete program to offer the commons but never tried to do anything real for them once they were in office--that politics in the South went right on serving only the interests of the upper orders quite as though the demagogues had never been elected at all. And to that must be added the fact that they rarely made any systematic and determined effort to destroy the subsisting hierarchies. They built up their own machines, surely, but these machines were devoted to their perpetuation in office rather than to raising up a whole new succession. The people, for that matter, went right on voting for the candidates of the hierarchies most of the time, entirely content with having only an occasional Blease for their own.

Hence the hierarchies could and did accept these demagogues. Not that they ever took them to their bosom. Far from it. But they did find it entirely possible to tolerate them as members of the Democratic Party and the Proto-Dorian front with themselves; and might even, when the occasion required it, and in return for support for their own candidates, lend such a nominee grudging support at
the polls.

Do I make it sound coldly cynical and calculated? I do not think it was greatly so. We have to remember that all these men, including the demagogues, were simple, unanalytical men, operating within a pattern they had been born to. If it were not always strictly true that the demagogues were the progeny of the poorest sort, as they claimed, it was certainly true that all of them had been familiar with the lot of the poorer farmer from childhood up, and that they were the heirs at once of the forces that had produced Populism, of the tradition of that movement itself, and of the most fanatic Negrophobia in Dixie. It was probably the great secret of their success, indeed, that they profoundly and perfectly summed up in their proper emotions and their own proper minds the things the masses felt.

It is just because of this, however, that Blease's explicit appeal to the cotton-mill workers--which is what we were originally concerned with--seems to me conclusive evidence that these workers were beginning to respond to the logic of the circumstances I have noted, and to become remotely aware of themselves as an estate whose interests were not always identical with those of their masters. The man was a sort of antenna, as it were, fit to vibrate in perfect unison with their exact sentiment--in his every word and deed precisely to render what, given all the forces at play upon them, they most secretly wanted: the making vocal and manifest of their slowly gathering melancholy for and resentment against their economic and social lot, without ever losing sight of the paramount question of race.

5. But now in 1914 there was thunder on the Somme and the Marne. And for the next five or six years events would operate with great force once more to reverse the process, to turn back the Southern mill worker's irritation, and to reduce tension. After 1916 so much would follow naturally from the fact that his energies would be absorbed, like those of other Americans, in the common national excitement and in the common national purpose of winning the war. But the case was more direct than that.

For, after a pause in the fall of 1914, the cotton mills of the South (and the cotton mills, of course, may stand for all industrial establishments) were to come in for an enormous increase in business. With the mills of Lancashire, northern France, and Germany bottled up by the war, America was to capture most of the world's trade in cotton goods. And once the American flag was raised in France, domestic orders would swell rapidly. Thus before long every Southern mill would be running night and day. And before long, again, there would begin a vast expansion of equipment, a swift and unparalleled surge of Progress, the headlong throwing up of new mills--until by 1920 there would be nearly twenty million spindles whirring in the region…

--The Mind of the South, Book III, Chap. 2, "Of Returning Tensions—and the Years the Cuckoo Claimed", excerpts of sections 3 and 5, all of section 4, pp. 253, 254, 255-259, Knopf, 1969 ed.

So much later as the year 1962, the Pitchfork Ben tradition was still alive and well in the South, carried over by the likes of Strom Thurmond and his 1948 Dixiecrat revolt at the Democratic Convention over the civil rights plank, Alabama Governor George Wallace, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, and, lately in the news during the fall, the Federal court order resistance from Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi, whose wisteria entwined mind and body was being threatened with contempt and daily fines for continued resistance to or interference with the admittance of James Meredith as a student at Oxford.

But all of that this mid to late October fortnight of 1962 was forced into the background. There would be no need for concern about integration of society if society were tomorrow to become a heap of rubble, contaminated with radioactivity in those areas not immediately destroyed.

This Sunday, October, 21, 1962, the last day on which knowledge of the missile crisis would be confined to a handful of high government officials, would see another meeting of EXCOMM, this time not to determine the grand strategy, for that had been determined on Saturday; but rather to work out the details of the speech to the nation on Monday and the details of how the blockade--or "quarantine" as it would be dubbed, not only to support some fine distinction from an illegal blockade, one absent a provoking act of war, but to distinguish it also from the Berlin blockade of 1948 and its complete deprivation of all provisions of life to the Berliners, necessitating the humanitarian airlift—would be implemented and carried forth by the Navy under Admiral Anderson, and how, if it failed, the next steps of air strike and invasion would also be carried forth.

We have to reflect back now to the Dorothy Thompson piece appearing in The News of October 10, 1937, 25 years to the day before Senator Keating would announce from the Senate floor the presence of offensive missiles in Cuba, before anyone else, including the President, had any inkling of such a thing. We have to reflect a little on all of that, and wonder, as the October winds whisper, whisper things sometimes ghastly to our common and sometimes pedestrian and menial understanding of things both past and present.

And, within the pages of The Fayetteville Observer of 1862, it seems the Yankee couldn’t win for losing. A story appeared October 21 deploring the "disgraceful" episode of Union draft resistors in Ohio, in drunken revelry, saying farewell to the captain and not giving a good damn for the fi’t, laying down their weapons and refusing to fight against those who were just two years earlier their fellow countrymen, merely to free the darkies, barricading themselves in their homes and promising violence, by Jupiter, to thems that would come and seek ‘em out.

Nevertheless, disgraceful it was. We find ourselves heartily in agreement this time with the Observer.

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