woody_zimmerman_118_2007In the old fable, a boy’s cries of “wolf” caused neighbors to grab pitchforks and other weapons and run to his aid. (This was back when a wolf was not a cartoon character, but a fearsome and dangerous creature that could kill livestock and harm people on occasion.) Perhaps the boy actually thought he had seen a wolf that first time. When no wolf could be found, his neighbors shrugged and returned to their work. But the boy liked the attention. This prompted him to give the alarm again; and again – in each case, falsely.

His neighbors soon realized the boy was playing with them. This annoyed them, so they began to ignore his cries. It didn’t matter, so long as there really was no wolf. But one day a wolf showed up. Because of the boy’s abuse of the alarm, his cries went unheeded by his neighbors, who thought it was just another prank. As we would say today, things did not turn out well. The tale has stood, ever since, as a caution to those who would give alarm falsely. It is a dangerous thing to do.

Our American culture features both individuals and organizations whose declared mission is to give warnings of societal problems as a prelude to formulating action to solve them. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is one of those organizations. It was founded in 1909, in an era of institutionalized racism which even decent people of conscience and religious sensibility considered entirely normal and acceptable. The NAACP attacked this pernicious social evil that had deformed the American Experiment and harmed the sensibilities of both its white and black citizens.

The America of a hundred years ago would scarcely be recognizable to citizens today, in many respects. Perhaps the most remarkable change has been racial. At the turn of the 20th century, many southern states had Jim Crow laws in place. They made segregation legal and enforceable. By law and social convention, blacks had to defer to a white person on the sidewalk and let whites have the front seats on the bus. A black man dared not initiate conversation with a white woman. Drinking fountains and restrooms were separate for whites and blacks. Restaurants and hotels could refuse to serve blacks. Racial intermarriage was illegal in many states. Professional jobs were, in most cases, beyond the reach of colored persons.

These conventions and laws remained in force well into the twentieth century. In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to obey a bus driver’s order to move to the back of the bus. Her arrest for “disorderly conduct” sparked a local bus-boycott by blacks, and sparked national protests against Jim Crow. Many historians mark this as the start of the modern civil rights movement.

Beyond Jim Crow, however, darker practices were operative, and still more sinister racial plans were being formed. Statistics from the Tuskegee institute show 4742 lynchings between the years 1882 and 1965 – 3445 of blacks and 1297 of whites. (Many of the white victims were lynched for pro-black attitudes and actions.) Those statistics show lynchings in 43 of the 48 states, during that time, with the worst being Mississippi (581), Georgia (530) and Texas (493). I have seen photos of a leering mob at a Maryland lynching in 1931. Women and children were present. It was an ugly time, with no operable concept of “justice” that modern Americans would recognize or understand.

The more sinister racist force in the planning stage at that time was Eugenics. Entire library shelves are filled with books about the noble goals and glories of Eugenics, but I still meet many people who have no clear idea of what it is (or was). A concise and accurate definition is this:

Eugenics is the study and practice of selective breeding applied to humans, with the aim of improving the species.

In the early years of the twentieth century the Eugenics idea became allied with a conviction among elites that the “negro, brown and yellow peoples” were humans of inferior quality who ought to be bred out of the population. Margaret Sanger – patron saint of the modern abortion movement – was an unregenerate racist who crusaded for legal abortion to eradicate the “undesirable” – i.e., non-white – races. Sanger envisioned applying abortion, wholesale, to races which threatened the supremacy of whites. She founded Planned Parenthood for that express purpose. Her seminal views are so disgusting that they are rarely quoted now. [1] Millions of well-meaning liberals have no idea that their revered “champion of women’s reproductive rights” actually wanted to eradicate the black, brown and yellow races to “save” the white race. Any objective look at her purpose shows it to be, essentially, genocidal.

Notable Americans like President Woodrow Wilson were also ardent advocates of Eugenics. The “progressive” Wilson was a complete racist who praised the vile racist film Birth of a Nation for having written history “with lightning.” Wilson segregated the U. S. Civil Service – relegating people of color to menial jobs only. That official apartheid lasted until the 1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson finally ended it. Liberals lionize Wilson today, but his life and work fundamentally contradict everything that modern liberalism stands for.

Nazi racists of the 1920s seized on Sanger’s ideas as the foundation for their “work” to purify the gene pool by ridding the German Reich (and ultimately the world) of undesirable elements - i.e., Jews, gypsies, dark-skinned people. As the horrifying results of this “science” – including the grotesque “medical” experiments, the death camps, and the ovens – were exposed, Eugenics and its demonic offspring came into disrepute.

One rarely hears of Eugenics now. I mention it only to show that America a century ago contained real perils for colored people, well beyond segregated drinking fountains, lunch counters and whites-only baseball teams. The NAACP had their work cut out for them. If both black and white Americans have forgotten all this, it is partly the NAACP’s fault. The past must be remembered, lest we end up repeating it.

By the 1950s, political pressure was increasing to pass far-reaching civil rights legislation that would end official racism and give minorities a decent shot at joining the mainstream of American economic and social life. Legislation introduced to the Democrat-controlled Congress was repeatedly blocked or amended to death by southern Democratic senators. The 1957 civil rights bill, for instance, was intended to help minorities exercise their right to vote. Although it was passed with comfortable majorities in both congressional houses, destructive amendments introduced by opponents rendered it ineffective. By 1960, minority-voting levels were lower than in 1956, before the law was passed.

Truly effective civil rights legislation was not enacted until 1964. President Kennedy had called for the bill before his death. Southern senators filibustered it for 54 days, but cloture was finally invoked with the leadership assistance of Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and enough Republican senators to break the filibuster. The bill was a great achievement for Martin Luther King, Jr., and his allies in the NAACP. In many ways, it marked the end of institutionalized racism – especially in the south.

I would not argue that this was the end of all racism in America, but certainly it marked the end of federal government collusion in the continuation of state-sponsored racism. After the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, the federal government became an ally and promoter of full civil rights for minorities. This left the NAACP with its mission largely achieved, although some oversight function certainly remained.

It is hard to say exactly when the NAACP morphed into an advocate for affirmative action, racial preferences, and other offshoots from the original goals of simple equality before the law. I listened to the 1964 debate on the radio, while a senior in college. A comic moment occurred when Senator Hubert Humphrey swore that he would “eat his hat” if the bill ever led to “quotas.” After quotas indeed came to pass, it occurred to me that Mr. Humphrey had done well to expire when he did (1978), as it spared him a Homburg meal (with or without mayo, mustard and onions).

The NAACP’s latter-day support for quotas and discriminatory preferences has cost the support of a large part of the white population. Its embrace of race-hustlers like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton has further eroded the association’s support base. And now, with recent accusations that the loosely-knit Tea Party movement is shot through with racists, the NAACP has devolved into almost a caricature of the serious, consequential organization that it once was. It is reduced to “crying wolf,” when no wolf is there. This is both unfortunate and dangerous, as it could induce the public to ignore the NAACP’s warnings, even when they are appropriate. Calling the Tea Party racist was not just a mistake. It was a blunder of the first magnitude.

I won’t attempt an analysis of the Tea Party’s goals here, but even a casual observer can see that they have nothing to do with race. It is possible, however, that the Tea Party objectives of smaller and financially responsible government, lower taxes, strong national defense, and control of our national borders might be construed as opposed to President Obama’s agenda. The NAACP is certainly free to support the president’s agenda – a position that I believe does people of color little good – but it is not free to equate opposition to that agenda with “racism” without some evidence to back up the claim.

The NAACP would be grossly off the mark to claim that the Tea Party espouses a “white people’s agenda.” Moreover, the association would do well to assess its members’ positions on the Tea Party’s points of advocacy. The NAACP’s leadership might be surprised to find how many people of color are essentially aligned with those objectives.

The NAACP is a venerable organization that has done much good for racial minorities and for the entire country. It should not demean and trivialize itself by aligning too-closely with Democrat Party positions on economics and other matters. Democrats – including the dear-departed Senator Robert Byrd, a former Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan – were once the country’s pre-eminent racists. It seems faintly ridiculous for blacks to make common cause with them until it’s clear that their new spots haven’t been just painted on. Crying wolf over imaginary racism is not helpful. And let’s be sure who the real racists are before we start yelling.

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[1] See “The Truth about Margaret Sanger” - http://blackgenocide.org/sanger.html