Remembering lives of disrespect

Published 9:40 pm Monday, August 4, 2014

By Joseph Bass

Knowing and remembering history is important. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes made by our ancestors. But our tendency is to remember the good things and forget the bad. Remembering disrespect is an example.

Living as a chattel slave before the Civil War and living as a Jim Crow slave afterward was a life of disrespect. I saw black Americans living in disrespect in the summer of 1963. I had a summer job that required me to travel through the South.

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How did it come to be that black Americans had to live as I witnessed them? Gun control played an important part.

We were able to win the American Revolution because of our tradition of everyone being armed. But during the Colonial era, blacks could not possess firearms. That is how they were kept subjugated. Unlike the armed whites that fought against English oppression, disarmed blacks could not do the same. That was the ultimate disrespect.

During the Civil War, black Union soldiers fought bravely and won respect. After the war, the Union sent black soldiers home with their military firearms. The Klan myth held that they were able to subjugate blacks by riding around at night in sheets. But the truth is that Klan night riders subjugated blacks my disarming them.

Heavily armed Klan members terrorized black families by searching their homes and taking away their firearms. Klan-controlled governments passed and enforced laws that took away blacks’ right to keep and bear arms.

The result of this subjugation is what I witnessed in the South during the summer of 1963. Blacks lived a daily life of disrespect. They were required to act submissive toward all whites, groveling in their presence. A black person could not look a white person in the eye as if they were equal. A little, white child could publically reprimand a black man for acting “uppity.”

Black people were called derogatory names. Black people where not called by their proper names like Mr. This or Mrs. That. They were only called by their first names or by derogatory nicknames. Black people that didn’t stay “in their place” could be beaten and even lynched.

Klan members got away with treating blacks any way they wanted. Disarmed black people had no legal standing under Jim Crow laws.

Of course no armed person would put up with terrorists invading their home and stealing their possessions. But disarmed blacks had no choice but to live a daily life of disrespect. This is what I witnessed during the summer of 1963 when the American civil rights movement was just getting under way. We have made a lot of progress since then, but there continues to be a movement to disarm us all, making all of us live as blacks did during Jim Crow.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at