By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
Every time I hear a news person on television say “democracy prevailed” as they talk about the insurrection of Jan. 6, I cringe and want to say to them, “not so fast.” The threat to the government as most of us have known it is far from over, and if history repeats itself, the mere existence of Black people, of course, and other groups of people who are undesirable to white supremacists will be targets for more violence in efforts to silence their voices and their participation in government on all levels.
The angst of White people in this country when Black people have voted in such numbers that they have gained political power has never evaporated. The election of Barack Obama as president – a president who successfully ran for re-election – seemed to have thrown a match on the always simmering coals of white supremacy.
Obama’s tenure as president, coupled with reports about the browning of America was too much and predictably, lead us to where we are today. America’s Whites are fighting as hard as they can to hold onto power. They see Black power and it frightens and angers them.
The coup on the nation’s capitol was certainly planned, according to NPR; as more and more is revealed, we see just how sophisticated an effort that was, as reported by Politico. It seems that the planning is continuing; the goal of overthrowing the government was not met, but the desire to do it has not dissipated.
In his book Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy, David Zucchino describes the careful plans of White people to overthrow the government of Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. There were too many Black people holding office, and they were appealing not only to other Blacks, but to poor White people as well.
The White political establishment – which included lawmakers, attorneys, news people and members of all professions – met. They needed to get Black people out of office and, preferably, out of Wilmington altogether – and they would do it, even if it mandated violence. They wrote the “White Declaration of Independence,” a document which supported their belief that America was made by White men for White men.
The players in the violence were skilled and intentional. They attacked Black property, killed Black people, and those whom they did not kill they ran out of town and told them never to return – which they did not. They passed laws that made it more difficult for Black people to vote; they succeeded in driving some Black elected officials out of office – some at gunpoint – and they effectively returned political power to White people, a situation which held for over 70 years.
We seem to be at a similar place now. White people are angry that so many people of color hold political power. They are afraid that they are losing their niche as the majority race in government, and they are afraid of what that will mean for them going forward.
Their violence does not bother them. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said this week that the people who stormed the Capitol did not frighten him. He said he knew they were good people, patriots who loved their country, and though he did not say it, he intimated that he supported what they had done. Had the group been members of Black Lives Matter or Antifa, he said, he would have been very concerned, Politico reported.
The attack now is against Black people not just of a city, but of the entire country. What actions will be necessary to take to protect both the political gains that we have made over the past 50 years and to protect ourselves against physical and racial violence? Are we better equipped now than the residents of Wilmington were in 1898, or are we faced with even more formidable challenges, some of which we have not yet identified?
After the White mobs attacked, killed, and intimidated Black people in Wilmington, they breathed easier and conveniently “forgot about” the uprising. When people wanted to talk about it they would push back with the all-too-familiar retort,” Why do y’all want to talk about that, dredging up stuff that is past?” The author of The Wilmington Lie said he grew up in North Carolina was never taught anything about the 1898 coup carried out by violent White mobs.
White supremacy has permanently altered or compromised the capacity of too many to understand or to care about how they have terrorized Black people in this country. The “White Declaration of Independence,” if not used and referred to by Whites in the present day, is still a declaration that many would make and sign onto today.
That being said, what will the Black community to do protect ourselves and our political gains? Over 100 years after the debacle in Wilmington, what will we do differently as we face and enter the fiery furnaces of angry white supremacists? One thing is for sure: we cannot sit back and declare “democracy has prevailed.” Democracy is under attack by those who want it to disappear and thus allow the power structure to dominate people whom they deem to be inferior.
It is time for the chokeholds that white supremacists have on Black people to be broken for eternity. We have had enough.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Her latest book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America is available at all booksellers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.