Paul R. Lehman, Jasper, Texas, a study in historical bigotry and social controlJuly 1, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Posted in American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Lori Stahl, Media and Race, Prejudice, Race in America, U.S. Education Department Office for Civil Rights, whites | 5 Comments
Tags: Affirmative Action, african american man, African Americans, america's race problem, Beaumont Enterprise, black and white, Black Panthers, Civil Rights, current-events, European Americans, James Byrd, Jasper, jasper texas, ku klux klan, Lori Stahl, Mayor Mike Lout, negative element, Police Chief Rodney Pearson, politics, racial tension, Texas, town council, Washington Post
If the name Jasper, Texas sounds familiar it is probably from the news created in 1998 when an African American man named James Byrd was killed. Byrd was walking home at night when three European American men picked him up, took him to a secluded wood, tied his hands and feet, and then tied him to the back of the truck. He was then dragged for several miles until he was decapitated from that experience. An enormous amount of media attention was paid to the incident, which produced a variety of activities, some from the Ku Klux Klan as well as the Black Panthers. After the arrest, trial, and conviction of the perpetrators, the town seemed to undergo a dramatic change regarding ethnic relations—a positive change. Unfortunately, the change did not last very long.
In a recent article in the Washington Post,”Racial tension still an issue in Jasper, Texas” (6/15/12) by Lora Stahl, healing and reconciliation didn’t really take place. Since the killing of Byrd, a number of things happened to indicate that the town was dealing with some of the bigotry that is part of its history. Over the past few years, four African Americans had been elected to the City Council and the town had recently hired an African American as Chief of Police. The participation of these African Americans in the town’s affairs seemed too much for some of the European Americans to take. So, something had to be done.
The nature of the problem in Jasper as well as hundreds of other towns like it is the unwillingness of too many of the European Americans citizens to come to grips with the bigotry that has been part of their lives since birth. The stereotypical view of the African American by European Americans is one of inferiority accompanied by negative element such as ignorance, laziness, dishonesty, violence and a host of other descriptive adjectives. The problem stems from the belief that if African Americans occupy positions of leadership then the value and stature of the European Americans is diminished. Therefore, that situation should never be allowed to exist. The power and prestige of the European Americans would be in jeopardy of being lost if African Americans were to gain positions of power. So, when the presence of African Americans in the town’s government came to notice, something had to be done to protect the real [European American] citizens.
One of the first orders of business was to remove the African Americans from the City Council. That was done through a recall process. Apparently, the powers-that-be did not like the power the African Americans managed or simply working with them, so they had them removed using their power and influence. That power and influence was generated through creating fear and hatred of European Americans loosing the place of privilege.
The article noted that “On Monday, 16 months after he was hired by a black majority on the City Council, Police Chief Rodney Pearson was ousted during a tense council meeting. The council, which now has a white majority, voted 4 to 1 to terminate Pearson.” The reason for Pearson’s firing are not clear, except for the article stating that the Mayor, “Mike Lout grilled Pearson during a long session before the firing was announced. Lout reportedly questioned the chief about how many hours he worked and why he was not present at two high-profile crime scenes.”
Evidently, the Mayor had to lecture the chief (read boy) before he told him of his firing. The lecture was a show of power the mayor wanted to underscore not only to the chief, but also to all the townspeople. In effect, the European Americans were back in control—they took their town back.
To understand the way this change in power took place we have to look at a number of things that do not seem connected, but are. The chief, an African American, was married to a European American. On the surface, they had not encountered any problems in Jasper. However, we are told that “Pearson’s wife [Sandy] was let go about three weeks ago from her job managing a medical office because of ‘low morale’ in the workplace.”By the business letting Sandy go, it was suggesting that she was the cause of the “low morale.”
With the firing of Pearson, the powers -that -be in the town have successfully cut off the Pearson’s livelihood. They, in effect, have said that they have the power to destroy your way of life and make your time in Jasper difficult. What apparently started the power change according to the article was Pearson’s concern over the recall process: “Earlier this year, Pearson hired lawyers to represent him in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claim. According to a report in the Beaumont Enterprise, the claim was not mentioned by the council during the meeting this week.” The complaint was not mentioned for fear that the dots would be connected and the truth comes out. The article continued with “The complaint was apparently filed after a local recall election last month resulted in several black council members losing their seats to whites.”
We are told that some African Americans launched a recall petition to unseat Lout, but were not successful. We need not wonder why. The irony of it all is that just when people start to believe that society is beginning to realize that all people live on the same planet, breath the same air, and meet whatever requirements necessary to life and livelihood, fear and hatred in the form of bigotry and prejudice comes forth to take center stage. Yes, the powers- that- be in Jasper have been successful in delaying social progress. However, they must realize that all their efforts did no more than delay progress. Their efforts to “take back their town” supposedly from African Americans are based on their fear of losing their sense of superiority. Their hatred comes from the fact that they realize they are fighting a losing battle and they cannot stop the inevitable loss. So, they do what they can to hold on for as long as they can.