Paul R. Lehman, Removal of symbols of ethnic bias show signs of social change

May 24, 2016 at 3:53 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, democracy, discrimination, education, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, justice, justice system, law, Media and Race, minority, Oklahoma, Oklahoma education, Prejudice, President Obama, Race in America, skin color, social justice system, textbooks, The Oklahoman, Tulsa, Tulsa Riot 1921, whites | 1 Comment
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One of the general misconceptions many Americans have today is that ethnic prejudice is a thing of the past and only vestiges of it remain. For evidence of this social change some point to the removable of the Confederate flag from some Southern state flags as well as a number of statues and monuments that underscore the hatred and bigotry felt by many European Americans for African Americans during and after slavery. Another sign of attempts to remove symbols of ethnic bigotry on many college and university campuses is the removing of names of known bigots from buildings and other structures on the campus. For many institutions, this act of name removable represents a great and serious undertaking because many of those names belong to people who were considered deserving of the honor of recognition at the time they were displayed. What has changed to cause the removable of many of theses former honored contributors from their place of recognition?

One answer can be found in history, but not necessarily the history written in school books; school book history was tailor-made to support the ethnic bigotry of the day. Much of the actual history resides in the old newspapers and journals of early America. What that history tells us is that ethnic bigotry was considered normal; to not be a bigot was considered not normal if one happened to be a European American (white). So, when people of the early American past were given honors via placing their names on buildings and other edifices, little attention was paid to or reference made to their ethnic bigotry. Such was apparently the case with the University of Tulsa naming one of its structures after John Rogers.

In an article in the Oklahoman (5/20/2016) “Building controversy provide cautionary tale,” on the “Opinion” page, the writer tells about the removal of Roger’s name from a TU building, not just any building: “University of Tulsa officials recently decided to remove John Roger’s name from TU’s college of law, which he helped found, because of his 1920s association with the Ku Klux Klan.”The fact that the building was the college of law which Roger helped to found gives us some additional insight as to the mindset of the people of Oklahoma during this time. The article underscores the fact that “racists views of the Klan were not out of line with the thinking of many respectable people, across the nation, during Oklahoma’s early decades.” Few European Americans gave notice to the abuse, violence and death the Klan visited on African Americans. Since many of the up-standing, civic-minded, Christian, European American citizens were also Klan members, not many Oklahomans were told about the destruction and death caused by many of the good citizens of Tulsa in 1921 when the Greenwood area was demolished. The Klan has always stood for European American (white) supremacy and the inferiority of African Americans.

What we refer to today as a bigot was not considered bad or evil or even unpatriotic for early European Americans; as a mater of fact, the Klan for many European Americans was seen as an anti-crime, civic-minded, “temperance organization.” Many of its members included bankers, businessmen, lawyers, educators, and even clergy. Helping to promote and maintain the Klan’s views while passing them on to the children, were the text books. The article cited this reference: “Consider the 1914 biology textbook at the center of the famed Scopes ‘monkey’ trial in Tennessee. Based on evolutionary theory, that book matter-of-factly declared there were ‘five races or varieties of man,… ‘“The article continued by listing the Ethiopian or Negro, the Malay or brown people, the American Indian, the Mongolians and finally, “the Caucasians represented by civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”

The article underscored the importance of the text book: “That children’s text book advocated eugenic, and said of supposedly inferior people, ‘If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading.” Such was the mindset of many of the European American Oklahomans in the early 1920s according to the article. However, in another article in the Oklahoman (5/6/2016) ‘These were everywhere,’ tells of the many Klan klaverns in Oklahoma before and during the 1940s. This article tells some of the Klan’s activities as in the following reference: “A story in the Nov. 21, 1920, edition of The Daily Oklahoman describes Klansmen terrorizing residents in Guthrie, threatening farmers, business owners and residents in the city’s black quarter with death.” Also it included: “According to the story, the Klan forbid cotton growers from paying pickers more than $1.25 per hundred pounds picked, and blacks were threatened with death and burning if they asked for a higher wage.”

The Klan article showed a map of Klan chapters in Oklahoma in the early 1940—it was home to 102 chapters. The article concluded with the findings that “The Southern Poverty Law Center recognized 10 Klan-affiliated groups last year in Oklahoma.” Although laws have changed over the years, many attitudes and minds still embrace the once normal bigoted psyche. The lingering hate and fear of African Americans in some Oklahomans might easily be assumed from the fact that all seventy-seven counties voted against Barack Obama two times—2008 and 2012. Obama was not liked by many European Americans before he had a chance to assume his office; the reason given for his unpopularity was not his skin color but his political party.

We can certainly applaud the efforts of the University Tulsa to remove symbolic references to our biased past and support them in their actions. We can also applaud the efforts of the Oklahoman’s article discussing the removal of John Roger’s name from TU’s law college and shedding some light on why the removal is important. One of the most challenging aspects of American society today is to understand that because the normal mindset of European Americans is biased towards African Americans and other people of color, “basic morality and common sense” must be redefined without the bias. For us to assume that ethnic bigotry simply fades away into the woodwork over time would be wrong; removing it takes great effort mainly because many people do not realize they are biased.

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  1. This writing is very sharp and informative. I had not known about the building at Tulsa.


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