Saturday, February 08, 2014


I was going to skip today, then I ran into this post from Noel Ignatiev...and here I am.  Today Theoretical Weekends is not Theoretical at all, but historical.  It is also a book review.  Actually, two...It's a story about the South in the Civil War which you almost never hear.  

The first is from PM Press and Noel.  The second is from Counterfire.

Bitterly Divided

The best kept secret in U.S. history is the resistance of southerners, and especially southern nonslaveholding whites, to the slaveholders during the Civil War. W.E.B. Du Bois, in the chapter “The General Strike” in Black Reconstruction in America, told the story of black resistance. Bitterly Divided: the South’s Inner Civil War by David Williams (New Press: 2008), while giving due weight to the resistance of black people and Indians, focuses on southern whites. Williams teaches at Valdosta State University in Georgia; this was his fifth book on this topic. He writes:

Between 1861 and 1865, the South was torn apart by a violent civil war, a war no less significant to the Confederacy’s fate than its more widely known struggle against the Yankees….

The South’s inner civil war had deep roots in the antebellum period. Many southern whites, like North Carolina’s Hinton Rowan Helper, saw plain folk as impoverished by the slave system. Slaves, too, like Frederick Douglass, were becoming more difficult to control…. By 1860, slaveholders worried that although Abraham Lincoln was a direct threat only to slavery’s expansion, his election to the presidency might give encouragement to southern dissenters and resisters… Such fears among slaveholders… were a major driving force behind the secession movement.

But how could a slaveholders’ republic be established in a society in which slaveholders were a minority?... [S]tate conventions across the South, all of them dominated by slaveholders, in the end ignored majority will and took their states out of the Union….

Still, there was some general enthusiasm for the war among common whites in the wake of Lincoln’s call for volunteers to invade the South. Whatever their misgivings about secession, invasion was another matter. And, despite Lincoln’s promise of noninterference with slavery, “fear of Negro equality… caused some of the more ignorant to rally to the support of the Confederacy.” But southern enlistments declined rapidly after First Manassas, or Bull Run, as Yankees called the battle. Men were reluctant t leave their families in the fall and winter of of 1861-62, and many of those already in the army deserted to help theirs.

The Confederacy’s response to its recruitment and desertion problems served only to weaken its support among plain folk. In April 1862, the Confederate Congress passed the first general conscription act in American history. But men of wealth could avoid the draft by hiring a substitute or paying an exemption fee. Congress also made slaveholders owning twenty or more slaves automatically exempt from the draft. This twenty-slave law was the most widely hated act ever imposed by the Confederacy....

To make matters worse, planters devoted much of their land to cotton and tobacco, while soldiers and their families went hungry….

The inevitable result… was a severe food shortage that hit soldiers’ families especially hard….

… As early as 1862, food riots began breaking out all over the South. Gangs of hungry women, many of them armed, ransacked stores, depots, and supply wagons, searching for anything edible. Major urban centers, like Richmond, Atlanta, Mobile, and Galveston, experienced the biggest riots. Even in smaller towns, like Georgia’s Valdosta and Marietta and North Carolina’s High Point and Salisbury, hungry women looted for food. [There may well have been cases, although Williams does not make this point explicitly, where slaves ate better than the families of soldiers, since the slaves were vital to the production of cotton and tobacco, and the families of soldiers were, from the standpoint of capital, “useless”—NI]….

Desertion became so serious by the summer of 1863 that Jefferson Davis begged absentees to return… But they did not return. A year later Davis publicly admitted that two-thirds of Confederate soldiers were absent…. Many of these men joined antiwar organizations that had been active in the South since the war’s beginning. Others joined with draft dodgers and other anti-Confederates to form tory or layout gangs. They attacked government supply trains, burned bridges, raided local plantations, and harassed impressment agents and conscript officers…..

Among the most enthusiastic southern anti-Confederates were African-Americans, especially those held in slavery…. With Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation came a promise of freedom that enslaves blacks eagerly embraced. In fact they were taking freedom for themselves long before the Proclamation… [Williams adopts Du Bois’s notion of the “general strike,” one of the few historians to do so.]

… Deserters escaping the Confederate army could rely on slaves to give them good and shelter on the journey back home. Others joined tory gangs in their war against the Confederacy…. Tens of thousands of blacks fled to federal lines and joined Union forces. Of about two hundred thousand blacks under federal arms, over three fourths were native southerners. Together with roughly three hundred thousand southern whites who did the same, southerners who served in the Union military totaled nearly half a million, or about a quarter of all federal armed forces.

… [S]outhern Indians too were divided in their feelings toward the Confederacy… By the winter of 1861-62, a full-blown civil war was under way among the Indians, adding a further dimension to southern disunity.

Parts of the story have been told before, some in detail, but Williams tells it more effectively than I have read elsewhere, far more effectively than the brief summary (with elisions) I have quoted from the Introduction. I urge readers to get hold of the book and read it “kiver-to-kiver.” It will be especially useful as a corrective for those inclined to doubt the class-struggle interpretation of history.

The reviewer can be reached at 

David Williams, Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War

Dominic Alexander reviews David Williams’ Bitterly Divided which details the astonishing scale of internal division in the southern states from the beginning to the end of the American Civil War.

David Williams, Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War (The New Press, paperback 2010), 310pp.

‘ “This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher. I am from North Alabama, from Winston County.” The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbour her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on 11 January, 1861, Winston County seceded from Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.’ 
Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird (1960)

Winston County was by no means the only part of the south to have broken from the Confederacy during the Civil War. By the end of the war localities across the deep south were, like Irwin county in Georgia, chasing Confederate officials out of their area and declaring for the Union and Lincoln (p.238). David Williams’ Bitterly Divided details the astonishing scale of internal division in the southern states from the beginning to the end of the war.
Over and again the contemporary sources record complaints from ordinary white southerners that the conflict was a ‘rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight’. Those whites who did not own slaves were likely to be at least sceptical of the whole business, as another telling quotation had it that ‘this fuss was all for the benefit of the wealthy’. Williams’ robust array of evidence shows a society riven with class conflicts, to the point where the ruling planter class came close to losing its grip entirely.
Although slavery was in the end abolished, as Williams shows as much by the actions of the slaves themselves as anyone else, the planters were ultimately able to re-establish themselves. The post war betrayal of southern blacks, and the creation of segregation, is not part of Williams’ brief in this book. However, the fact of it explains the creation of all those reactionary and racist apologetics for the south that Bitterly Divided so expertly explodes.
Opposition to the confederacy unquestionably grew in the course of the war, but it was substantial enough right from the start to require force, threats and fraud to secure the election of pro-secessionists across much of the south in the first place. Suspected ‘unionists’ were often threatened or actually attacked for attempting to vote. Many others voted for delegates who posed as pro-union, only for them to turn secessionist once elected. Williams estimates that at least a clear majority of southern voters were opposed to the very creation of the Confederacy.
Of course, planter rule and the Confederate cause depended upon widespread ingrained racism among poor, non-slave-owning whites. The surprise is how much evidence there is of dissent from the ruling racist ideology. Certainly wealthy planters even before the war were worried about how to stop ‘low down poor whites’ from organising to abolish slavery and redistribute the land, of which the planters held all the best. Conspiracies uniting poor whites and blacks in attempted uprisings against slavery and the planters had been by no means limited to the famous Harper’s Ferry insurrection of John Brown (p.30).
Once the war began, a conscription law blatantly favoured the richer slave owners, putting the burden of fighting squarely on poorer whites. Existing class tensions among southern whites became much more serious. One woman complained that ‘the brunt is thrown upon the working classes while the rich live at home in ease and pleasure’ (p.60). Some resisted the draft by fleeing to Mexico, in the danger of being caught by rebel troops and killed on the spot. Williams tells a host of stories of violent resistance to the draft. In some areas it became actively dangerous to be a Confederate soldier, while as one southern officer wrote in disgust it was ‘no longer a reproach to be known as a deserter’ across whole stretches of the country (p.123).
Opposition to the war reached new heights as it went on. One factor in this were the food shortages. Williams points out that while the industrial strength of the north is usually held to be at the root of its victory, in fact the south organised such a successful munitions programme that its soldiers never lacked equipment or ammunition. The south’s problem was that the rich planters reneged on their promise to provide food for soldiers and their families, and instead sold their crops to speculators, or invested in profitable cotton and tobacco crops.
Fully half the Confederate army had deserted by 1863. The Union suffered desertions too, but it could rely upon southerners, white as well as black coming north. Nearly half a million southerners fought on the Union side. A new underground railroad even came into existence in the course of the war in order to help ‘union men’ in the south escape through to federal forces.
Williams’ evidence is overwhelming that support for either Union or Confederacy was determined by class. Nearly all armed resistance to the Confederate draft came from small farmers, artisans and labourers. The often murderous Confederate armed gangs that attempted to enforce the draft tended to own three times as much land and twice as much personal property. Williams quotes the observation of one historian that ‘by engineering disunion, slaveowners fostered the growth of the kind of organisations they had long feared: class-based groups that pitted nonslaveholders against the interests of slaveowners’ (p.162).
It was however the slaves themselves who arguably determined the course of the war. Northern politicians like Lincoln tried to avoid making slavery the key issue of the war, but the slaves’ actions ensured it was. From the start, black southerners were effectively in a state of revolt: a south Carolina woman observed in 1863 that ‘if this war lasts two year longer, African Slavery will have ceased in these states’ (p.174). Perhaps the ultimate proof that the slaves had forced the direction of the war was the Confederacy’s desperate decision in March 1865 to attempt to recruit slaves into the Confederate army under conditions that effectively freed them. One southern newspaper commented that blacks had become ‘a sort of balance power in this contest, and that the side which succeeds in enlisting the feelings and in securing the active operation and services of the four millions of blacks, must ultimately triumph’. Needless to say, the Confederacy was never able to obtain black support. It was not northern troops which freed the slaves: as a Union general put it ‘it is not done by the army, but they are freeing themselves’ (p.173).
The American Civil War was not a ‘war between the states’ as some would now have it, but a genuine civil war in the south itself. For a time it looked as if that racial hierarchy, on which class in America is so dependent, would break down under the pressures of war. That the opportunity was missed and the planter class was able to re-impose white supremacy is one of the greatest tragedies of modern history.
Williams’ historical methodology is that of the classic ‘history from below’ school. His arrangement of his vast material makes the book vivid and alive with the sufferings, fears and thoughts of so many ordinary black and white southerners. The conclusions rest upon decades of thorough and careful scholarship, as can be seen in the detailed end references. However, for those to whom Williams’ arguments are unwelcome, it is possible to charge that the evidence is ‘anecdotal’, that quotations are unrepresentative, or that statements are unsupported by references and so on. None of these objections, such as can be found through a quick internet search, are remotely plausible to anyone who has read the book honestly.
Those who wish to cling to reactionary, and racist, versions of history will do so however powerful the historical evidence and arguments presented. However it is to be hoped that this very fine work of history, serious without being an exclusive academic text, will be read as widely as it deserves to be. Williams shows the reader the vulnerability of southern class society, founded upon the supposed eternality of racial division. He shows how contingent that racial order was, how hard the ruling class had to work to maintain it, and how close it came to coming apart in its entirety. The fact that such an order remains in (much modified) existence, and not just in the United States, is the reason why this book is so important.

Friday, February 07, 2014


Apparently the state in which I live just can't wait to kill someone.

Last minute requests for stays on executions are a common thing.  The one made by Herbert Smulls was not unusual in that regard. What was unusual, was that he was executed before his final request was decided by the High Court.

Last week the Supreme Court granted a stay in Smulls' case two hours before his scheduled execution. Two issues were pending before the Court: an all-white jury and the use of compounding pharmacy drugs.

Smulls, an African American, was executed before his last stay was denied.

But wait, maybe for Missouri this is not so unusual.   Last August, Missouri executed Allen Nicklasson before the Eighth Circuit could finish their en banc rehearing denial, never mind a possible Supreme Court appeal.


Find Law reports about that:

Whether pro or anti-death penalty, Circuit Judge Bye's dissent from the Eighth Circuit's denial of rehearing en banc is an opinion worth reading. He notes, first, that "Missouri put Nicklasson to death before the federal courts had a final say on whether doing so violated the federal constitution."

And this isn't the first time. Judge Bye cites nine instances in four years in the mid-1980s where Missouri set execution dates before federal review was exhausted. In most of the cases, Supreme Court Justice Blackmun stepped in and scolded the state courts. They apparently haven't learned their lesson.

"In my near fourteen years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening," he wrote. "By proceeding with Nicklasson's execution before our court had completed voting on his petition for rehearing en banc, Missouri violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the long litany of cases warning Missouri to stay executions while federal review of an inmate's constitutional challenge is still pending."

 Less then ten years ago Missouri's death penalty practices were condemned by the courts.  At that time it had to do with the drugs used to carry it out and the procedure itself. A medical journal noted that the three-drug regimen employed at the time would be insufficient to ensure a pain-free death, and that the regimen would be illegal for use on animals in nineteen states.  Missouri had been employing a dyslexic surgeon, who admittedly mixed up numbers and names of drugs, to carry out their executions. Worse yet was the lack of a written protocol and the surgeon's ability to adjust the formula on-the-fly, without consulting an anesthesiologist.

The court at that time concluded that "Missouri's lethal injection procedure subjects condemned inmates to an unnecessary [and unacceptable] risk that they will be subject to unconstitutional pain and suffering when the lethal injection drugs are administered."  The issue was "resolved"  by firing the physician and adopting a written protocol.
Then, recently,the drugs ran out, and Missouri, and other states, turned to compounding pharmacies. The briefly gained transparency of a written three-drug protocol has been replaced with a series of rapidly changed one-drug regimens using unknown amounts of drugs from unknown and possibly unreliable sources.

Guess what?
Nicklasson was challenging Missouri's one-drug execution protocol before he was executed mid-appeal. So was Smulls. As have many others.

Now back to Herbert Smulls.  Think Progress reports:

Herbert Smulls was in the middle of a phone call discussing his attorneys’ final efforts to save his life when he was reportedly seized by prison guards, hauled into an execution chamber, and injected with a toxic cocktail of drugs. At the time of his death, an appeal was pending before the United States Supreme Court asking the justices to halt his execution. 

The state of Missouri didn't have time for such legal niceties.  They had a man to kill and they wanted to do it right away.  Maybe the fact that  in January," an Ohio inmate reportedly took 15 gasping, strangling minutes dying" via lethal injection after a new drug was tested on him, violating the rule against cruel and unusual punishment worried them that the court might be willing to listen to such an appeal...or maybe they just relished the idea of killing a man this way.

For Scission Prison Friday I present the following from the Atlantic.

Missouri Executed This Man While His Appeal Was Pending in Court

Andrew Cohen

Herbert Smulls was pronounced dead four minutes before the justices in Washington denied his final stay. Did Missouri officials breach their ethical duties by permitting this to happen?

It is 2014, not 1964 or 1914, and yet on Wednesday night a black man in Missouri, a black man convicted by an all-white jury, was executed before his federal appeals had been exhausted. He was executed just moments after reportedly being hauled away by prison guards while he was in the middle of a telephone call discussing his appeals with one of his attorneys. He was executed even though state officials knew that the justices of the United States Supreme Court still were considering his request for relief.
Asked repeatedly not to execute Smulls while appeals were pending, state officials failed even to respond to emails from defense attorneys that night while corrections officials went ahead with the execution. Smulls thus was pronounced dead four minutes before the Supreme Court denied his final stay request. This was not an accident or some bureaucratic misunderstanding and did not come as a surprise to Smulls’ lawyers. They say it was the third straight execution in Missouri in which corrections officials went ahead with lethal injection before the courts were through with the condemned man's appeals.*
Just last month, for example, Missouri officials similarly executed a man named Allen Nicklasson before his appeals were concluded. That timing of that execution prompted a federal appeals court judge, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye, to declare that he was “alarmed” that Missouri proceeded with its execution “before this court had even finished voting on Nicklasson's request for a stay. In my near fourteen years on the bench, this is the first time I can recall this happening.”
Below are some of the emails sent Wednesday night from Smulls’ attorneys to state lawyers as the deadline drew near for the expiration of the death warrant authorizing their client’s execution. Over and over again, the defense tried to impress upon state officials the need to wait for the judicial process to play out before executing Smulls:

Such frantic communication from defense attorneys to state officials is not uncommon in the hours leading up to an execution-- the state, after all, has the body of the man it seeks to execute (literally, habeas corpus). What is striking here, though, is not just that state lawyers failed or refused even to respond to Smulls’ attorneys but that these officers of the court, and corrections officials, essentially divested the Supreme Court of jurisdiction by killing the litigant.
The timeline is everything here. Before 10:00 that night, Smulls’s attorney notified state officials that there were active pending appeals at the both the Supreme Court and the 8th Circuit. “Do not execute Mr. Smulls while claims for legal relief and stay are pending,” the defense attorneys pleaded with opposing counsel. There was no email response from Missouri’s lawyers, Smulls' attorney Cheryl Pilate told me Friday. There was instead a single telephone call, much earlier in the evening, in which a state attorney acknowledge the existence of a stay (before filing to have that stay removed).
At 10:11, the final lethal injection protocols were initiated. By this time, the 8th Circuit had rejected all of the claims before it—over another pointed dissent from Judge Bye—leaving only an active appeal before the Supreme Court. At 10:20 Smulls was pronounced dead. Ten minutes later, at 10:30, the Supreme Court notified the lawyers that Smulls’ final stay request had been denied at 10:24. This means that Missouri began to execute a man 13 minutes before it was entirely sure it could do so. Smulls was pronounced dead four minutesbefore the Supreme Court finally authorized Missouri to kill him.
Via email Friday, I asked state attorneys to comment upon the emails they received from defense attorneys and Missouri’s evident lack of response to them. I asked them to explain their rationale in proceeding with the execution knowing the justices still had the case. Through a spokeswoman, late Friday, they responded:
The law is clear: the pendency of litigation is insufficient to stop an execution.  Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 895-96 (1983). The legal mechanism for a federal court to stop an execution is a court-ordered stay.  On January 29, 2014, the State of Missouri directly asked the United States Supreme Court if the execution of Mr. Smulls should be stopped.  The Court said no three times that day prior to execution, lifting all stays.
Attorneys for the State were in contact with the clerks of both the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court throughout the evening of the execution.  Both courts were aware that the execution would proceed once all stays had been lifted. No stay of execution was in effect at time of the execution.
Counsel for the State spoke to Ms. Pilate after the United States Supreme Court vacated the first two stays on the evening of January 29. Her subsequent emails, sent after the United States Supreme Court vacated the final stay, simply reiterated her demand that the State halt the lawful execution of her client but contained no legal authority for her demand (emphasis in original).
Some legal experts agree with that view. They contend that, at some point, the appellate process is over and that a man set for execution ought to be executed. This view posits that any other approach would give defense attorneys the power to pile appeal upon appeal in an effort to postpone the implementation of a death warrant. But this is not a universal view. Some death penalty advocates I spoke with on Friday say that state officials have an affirmative duty not to proceed with an execution if they know a Supreme Court appeal is pending. Clearly, Judge Bye, a veteran jurist, agrees with the latter approach.
In my view, if there were a breach here it was as much one of ethics as it was one of law. State lawyers acting as prosecutors (which is what Missouri’s attorneys were doing on the night of the execution) have special obligations to act as “a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate,” according to the comment for Rule 4-3.8 of the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct. “This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice.” They should have been considering not just their obligation to execute Smulls, in other words, but their obligations to ensure it was done fairly and justly.
There is more relevant language in Missouri's ethics rules. The Preamble, for example, states that a "lawyer should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it, including judges, other lawyers and public officials. While it is a lawyer's duty, when necessary, to challenge the rectitude of official action, it is also a lawyer's duty to uphold legal process." But because I am no expert in legal ethics, I asked some legal ethicists to weigh in on what happened here. One, Michael Downey, an ethics specialist at the St. Louis law firm Armstrong Teasdale, shared this view:

The lawyers at issue were representing the state were acting in a prosecutorial capacity. Moreover, this was a capital case, and Smulls was facing execution on the very night the communications occurred. When acting in a prosecutorial capacity, lawyers have special obligations to make sure that justice is done. Not to ensure that a criminal receives maximum punishment, but to make sure that justiceis done…
Perhaps the lawyers prosecuting the case have a very good explanation for why they did not respond. But it better have been a very, very good reason for not responding to defense counsel, and for allowing an execution – which may or may not have been proper – to occur.

I get that state authorities felt that they had their own legal obligations to enforce the death warrant before it expired and they had to jump through hoops to obtain a new one. What I don't get is the mindset of a lawyer telling the executioners to go ahead and kill a man knowing that at that very moment the justices are considering his case. What law school professor would teach a young student to make such a choice? What Attorney General would recommend that maneuver as official state policy?
“We strive toward excellence,” is the motto of the Missouri Department of Corrections. But let me offer a theory that undercuts that noble promise. State officials pressed ahead Wednesday night, knowing an appeal was outstanding, because they didn't want another delay in Smulls' execution-- didn't want to answer more questions about lethal injection.  But, stay or no stay in place, the knowledge that the justices were considering the case should have been enough to cause those officials to pause. Just imagine what we'd be talking about today if the justices had granted Smulls' stay request four minutes after he was pronounced dead. It was not open-and-shut against him. Judge Bye's dissent was not frivolous.
Indeed, it was Judge Bye on Wednesday night who best summed up the balance of factors involved. "Smulls faces the ultimate, irrevocable penalty in the absence of a stay," the judge wrote. "Missouri, on the other hand, merely faces the administrative work involved in obtaining a new date on which to execute Smulls." Judge Bye offered this blunt formula after explaining why Smulls' challenge to the injection protocols to be used against him were worthy of more substantial consideration by the federal courts that only a stay of execution would have provided.
What happened in Missouri this week is unacceptable in a nation that purports to worship its rule of law. It ought to be unacceptable even to the most ardent supporters of capital punishment. And the worst news of all is that there is no reason to think the problem is going to get better anytime soon. Missouri wasn't punished for its zealotry. And that surely signals officials in other death penalty states, like Louisiana, that they won't likely be punished, either, if they execute someone while his appeals still are pending. Herbert Smulls may have deserved to die. But surely not before the Supreme Court was through looking at his case.
*Last November, for example, Missouri executed Joseph Paul Franklin in circumstances almost identical to those that occurred in the Smulls case. Franklin’s lawyers, in a federal complaint filed after his execution, contend that Missouri in these last three executions is violating the terms of its own written policy.
The Missouri Department of Corrections, the complaint alleges, precludes a prisoner from being escorted from his holding cell to the execution chamber while there is pending legal activity—not necessarily a stay—to halt the execution process. The Director of the Department of Corrections is supposed to ask the Attorney General: “Are there any legal impediments or reasons why the lawful execution of (Inmate Name) should not proceed?"
It’s hard to fathom how state lawyers could have answered that question in the negative Wednesday night knowing that the Supreme Court was at that very moment evaluating Smulls’ stay request.

Thursday, February 06, 2014


Refusing to conform, she “hid out” until her delegation had passed, then surged into the group of white women – some hostile, some not – and took her rightful place in the Illinois group. She also had to be protected from the other women in the delegation who were, ah, slightly peeved that a Negro woman dared  march among their ranks, after she had been explicitly told not to.

The point of what I am about to write is not that all white women, or all white feminists or whatever are racists.  Obviously that is not the case.  Many white women (and even white men) have struggled against white supremacy, some very heroically.  Almost no white men or white women can say they do not yet benefit from their white skin privilege (John Brown and Marilyn Buck come to mind as two who just might have been able to make that claim).  The point of my intro is that white women (like white men) as a whole have not only benefitted from white supremacy but have supported, upheld, and contributed to it.  

Sometimes we just have to face uncomfortable facts.  For the women's movement (for the left in general) an uncomfortable fact is the very clear relationship white women have with white supremacy.  The reality of patriarchy (and the struggle against it) and the lack of power of women relative to men, does not and cannot mean we should pretend that white women are somehow not accountable for their own role in the development of white supremacy and in the privileges their white skin gives them.

Poet, activist, and author Olivia a. Cole writes about slavery in an essay she penned on the blog 12 YEARS A SLAVE, 

It’s true, white women lacked the agency of their husbands, fathers and brothers, so their hand in slavery did not extend to the buying and selling of human chattel, the laws being made that called black people only a fraction of a human being. But white women whipped black bodies. They burned them. They posed next to the murdered bodies of black people who were lynched. They called people niggers. They scratched faces. They separated families. While wearing their pretty dresses, they ruined lives.

Actually, I should point out in 1815 European women owned 24% of those enslaved in St Lucia. In Barbados 40% of properties with 10 or less enslaved people were owned by women. In Bridgetown, Barbados women were the principal slave owners, using slaves in domestic occupations.  There will be more about slavery and women in the piece attached.  So lets move on beyond that for now.

Belle Kearney was a Woman suffrage leader from Mississippi.  In an address she gave to the National American Woman Suffrage Association during the fight for the vote for (some) women said, 

The enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy, honestly attained, for upon unquestioned authority it is stated that in every southern State but one there are more educated women than all the illiterate voters, white and black, native and foreign, combined. As you probably know, of all the women in the South who can read and write, ten out of every eleven are white. When it comes to the proportion of property between the races, that of the white outweighs that of the black immeasurably. The South is slow to grasp the great fact that the enfranchisement of women would settle the race question in politics. The civilization of the North is threatened by the influx of foreigners with their imported customs; by the greed of monopolistic wealth and the unrest among the working classes; by the strength of the liquor traffic and encroachments upon religious belief. Some day the North will be compelled to look to the South for redemption from those evils on account of the purity of its Anglo-Saxon blood, the simplicity of its social and economic structure, the great advance in prohibitory law and the maintenance of the sanctity of its faith, which has been kept inviolate. Just as surely as the North will be forced to turn to the South for the nation's salvation, just so surely will the South be compelled to look to its Anglo-Saxon women as the medium through which to retain the supremacy of the white race over the African.

Want a nasty piece of history that you don't read much about try this from Scholastic:

On March 3, 1913, as 5,000 women prepared to parade through President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, demanding the right to vote, Ida B. Wells was standing to the side. A black journalist and civil-rights activist, she had taken time out from her anti-lynching campaign to lobby for woman suffrage in Chicago. But a few days earlier, leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had insisted she not march with the Illinois delegation. Certain Southern women, they said, had threatened to pull out if a black woman marched alongside whites.

 By 1900, most suffragists had lost their enthusiasm for civil rights, and actually used racism to push for the vote. Anna Howard Shaw, head of NAWSA, said it was "humiliating" that black men could vote while well-bred white women could not. Other suffragists scrambled to reassure white Southerners that white women outnumbered male blacks in the South. If women got the vote, they argued, they would help preserve "white supremacy."
...Wells was never really embraced by the white suffrage movement. And though both white and black women won the vote in 1920, they did not do it by marching together.

Not so pretty a picture. 

Ida B. Wells was no late comer to this business by the way.  An 1894 showdown between her and temperance leader Frances E. Willard is an example of the racial resentment that had over taken the American suffrage movement.

" Better whiskey and more of it' is the rallying cry of great, dark-faced mobs," Willard said in an 1890 interview with the New York Voice.   "The safety of [white] women, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a thousand localities."

Wells was incensed by that and other statements coming out of the mouths of temperance leaders and some suffrage leaders.  She said that Willard, "... "unhesitatingly slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive."  Wells wanted to know   how influential white women could continue to turn a blind eye to the white mobs who threatened black lives.

Even earlier, In 1870, the suffragists found themselves on opposing ends of the equal-rights battle when Congress passed the 15th Amendment, enabling black men to vote (at least, in theory) -- and not women. That measure engendered resentment among some white suffragists, especially in the South.

I am not going to continue through history.  Let's move on.

When black women feminists complain about racism some white women within the feminist community, writes the blog Dear White Women, respond saying something akin to:

The blog goes on to point out accurately:

This may sound reasonable on the surface, especially with comments like “women of all races and classes” giving a nod to the idea of inclusion, but what it really amounts to is, “When you complain about racism in the feminist community, you cause divisions. So shut up and don’t complain.” We wrap ourselves up in all these cries for unity as if the division itself were the root of the problem. As if the problem is women of color having a problem with racism, and *not* the racism itself. It’s a way to sideline the issue of racism and shift the blame to the WoC who point it out. That way we never have to address it and actually fix it.

I know I am bouncing all over the place here, just sort of throwing darts out there, so let me try to bring this a little more together.

Too many just assume that white women are natural allies of Black people in the struggle against white supremacy.  If only it were so, but it isn't.  As Chauncey DeVega has pointed out eloquently:

White women were members of the KKK. White women owned black people as slaves. White women raped, tortured, and abused their African-American human property. White American women struggling for the right to vote in the early 20th century leveraged their status as “white” citizens, and the “offense” to the white racial order that was (ostensible) black male voting-citizenship, in order to win the franchise.

 But the fights against the White inferiority complex masquerading as White supremacy and white privilege are not perfectly congruent with the struggles by White women against the sexism faced by their group. Here, Third World Feminism, Womanism, and “White Feminism” are not always the same struggles.

The nomenclature and broader language attempts to capture that reality. The language of “allies” and “natural” must also be deconstructed and challenged. Would White women see their struggle as more aligned with Black women than with White men? And would they make that choice–again emphasizing the word “natural”–as a given and a default against the collective and group self-interest of Whiteness as a political and social force?

Among anti-racists, progressives, liberals, as well as those who are invested in “social justice” in the United States and elsewhere, one of the standing rules is that we are not allowed to “rank oppressions.” Sexism, racism, homophobia, able-ism, classism, and other types of inequalities and discrimination are all considered equal.

Such a rubric is a practical concession; in many ways it is also rooted in lazy thinking.

Based on empirical data, we can most certainly rank oppressions. Race and gender are social constructs that do not necessarily reveal with any precision or truth a great deal about how individual people fully locate themselves in society, approach politics, or go about their daily lives. Of course, race and gender remain real. Yet, this is true in relative, local, and absolute terms.

Ani DiFranco is a White woman who enjoys the benefits of both racial and class privilege in the United States. What does her plantation misstep tell us about sexism and racism? And as I signaled to above, are White women as a group any more (or less) committed to anti-racism, and fighting White privilege, than are White men?

The answer is no. There are exceptional White women who have fought, and continue to fight, the White inferiority complex masquerading as White supremacy in the United States and the West. There are White men who have done the same. Whiteness remains a powerful social drug which promises unearned material, psychological, and economic privileges for its signatories and beneficiaries.

White women have signed that contract in much the same way as White men.

An allegiance to White privilege and White racism (more often than not) unites White men and White women together This is one of the ugly, dirty, little secrets that those on the anti-racist Left are afraid to confront.

White conservatives are deeply invested in White supremacy. They are honest about it. By comparison, there is an ugly strain of White Liberal Racism, that while in comparison to the Right, is very different in how it is expressed. But Liberal Racism shares many of the latter’s racist assumptions about Black people…as well as an investment in maintaining and protecting White privilege.

Liberal and Conservative racism both do the work of White supremacy in the United States during the post civil rights era. Unfortunately, the public discourse in the United States has not matured enough to confront such a troubling and challenging social fact.

Why write all this?  Why go here?  

If white people are ever going to collectively and with real strength confront the legacy of and the power of white supremacy all whites, regardless of gender, have to  face up to reality.  White people have to become race traitors. Further, if we are ever going to confront in a real way Capital, white people, white workers, white activists, white leftists, have to do exactly the same thing.  We can't do that if we deny our (I say "we" and  "our" since I am white, too) history and complicity in all this.  A divided multitude or a divided working class will never successfully replace capital, global or otherwise, until whites deal with white supremacy and white privilege.  It just can't happen.  You can't unite a class that is in fact divided, and you can't overcome division by pretending all you have to do is shout "Black and white, unite and fight."  You must deal with the very real material conditions and privileges that are the cause of the divide and that are the basis of white supremacy.  

In my book, that is a fact.

That's why this is here.  This is just one piece of the puzzle that really isn't all that puzzling.

The following is from Racism Review.

White Women and U.S. Slavery: Then and Now

It’s Tuesday and that means it’s Trouble with White Women and White Feminism, our ongoing series meant to offer a broader context and deeper analysis of the latest outrages by the melanin-challenged.
White women were active participants in, proponents of and key beneficiaries of the system of slavery in the U.S., both historically and now.
While some historians, such as  C. Vann Woodward and Catherine Clinton, have argued that white women were secretly opposed to the system of slavery, scholar Elizabeth Fox-Genovese demolished this notion with her work, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women in the Old South (University of North Carolina Press, 1988).  Fox-Genovese draws on white slaveholding women’s diaries, letters, and postbellum memoirs, along with the Works Progress Administration’s narratives of enslaved black women as her source material to make a convincing argument that even though they worked in the same households there was no “shared sense of sisterhood” among black and white women in the plantation household.  Fox-Genovese makes a distinction between white women in the North, whose urban, bourgeois culture valued individualism and the redeeming power of domestic work, and white Southern women, whose hierarchical, dependency-based culture judged women’s worth on their success in conforming to the ideal of the “lady,” rather than on their thrift, industry, and devotion to all-sacrificing motherhood. By arguing that white, Southern women’s history “does not constitute a regional variation on the main story; it constitutes another story,” Fox-Genovese joined women of color and labor historians who were offering critiques of both the white, middle-class feminist movement and the histories it produced. (See this for a much longer and more thorough summary of Fox-Genovese’s work.)
ebony_ivyIt is a mistake to believe that slaveowning was an entirely Southern U.S. phenomenon. In fact, it was the Northeast where slavery began in the U.S. and where some of its enduring legacy remains. “Human slavery was the precondition for the rise of higher education in the Americas,” writes historian Craig Steven Wilder in his, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of American Universities.  Wilder writes:
“In the decades before the American Revolution, merchants and planters became not just the benefactors of colonial society but its new masters. Slaveholders became college presidents. The wealth of the traders determined the locations and decided the fates of colonial schools. Profits from the sale and purchase of human beings paid for campuses and swelled college trusts. And the politics of the campus conformed to the presence and demands of slave-holding students as colleges aggressively cultivated a social environment attractive to …wealthy families.”
Wilder paints a compelling portrait of the ways that slavery was not merely part of the “context” present at the same time as the rise of higher education in the U.S., but in fact, was a crucial element that universities relied on to build facilities, endowments and legacies of elite social environments for cultivating subsequent generations of the nation’s leaders. While it’s true that these institutions were established for the benefit of white men, white women eventually demanded and won access.
White women in the academy, and I’m one of them, continue to benefit from the system of higher education built by enslaved human beings. According to the Almanac of Higher Education, women accounted for only 31% of all tenured faculty in US colleges and universities,but of these 78% are white women, compared to just 0.6% American Indian, 4% Latina, 6.7% Asian American, and 7% African American.  Wilder’s research is focused on Ivy League (elite) educational institutions, but it has implications for those of us outside those institutions as well. I work at CUNY (not, to my knowledge, built by enslaved people) but CUNY operates within an eco-system of other institutions of higher education from which we all benefit.
“But, my family didn’t own slaves!” also, “Slavery was a long time ago, isn’t it time to forget all that?
These refrains about a distant, non-slaveholding past are a commonplace among white people. The first is meant to suggest a lack of connection to the institution of slavery, and therefore, a lack of responsibility for understanding it; and the second is meant to suggest that historical amnesia is a salve for social ills. My family didn’t own slaves either (that I know of). This wasn’t an ethical stance, they just couldn’t afford to own any human beings.
The rush to forget, to distance from the legacy of slavery in the U.S. strikes me as peculiar.  Recently, this resistance to facing history has come out in the ways that white people talk about (and don’t talk about) the film ’12 Years a Slave.’    Most often, what I hear from white women friends, is this: ”I’m not sure I can go see 12 Years a Slave. It just sounds too painful to watch, and I wonder, why would I want to pay a babysitter so I can be in agony for two hours?”
Perhaps part of this resistance is a reluctance to come to terms with the way that, as Olivia Cole writes, white women ruined lives while wearing their pretty dresses.  While scholarly works like those by Fox-Genovese or Wilder may not reach a wide public audience, this film could if people are willing to go see it. Part of what the film reveals is the cruel treatment meted out by white women situated as the plantation mistress to the enslaved women they controlled.
Plantations: Topographies of Terror or Theme Parks?
Slavery does not exist solely in the mists of some distant past, but remains with us in the here and now of the U.S.  Plantations are increasingly popular locations for weddings for white women who are convinced they can “work around the racism” of such a setting.
People who doubt the fascination we have as a society with the “plantation” theme, should watch “Gone with the Wind” (1939), which serves as a kind of cultural template for the aesthetics of this phenomenon. While some may see this as irrelevant to the contemporary milieu, the recent micro-controversies involving Paula Deen and Ani DiFranco suggest otherwise.
paula_deenPaula Deen is a celebrity who built a small empire on her southern cooking and down-home style.  Deen recently became embroiled in controversy when in June 2013, she became the target of a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination.  In her deposition, when asked if she’d used the N-word to describe African American people, she said “Yes, of course.”   Among the other revelations about Deen that emerged were the details of her “dream southern plantation wedding.”   Deen offered a tearful apology for her use of the N-word, the lawsuit was dismissed, but it may have been too late because there was already a Twitter hashtag #PaulaDeenRecipes with some truly hilarious, creative entries (e.g., Back of the Bus Biscuits #PaulaDeenRecipes). Deen had her television show cancelled by Food Network, and endorsement contracts cancelled by Smithfield Foods, Walmart, Target, QVC, Caesars Entertainment, Home Depot, diabetes drug company Novo Nordisk, J.C. Penney, Sears, KMart and her then-publisher Ballantine Books. However, several companies have expressed their intent to continue their endorsement deals with Deen, and fans flocked to her restaurants in a show of support.

ani_difrancoAni DiFranco is a singer, songwriter and is often regarded as a feminist icon.  DiFranco faced a controversy in 2013 when after the announcement that she was hosting a three-day artists’ workshop billed as the “Righteous Retreat” at Iberville Parish‘s Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana.  Now operated as a luxury resort, Nottoway Plantation was one of the largest plantations in the South, and features the largest antebellum mansion. Its operator and founder John Randolph owned over 155 slaves in the year 1860. DiFranco’s choice of venue for the retreat was called “a blatant display of racism” on a petition at that collected more than 2,600 signatures. On December 29, 2013 DiFranco cancelled the retreat and offered what many saw as a tepid, non-apology-apology. Chastened by the criticism that followed that first statement, DiFranco issued a second apology on January 2, 2014 in which she wrote, “..i would like to say i am sincerely sorry. it is obvious to me now that you were right – all those who said we can’t in good conscience go to that place and support it or look past for one moment what it deeply represents. i needed a wake up call and you gave it to me.” 
The public oppobrium that Deen and DiFranco faced are tied up in what Priscilla Ocen, writing at For Harriet, calls the subservience fantasy in the U.S.  The persistent cultural fascination with plantations as settings of an idyllic past positions them as locations that can be “reclaimed” as luxury resorts, wedding venues, and “righteous retreat” destinations. And, I would argue, it is not coincidental that it is white women who are fueling this fantasy.
There are other ways to approach our history. At the same time that the controversy with Ani DiFranco was roiling the interwebs, I was visiting Berlin. While I was there, I went to a museum called “Topographies of Terror,” a museum that marks the site of the former Secret State Police, the SS and the Security Main Office of the Third Reich.  The story of how the museum was created fascinated me as much as the collection itself. After the war the grounds were leveled and initially used for commercial purposes, and eventually became a vacant lot. Public interest in this site emerged gradually in the 1970s and 1980s. It was during this time that groups of citizens, historians, and activists began the work of commemorating the site and using it as a mechanism for confronting the difficult past of the Nazi regime.
In the U.S., we have very few (if any) of these kinds of monuments.  Imagine, if you will, a wedding held at a former concentration camp with a “Third Reich” theme, with the bride urging guests to “work around” the blatant anti-semitism. Offensive, right? Of course it is.  Then why is it that here in the U.S., we turn plantations – our own topographies of terror – into theme parks and luxury resorts?
As I said, I find the American rush to forget, to distance ourselves from the legacy of slavery strikes me as peculiar.  I suspect that part of this reluctance has to do with the affective, particularly for white women, who wish above all else, not to be made uncomfortable about race.  More about that in another post in this ongoing series, Trouble with White Women#tww.