Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Clear Difference

Maybe not in Salt Lake City which I visited over the weekend, but according to Gallup, Utah, is six points more conservative than North Carolina, where I live.

Yet last week the state legislature in Utah voted to bar discrimination against people who are LGBT, something done by individual cities such as Durham, NC but recently voted down in Charlotte, the state’s largest city.

Utah is slightly less liberal or moderate than my native Idaho, just slightly more moderate than North Carolina and more than four points less liberal but the measure passed by nearly 7-to-1 in the House of Representatives and nearly 5-to-1 in the Senate.

Yet it is unthinkable that the legislature in North Carolina, which does not mirror the state’s population when it comes to ideology, could ever reach a similar compromise as that in Utah.

I suspected the Utah law would pass when last month, during a visit to the Pacific Northwest, I saw three Mormon leaders announce the church’s support on the news, quite a turn-around from 2008.

By its actions, North Carolina’s legislature appears to be controlled by “regressives.”

Conservatives want to tap the breaks on progress, while regressives want to take society in reverse.  Nearly all regressives are conservative but only a tiny percentage of conservatives are regressives.

Here, we just happened to put them in charge.

Mormons know a thing or two about regressives too.  The church was founded as restorationist, meaning a return to the original Christian church.

From time to time, regressives have taken a toll, such as during a period in the 1850s known as the “Mormon Reformation.”

It was during this period that at least two of my ancestors who had crossed the Rockies for sanctuary against persecution and discrimination were sanctioned and forced by regressives to be re-baptized for questioning local church officials regarding civil decisions.

North Carolina, too, knows a thing or two about regressives from its past.

The state was ambivalent about the Civil War, with many areas outspoken against slavery and pro-Union until surrounded by secessionist states and threatened with economic isolation and retribution.

Next month, festivities in Durham will mark 150 years since the surrender here effectively ended the Civil War.  Within five years of the war’s end, Durham was known for Bull Durham tobacco adding warehouses to factories, and within a few years, even telephones.

But in 1870, many other parts of North Carolina had turned instead to regressives, joining the KKK which was centered one county over from Durham, while across the nation the Bull City was forging a progressive view of the Tar Heel state as the New South.

The KKK was revived at the turn of the century when a North Carolina clergyman published a book entitled The Clansman, soon adapted to film as The Birth of a Nation, and reinvigorated old racial stereotypes from slavery.

Corruption doomed that incarnation of the KKK, but a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 sowed the seeds of its re-emergence by 1960 among descendants of earlier regressives, fueled by rhetoric from a Raleigh TV newscaster soon-to-be U.S. Senator.

This history and more is available in a new documentary entitled Klansville, USA released this past January on the acclaimed PBS series, American Experience, and based in part on the excellent book by David Cunningham.

It is now also available via website or by streaming via Netflix.

By 1960 a few years after Durham became a center for the Civil Rights movement, descendants of earlier regressives resurrected the KKK in North Carolina vowing to stack the state legislature by playing on the fears of rural North Carolinians.

During the 1950’s Durham was busy helping to develop Research Triangle Park here, but it was also a training site for students conducting civil rights protests across the state.

Every few months, I drive up to the parking lot of Durham County Memorial Stadium to drop off e-waste such as old batteries and irreparable electric gizmos, or anything with an electric motor or charge cord.

Erected in 1959, four years after the Supreme Court desegregated public schools, the stadium was built for Durham’s “whites-only” high schools, a lasting monument to segregated schools at the very time legal action and protests were allowing black students to transfer to previously all white schools.

Desegregation such as this set off a resurgence of regressives and a third resurrection of the KKK.  One of those appearing on the documentary in footage filmed before his passing in 2005 is C.P. Ellis.

Ellis owned a Texaco station in Durham when during the early 1960s he joined the KKK and became the Exalted Cyclops for the clan here.  Membership surged across the state as school officials implemented policies to racially balance the schools.

Instead, whites, most of whom were poor, fled to private and parochial schools reducing public school enrollment in Durham by 40% during the 1960s.

The flight was even worse across the state and in less progressive communities such as Raleigh where the KKK had been instrumental in selection of a police chief in the 1920s, 5,000 KKK members rallied just months after a progressive had been governor from 1961-1965.

In the 1970s, the courts ruled that schools here must be racially rebalanced.  A committee to effect that change brought Exalted Cyclops Ellis together with Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist.

Together they each did something rare, even today. As documented in the acclaimed book, Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson, they listened to each other and a friendship formed.

Regressives in North Carolina today don’t wear hoods and robes and only occasionally burn crosses, but their influence is still felt.  Helms used racially charged campaign advertising to win close reelections well into the mid-1990s.

You can hear echoes of regressives in myths perpetuated around water coolers to scare newcomers from living in progressive communities such as Durham or if they do to put their children in private or parochial schools.

Regressives are most visible behind the actions of the state legislature, abetted by peers to read only the misleading titles and subtitles on bills they submit, virtually erasing any memory of North Carolina being known as the New South.

The LGBT anti-discrimination legislation passed in Utah is a contrast and evidence of what it means to be conservative without being regressive.

North Carolina’s regressives ban the use of phrases like “climate change” in reports and meddle in local affairs, while hypocritically accusing the federal government of political correctness and meddling in state affairs.

The LGBT legislation in Utah steps forward not only in that area but pairs it with provisions granting the right of people to express religious beliefs in the workplace.

North Carolina will weather this renewed regression but it will take decades to mend all of the damage it has done including to the state’s reputation and psyche.

In the meantime, let’s just not blame their actions on true conservatives.

No comments: