For 400 years, the saga of white/black conflict has permeated race in America. African slaves bought and sold by whites, the Civil War, “Jim Crow” racial fascism, legal equality springing from the halls of Congress — all of this has racked America, day in and day out.
Leading a fresh plunge into that past is President Donald J. Trump, who brings back all the darkness of the worst of times.
Alabama police and their dogs attacked American flag-carrying black children. Segregationists such as “Bull” Connor, the public safety commissioner of Birmingham, Alabama, ordered men and dogs to attack defenseless Americans as they protested for equality. That was then, in the 1950s and early ’60s. Today, Connor’s spiritual doppelganger, former Phoenix sheriff Joe Arpaio, pardoned of a criminal-contempt conviction by President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE, is running for the U.S. Senate.
The television coverage of Connor’s police attacking protesters in the greatest nation on Earth led other Americans to construct a new moral and legal paradigm that resulted in the equal-housing, civil rights and voting rights laws of the 1960s.
President Eisenhower used federal troops to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas, schools at bayonet point, followed more than a decade later by President Nixon’s grand achievements of school integration that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson somehow neglected to implement.
I recall driving by a World War II housing project, built for wartime-industry workers, in the early Sixties in San Diego. The government put the project up for sale, one house at a time for $4,000 each, with government mortgage programs. Hundreds lined up to buy; most were blacks who had never owned a house. It was a good moment.
Undercutting this “new paradigm,” however, was and is a widespread hidden mentality of bigotry and hate that has been pervasive even before former Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan and unleashed white Southern gentlemen on a 100-year-long career of murder and mayhem.
The Irish riots in 1863 in New York started almost a century of white-v.-black riots, with black towns wiped out by white rioters in Oklahoma and Florida, for example, and thousands of black men hung from trees like Christmas ornaments.
Blacks didn’t react in kind until the 1943 black riots in Detroit started black warfare in Watts, Los Angeles, Newark and elsewhere, eventually leading to race riots on U.S. Navy ships during the Vietnam War.
This 400-year-long racial dispute continues. And it blossomed again in the White House this week.
Hispanics, too, have been caught up in this maelstrom. Puerto Rico is the current manifestation of Trump’s ignorance about Hispanics that first surfaced when the Nixon Justice Department sued Trump and his father for racial discrimination in apartment rentals.
Trump brought it all forward again when he announced for president because, he declared, Mexico was not “sending us its best” — it was sending “rapists and “criminals.”
A note to President Trump: Dr. Thomas Sowell wrote in his book, “Ethnic America,” that no group in America has made as much social, economic, educational and political progress as have Mexican Americans in a generation or two.
From a 1920s agricultural society, Sowell wrote, reordered as it was by the participation of hundreds of thousands of Hispanic soldiers, sailors and Marines in World War II, the Mexican American population changed dramatically.
The GI education bill paid for college for men who never dreamed of college; Mexican-Americans burst free from agricultural isolation into an America enlightened by the black experience. The Sixties freed blacks from the state-imposed segregation that most were forced to live under.
College-educated Hispanic combat veterans proliferated on school faculties, and many others entered professions and jobs restricted to them before the war. They now are flooding into college, ahead of whites and blacks in matriculation.
Many Americans were surprised when Hispanics sped past the black population in numbers, in college matriculation, in business formation and a wide-ranging presence that even in the Deep South.
Hispanics gained much from the long struggle of black Americans to overcome barriers unlike anything Hispanics ever experienced.
To me, supporting blacks in their continuing struggle honors those black children attacked with police dogs and cattle prods in Alabama 50 years ago. As much as any U.S. Marine at Iwo Jima, those black children suffered for me and my rights, and I thank them.
Many of those black children descended from people brought here in chains from the very countries that President Trump disparaged this week with his crass, obscene description.
Raoul Lowery Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby” (Berkeley Press, 2017) and “The Mexican Border: Immigration War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade” (Floricanto Press, 2016). He formerly wrote for the New York Times News Service.