A Brief History of American Race Relations
Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, September 27, 2013
I would like to thank Professor Hoppe for inviting me to speak. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be before you today.
I have been asked to give you a history of American race relations in a half hour—not an easy thing to do. It would be easier to give you a history in a single word, and that word would be conflict. Conflict is the normal state of race relations anywhere in the world, and for reasons that I believe are deeply biological.
Humans have an exquisite sensitivity to differences between their group and other groups. Group conflict is as old as our species. Humans are prepared to fight each other for all kinds of reasons: ethnicity, language, nationality, religion, and even for political reasons, but of all the kinds of conflict, racial conflict is the most chronic and difficult to control, and that’s because race is part of biology. It is immediately visible, and is usually an indicator of differences in behavior and culture and not just a difference in appearance.
Wherever you find people of more than one race trying to share the same territory, there is conflict.
American race relations in the Anglo-American sense began in 1607 with the founding of the Jamestown colony on the coast of Virginia. Jamestown is not only where American race relations begin, it is also a fascinating example of the inevitability of racial conflict.
The purpose of the colony was to find gold, but the intentions of the colonists towards the Indians were entirely benevolent. In fact, the English, aware of the Spanish reputation for brutality in the New World, consciously wanted to be different and better.
The English, moreover, had no preconceived notions of racial superiority, and saw the Indians—or “naturals” as they called them—as essentially no different from themselves. This was in direct contrast to their view of Moors or black Africans whom they did think of as aliens. Some of the Jamestown colonists believed that the “naturals” really were white people whose skin was dark because they painted themselves so often.
In any case, the 100 or so men who started the colony were very careful to find a place for their encampment that was unclaimed and uninhabited. They wished to cause no offense. The leader of the colony, Edward-Maria Wingfield, decreed that since the English came in peace, there would be no fortifications and no training in arms.
There was contact with the Indians, mostly peaceful but sometimes tense, and before the encampment was two weeks old, hundreds of Indians attacked the camp in an attempt to wipe out the colony. There were deaths on both sides, and the English would have been massacred if they had not panicked the Indians with cannon fire. It was only after this narrow escape that the English built the three-sided stockade so familiar to American school children.
The colony went through very hard times, but survived. Despite that bad start before the walls went up, the English genuinely tried to have good relations with the Indians, but to their disappointment, it was the tribes who were closest to them who liked them the least and the ones furthest away who were friendly and willing to trade. This seems to be a general principle of race relations: they are better at a distance.
I don’t know how much I can assume about this audience’s knowledge of colonial history, but the chief of the neighboring Indians was named Powhatan, and his favorite daughter, Pocahontas, converted to Christianity and married the English planter John Rolfe. That was in 1614, and it inaugurated a period of real harmony. The new head of the colony, George Thorpe, was especially solicitous of the Indians, whom he genuinely tried to help. When English dogs barked at Indians, he had them publicly hanged.
But four years after Pocahontas married John Rolfe, Chief Powhatan died, and his younger brother, Opchanacanough, became chief. Opchanacanough did not have a marriage alliance with the English, and he wanted to drive the invaders out. In 1622, four years after he became chief, Opchanacanough struck. By then there were about 1,200 English in the colony, spread out in several different locations. Every morning, Indians would come to work with the English on farms and in workshops, and on March 22, they were to all rise up and exterminate the colonists. The main settlement at Jamestown was warned, however, and the men kept their weapons handy and nothing happened, but in other areas there was complete surprise, and the Indians killed about 400 colonists. Interestingly, they were especially brutal to George Thorpe, who had hanged dogs that annoyed Indians and who had been so concerned about their welfare.
There was war on Opchanacanough, and reprisals, but the two groups returned to peaceful relations, just as before.
Amazingly, in 1644—22 years later—Opchanacanough launched an identical sneak attack, and this time managed to kill between 400 and 500 people in yet another attempt to exterminate the English. This time the English went on what amounted to their own extermination campaign, killing many Indians, including Opchanacanough. Two years later, in 1646, the Virginia General Assembly noted that the natives were “so routed and dispersed that they are no longer a nation, and we now suffer only from robbery by a few starved outlaws.”
Here we have what I would call the inherent tragedy of race relations. The English appear to have brought with them genuinely cooperative intentions. They were unaggressive and trusting and had no sense of racial superiority towards the Indians. This was in complete contrast to their feelings towards the first blacks who appeared in Jamestown in 1619, whom colonists considered alien and inferior. As we look back on the Jamestown colony, it seems as promising an effort to establish peaceful race relations as could be imagined for the times.
And yet the very presence of the English was an act of aggression. The Indians were there first. Someone is always there first. We may deplore the series of Pearl Harbors that Opchanacanough launched on the colonists, but that was the only way the Indians could have driven out the white man and remained masters in their own house. Those attacks failed and the Indians were destroyed.
And this is the story of the conquest of the continent. The intentions of whites—sometimes good, often bad—really did not matter. The fundamental fact is that one people had the land, and another, more advanced and powerful people wanted the land. The result was dispossession, and even now, despite a great deal of intermixing, Indians are a distinct people with a distinct identity that shows how difficult assimilation is across racial lines, even after 400 years. Race relations mean conflict.
It was just plain bad luck for the Indians that Columbus couldn’t have waited 500 years. If Chris had showed up in 1992 rather than 1492, the whole hemisphere would have been declared a World Heritage Protection Area with perhaps a small amount of eco-tourism but certainly no colonization.
Let me now turn the vexed question of black slavery. I would emphasize, first of all, that it was a hugely varied institution. Most generalizations are likely to be wrong. The practice of slavery differed greatly from state to state, and the treatment of slaves varied enormously from owner to owner. Some states did not tolerate freed slaves and required that any freed slaves be expelled beyond the state’s borders. Other states accepted freed slaves. Some states changed their laws back and forth.
Some masters were unquestionably cruel and drove their slaves very hard, but others treated them almost like family members. Jefferson Davis was a Mississippi planter who became president of the Confederate States of America. He had to leave his home to take up his post, and when he took leave of his slaves, he wept and they wept. His older brother Joseph Davis ran a plantation on which slaves were disciplined only on the recommendation of a council of older slaves.
You may not be aware of this, but there are more than 2,300 accounts by slaves themselves of what their lives were really like. These accounts are part of an oral history project from the 1930s. One of the reasons you don’t hear very much about these narratives is that many former slaves show considerable nostalgia for slavery. I recall one in which a former slaves looks forward to meeting his master again in heaven where he can serve him “just like in slavery days.”
Southerners often claimed that their treatment of slaves, whom they cared for from birth to old age, was better than the way Yankee capitalists treated the working class. At least in some cases, I’m sure that was true.
Let me also touch briefly on the little-discussed question of black slave owners. Not all blacks in the South were slaves, and some free blacks owned slaves. According to the census of 1830, nearly 4,000 blacks were slave owners. In 1860, there were at least six blacks in Louisiana who owned 65 or more slaves, and the largest black slave owner had 152 slaves. This rivaled the largest holdings by whites, and I should point out that only about 20 percent of white households in the South owned any slaves at all.
Slavery described as a means of trying to control the conflict inherent to race relations, but its successes in that respect must be based on the naked threat of force.
I’d like to turn now to the abolition movement, which I think is one of the most misunderstood movements in American history. Most Americans today think the abolitionists wanted to free the slaves and make them equal to whites. Not at all. The huge majority wanted to free the slaves and send them out of the United States, in a process that they called colonization.
I assume you have heard of Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote the great anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her brother, the famous Brooklyn preacher Henry Ward Beecher, had what was very much the majority view, and I quote: “Do your duty first to the colored people here; educate them, Christianize them, and then colonize them.”[i] Most abolitionist activism therefore reflected a deep conviction that slavery was wrong, but it was coupled with a desire to expel the free blacks from the United States.
Abraham Lincoln is known as “the great emancipator,” and most Americans believe he wanted to make blacks equal to whites. Again, they are wrong. He, too, wanted to free the slaves and send them away. Like the other abolitionists, he did not want free blacks in the country. Why? He knew there would be conflict.
In August 1862—while the great American war was raging—he appointed James Mitchell as Commissioner of Emigration. Mitchell’s job was to find a place for free blacks to go and to persuade them to go there. Mitchell also arranged the first visit of a black delegation to the White House on official business. It was a group of free black preachers, to whom Lincoln explained the war was being fought because of them.
“You and we are different races,” he said. “We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races.” Lincoln went on: “There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us.” He then told them he had in mind a colony for them in Central America, and asked them to go back to their congregations and preach emigration. In other words, the first time blacks were invited to the White House on official business was to be asked to leave the country.
I would add that what whites feared as much as conflict with free blacks was miscegenation. Of the 50 states, no fewer than 44 had laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage at some point in their history.[ii] Massachusetts prohibited miscegenation from 1705 to 1843, but repealed the ban because most people thought legal prohibition was unnecessary. As the repeal act noted, inter-racial relations were “evidence of vicious feeling, bad taste, and personal degradation,” so there was no need for a law to prevent something so abhorrent.
Legal prohibitions against miscegenation lasted many years. In 1967, when the Supreme Court finally ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional, 16 states still had them on the books.[iii]
Needless to say, racial conflict in America cannot be separated from bad behavior by whites. Lynching is often cited as a particularly vicious example. There has been a careful count of lynchings, and between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 people are known to have been lynched in the United States. However, of that number 1,297—more than a quarter—were whites. There were actually a few cases of blacks lynching whites and, although it is not possible to know the truth in many cases, so far as anyone can tell, most people lynched had probably committed a crime. It was not a matter of just rounding up a black man to torture. Of course, there were false accusations, and mob hysteria. Most people think that the typical lynching was of a black man who was said, truthfully or not, to have raped a white woman, but only about 25 percent of lynching victims were accused of rape. The most frequent accusation (40 percent) was murder. Murder is almost never an imaginary crime. There is a body to prove it.
The worst form of racial conflict, however, is race riots, and the United States has had some bad ones. The first race riots were attacks by whites against blacks, usually set off by an actual or alleged crime by a black. Undoubtedly, the worst was the Tulsa riot of 1921. Whites simply attacked the black part of town—about 35 blocks—and burned it to the ground. No one knows how many blacks were killed. Some estimates are 30 to 40; others say as many as 300. Blacks fought back, however, and 10 whites are known to have been killed.
Another bad one was the 1906 riot in Atlanta in which an estimated 25 to 40 blacks were killed. I think it is fair to say that these riots, in which any available black was fair game, were an expression of outright hatred by whites of people they considered unalterably alien. We see similar acts today in the Hindu/Muslim mass killings in India and the Muslim/Christian massacres in Nigeria.
But the last riot of the traditional kind in which whites attacked blacks was in 1943, when whites went wild in Detroit and killed 25 blacks. Again, blacks fought back and killed 9 whites. Since that time—in other words, for the last 70 years—the meaning of “race riot” has changed and now means rioting by blacks—and sometimes by Hispanics.
In 1992, after police officers who beat a black man, Rodney King, were acquitted of criminal charges, there were riots in Los Angeles in which 53 people were killed. Of that number, only eight were white, but unlike the considerable number of blacks and Hispanics who died at the hands of police or in traffic accidents, all appear to have been killed by rioters, who were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic. There have been riots in Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland, etc., in which blacks attacked whites. More recently, there have been what are called “flash mobs,” in which gangs of blacks suddenly descend on a white area to beat and rob people.
This is a very important shift. In the past, whites used to attack blacks, but now blacks attack whites. This has to do with an even more important shift, and that is the revolutionary change in the way whites think about race.
Until about the 1950s, this is what most white people believed:
They believed people of different races differed substantially in intelligence, temperament, and ability, and that was why different races built different kinds of societies. They wanted America to be populated by whites, and thought only people of European stock could maintain the civilization they valued. They considered immigration of non-whites a threat to their civilization. It was common to argue that if non-whites could not be removed from the country they should be separated socially and politically. Whites were also very strongly opposed to miscegenation, especially with blacks.
What whites now think about race represents a complete reversal. I can think of very few examples in human history in which important attitudes have been completely turned inside out in so short a period. This is like Iran having an Islamic revolution or the Soviet Union ending Communism.
What whites are now supposed to believe I would summarize as follows: First, the races are absolutely equal in every respect and are therefore interchangeable. Race is therefore not a valid criterion for any purpose—except, perhaps, for redressing wrongs done to non-whites. Whites have no valid group interests, so it is illegitimate for them to organize as whites. Racial diversity is a wonderful thing in and of itself, so whites should welcome large numbers of non-whites into their neighborhoods, schools, institutions, and into the country as a whole. Immigration of non-whites strengthens the United States even as it reduces whites to a minority. As for miscegenation, we are not yet at the point where whites are actually criticized for marrying each other, but dating and marrying non-whites is thought to be wonderfully progressive.
Something else that is extremely important: Prohibitions against racial solidarity, against preferring one’s own kind, against wanting one’s numbers to increase—these prohibitions apply only to whites. All non-white groups take it for granted that they have collective interests that they must band together to promote, at the expense of whites, if need be.
Any white who is out of step, by the way, who expresses a preference for European civilization and the company of other whites, or who opposes the replacement of whites by non-whites is not merely wrong, but evil, and not fit for polite society. Every era has its unforgivable crimes, and for today’s American whites, the one unforgivable crime is what is called “racism.”
Let me illustrate this revolution in white thinking with a few quotations, all of them from presidents of the United States.
James Garfield wrote, “[I have] a strong feeling of repugnance when I think of the negro being made our political equal and I would be glad if they could be colonized, sent to heaven, or got rid of in any decent way.”[iv]
Theodore Roosevelt blamed Southerners for bringing blacks to America and wrote, “I have not been able to think out any solution to the terrible problem offered by the presence of the Negro on this continent . . . .”[v] As for Indian, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t inquire too closely into the health of the tenth.”[vi]
As recent a President as Harry Truman wrote: “I am strongly of the opinion Negroes ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia and white men in Europe and America.”[vii] He referred to the support staff at the White House as “an army of coons.”
Let us contrast these remarks with those of a more recent president, George W. Bush. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, a black rapper named Kanye West said that the federal response to the hurricane was too slow because New Orleans was heavily black and President Bush didn’t care about black people.
In 2010, after he left office, Mr. Bush said that being accused of not caring about black people was the worst moment in his presidency. The worst moment! And this is a president who had some bad moments, alright. The September 11 attacks of 2001, for example. The most crushing economic slump since the Great Depression. A catastrophic war in Iraq that was launched for reasons that turned out to be completely false. And yet, for Mr. Bush, the worst moment in his eight years as president is being called a racist by some two-bit Negro entertainer.
This shows you just how terrified Americans have become of race. And this terror leaves whites trapped in an impossible—an intolerable—position. Take the assumption that all races are equal in every way. It’s simply not true.
So what happens when the less intelligent groups—blacks and Hispanics—fail, as they inevitably do, to perform at the same level as whites? Because all races are officially equal, the failures of blacks and Hispanics must be due to one thing only: oppression by whites. White racism. Astonishingly, hardly any whites dispute this reasoning, and submit to humiliation and outright discrimination in the name of redress. Whites are thus punished for the failures of others, and taxed so that America can spend billions of dollars trying to eliminate gaps in achievement that cannot be eliminated.
This is so absurd, and so unfair to whites one can only wonder how they should have permitted it to become orthodoxy. You would think foolishness of this magnitude—and which is such a psychological burden on the majority population—would collapse under the weight of its own utter implausibility, but egalitarian doctrine shows no sign of diminishing.
In the meantime, whites have no moral or intellectual grounds on which to say, “No, hold on a minute. I want my grandchildren to live in a nation with a European culture and a European people.” To say such a thing is called “hate mongering.” It’s blasphemy. As a consequence, whites have no way to stop their own dispossession through immigration and high non-white birth rates. American whites are expected to become a minority race by 2040, just 27 years from now, and the youngest whites are already a minority in their age group. By 2060, Hispanics will be the outright majority and whites will be only 30 percent of the population.
When whites parrot official orthodoxy and claim to believe that this transformation will be a real tonic for the country, I ask them to name just one majority non-white neighborhood they would like to live in, or just one majority non-white school they would like to have their children attend. Of course, they cannot name any. Whites show what they really think of diversity by having as little to do with it as possible, even as they pretend to cherish and adore it.
Demography is destiny. The United States once seemed to be solidly part of Western Civilization, but it is slowly being detached from that civilization. America’s slow collapse into Third-World squalor will be a good thing for certain other countries. At the risk of only slight exaggeration, America’s conception of foreign policy seems to be that if we invade a country and shoot enough people, the survivors will automatically become Jeffersonian democrats. Our capacity to do that kind of mischief will decline very quickly.
And yet, for someone like me, whose ancestors have lived in North America for 350 years, it is an unspeakably grievous thing to watch my country delude itself into self-destruction. I began this talk by saying that the history of race relations can be summed up in one word: conflict. I would conclude by summing it up with yet another single word: tragedy.
This article is adapted from a speech given at a meeting the Property and Freedom Society, September 2013. Jared Taylor’s account of the conference can be found here.
* An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the majority of those who died in the 1992 Los Angeles riots were white.
[i] Quoted in George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 115.
[ii] Ibid., p. 2.
[iv] Quoted in George Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 185.
[vi] Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, quoted in Robert Fikes, “Racist Quotes from Persons of Note, Part I,” Journal of Ethnic Studies, Fall, 1987, p. 142.
[vii] Rick Hampson, “Private Letters Reveal Truman’s Racist Attitudes,” Washington Times, Oct. 25, 1991.