Last week, the South Florida Times reported on the black people in Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s family. Shortly thereafter, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and other media outlets around the world did follow-up reports.
Among other things, our research confirmed that McCain’s family owned and operated a slave plantation in the Teoc community of Carroll County, Miss. called Waverly, during the late 1800s and beyond the turn of the century.
McCain’s ancestors were cotton barons. Archived records use “mulatto” and other terms to describe some of the enslaved Africans his family owned, thus documenting their mixed races.
The black, white and mixed-race McCains, including Sen. McCain’s brother, Joe, and countless other family members host reunions in Teoc every other year. Sen. McCain, however, has never acknowledged his family there, and never attends the events, according to family members who have attended. He has not explained why.
This is regrettable, and represents a missed opportunity for McCain. He could have used his connection to black family members to demonstrate how much he is in touch with the diverse races and ethnicities that make up America.
Shortly after our story was published came the announcement from Gen. Colin Powell that he was endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Powell, who happens to be black, served as a general in the United States Army. He was also the National Security Advisor (1987–1989) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989–1993) in the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Also, Powell was the first African American, and 65th United States Secretary of State (2001–2005), under current President George W. Bush. He was friends with McCain for decades, and even donated money to his campaign.
Shortly after Powell’s endorsement, surrogates of the McCain campaign began to use code words to diminish the significance of the endorsement by questioning whether Powell’s decision was motivated by race.
It’s a truly ridiculous notion, but it once again put race into the forefront during a time when most Americans have moved beyond this once-polarizing issue. Now, they are more concerned with their finances, jobs and preserving their ways of life.
To their credit, both McCain and Obama had done a good job of not allowing race or religious bigotry to enter the race for the presidency. However, in the face of deteriorating poll numbers, Sen. McCain began to dwell in the gutter of brazen race baiting, in a last-gasp effort to salvage his faltering candidacy.
During their first debate, McCain’s contempt for Obama was clear, and he would not dignify him with the courtesy of making eye contact. In their second debate, McCain lowered his voice, and referred to Obama as “that one.”
His insulting retort was almost whispered, and came across as if he did not feel Obama was his equal. To some, the remark might seem an innocent reference. But to those of us born in the South, it is a racial slur commonly used against blacks and other ethnic groups.
In South Carolina’s low country, where I was born, white plantation owners used the slur to differentiate black sharecroppers from human beings.
“That one” is a term that signified blacks were more akin to a sack of potatoes, a bushel of okra, or livestock, rather than men and women deserving of equal respect and dignity. When you look at McCain’s history and the toxic rhetoric of his campaign, it’s doubtful this was a simple slip of the tongue.
The American people are suffering under the most crippling financial collapse since the Great Depression, and every day, people are gripped with fear about their future.
McCain made it clear he would not focus on our economic plight, acknowledging that if he did, he would lose the presidency. Instead, his campaign is toiling in the ‘Joe the plumber’ foolishness, and announced they would turn their attention to Obama’s character.
In translation, this means they will focus on discredited Internet rumors that still may stoke fears pent up in some voters. This is evident from the obvious racial code-speak he and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have been utilizing.
Speaking in her irritating Eskimo Ebonics lilt about Obama, Palin recently reminded a cheering, predominantly white crowd that, “He is not like us.”
Then, during another rally she incited the crowd by falsely claiming that Obama “pals around with terrorists.” One supporter responded by yelling, “Kill him, kill him,” as others chanted “Terrorist!”
These are dangerous, irresponsible and despicable acts of desperation unbefitting the nominees of the party of Abraham Lincoln, which led the effort to end slavery in America.
If it were not for the fact that McCain does not campaign in minority neighborhoods, and is rarely seen in the company of blacks, none of this would likely be an issue.
But when you examine his selection of Palin over Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his choice to join him on the ticket, for example, you find yourself asking, “Does McCain really believe he can convince reasonable people that Palin is more qualified than Rice?’’
Or, “Was Palin selected to scare up votes through the racial divisions that were standard fare during his youth?’’
INDIFFERENT TO BLACKS
If this were not the case, why would he select an inexperienced governor, who, according to blacks in that state, is indifferent to their concerns? During a recent telephone interview, the
Rev. Alonzo D. Patterson, pastor of the predominantly black Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Anchorage, told me how Palin refused to even meet with black and native Eskimo leaders.
The groups are concerned about the lack of minorities in her administration, and her decision to remove, or not reappoint, minorities to key positions, then replace them with whites.
Also, consider that the McCain campaign is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the racially controversial Richard Quinn, and his family’s companies. The Quinns are based in
South Carolina, and operate political consulting firms. They publish the pro-Confederate, racially caustic, Southern Partisan magazine. Some of the articles published there can only be described as sympathetic, if not supportive, of the Ku Klux Klan. The magazine has published columns critical of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., and other columns that praised David Duke and KKK leaders.
McCain is a military man, and like any soldier worth his salt, he was taught to fall back on his training when confronted with difficulty.
But instead of calling upon skills he honed in the U.S. Navy, McCain appears to be reverting to those unspoken traditions of his segregated upbringing.
While it would be unfair to hold Sen. McCain accountable for his ancestor’s deeds, he is running for president of all of the United States, and these are questions he should answer.
Furthermore, if Obama’s ancestors in Kenya are an issue, is it too much for us to look at McCain’s relatives, who profited from slavery, which likely laid the foundation for his current wealth?
In the 1930s, blacks, Hispanics and Jews were viewed in a derogatory manner by many pro-Confederate southerners. Such views would be unacceptable today, but I shudder to think what the conversations around the McCain dinner table about these groups were like. If McCain has transitioned beyond this, he should be comfortable discussing it.
But when you examine his history on matters of race, it is simply abysmal.
McCain has expressed his support for the Confederate Flag being displayed on public property. He voted against every single piece of civil rights legislation put before him, and refuses to say if he, as a member of Congress, or his campaign, has ever hired an African American. While Obama has made himself available to black media outlets for interviews, McCain has ignored such requests.
Are these all coincidences, or is John McCain so comfortable in his segregated Mississippi heritage that he is out of touch with today’s racial and social realities?
Let’s hope not, but only he can explain his “that one” remark, as well he should. While it is natural for us to embrace our heritage, America is demonstrating it has progressed beyond the throwback era of racial divide, and this is a good thing.
Now, Sen. McCain must demonstrate the same, if he can.