As always, one must be wary of selective editing. Like most of Phil’s comments quoted in the article, no context is given. No insights are provided as to what question gave rise to the response. All we have is the reporting of some (and obviously not all, be sure to note the ellipses) of Phil’s remarks.
That said, I’m surprised so few have noticed these words:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
Now it is entirely possible that the question that gave rise to this response makes it far more innocent than it seems. The words are somewhat shocking, just thrown in without any context. But consider how these words sound when spoken in response to the question “We all know there was a lot of racial tension in Caddo parish while you were growing up. What was it like growing up with all that violence and oppression around you?”
If in response to a question like that, this comment becomes simply a statement about his own personal observations. I know it was happening, but I never witnessed it myself. Who knows, maybe in the parts edited out by the ellipses he even criticized and condemned that kind of racial hatred.
We must give Phil the benefit of the doubt here.
But it is still dismissive and condescending to attribute the justifiable complaints of mistreatment from black Louisianans as merely being the result of an entitlement mindset brought on by the welfare state.
Again, I’m not sure if that suggestion was made by Phil himself, the author of the article, or the editor, but that is the suggestion being made by this quote. “Back then, they seemed happy. I didn’t hear anyone complaining. It wasn’t until welfare came along that they decided the deserved better.”
Now let’s see how true that suggestion really is.
By all accounts Phil was born and raised in Caddo parish, somewhere near Vivian in far northwest Louisiana. There’s a reason Caddo parish had the nickname “Bloody Caddo,” and it wasn’t because of all the duck hunting going on.
In the ten years following the Civil War, there were 566 homicides in the parish, many of which were lynchings urged on by the local newspaper. At least 154 blacks were killed by white mobs in Caddo parish in the year 1868 alone. ()
According to the Louisana Coalition for Alernatives to the Death Penalty, on June 18, 1903, the Shreveport times ran and editorial which included these comments:
“In the south the belief in swift and sure punishment for negro fiends who outrage female virtue is fairly fundamental. No one sympathizes with the wretch who is burned at the stake or riddled with bullets for an offense of this character and the southern mind condones the act of the mob without hesitation or qualification… “
Ironically (?) that same day, June 18, 1903 the Police Jury of Caddo parish authorized the erection of a monument on the front plot of the county courthouse, and the county donated $1,000 to fund its construction. According to the Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice (citing an article in the NY Times from December 1, 1903) six months after approving the future construction of that monument, three black men were lynched by a mob of 1,200 white men on the very spot the monument would eventually stand.
According to Michael Pfeifer of Evergreen State College in Washington state the last lynching in Caddo parish was the murder of Leslie Leggett in 1923. According to an article in the Shreveport Times:
Leggett, 35, was kidnapped from a garage at the corner of Taylor and Christian streets in Shreveport on Jan. 3, 1923, by five white men. Charles Papa, who rented a room to Leggett, reported the crime and told police he feared Leggett had been killed.
Leggett’s crime? “Associating with white women.”
Now, we should remember that we don’t know if Phil acknowledged all of this violence in the remarks that were edited out of the interview. He could have acknowledged all of this and still truthfully said he never witnessed any mistreatment of black with his own eyes, since he wasn’t born until 1946.
The problem is: the mistreatment of blacks in Caddo parish didn’t end in 1923. Lynching gradually declined, but it was replaced with more secretive and subtle acts of oppression, many of which continued through Phil’s childhood and young adulthood.
Phil may have worked alongside blacks in the fields as a young man, but what he didn’t do was study alongside them in elementary school. Despite the Brown v Board of Education ruling in 1954 that deemed the policy of “separate but equal” unconstitutional, it took a court order in 1960 before all-white schools in Caddo parish began to admit black students.
On November 14, 1960, when the first four black first graders (under the protection of federal marshals) attended their first day of class at formerly all white McDonough 19 Elementary School in New Orleans, citizens of Shreveport in Caddo parish burned crosses in front of the all-black Booker T Washington High School and the Caddo Parish School Board office.
Probably Phil wasn’t there. He probably didn’t witness it with his own eyes. But it happened.
Or how about college?
Everyone familiar with Phil’s story knows he attended Louisiana Tech on a football scholarship as their star quarterback. The best I can tell, Phil enrolled at Louisiana Polytechnic in 1964 (I can’t find an exact date, but he played football in the 65, 66 and 67 season, and was a red-shirt freshman.) Maybe he didn’t notice there were no black students at college that first year, but it wasn’t until 1965 that LA Tech, again only after a court order, began to admit black students.
And it wasn’t just segregation.
In 1963 four girls, Addie May Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair, were killed when a box of dynamite planted by some members of the United Klans of America exploded at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Citizens around the country planned memorial marches.
But in Shreveport, the application filed by the Little Union Baptist Church for a permit to demonstrate was denied by the towns Public Safety Commissioner. Instead, the congregants gathered in their church building for a memorial service. While the service was going on, the building was surrounded by hundreds of Shreveport police officers in riot gear and as the service concluded and congregants left, the police began to beat dozens of the demonstrators and clergy.
And remember that Confederate monument on the front lawn of Caddo county courthouse, the one with the busts of four confederate generals, a statue of an armed confederate soldier and an inscription dedicating it “To The Just Cause” of the confederacy? In 1951, as the civil rights movement gained momentum nationwide, white citizens of Caddo parish said, “Not here!” And in protest to the idea that all Americans should enjoy equal rights regardless of race, they added something to the monument: a confederate flag.
And not just any confederate flag, they added the “Blood-stained Banner,” actually the third official flag of the Confederacy, to which a red stripe had been added to be sure no one mistook the flag (which featured a prominent white field which was sometimes the only thing visible when the flag hung limp) as a flag of truce. It’s a flag whose design says not only do we believe in the principles of the Confederacy, we’re willing to fight, to kill and to die for them.
Maybe Phil never noticed, but there, in that spot where black men were lynched by white mobs, the Blood Stained Banner flew, reminding everyone passing by “We won’t forget, and we’re willing to kill.”
It flew there not just in the racial conflicts of the 60’s and 70’s.
It was still flying there in 2009 when Carl Staples was summoned to jury duty in the capital murder case of Fenton Dorsey, a black man accused of murdering a white man in Caddo parish. When Staples objected to being forced to walk past the Blood Stained Banner, he was threatened with arrest. When he reported for jury duty, he objected again, and was struck from the jury, as were five of the remaining seven black prospective jurors. Despite an objection by the defense that such strikes amounted to racial discrimination, the objection was overruled, and a jury of 11 whites and one black man sentenced Dorsey to death.
It actually flew there until November, 2011, when it was taken down in the middle of the night, only after appeals by Dorsey arguing that the flag was tacit intimidation, and a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court that cited the ruling in United States vs Blanding which found “It is not an irrational inference that one who displays the confederate flag may harbor racial bias against African-Americans.”
The fact remains, none of this means Phil didn’t acknowledge any of this. He never denied it happened. As far as we know, he may have specifically mentioned any or all of these things, just to have them cut out of the interview by someone who wanted to make his statement sound more outrageous than it really was.
He just said he didn’t see it in person.
But maybe that’s the problem.
It was happening all around him…
And he never noticed.
But before you think I’m just being hard on Phil, I’m afraid many of us are just as guilty of obliviousness. And as with yesterday, I’m far more concerned with what the church says than anything a duck hunter from Louisiana may or may not have said.
How much injustice is happening all around us every day?
When was the last time we noticed?
“I didn’t see it with my own eyes. They seemed happy as far as I could tell. I didn’t hear anyone complaining.”
How many times have we used those words to defend our indefensible ignorance?